In his book True Community, Jerry Bridges offers the following account:
William Carey of England, who has been called “the father of modern missions,” went to India in 1793. At that time, there were no organized missionary societies, but as Carey prayed over the needs of an unreached world, God laid India on his heart. At a commissioning service for Carey and his colleague in March 1793, one of Carey’s friends exclaimed, “There is a gold mine in India but it seems almost as deep as the centre of the earth!” — to which Carey replied, “I will venture down but remember that you must hold the ropes.”
Miners have hard work to do — not always easy, and certainly not always safe — but they do it a little easier when they have reliable partners holding the ropes that keep them tethered to the surface.
In a spiritual sense, missionaries are miners too. They dive deep into spiritual darkness, armed with the tools of the Gospel, and unearth those who are ready to believe in Jesus Christ.
Their job is made a little easier when they have partners back home holding the ropes in prayer. Not that either the partners or the missionaries are anything special, but that both rely on God to make the work successful.
But that’s harder than it sounds sometimes. It can be difficult to imagine what a family in Togo deals with on a daily basis, or what needs a young couple in Panama might have.
It can be hard to empathize with a family you barely know who serves in a country where you’ve never been, dealing with people you’ve never met, using a language you’ve never heard. It’s hard to put yourself in their shoes if you’ve never been where they are!
Even if you receive prayer letters and updates from missionaries — even if you scour them for details — not every need gets broadcast in those newsletters. And sometimes they’re hindered from sending out updates altogether due to lack of internet access, inadequate postal service, or even foreign policy.
How do you know what to pray for missionaries?
First of all, remember that missionaries are (regular) people just like you. They need prayer for the same things as the rest of us — the same basic needs, the same core struggles, the same human nature. They struggle with the same sins, face the same fears, and know the same discouragement. Missionaries are not “Super Christians,” they are simply obedient servants who need your prayers to keep doing what God has called them to do!
Then consider different aspects of daily life that we all face, both tangible and intangible. There is no shortage of things to pray about, and you need look no further than your own life for inspiration.
Consider the physical needs we all have: maintaining a residence, buying or growing food, finding reliable transportation, getting electricity and clean water, and communicating with family. Consider the spiritual needs: building relationships to share the Gospel, having regular fellowship with God, dealing with language barriers (even accents or dialects), learning unfamiliar customs and protocols, and maintaining unity within our families.
If you need it, they need some form of it.
If you do it, they do some version it too.
If you struggle with it, they face the same core struggle too.
Now put it into practice: pray for a specific missionary throughout your day today or tomorrow. Pick a missionary you know or one your church supports. If you need to call your pastor about it, do so! He’ll be thrilled to give you a name. Write their name in a conspicuous place where you’ll see it first thing tomorrow. Then pray for them as you go about your daily business — from the time you get up in the morning, throughout your day’s responsibilities, until you go to bed at night.
- As you make breakfast — pray for them to have good, nutritious, filling meals.
- As you shower — pray for them to have an abundant supply of clean, running water.
- As you talk with your kids — pray for their family to remain united, despite the challenges they face on the field, and for kids who grow up on the field to remain tenderhearted towards both God and missions.
- As you drive to the store — pray for them to have reliable transportation and access to whatever supplies they need.
- As you earn money working — pray for their financial support to remain stable and sufficient.
- As you take a phone call — pray for them to have reliable modes of communication both within their area and towards “home.”
- As you straighten the house — pray for ample cleaning supplies and access to laundry facilities.
- As you go to bed — pray for them to have a peaceful night of refreshing sleep.
Cover their lives in prayer from morning until night. Don’t worry if you don’t know the specific details of each situation — remember that the One you pray to does.
And as you get in the habit of praying regularly for missionaries, two things will happen that will help: God will start bringing specific needs to mind, and you will discover what to ask those missionaries the next time you communicate with them.
Like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. The longer you hold the ropes, the better you become at it. The more you pray for missionaries, the more you know how and what to pray for them.
“Those who hold the ropes are just as important in the partnership as those who go down into the mine. It is essential for the spread of the Gospel.” — Jerry Bridges
What missionary can you pray for today? Leave their name (and location) in the comments, and I’ll be praying for them too!