by Samuel A Maeteer and Gary Corwin
Two perspectives from veteran missionaries that will provoke thinking—and, we hope, prayer.
Where does prayer fit inot the life and work of a missionary? All of us would agree that prayer is essential, but in the crush of competing demands on our time, our actions to the contrary sometimes speak louder than our words. Here are two perspectives from veteran missionaries that will provoke thinking—and we hope, prayer. — Eds
By Samuel A. Mateer
Once upon a time a church planter went forth to do good. He planned, put in his time, worked his networks, and kept good relationships with his team. He worked hard at that last one. He observed his devotions (mostly), was an exemplary family man, and had good relations with the people of his country.
But lo and behold, after much work, that’s all that remained, much work. There seemed to be little fruit, but that wasn’t too disturbing because in mission retreats he discovered that all the other fields were “hard” as well. Either he was not at the right place at the right time, or God had other plans, or he was not cut out to be a church planter. Rejecting the last, and not knowing about the second, he determined he was at the right place and just needed to try harder.
And so he did. He was sure there was a methodology, a program, a something out there that would unlock the door for church growth and, of course, allow him to write good prayer letters back home.
Being a sensitive man, the thought bothered him that maybe, just maybe, God had decided not to visit this people at this time with the gospel. How would he know? While praying about it, the idea came to him that possibly the problem was not in God, nor in the location, nor even in the methods. The problem could be simply that above all else God wanted him—not his work, not his efforts, nor even his programs. God just wanted him. Before all else God’s desire was to restore in him the fellowship lost in Eden, and that everything that the missionary would ever want or do or be would come from that relationship.
The church planter saw that Jesus maintained and even worked at keeping such a communion with his Father via prayer. This missionary had tried that, but from his training he thought that to have such an alliance he would have to get up before sunrise or stay up after bedtime. He didn’t function well on less than seven hours sleep, so he had given such a life over to others. But Luke’s report caught his attention: “. . . the news about him (Jesus) spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5 15-16).
Hey, thought the missionary, Jesus fellowshiped with the Father during the day, not just all night or a great while before day. He spent time with the Father during work hours, even when he was very busy and in great demand. He made time to be with his Father, and he made that time regularly, no matter what ministry was pressing in on him.
Furthermore, the church planter discovered that the apostles were doing exactly the same thing. They were imitating Jesus in making time for prayer with the Father. Thus, the apostles were careful to leave administration behind—the main occupation of ministers and missionaries—in order to give space to the Father. Being proactive before there was such a term, the apostles suggested the church appoint deacons to wait tables so that they could devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word,” listed in that order as that is how they esteemed the importance of the two activities (Acts 6:4).
The church planter began to think about the implications of this life style for himself. Luke reports that as a result of the apostles’ decision to limit their activity to prayer and the ministry of the word, that: “. . . the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
Maybe it is so, thought the missionary, that prayer is the ministry. He remembered Paul Cho of Korean monster-church fame saying that if he had another church to found he would start by shutting himself up in a room for three weeks and do nothing but pray.
The missionary persisted in this new understanding of the work even though others tolerated more than appreciated his change. “It’s okay,” they said, “but he had better get his work done.”
Out of that prayer camesatisfaction in the work, power over Satan, love for the people, the fruit of the Spirit, confidence in himself, a methodology (“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field”), direction for the future, peace in the face of opposition, and, of course, church growth.
As he grew in prayer he discovered other principles, such as praying for Christians more than non-Christians, asking God to conform Christians to the image of Christ, and daily rejoicing in his deep relationship with the Father.
Yet, as time passed, he found himself back into the world of plans, programs, and progress reports—and before he knew it, before he knew anything had changed, the radical life style of time with God was history. Oh, missionary, missionary, my heart aches for you.
Samuel Mateer has work in Latin America with Mission to the World (Presbyterian Church in America) since 1979. He currently serves as team leader of MTW’s team planting churches among the professional and upper-class people of Santiago, Chile. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, Fuller Theological Seminary, Princeton Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary (D.Min.).
On prayer and blindness
By Gary Corwin, Associate editor
It happened in Toronto. On November 12, 1990, the vision in my left eye became a little clouded. Within five days I could no longer make out letters printed on a page. I could barely recognize close friends.
Back from Toronto I made an appointment with our ophthalmologist. After more tests than I knew existed, he gave me the news. I had a cataract.
He wanted me to return in two weeks to see if the degeneration continued. There was still some doubt about why it had formed, and he wanted to get a second opinion. The doctor said something about “metabolic” causes, and asked me about diseases or injuries I had suffered earlier in life. Because my medical history reads like an entry in “Who’ s Who in Exotic Diseases and Medical Traumas,” my mind really started to work overtime.
I knew that surgery can usually correct cataracts, but my uncertainty sparked days of unfruitful thinking. What would I do if I went blind? Almost all of my vocational skills were heavily dependent on the ability to read and process large quantities of information. Then it hit me like a laser-guided smart bomb. I would give myself to a disciplined life of intercessory prayer! And, listening to tapes, I would memorize the New Testament! It would be glorious, and I was sure that God would accomplish a whole lot more through that than through my puny efforts now.
A flood of peace swept over me. After all, has not prayer always been God’s chosen means to unleash his power? I would know God in a deeper, more intimate way and see him work mightily through prayer, as men such as David Brainerd and Praying Hyde did. This could really be exciting!
I might even be able to stay in the mission, with our supporters standing behind us for this kind of ministry. Who knows, this new ministry might even have a mobilizing dimension.
I was becoming quite ecstatic with my musings when all of a sudden a disturbing thought hit me: If this is such a worthy idea, why would I have to be blind to pursue it?
The reason, I sorrowfully concluded, is that we do not really believe all that we say we believe about prayer. While we can understand and rejoice in retirees, invalids, or blind people who give themselves fully to a life of prayer, we would have very serious suspicions about any whole and healthy person under age 70 who wanted to do the same. We would assume they were shirkers trying to avoid the hard work of personal, active involvement. Perhaps we would be right.
Why? We do not see prayer as the main event. Because we know little of prayer as work, we cannot envision prayer as our work. Because so few of us know it as an avocation, we can hardly envision it as a vocation.
Doing is the thing we know, and that is where we spend ourselves. Prayer is an important thing, but it is something we also do.
Well, I had my surgery, less than a month after my vision problem began. And on an outpatient basis at that. The lens I was born with was popped out and a new plastic one was popped in. Oh, the miracles of modern science and God’s grace! I truly am thankful.
But I am still concerned about blindness—my own, and that of the Body of Christ. Not a blindness tofaces or typed pages, but a blindness to God’s ways and power. A blindness to the fact that prayer really is the most important thing we do, in missions and in life. A blindness to prayer as work and vocation. It’s not just an additive to make our life’s engine run smoother.
Lord, help us to see!
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and missologist-at-large for Arab World Ministries, on loan from SIM.
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