Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Acts 13:1-2 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
Antioch was the first truly missionary church. It was a praying church, and since Barnabas is named first on its list of leaders in our text, we can be sure he was himself a leader in the area of prayer. A church with praying leaders and praying members understandably became the first missionary congregation.
I fear we have lost the vital connection between prayer and missions. We often tell how modern missions began. William Carey convinced fellow Baptist pastors in his area to establish a missions society to promote world missions. An oft neglected and rarely told fact is, before the missions society was founded, these Baptist pastors had been regularly meeting for prayer for 8 years. Carey was barely able to persuade them to support missions. I’m convinced it would have never happened had there not been 8 years of prior praying to help prepare the way.
Extending Christ’s kingdom is a war watched in the physical realm, but ultimately waged in the spiritual. All successful mission efforts share one common trait. On them rests a mysterious power, an energy that comes from another dimension with such strength that it amazes and startles everyone who witnesses it.
Thus, missionary Robert Speer (1867-1947) is right, “Evangelization of the world depends first upon a revival of prayer. Deeper than the need for workers; deeper, far, than the need for money; deep down at the bottom of our spiritual life, is the need for the forgotten secret of prevailing, world-wide prayer. Missions has progressed slowly abroad because piety and prayer have been shallow at home.”
I urge upon us two types of pleading before God with regard to expanding His kingdom. First, I call us to travailing prayer, to crying out as if in birth pains for the delivery of newborn baby believers. I read of a William Bramwell who one time agonized 36 hours in a sand pit without food, crying out for people’s souls.
The great revivalist Charles G. Finney was saved in his law office. He sat a few hours longer, lingering in God’s presence until a divine, holy anointing fell on him. Everyone he spoke to the rest of that day eventually became a believer. Finney never forgot the connection between prayer and extending the kingdom of Christ. In all his travels he took with him Father Nash, a prayer warrior who hid himself away in whatever city Finney was preaching. Nash would bury his face in his hands and agonize for hours before God for Finney to be used in conversions.
The kingdom is advancing slowly because we are travailing little. Only as we travail in birth pains of prayer will new souls be born into the kingdom of God.
Second, I call us to traveling prayer, to making geography central to our petitions. Ethnocentricism ever threatens to undermine our spirituality. Seeing ourselves as the most important people in the world will destroy missions praying.
If we do not have some form of disciplined approach to praying, we will always slip back into the mode of praying for me, my four, and no more. Our Acts 1:8 mandate begins with Jerusalem, but then extends beyond it, to Judea, Samaria, and uttermost regions. This expansive outlook should characterize our praying.
We may never travel to China, India, Nepal, or Tanzania, but we can spend a little time there every day in prayer. We must pray for missionaries, for native leaders, for the persecuted, for the lost. Woe to us if we shirk this responsibility.
Too many of us are localized in our outlook. We pray for Springfield, but not the rest of Missouri. Or we pray for Missouri, but not other states. Or we pray for the USA, but not the rest of the world. If the purpose of praying is to bring us into conformity with God’s mind, for our heart to beat as His heart, we’ll have to find a way in our everyday prayer patterns to cry out regularly for Springfield, Missouri, the USA, North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.
Until we have a world vision, we do not share God’s vision, for He sees the whole world. Our prayers need to travel, following God’s tear-filled eyes as they longingly gaze on the lostness of all humanity. Put geography in your prayers.
Travailing prayer and traveling prayer–both were powerfully displayed in the life and ministry of missionary James Fraser (1871-1937), called the Apostle to the Lisu. He pleaded with believers to send out travailing and traveling prayers for the Lisu, the people God had put on his heart. Fraser wanted agonizing prayers from every corner of the globe to focus on the Lisu, “I am not asking you to just help in prayer as a sort of sideline, but I am trying to roll the main responsibility of prayer warfare on you. I want you to take the burden of these people on your shoulders.” Fraser practiced travailing and traveling prayer himself. When he arrived among the Lisu, he found they were divided into two groups–North Lisu and South Lisu. He lived and worked among the South Lisu, but spent half of every day praying for the North Lisu. When revival came to the Lisu, it came to the North. Let’s always begin our mission efforts with travailing and traveling prayer.