“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.” (Colossians 4:2-4 NKJV)
A magnificent southern thunderstorm was entertaining me one evening. From my porch, I watched the display of cosmic fireworks when all of a sudden there was a mighty explosion right in our backyard — an extravaganza of sight and sound. Lightning had struck the transformer. In a moment, we lost all light and power — for days we were without power. Yet just a half mile away, giant electrical towers trooped through the fields, bearing unlimited supplies of light and power. The situation reminded me of how many Christians live. Power flows all around them, but they aren’t connected.
Holy Spirit power flows through prayer. Prayer forms the human conduit for divine energy. Since the Spirit acts in response to the believing prayer of an obedient people, prayer is the most important part of evangelism. As E.M. Bounds said, “Much prayer, much power, little prayer, little power, no prayer, no power.”
If we pray for our missionaries at all, it may be a routine reading over some brief request. But the kind of prayer Paul describes is very different. In these verses he calls such prayer “struggling.” He describes it with the words “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. 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. We are to be sensitive to the Spirit’s intimations of special need for special prayer. When Paul says, “with thanksgiving,” he doesn’t mean merely saying thank you when God answers, important as that is.
We are to thank God for the answer even as we ask. In other words, faith-filled prayer. Paul gives instruction on what we’re to pray about: (1) the missionary’s ministry and (2) the missionary’s life. The Holy Spirit must empower both or nothing of eternal significance will be done. He said to pray that doors of opportunity would open up and that the missionary team would have the ability to make the mysterious gospel understandable. That’s Spirit-energized ministry.
Paul recognized the need for the fruit of the Spirit as seen in his instruction to believers in that same passage: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4 :5-6). Furthermore, Paul tells the Ephesians in a similar passage (Ephesians 6:19-20) to plead with God that he might have courage. Missionaries may have the most glorious, good news; but if their lives don’t demonstrate the beauty and strength of Christ, their proclamation will not be as effective as it could be. So we must pray for both the ministry and the life, the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit.
Perhaps you don’t know any missionaries that well. You need to design a strategy to get involved in God’s enterprise as an intercessory prayer warrior. Why not ask your pastor or your denominational headquarters to introduce you to a missionary who works in an area in which you may have an interest? Most missionaries send out regular reports with prayer requests. Ask the missionary(ies) you choose to put you on their mailing list. When missionaries visit the church, invite them home for dinner. And don’t spend the time reworking the Super Bowl! Pull their story out of them, learn what their prayer needs are. Then pray! If you don’t have a missionary you can call “my missionary,” why not make a telephone call to the church office or write a letter right now? Get started!