“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38)
There’s more to great commission prayer than holding the lifeline for the individual missionary. We are commissioned not only to pray for individual missionaries but for the cause at large. The leadership of the church should take the responsibility to set up the link between missionary and prayer partner and, indeed, to mobilize the entire body for in-the-Spirit prayer, personal as well as united.
Jesus commanded, for example, to pray and keep on praying, is the force of the verb, for laborers for the harvest. Because, he said, the unreaped harvest is so very great and the laborers are far too few (Matthew 9:37, 38). I imagine that is the prayer the church at Antioch was praying when God told them to send out their senior pastor and his associate, Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13). And they weren’t just offering an occasional “missionary moment” prayer. It says they were fasting and praying and it takes more than 30 minutes of united prayer to be a fast!
For some years I conducted “Great Commission Workshops” with local church leaders, eight hours of evaluation and planning. Only churches that considered themselves strong in missions would invite me for such a grueling exercise. I discovered a startling thing: the average amount of time devoted to united prayer by some group – large or small – was three minutes a week. And these were the premier missions-minded churches. Even that token prayer was almost exclusively for their own sons and daughters in missions. I found almost none praying as Christ clearly commanded, for laborers for the harvest. Of course, that kind of prayer could be hazardous. Begin to pray that way and God might call the senior pastor, as in Antioch. He might call one of the sons gathered at the family altar should such prayer be made on a regular basis with faith and fervor.
Another strategic prayer is suggested by the Father’s invitation to the Son, “Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, the uttermost parts of the earth as your possession” (Psalm 2:8). We must join the Son in asking the Father for all the nations as an inheritance for the Son. I’ve long prayed that prayer for Japan and the Bengali. And not just because I had a daughter who labored in Japan for almost two decades and a son who labored for 10 years among the Bengali slum dwellers of Calcutta. I pray that kind of focused prayer because I long for these nations to become part of the Lord Jesus’ inheritance. I plead with the Father, “You’ve answered the prayers of the Son and are giving him China and Korea in unprecedented harvests. Why not just across the water, the people of Japan, and to the south, the largest unreached people group of all “the Bengali?”
We can claim the Father’s promise and do what has been called, “adopt a people” for focused prayer until the gift is given. Years after I began that prayer, God began to answer among the Bengali of Bangladesh in which there is unprecedented turning to Christ in one of the most hard-core Muslim nations of the world. Now for the Bengali of India!
We may not understand about spiritual warfare in prayer like Daniel did. He read in Scripture what God’s will was for the nations, as we have done, and then, unlike us, he went to his knees for days, for weeks, pleading for the fulfillment of the promise. We read that God heard him and sent the heavenly emissary to answer that prayer, but that Gabriel was detained in mighty combat with celestial evil forces. And Daniel, not knowing that, nevertheless participated in that war through fasting and prayer till victory came (Daniel 8- 9). We may not understand how all that works, but we know for sure there is powerful resistance by evil powers of spiritual darkness to Gospel advance and that we are called to participate in the battle through prayer.
So the most important part of the missionary enterprise is prayer, individual and corporate, persistent, fervent, untiring. There must be prayer for the individual missionary representative of the church, but there must also be strategic warfare for laborers for the harvest and for the unreached peoples of the world.
“Apostles” are so important in God’s program of reaching the whole world because they are the Spirit’s point-men (or women), his only strategy for completing the Church and saving humankind. We’ve seen how all must witness, some must evangelize, some of the evangelists must go to those out of reach of present gospel witness. And we’ve seen how the “going” will be effective to the extent there is praying.
Are you praying? Fervent, faith-filled, detailed for specific missionaries? Is your church praying for the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers? How can you facilitate ever deeper corporate prayer for the missionary enterprise? Why not commit today to deepening your great commission praying and keep on praying? Develop a plan for strategic, specific prayer and fasting for the harvest among unreached peoples of the world.