by Philip B. Wood
Church life in North America is changing and some of these changes are welcome. Less welcome is the tendency for prayer meetings to get dropped because few attend.
Church life in North America is changing and some of these changes are welcome. Less welcome is the tendency for prayer meetings to get dropped because few attend. Where prayer meetings are held, young people are conspicuous by their absence. Unfortunately, those who decry the lack of prayer in their churches sometimes don’t go to prayer meetings themselves.
Undoubtedly, one reason for the decline in prayer is the multiplicity of entertainment options. The imaginative mix of sight and sound on videos may be one factor that can make an old-fashioned prayer meeting seem completely irrelevant to today’s generation.
On the other hand, most readers would probably argue that church and mission work is built on prayer. They would point out that the first thing to be revived in a revival is the prayer life of Christians. Growing churches and missions often seem to have more than a catchy gimmick-they are characterized by people who pray.
For missionaries, communicating regularly with their supporting churches and individuals is an inescapable obligation. They can also encourage their friends by helping them to start small prayer cells. Cell members can encourage and stimulate each other, as well as hold each other accountable before the Lord. Group members can stimulate each other to participate in prayer, and they can find prayer items in newspapers and magazines and take turns writing to missionaries and national church leaders.
Prayer cells seem to work best if they focus on a particular part of the world. Reading a newspaper may take on a new meaning as members look for articles about their region. A group might pray for a particular country or an ethnic group, or a group might decide to pray for several missionaries in one particular part of the world. Prayer needs can be culled from regular newspapers, news magazines, and news broadcasts, as well as from World Pulse, published by the editors of Evangelical Missions Quarterly (Box 794, Wheaton, Ill. 60189) and from Global Prayer Digest (1605 Elizabeth St., Pasadena, Calif. 91104). Most mission organizations are very happy to provide a variety of prayer helps free of charge.
A well-used pamphlet produced by WEC International (Box 1707, Fort Washington, Pa. 19034; or 37 Aberdeen Ave., Hamilton, Ont. L8P 2N6) is called "20 points on praying for missionaries." It gives a lot of ideas on how to turn general information into specific prayer.
Most Christians need to be challenged to pray; they need to be informed about what to pray for and encouraged to keep on praying. Being linked with like-minded individuals who want to pray can help. Missionaries need to address these issues in order to develop and keep a prayer force behind them. Without prayer backing, a missionary’s ministry will suffer.
Here are four steps to help build prayer support:
1. Challenge people to pray. No one finds it easy. We all need to be challenged. Missionaries cannot expect people to naturally pray for them; they must be asked. Missionaries may need to do a study on prayer and the authority of the believer. Once people are convinced of the total necessity of prayer, and see prayer as a central focus of their life and ministry, they will be able to challenge others as well. People need to be challenged to get involved and write once a month to the missionaries they pray for. Every member of a small prayer cell needs to be challenged to collect newspaper articles on a part of the world the group is interested in. They need to be challenged to contact mission representatives to borrow a video, or to ask for someone to come and explain a difficult situation.
2. Inform people of the needs. People need to be informed of specific needs. A prayer like "bless our missionaries" can be used by God, but this is not the kind of prayer that brings blessing to those who pray, let alone those prayed for. If people are to intercede, they will need to know what they areinterceding for. Prayer letters with detailed requests are necessary.
These days we can fax, e-mail, or phone brief prayer requests. Prayer will be more exciting and rewarding when specific, up-to-date needs are known. The news that L. has an appointment to see an immigration official on Monday about a visa extension will stimulate prayer that day, and will strengthen a prayer cell when members hear that a six-month extension has been granted.
Many groups enjoy keeping prayer journals with specific requests on one side of a page and answers on the other. Even a request for daily prayer during an evangelistic tour in an inhospitable and isolated area will generate an amazing response, if it follows regular reports of previous tours and is followed by a detailed report of this particular tour.
3. Encourage prayer supporters and prayer cells. A prayer cell may include only two or three people who are concerned for one particular missionary and others in his part of the world. They will be encouraged as they gather to share news and prayer letters. Groups may not work well unless members live reasonably close to each other and are composed of people of a similar age and outlook. It is an advantage if the members are just a local phone call away. They might, however, have interests in different mission societies or go to different churches. These differences make it easier for individuals to tap into different sources of prayer information.
4. Suggest networking with other groups. It’s great if prayer cells are not exclusive to a particular mission society or a denomination. Members from different backgrounds may bring a different emphasis and will certainly give access to different sources of prayer material which will tend to keep the group fresh and interesting.
Finding the initial group is always difficult, but it is possible to link an interested individual with the parents of a missionary colleague to make a triplet prayer cell. A number of friends who receive one missionary’s prayer letter might welcome the prayer letter of other missionaries from another society in the same area. This might stimulate them to think of forming a small cell.
Providing some research on a people group might broaden the horizons of the missionaries’ friends and make them think of forming a prayer cell. Prayer cells need to know the times of radio programs that give world news. They need the addresses and phone numbers of missions where they can get information. They should subscribe to some mission journals such as Evangelical Missions Quarterly so that they are not totally dependent on prayer letters.
There is a wealth of specific information in Operation World by Patrick Johnstone (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993). Johnstone’s purpose is to develop prayer for missionaries, and he includes introductory points on this subject.
Here are some dos and don’ts for prayer cells:
- Missionaries coming on furlough need to set a goal of the number of prayer cells to start during furlough. They need to pray for the cells before and after they are formed.
- Missionaries on furlough can most easily start a group when they are invited to a home for an informal presentation. They can suggest a friendly, neutral environment, probably the home of one of the participants, for the meetings. They must meet with the group, and show them how it is done.
- Food should not be a focus. Have some refreshments, but nothing fancy.
- Reporting should not be a central focus. After the missionary has gone, who will report?
- Singing or fellowship should not be a major focus.
- Prayer must be the central focus.
- Encourage the cell to start a simple prayer journal with requests on one page and the corresponding answers on the facing page.
- The group should be encouraged to take turns to write personal letters to the missionaries they pray for and to any national Christians they get to know.
- Write or fax short, personal notes frequently to the group, particularly when there is an urgent prayer need.
- Encourage the group to think of visiting their missionaries for a prayer tour.
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