The most vital consideration in missions is not method, money, or even men, but it is God himself and His working, and it is prayer which brings the revelation of God and calls forth His working. However, praying is never a substitute for going in the case of those who are qualified and able to go. In other words, going, giving, and praying are not three different options which the individual Christian may pick from according to their personal preference. Nor will any amount of giving or praying fulfill the Great Commission to evangelize the world apart from going. The command is “Go, preach”! But those who cannot “Go” in person can still “Go” by prayer…
Yet, as it is true that praying without preaching can never carry out the missionary task, it is equally true that preaching without praying cannot either. God has joined the two together in His Word and they are inseparable. We read in the book of Acts how the early apostles decided on the appointment of deacons to care for the secular affairs of the church, that they themselves might be free for the more direct spiritual ministry, and their words were, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” Here are mentioned the two great lines of Christian ministry, prayer and preaching, and they are presented in such a way as to indicate clearly that they are co-equal. How many there are who regard preaching as being by far the more important ministry, and prayer as simply an added supplement, a kind of “aid to preaching”! However, that is not what the Word of God says. The two, prayer and preaching, are put on the same level and given the same importance; indeed, if any significance is attached to the order of the inspired words, then prayer has the precedence as being mentioned first. The fact is that they are complementary one to the other, not two separate ministries but rather two essential parts of one ministry. Prayer is the priestly function of appearing before God on behalf of men to plead their needs and invoke His help. While preaching is the prophetic function of appearing before men in behalf of God, to proclaim His Word of Life and implore their acceptance of it. Either one is imperfect without the other.
Missionaries are needed to go abroad and preach to the unreached, but their efforts will not reach full fruition without the support of effective intercessors at home. Paul, the prince of missionaries, continually appealed to the churches for prayer. Hear his plea to the Thessalonian Christians, “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of God may have free course, and be glorified.” He was faithfully preaching the Word, and in the power of the Spirit, as he repeatedly claimed; yet the fullest effect of that preaching depended upon the believing prayers of others…
Two distinct aspects of prayer are presented in the Bible and find an essential place in the life of all true missionaries, and indeed of all spiritually minded Christians. They are respectively the devotional and the intercessory aspects.
This is communion with God, a holy, intimate and growing fellowship, cultivated by regular seasons of waiting upon Him in adoring worship and quiet meditation on His Word. The book of Psalms abounds in passages illustrating this aspect of prayer, while its supreme example is the Lord Jesus Himself, whose communion with the Father throughout His life on earth was unbroken and intensely real. Jesus was a man of prayer, or more correctly, THE Man of prayer. His life began, continued, and ended in prayer. Limited as is the record given of His earthly career, it includes impressive glimpses into His prayer life. We see Him praying at His baptism, in His wilderness temptation, on the mount of transfiguration, at the grave of Lazarus, in the garden of Gethsemane, on the Cross of Calvary. He prayed in public and in private. He spent whole nights alone in prayer, one of these before choosing the twelve apostles. After a typically strenuous Sabbath day’s ministry in Capernaum, the next morning “rising up a great while before day, he went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” Jesus could not live without regular communion with His Father…
Now if the very Son of God felt such a need for daily devotional prayer, what a presumption it is on the part of any human missionary or other Christian worker to neglect it! The men who have accomplished most for God have been men of prayer…
Adoniram Judson, one of the greatest of America’s missionary sons, was emphatic in his insistence upon prayer. He wrote: “Be resolute in prayer. Make any sacrifice to maintain it. Consider that time is short and that business and company must not be allowed to rob thee of thy God.” That was the man who mightily impressed a great empire for Christ and laid deep and strong the foundations of God’s kingdom in Burma. Hudson Taylor was before all else a man of prayer. He lived in the conscious presence of the Lord; constant communion with God had become to him as necessary and natural as breathing. The China Inland Mission, which he founded, was born in prayer, and prayer has ever since been its vital breath.
The maintenance of regular daily seasons of devotional prayer (together with Bible meditation) by the missionary on the field will not come easy. Lack of privacy in makeshift living conditions, incessant interruptions by well-meaning but undiscerning persons, the pressure of multiple duties and the oppressive atmosphere of surrounding spiritual activity-all these distractions must be confronted in order to safeguard devotional prayer.
This is quite different from devotional prayer. The latter is very real and precious and its vital importance has already been stressed. Yet, it needs to be remembered that prayer is not merely communion with God, it is also cooperation with God, a definite and aggressive ministry, a partnership with God in the carrying out of His divine will and purposes in the world. Prayer is more than simply preparation for service; it is power in service-yes, even more than that, prayer IS service. Among the many Bible passages setting forth this aspect of prayer, one to which we would specifically call attention to is the last part of James 5:16. “The energy put forth by the fervent prayer of a righteous man issues in mighty results,” or “brings mighty things to pass.”: This rendering has the merit of emphasizing the truth that prayer is a vital force, a great dynamic, that prayer exerts energy, and brings things to pass outside the one who prays. We are aware that some individuals will object to this conception of prayer, their contention being that since the universe is governed by certain fixed and unalterable laws, it is therefore unthinkable that any mere man, by his praying, should be able to interfere with such fixed laws. But these objectors lose sight of the important fact that prayer itself IS one of these fixed laws of God, and that God has designed to bring many things to pass by the means of prayer. When that fact is recognized, it will at once be seen that it is not the man who prays, but rather the man who does not pray, who interferes with God’s fixed laws, by failing to cooperate with God in bringing about things which He has meant to be accomplished through His law of prayer…
In no other realm have the priority and the power of prayer been as overwhelmingly demonstrated as in the realm of missions. We speak of Pentecost as being the starting point or inauguration day of Christian missions, but we must not forget about the upper room in Jerusalem where that devoted company of disciples continued for ten days with one accord in prayer and supplication for the coming of Pentecost. Therefore, the beginning of missions can consistently be dated from that prayer gathering. The missionary enterprise was born in prayer, and its entire subsequent history has been a record of answered prayer…
The Pietist and Moravians & Missionary Intercession
From Pentecost and the apostle Paul right down through the centuries to the present day, the story of missions has been the story of answered prayer. Every fresh outbreak of missionary energy has been the result of believing prayer. Organized missionary enterprise began in Germany and Denmark a century earlier than in England. It sprang directly from the revival movement known as Pietism, under the godly leadership of Spencer and Francke and it was deeply rooted in prayer. Out of it came the Danish-Halle Mission to India, and also the better known Moravian movement led by saintly Count Zinzendorf. A settlement was founded at Herrnhut (“The Lord’s Watch”) where a life of prayer became so effused in missionary zeal that it made that little community, and the long line of devoted missionaries who have gone forth from it to the ends of the earth, one of the wonders of the Church age.
Jonathan Edwards & Missionary Intercession
Herrnhut in turn exerted a distinct influence upon the great leaders of Methodism in England, where early in the eighteenth century a marked revival of prayer for the unreached world broke out, greatly stimulated also by a powerful appeal issued by Robert Miller of Scotland urging prayer as foremost among the measures to be used for the conversion of the unreached. In 1744 a call was widely circulated for a sustained concert of prayer, and in 1746 a memorial was sent to America inviting all Christians there to unite in the same petition. This message moved Jonathan Edwards to preach a sermon which not only awakened many on this side of the Atlantic to more earnest prayer, but which also proved to be one of the influences that stirred the heart of William Carey in England, and thus contributed to initiating the modern period of missions.
William Carey, Samuel J. Mills & Missionary Intercession
The facts pertaining to the beginnings of this new era of missions are too well known to need repeating. It’s not our present purpose to dwell upon the record itself, but rather on the vital fact that prayer was instrumental in bringing it about. As related to Great Britain, William Carey is universally recognized as “The Father of Modern Missions,” and the same title is justly due Samuel J. Mills as related to North America. One cannot read the story of either one without being profoundly stirred. Kettering in England, where the first Baptist Missionary Society was founded in 1792, and the “Haystack prayer meeting” of 1806 at Williams College in the USA will always be spoken of as the birthplaces of modern missions. But it was in the hearts of Carey and Mills, and through their travail of soul and strong wrestling in prayer, that this great enterprise for Christ and the world was actually born. Just as truly can it be said that the China Inland Mission and the Gossner Mission in India, two notable “Faith Missions,” were born in the hearts and through the agonizing prayers of their respective founders, Hudson Taylor of England and Pastor Gossner of Germany. The prayer life of the former of these has already been mentioned. Of Gossner, who single-handedly sent out 144 missionaries, it was said: “He prayed up the walls of a hospital, and the hearts of the nurses; he prayed mission stations into being, and missionaries into faith. Prayer was his atmosphere: he could not live without it.”
Revival, Missions & Intercessory Prayer
All the mighty spiritual revivals which constitute the mountain peaks of missionary annals had their roots in prayer. The one in Hawaii which continued from 1837 to 1843 began in the hearts of the missionaries themselves. As they assembled for their annual meetings in 1835 and 1836, “they were powerfully moved to pray, and were so deeply impressed with the need of an outpouring of the Spirit that they prepared a strong appeal to the home churches urging Christians everywhere to unite with them in prayer for a baptism from on high.” Soon they saw unmistakable signs of deepening interest in spiritual things. Then in 1837, a revival swept the island so that missionaries labored day and night with throngs of anxious souls. On one memorable day at Hilo, 1,705 were baptized by Titus Coan, and within six years 27,000 converts were received into the church.
The story of the great revival among the Telugu outcastes of India is vitally linked with “Prayer-Meeting Hill,” a high hill overlooking the town of Ongole. A missionary couple and three like-minded Hindu helpers on a preaching tour were constrained to spend the last night of 1853 on that hilltop in prayer for the Telugu field, which after many years of faithful toil had yielded almost no fruit. More than once the Board at home had been on the point of abandoning it, and only upon the earnest plea of the missionaries had this action been postponed. Just as the first day of the New Year began to dawn, a sweet sense of assurance that their prayers had prevailed stole into their hearts. A further long period of testing had still to be faced, but gradually the opposition broke, the tide began to turn, and finally a mighty outpouring of the Spirit brought a multitude of souls into the kingdom. In a single day at Ongole, in 1878, 2,2222 were baptized and 8,000 within six weeks, and the church there became the largest in the world. An added note of interest is that “the Government of India has acknowledged the power emanating from Prayer-Meeting Hill by donating the hilltop to the Mission to be used as a memorial and gathering place.”
Perhaps the greatest of all revivals on the mission field was that in Korea during 1905-1907, when one of the most remarkable manifestations of God’s power in the entire history of the Christian Church took place. It swept over the whole land and across its borders into Manchuria and China. It cleansed and purified the church, bringing an overwhelming realization of the awfulness of sin. It fired the Christians with a new passion to seek the lost, great numbers were struck with deep conviction and led to accept Christ. It prepared the way for the “Million souls Movement” which was vigorously carried on for years. Like all other revivals this one began with prayer, first by a group of workers in eastern Korea, where the earlier stirring was felt, and latter in Pyeng Yang in the west, which became the center of “The Great Revival.” For months previous to this awakening the missionaries of that station had held daily prayer meetings pleading for a mighty outpouring of God’s Spirit. Finally the flood of blessing broke upon a large assembly of Korean workers and believers gathered for prayer in the great Central Church of the city, led by a humble but godly Korean evangelist.
A sequel to the Korean Revival was an extended series of much blessed revival services in China conducted by Dr Jonathan Goforth, who had visited Korea and seen the mighty working of the Lord there. As touching the prayer factor in this revival movement, the following impressive testimony was later given by Dr. Goforth: “When I came to England I met a certain saint of God. We talked about the revival in China, and she gave me certain dates when God specially pressed her to pray. I was almost startled on looking up these dates to find that they were the very dates when God was doing His mightiest work in Manchuria and China…I believe the day will come when the whole inward history of that revival will be unveiled, and will show that it was not the one who speaks to you now, but some of God’s saints hidden away with Him in prayer who did most to bring it about…
Equally noteworthy are the wonderful answers to prayer and manifestations of divine power and blessing in the lives and ministries of native workers such as Pandita Ramabai and Sadhu Sundar Sungh of India, Pastor Hsi and Ting Li Mei of China, Neesima of Japan, and a host of others who although less well known in the West have similarly learned the secret of prevailing prayer. “One of the greatest miracles and pieces of evidence of Christianity is the prayer life of Oriental Christians, newly won to Christ. In all these multitudes of India, China, Japan, Africa, and the Islands of the sea, we find the same phenomenon – they pray.”
Prayer Is Something Everyone Can Do!
If all that has been said about the power and the achievements of prayer is true, then shouldn’t we be challenged afresh to embrace this great privilege of cooperating with God through prayer? Missionary praying, unlike going, or giving, is something that every child of God can have a part in. All cannot go today, for going requires special qualifications and training and all cannot give, at least in liberal amounts, because of their limited resources, but everyone can pray. The humblest Christian who lacks public gifts or talents, the illiterate, and even the shut-in and the bed-ridden believer can share in this highest and mightiest ministry of intercession. Indeed some of the greatest missionary intercessors have been among these last mentioned, who have turned their bed chambers into audience rooms with the King, and by way of the throne of grace have projected themselves far beyond the range of any preacher, and touched and influenced the very ends of the earth for Christ.
We thank God for all the faithful intercessors and their prayers. They have been God’s means of breaking down barriers, turning the hearts of kings and rulers, forcing open closed doors, calling forth workers, releasing money to support them, giving persuasive power to preaching, softening hard hearts and bringing them under conviction, turning defeat into victory in the hour of crisis-all this and much more. Yet, we need even more such intercessors, yes, for the whole Church to be driven to its knees under a burden of deep concern and a renewed sense of responsibility.
Reference: The Bible Basis of Missions by Robert Hall Glover, Published by Bible House of Los Angeles in 1946
(Edited & Abridged by David Smithers)