“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message…Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should…” (Colossians 4.2-4)
Just as a military operation requires far more support troops than front-line combatants, so the missionaries in “far evangelism” require a strong home base or they will soon become casualties. Although there are other elements in a strong support system, the two main supports are prayer and finance. First, the most important: prayer.
A magnificent southern thunderstorm was entertaining me one evening. As I watched the display of cosmic fireworks from my side porch, suddenly there was a mighty explosion right in our own back yard, an extravaganza of sight and sound. Lightning had struck the transformer and in a moment we lost all light and power. For days. Interesting, because giant towers trooped through the fields just a half mile away, bearing unlimited supplies of light and power. How like many Christians – the power flows all around them, but they aren’t connected.
The power connect is an attitude: yield and trust. Until we have an obedient and believing mindset or heart orientation, the deal is off because the Holy Spirit doesn’t force his way on us. But if we meet that simple condition – the same faith response that connected us to him in the first place – we are poised to let the power flow.
Yet the power flow is more than an attitude; it’s an activity. Its ‘through prayer, the human conduit of divine energy, that Holy Spirit power and light flow. When it comes to world evangelism, since the Spirit acts in response to the believing prayer of an obedient people, prayer is the most important part of the missionary enterprise.
Paul gives straight-forward instruction on prayer for missions in his letter to the Colossians.
“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” (2:1)
“Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” (4:2-4 NKJV).
“Epaphras…always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” (4:12 KJV).
If we pray for our missionaries at all, it may be a routine mentioning to God of some brief request we’ve read or been given. But the kind of prayer Paul describes is so different – “struggling,” “earnestly,” “always laboring fervently.” It sounds like a spiritual battle in prayer against unseen enemies that fight to hold captive those we aim to release. And notice that our prayer isn’t to be occasional but continuing, regular – daily, at least. Furthermore, our fervent labor in prayer is not only the regular set times for prayer but in between times. The term “vigilant” is a military term, meaning “on battle alert.” We are to be sensitive to the Spirit’s intimations of special need for special prayer. To summarize what prayer was meant to be, in Paul’s parallel passage in Ephesians (6:18) he instructs us to pray “in the Spirit.” Spirit-guided, Spirit energized prayer is the secret to world evangelism. And when our prayers fall short, the Spirit, who knows the mind of the Father, goes to him for us with strong pleading (Romans 8.26,27). That is the ultimate guarantee in this spiritual warfare.
I was under arrest in central Africa, detained at the border town “airport” because my papers weren’t in order. When we had landed at the dusty outpost, the officials admitted the other handful of passengers, but said the pilot would have to take me with him. He refused, saying he was going on to Uganda and if he took me there I’d be in really big trouble. I would stay there at the airport, the officials seemed to have decided, till someone flew me out of the country. But what was the chance of that? The future looked bleak, especially if they ever transferred me to the local jail.
As I sat in that small room with my guard, without food or drink, I thought, “today is Thanksgiving Day at home!” I told the guard what we did on that day in the hope that when next he went for his own food he’d remember me. No such luck! What would the outcome be?
Thousands of miles away in a New Jersey nursing home, a 90-year old lady I had never met was strangely moved to pray earnestly for me at that very time. She was “on battle alert,” she was “in the Spirit!” The British pilot who had put me down in that tiny outpost was concerned about me, changed his plans, and late in the day returned from Uganda to whisk me away, not on the wings of a Cessna so much as on wings of prayer.
Most of us are quite self-centered in our prayers, using prayer to capture some of God’s power, if possible, to propel our personal interests. How sad, for all along the Spirit intended to use the channel of prayer for funneling blessing to others, especially to a world yet in darkness. Spirit-filled Christians are world Christians on their knees. As we companion with the Spirit throughout each day, we begin to see the world with His eyes and He catches us up into Himself till our hearts beat with His.