By Daniel Akin
Missionary A. T. Pierson well said, “If missions languish, it is because the whole life of godliness is feeble.” To this powerful and convicting statement we may add, “If the whole life of godliness is feeble, it is because prayer is feeble.”
James Fraser was a pioneer missionary to the Lisu people in Western China. He would labor more than five years before seeing his first convert. It would be an accurate assessment to call him a “prayer missionary.” He understood the essential nature of prayer if the Gospel was to reach and change the world. He understood that anything lasting and eternally significant would be the result of waves of prayers that believed God to do something great for his glory. Fraser wrote, “Solid, lasting missionary work is done on our knees. … The Spirit must be continually maintained in strength by unceasing prayer, especially against the powers of darkness. All I have learned of other aspects of the victory-life is useless without this.”
The work of reaching and changing the world is, indeed, a work done on our knees. And, it is a work that takes on the nature of fierce and intense warfare. After all, one of Satan’s chief weapons is to cut off communication with God, communication that takes place in prayer. John Piper is certainly correct when he writes, “Prayer is meant by God to be a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom … not for the enhancement of our comforts but for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.”
When Paul was imprisoned, he continued to have a passion for the Word of God to go forth to those who needed to hear the Gospel. He understood, as well, the intimate connection of that passion to prayer. Thus he wrote to the Colossians, “Devote yourself to prayer … Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains” (Colossians 4:2-3 NIV).
God does not call everyone to leave home and go to the nations. I am convinced he is calling more than are going, but if we are not asking, how can we even receive his answer? Often I challenge our students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to pray a missionary prayer. It is not one most expect. I do not encourage them to pray, “Lord, should I go?” Rather, I challenge them to pray, “Lord, why should I stay?”
The International Mission Board says there are 3.6 billion people who lack an adequate opportunity to hear the Gospel. That means millions upon millions of people will be born, live, die, and go to Hell without ever hearing the Gospel and the name of Jesus. That is a sobering reality. It is a haunting reality. How should we respond? The Bible provides a clear and unambiguous answer: Pray! This is the counsel given by our compassionate Savior to his disciples as he looked upon the masses in need of a shepherd:
“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest'” (Matthew 9:36-38).
God does not call all to be international or North American missionaries. However, he does call all to be fully engaged in the work of missions. He calls all of us to be Great Commission Christians. You see, we can all give. And, we can all pray.
David Livingstone was right: “The best remedy for a sick church is to put it on a missionary diet.” Such a diet, the Scriptures teach us, will always have a healthy portion of prayer.
Daniel Akin is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C
This article comes from Baptist Press. Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. Used by permission.
Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).