August 20, 2017

Praying for Missionaries

Roger Bergman

Player: “Say, Coach, who’s supposed to jump ball?”
Coach: “Don’t bother me with details, just play the game!”
Player: “But Coach, which offense should we run?”
Coach: “Forget about which offense; just get on with it and win the game!”

Win the game? If you were to overhear such an exchange, you would be quick to discern that this team is going nowhere fast. Winning requires a game plan. There must be leadership. The details are important.

Although the mission of the Church is not a game, there are many excellent parallels between the discipline of good teamwork in a ball game and our Christian faith. For example, by considering the lessons we can learn from the ball, the coach, the players, and the goal, we believers can come to a better understanding of prayer in missions.

The Ball

Most sports include a ball of some size and shape. Some are soft; some are rock-hard. Some are big, and others are small. However, they all have one thing in common: they must be moved by human agency! In some cases, feet are not supposed to touch the ball; in others, only the feet should touch it. In still other sports, some sort of bat or stick must be used.

In the spiritual realm, the “ball” could be compared to prayer. Although at times the Spirit of God “maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” we usually pray consciously for known needs. And like a good coach directs his players to perform specific actions in order to move the ball toward the goal, God gives us clear direction about prayer in missions.

When considering the ball, we must first understand that God chooses to use people to pray. When thinking about cross-cultural missionary service, it is possible that there are some missionaries who just are not gifted with a high proficiency in foreign languages. Other missionaries may tend toward depression and would struggle to continue laboring when the work progresses slowly, almost imperceptibly, perhaps not moving at all. But every Christian can, and should, pray. Isn’t it amazing to consider that God has chosen to involve us in His plans in so many ways? For instance, in Spain, where we minister, the government is a constitutional monarchy. But the king of Spain has never once called to ask us for anything! (If he did, we would do everything possible to fulfill his wishes.) Now consider how the King of kings doesn’t just call us to ask us for something; He summons us to the throne room for a personal conference every day, many times a day. He wants to get the “ball” moving. He wants us to pray.

The Coach

The coach in the opening dialogue was uninterested and disoriented. Not so with the God of Heaven. He is also much more than a mere coach. He is the founder of the league. He makes the rules. He decides what the penalties will be for those who don’t abide by the rules, and He enforces them. In Europe, athletic coaches typically do not enjoy great longevity. The elite teams do not exist just to draw fans to the stadium. They expect championships now. Fans expect the coach to produce victories, not to make excuses for defeats. This is obviously somewhat unfair, because a ball team is made up of more than just a coach. Factors such as the players, injuries, and inclement weather all influence the outcome of the game. But we must understand that in praying for missionaries, God directs, and we must follow His directions. He knows the opposition. He knows the conditions in which missionaries struggle for victory. He knows us who serve in His harvest fields, plus all our weaknesses. And He assures us in 1 John 5:14, 15 that “if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”

The Players

There are many “stars” in sports, but those who shine the brightest (such as Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and the Williams sisters) stand out not only because they are gifted with natural talent; they also work at what they do. Nothing is left to chance. We believers must understand that, as God’s chosen instruments for prayer, we must do our homework. We must study His Word in order to pray according to His will. We must also understand that prayer is not something extremely complicated, reserved for the intellectual theologian. God calls on the farmer, the housewife, the student, and the linesman to pray. He wants the policeman, the pastor, the teacher, and the street sweeper to pray—according to His will. Here are some simple examples of praying in the realm of missions—according to God’s will—straight from the Bible:

Galatians 6:9—“God, strengthen missionary A not to give up, not to faint, despite his weariness.”

1 John 4:1—“Father, give missionary A discernment to ‘try the spirits’ of other spiritual teachers and leaders in order to identify the false prophets and thereby protect his young flock.”

Romans 10:12—“Lord, keep missionary A from any form of favoritism or prejudice in preaching Christ.”

1 John 4:18—“Dear God, give missionary A grace not to fear men as he preaches the gospel of your saving grace and love to them.”

Acts 1:4—“Lord, help missionary A to wait on You and Your promises; not to rush ahead of Your timing.”

2 Timothy 2:9—“Gracious God, as missionary A suffers, falsely accused of doing evil, don’t allow Your Word to be bound; free it to work in power!” Jeremiah 38:13—“Oh God, lift up missionary A from his dungeon of despair and free him from the shackles that bind and depress him, to continue ministering for You.”

Proverbs 24:10—“Father, strengthen missionary A that he might not faint in the face of adversity!”

Psalm 1:3—“Dear Father, make missionary A to be like a tree, planted by rivers of water, that he might bring forth fruit in due season.”

Genesis 18:19—“Lord, make missionary A to be like Abraham: to teach and lead his family to follow You faithfully in Your ways.”

Missionaries A to Z need this kind of praying! Rather than rushing through a list of missionaries with an allinclusive “bless them,” take some time to consider the specific requests they have sent to you or your church. If you are personally acquainted with one or two, write to them to inquire about any personal needs they would be willing to share with you, and pray for those needs. But above all, take all these requests before our Heavenly Father, praying according to His will, as revealed in His Word. The missionaries are not the only players. YOU have a major part in the game plan, and you are not just a statistician or a water boy! God has chosen to make your prayers count.

The Goal

What is the goal in the Christian life? Is it evangelism? A big church? Having strong families? While these values are good and are integral parts of the Christian experience, the goal of our lives as followers of Christ is to glorify God. As the simple answer to the catechism question teaches us, “I can glorify God by loving Him and doing what He commands.” We must understand that one of the goals God desires is dependence. He says, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38). He also says, “In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). He commands us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). He gives us tremendous specific petitions for prayer when He says in Matthew 6:9, “After this manner therefore pray ye. …”

We all need to mature in our dependence to pray in the will of God as revealed in His Word. You need this kind of dependence for your own life. Your missionaries need it too. In truth, we all really need this kind of Biblical dependence and praying.


Roger and Mary Bergman are missionaries to Spain.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July / August 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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