by MD Knapp
A veteran missionary shares practical, biblical tips for powerfully praying for those working overseas.
Bless the missionaries in Africa and be with the ones in Brazil.” Christians pray these aimless prayers every day. Sometimes they’re slightly more specific, as in, “Be with John and Lucy in Vietnam.” How thoughtful. Now they can assure the missionary couple, “We prayed for you.”
Hollow, unfocused utterances can be useless to the Kingdom of God, harmless to the kingdom of darkness, powerless to the missionary, and meaningless to the so-called intercessor. For Christians to make a real impact on the world, learning to aim missionary praying for maximum impact is critical.
I know this, not based on my expertise on the subject of intercessory prayer, but because I’m a missionary on the receiving end of some of those prayers. After several years of doing short-term missions, I left America twelve years ago to go full time in Asia. Every time I return to the States, I hear weak, pointless prayers being offered for missionaries. I’m grateful to meet Christians who really know how to do battle in prayer for missionaries. My work in Asia has been fruitful as a direct result of those well-focused prayers. Faithful prayer warriors aren’t just saying, “God, bless MD in Asia today.”
When you pray for your pastor, family members, or close friends, being specific is easy because you see them often enough to know what challenges they face in their daily lives and because they can directly tell you, “Pray for me because…” A missionary has specific prayer needs too, but unless you’ve been in his or her shoes, you likely have no idea how to make your prayers really count.
I would like to share some practical, biblical tips for powerfully praying for a missionary. I’ve seen God tangibly answer this kind of prayer. If you desire your prayers to achieve maximum impact for the kingdom, arm yourself with the following strategies. We on the mission field are counting on you at home for this kind of praying.
1. Focus your prayers on the missionary’s real purpose for ministry. “God, bless the missionary” isn’t enough. Find out why the missionary has been sent. What is he or she doing? What does he or she hope to accomplish? The Apostle Paul asked people to pray specifically:
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. (Col. 4:2-4)
I’m so glad there are people praying, “Lord, please empower MD to speak your words clearly. Give him a harvest of souls for your kingdom.” We’re seeing fruit in our work because some faithful prayer warriors know how to focus their prayers.
2. Find out your missionary’s specific prayer requests. Does he or she have a website or mailing list? Does your church’s mission board have current information on his or her prayer requests? Try to obtain the latest needs and pray accordingly.
3. Pray in God’s will. I’ve heard three kinds of prayers for missionaries.
• Those who passively throw up their hands and only say, “Your will be done with that missionary,” offering no additional intercession.
• Those who think they know the will of God, or believe they can change his will. Their prayers sound something like, “I know it isn’t your will for Eric to be stuck in that place for so long. Quickly move him on to the place he wants to go.” Maybe true, maybe not.
• Those who are prayer warriors, who learn to genuinely pray in God’s will, and when they have no idea what his will is, only then do they stop at, “Your will.”
Praying for a Missionary according to God’s Will
How do you know you are praying according to God’s will? This is an essential question. First John 5:14 says, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” We can take several steps to assure us that we are praying according to God’s will.
1. Align your prayers with scripture. We know the Bible tells us to make disciples (Matt. 28:19), that God doesn’t want marriages to fail (Mal. 2:16; 1 Cor. 7:27), and that we are to live holy lives (1 Pet. 1:16). So, if you are asking God to enable your missionary to effectively make disciples, to strengthen his or her marriage, and to help him or her live a life consecrated to God, you know without doubt that God hears your prayers. Scripturally, it is his will.
2. Remember that a missionary is an ordinary person who struggles with illness, temptation, family problems, financial pressure, and more. Keep your prayers in God’s will by asking for the Holy Spirit to guide you. We don’t always know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit does (Rom. 8:26). This may seem basic, but too much missionary praying is just guesswork. I’m glad there are people praying for my work who take time to silence themselves before the Lord, allowing him to lead. Most of us on the mission field can share testimonies of the Lord showing somebody back home exactly how to pray for us in a strategic situation.
3. Examine yourself to be sure you are the kind of person for whom God likes to answer prayer. There’s no point praying for a missionary if your prayers aren’t getting through. Ask the Lord to search your heart (Ps. 139:23) and show you your sins. Sin that hasn’t been dealt with can stand between you and God (Is. 59:2). Particularly, examine yourself for any traces of pride. God resists the proud (James 4:6).
When you’re praying for a missionary, the idea is to partner together with God. You don’t have to be perfect to pray. If that were so, he wouldn’t answer anyone’s prayers! But missionaries desperately need your prayers to be answered, so do everything you can to make sure you are walking close enough to the Lord that he desires to answer your request.
4. Combine your petitions with praise, worship, and thanksgiving. An attitude of worship makes us more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and God seems to enjoy answering the prayers of thankful people. Praise him before you ask him for something, and thank him for answering previous prayers. This requires follow up on your part. You’ll need to stay up to date on the affairs of your missionary so you know how and when your prayers were answered.
5. Ask God to make you a kingdom seeker (Matt. 6:33). Learn to view yourself, the prayer warrior, as an equal partner with your missionary in the task of reaching the nations. Pray for yourself, that you may be empowered with the same passion for the work as the actual missionary. This passion will drive you to pray fervently, which God in turn has promised to answer. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16b).
6. Invite others to join you in prayer for your missionary. Recommend your small group, Sunday school class, or friends agree together for the needs of your missionary. There’s power in agreeing together in prayer (Matt. 18:19).
Now that you’ve been armed with this information, you can inform your missionary that you are joining him or her on the frontline of his or her work through effective prayer. He or she will be delighted, you’ll share his or her reward in heaven, and together you and the missionary will begin seeing more fruit for the kingdom.
MD Knapp has been involved in international ministry in Asia for thirteen years. He started and led prayer ministries in several churches and founded FMC Prayer, a website designed to connect praying people with missionaries’ needs. He is married and has two children.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 342-344. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.