A Call for Churches to Care For, Not Just About, Their Missionaries
Oswald Chambers once said, “Prayer does not equip us for greater works; prayer is the greater work.”
There is a movement of churches that is developing proactive and intentional strategies to make a shift from caring about missionaries to caring for missionaries. There are many ways to accomplish this noble feat: establishing advocacy teams, sending caregivers for field visits, connecting with the sending agency representatives, hosting care retreats, etc. Thankfully, the North American Church is action oriented, and these activities can be very encouraging for those who serve the Lord in far-off places.
However, while these activities produce very positive “emotional” outcomes for overseas workers, sometimes the focus on these earthly endeavors can detract us from the “spiritual” outcomes they are meant to accomplish. The King James Version of James 5:16 is such a powerful reminder of our duty to pray: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
Sometimes the focus on these earthly endeavors can detract us from the “spiritual” outcomes they are meant to accomplish.
The emotional health of the Sent One is bound together tightly with their spiritual work; therefore, we as senders have the obligation to engage in their spiritual battle using spiritual weaponry. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12) Because of this, the best way to care for your missionaries is through an effective and fervent prayer ministry in the Sending Church.
A common temptation when God’s people pray for their global workers is to focus on keeping them safe, removing a hardship, or maintaining their physical health. All those prayers are nice . . . but have we been called to pray “nice” prayers? Perhaps we need to be reminded about the enemy we are fighting against in our spiritual battle:
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Pet 5:8–9)
Your missionaries have been called by God and sent out by your church to be the ones who remove the prey from the mouth of a prowling, ravenous, roaring lion. Our enemy, Satan, is described in scripture as one who roams “to and fro on the earth" (Job 1:7; 2:2), seeking to harm, discredit and separate people from God’s divine plan to prosper, restore, and redeem mankind (Jer 29:11–14).
Your missionaries have been called by God and sent out by your church to be the ones who remove the prey from the mouth of a prowling, ravenous, roaring lion.
This spiritual battle is present in the life of every believer, but missionaries intentionally put themselves in harm’s way by answering the call of God to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). This calling makes them targets of a ferocious and clever enemy who will work tirelessly to destroy them.
Western Christians are notorious for seeking comfort, health, and security since they are all surrounded by these luxuries at home, but when they leave for the mission field, they need a new set of survival skills to endure the rigors of life abroad. The scriptures are filled with analogies that compare bodily exercise to make one physically stronger with faith training to make one spiritually fit (Heb 12:1; Isa 40:31; Jas 1:12; Rom 5:3–4; 1 Cor 9:24–27). With this in mind, as we pray for our missionaries, let’s consider some better ways to lift up our Sent Ones before the throne of God in our churches:
When we pray for our workers who are sent to difficult places, it is nice to pray for safety, but it is better to pray for them to be good stewards of their lives. Remember, Jesus prayed for deliverance from the cross, but he also added, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done” (Matt 26:39–42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).|
When your worker sends a prayer request asking for intercession for a hardship, it is nice to pray for the hardship to be removed, but it is better to pray for endurance through the hardship. Romans 5:3–5 teaches that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
You may regularly hear people pray the words, “Lord, be with our missionary.” That seems to be a nice prayer, but if we truly believe the words of Jesus when he gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20 “. . . behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” then a better prayer would be something like this: “Father, we know that you are very near to our missionary. Help her to be constantly aware of your presence as she goes through this trial. Give her and us insight into what you are doing behind the scenes in and through this situation. Provide her with confidence, not in herself or her circumstances, but in you alone and your everlasting care and provision for her every need.”
As a missionary sent out from the church at Antioch, the Apostle Paul provided some instructions to his supporting churches on how to pray for him:
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” (Col 4:2–4)
“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.” (2 Thess 3:1–2)
“. . . keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Eph 6:17–20)
Augustine challenged us to “think prayerfully and pray thoughtfully” so that we can align ourselves with the greater purposes of God in our own lives, as well as those all around the world.
In 2 Chronicles 20:15, King Jehoshaphat receives a message from the Lord saying, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.” Just before this powerful declaration of God’s faithfulness is a humble admission of weakness and humility from the king: “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
There is wisdom in King Jehoshaphat’s admission that the battle is the Lord’s. We are called to work alongside missionaries in their spiritual battle using a spiritual weapon—prayer! Resist the temptation to try and minister to them in your own strength; instead, may your prayer always be that your missionaries will keep their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2).
*This is an adaptation from chapters 6 and 10 of Mind the Gaps: Engaging the Church in Missionary Care. Used with permission by the publisher for this article.