Serving as Senders
Chapter Five: Prayer Support
"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit."
In 1923 Helen Mollenkof, a pretty teenager, attended a Keswick Conference in New Jersey. The speaker was L.L. Legters, who along with Cameron Townsend many years later would found Wycliffe Bible Translators.
God had given Legters a deep burden for all the indigenous people of Mexico and Central America without the Bible in their language. Speaking at the Keswick Conference, he challenged the young people to take the name of one language group in Mexico and pray for that peoplethat God would open the doors so His Word could be translated into the language of their heart.
Helen Mollenkof was one of those who answered the challenge. She stepped forward and picked the name of a people she’d never heard of before: the Mazahua. She wrote the name on the flyleaf of her Bible. Then, closing her eyes, this teenaged girl promised the Lord she would pray for them until they had the Bible translated into their own language.
Helen went ahead with life. She graduated from school, became a nurse and joined the Women’s Union Missionary Society. Then she was sent to India, where she served as a missionary for the next thirty-five years. One of her ongoing prayer concerns was for the Mazahua people.
In 1967 Helen returned to the States to retire in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Some time later, for some unexplained reason, she felt free to stop praying for the Mazahua people.
Then in 1981 she picked up her local newspaper and read an interview with Pat Hamric who, like herself, was a long-term missionary. As she read she discovered to her amazement that Pat along with Hazel Spoils and Don and Shirley Stewart had been Bible translators among the Mazahua people.
Overjoyed, she found Pat’s address and wrote to her: "I thought you might be interested in my contact with the Mazahua Indians through prayer."
She told Pat about the Keswick meeting, how L.L. Letgers had challenged them to take the name of one language group in Mexico, and her commitment to pray.
Pat replied. "The New Testament is complete. It was dedicated in January of 1970!"
Helen realized that January 1970 was the very time the Lord lifted her burden to pray!
Most of us are aware of the significance of prayer in God’s global plan. We have powerful articles and books on the topic: An Army of Intercessors; A Concert of Prayer; Seven Minutes with God; Mountain Movers; Praying the Four Ways Christ Taught; Power in Prayer; Destined for the Throne; Effective Prayer Life; Touch the World through Prayer; With Christ in the School of Prayer.
What is the sum of their message? In the words of Augustine. "Without God, we cannot; but without us, God will not."
In His sovereignty, God has voluntarily linked Himself to human cooperation. He has inextricably bound Himself to the prayer of faith of His chlldren. He merges His working with mans praying.
Though this is a deep mystery, it is clearly revealed in the Word and throughout history. Joshuas day in battle would have gone poorly without Moses’ prayer (Exodus 17). Jacob’s place in Israel’s history would not have been the same without Penuel (Genesis 32). The cross would have been intolerable without Gethsemane (Luke 22).
Today one can stand in the bedroom where John Wesley and the members of the "Holy Club" held their prayer meetings, a force God used to ignite a revival that was felt around the world.
Consider Evan Roberts and his friends prostrating themselves before the Lord night after night, resulting in the Welsh Revival. Today the Prayer Mountain in Seoul, Korea gives impetus to the growth of several of the largest churches in the world. The revival sweeping Brazil is evidenced by extra police being put on duty to control traffic in several major cities on prayer meeting night!
In no greater arena of human activity is this mysterious union of our prayer and God’s work seen than in the mission of the Church.
Jesus was going about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, but when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is great, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest." Three verses later, He sent them out two by two (Matthew 9-10)!
At the end of time, Christ the Lamb will be extolled: "You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9). The twenty-four elders singing this new song will be holding golden vials full of incense which are the prayers of saints!
Paul in his masterful Ephesians 6 discourse on spiritual warfare not only clearly delineates the armor for our protection in war, but also identifies two of the major weapons of our warfare: the Sword of the Spirit and prayer.
As a missionary of the first century, he was continually calling on the churches for prayer support: "Brethren, pray for us" he simply stated in 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Hebrews. His appeal to the Christians in Rome seemed a bit more pressing: "I beseech you, brethren ...that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me" (Romans 15:30). Paul assumed Philemon was on his prayer support team (Philemon 22). To the church in Philippi, he stated his confidence that what he was experiencing would turn out well because of their prayers and the resources of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:19)bringing us back to that insoluble cooperation of God and man in prayer.
In spite of all of her lamentable weaknesses, appalling failures and indefensible shortcomings, the Church is the mightiestthe onlyforce that is contesting Satan’s rule in human affairs! And that Church on her knees is the purifying and preserving influence which has kept the fabric of all we call civilization from total disintegration, decay and despair.
Samuel Chadwick said, ’The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray!"
Prayer is not begging God to do something He is loathe to do. It is not overcoming God’s reluctance to act. It is, rather, enforcing Christ’s victory over Satan. It is the effective, fervent communication with the Creator of the Universein line with His willwhich controls the balance of power in world affairs.
Prayer transcends the dimensions of time and space and ushers us into the very throne room of God, worshiping, petitioning and interceding In that spiritual realm of the eternal now.
Prayer is sometimes alleluia (Psalm 150). It is sometimes telling God the details of our needs (Philippians 4:6). It is sometimes laboring in unutterable groans of intercession (Romans 8:26). It is the prayer of a sending church that releases power through His messengers in China, Africa, Europe and Latin and North America.
Prayer is the arena of spiritual warfare. Those who enter there are in touch with a world in need. Those who enter there regularly know the scars but also the victory of battle.
Prayer is where the action issupporting and sustaining those on the fields of the world.
It is vitally important for your cross-cultural worker to have a strong prayer support team every step of the way: from his calling to his planning, training, securing financial support and preparing to leaveall before he even arrives on the field.
All Christians are involved in spiritual warfare. Wherever they are aggressively battling the enemy, there is a greater vulnerability to his attacks. However, your cross-cultural worker often has to deal with battle tactics less familiar than those he faced back home. Where there is less Christian witness, there is greater oppression. Cultures more open to Eastern religions and animism are also more aware of the evil spirit world. Territory that Satan has held for generations does not yield easily. Add to this your worker’s adjusting to all the unknowns of his new culture, and you already have a sizable prayer list.
However, because you may not have ever "been there," his prayer needs may seem so remote, so unreal. Thus, you may sense a lack of being able to make your prayer specific for him.
Here is a prayer list to give you a good start in understanding the areas of need peculiar to a cross-cultural worker that make him vulnerable to discouragement. When you communicate with him, ask which of these areas are vital to him. And as you let him know of your commitment to sustain him in prayer, he will be happy to keep you informed of the more specific requests.
· Adjusting to the new language, different foods, new customs, hard climate.
· Protection in travel, health, accidents, dangerous situations.
· Parents’ concern for their children’s health, schooling, friendships. Housing accommodations, lack of privacy, differences in living standards, lack of accustomed conveniences.
· Loneliness, homesickness, lack of accustomed fellowship with others.
· Interpersonal relationships, dealing with one’s own (and others) prejudice, selfishness, depending on the faithfulness of others to meet one’s financial needs.
· Effectiveness in ministry, whatever the assignment.
· Functioning of the tools of ministry. (It is amazing how printing presses break down just when a completed New Testament is ready for printing!)
· Lack of visible results; the "plowing, planting and watering" stages can go on for years!
· The people being ministered to, the national Christians, the leaders of the country.
· Need for stability, wisdom, compassion, self-discipline, boldness, power, love, to be filled with the Spirit of God.
A Model Prayer
Jo Shetler had completed the translation of the Balangao New Testament. A flourishing church had been established. She was now called back to the Philippines to be a speaker at the Balangao Bible Conference. Her subject was prayer.
She said that her prayer life had consisted of "...all we ask God to do, such as heal our sicknesses, provide money to put children through school, give the ability to learn a language, translate Scripture and interact well with people.
"Then I decided to pray the prayers of Paul, David, and others in the Bible. I copied them out and started in. Wow, did I ever get a surprise! Those people weren’t asking God for the same things I was! These ’model prayers’ from Scripture seemed to center more directly on God and His program, rather than on people and their plans."
Read all the articles on prayer; read all the books about prayer. But when you are done, study and pray the prayers of the Bible!
One of the prayers of Paul fits perfectly the needs of the cross-cultural worker. He was praying it for the Christians in Colosse, but note how adaptable it is to the needs of any missionary.
Even before he prays, Paul twice assures those at Colosse that he is constantly praying for them. Look at Colossians 1:3,9: "praying always for you...: for this cause we also, since the day we heard of it, do not cease to pray for you."
Everyone who is interested in your missionary will at one time or another breathe a prayer for him. Certainly the Financial Support Team will pray as they write out their checks: "Lord, may they use this money wisely," or "Lord, do they really need this money more than I do?"
The Communication Support Team will no doubt pray that the letters they put so much time into will arrive safely and minister to your missionary.
The Moral Support Team will surely whisper a prayer as they see your missionary’s picture on the church bulletin board or when the pastor leads in a congregational prayer for him.
But if you are going to be a part of your missionary’s Prayer Support Team, your commitment must be more on the level of Paul’s statement: "For this cause, we also since the day we heard of it, do not cease to pray for you."
Here, then, is a "model prayer" that you can pray for your cross-cultural worker:
"That you might be filled with the knowledge of His will..." (Colossians 1:9).
Once a worker arrives on the field, he is bombarded with an overwhelming array of ministry opportunities. Even if a predetermined job description has been established, there is always one more assignment to fit into the schedule. Joining a team that is short-handed by illness, furlough, or lack of laborers for an expanding ministry, every cross-cultural worker is faced with appeals to take on "just a little bit more."
Out of that mass of good deeds, your worker must discern those that were "beforehand determined that he should walk in" (Ephesians 2:10).
Once he has heard God’s will, a corollary prayer is for him to judiciously share with his supervisor that, in order to maintain his sanity, he must say "no" to certain opportunities.
"...in all wisdom and spiritual understanding..." (Colossians 1:9).
It is noteworthy that throughout Scripture these two qualities of the Christian life are always twinsone with the other. Wisdom can be defined as "the ability to see things from God’s perspective" and understanding as "the facility to make that godly perspective work out in the affairs of this world."
One missionary statesman wisely said, "The only ones who know everything about missions are those who have been on the field less than six months!" Bombarded with cultural distinctives, worlds apart from his own culture, and quite possibly faced with methods that have become rutted in tradition, your worker continually needs to see things from God’s perspectivethings pertaining to his family life, his ministry, his relationship with nationals, his economy of time and energy, his finances, his personal devotions, his relationships with ministers on his team and those of other groups.
It is not for nothing that Solomon urges: "Get wi-dom, and with all your getting, get understanding!" (Proverbs 4:7).
As your prayers "bind the strong man" (Matthew 12:29) so your worker can have a clear vision from God’s vantage point of eternal valuesas your prayers elevate your missionary to be "seated with Christ in heavenly places" (Ephesians 2:6), he must now understand how to make all of that happen in the day-to-day affairs of his life.
Dayseven weeksof extended travel away from home wreak havoc with scheduled family time. Dare we use God’s money to take a vacation? How do I tell the nationals that we aren’t going to use US dollars to build their buildingthat it is better for the congregation to trust God for the provision? How do I not violate my doctrinal distinctives, yet develop a working relationship with others in the Body of Christ? These and a thousand questions bombard your worker’s life and demand an understanding heart (see 1 Kings 3:9). To see things from God’s perspective is one thing (wisdom); to know how to make them work out in your missionary’s day-to-day life is another (understanding).
You can see how this prayer for wisdom and understanding could consume hours of intercession as you wage war against the enemy.
"That you might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing" (Colossians 1:10 ).
Phillips’ translation puts it, "That your outward lives which men see may bring credit to your Master’s Name." Watchman Nee said, "If you want to be a missionary to China, plan on wearing a ’learner’s permit’ around your neck for the first ten years!" Because of diverse cultural distinctives and your cross-cultural worker’s lack of ability to communicate deeply, it is often only the love of Christ working out through his life that tells the Gospel message.
Another perspective of this, of course, is that "What you are doing speaks so loudly, I cant hear what you are saying!" When your worker’s actions differ from his words, it will be his actions that the people among whom he ministers will believe.
The enemies of the cross gave the name "Christian" (little Christ) to the believers in Antioch (see Acts 11:26). It was a dirty word then, but since the followers of the Way were living epistles, known and read by all men, they were easily identifiable. Are we so easy to identify?
A team of college students walked into a remote village in Central America where there were no Christians. Their job was to paint a school building a previous team had built. Because they were excited to share the Lord, the weight of their luggage, paint and equipment seemed light.
As they entered the square, they were met by the village captain. He told them his people had heard all they needed to about this Man Jesus. "We don’t want to hear another word you might have to say. Just paint our school building as you said you would. We will watch you. When you have finished, we will let you know If we want your Jesus."
The team knew their outward lives would be living epistles, "the Word written on fleshly tablets of the heart" (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). All they believed about the Word was put to the test in that village.
Those students "walked worthy of the Lord"; when they were ready to leave, ten people including the village captain trusted in Christ as their Savior!
"...being fruitful unto every good work" (Colossians 1:10).
There are two considerations for prayer here:
1) That your missionary will be involved in "good work." Unfortunately, there may be thousands of man-hours of effort that aren’t even aimed at decisive points of battle.
Your prayers will release the Spirits guidance in developing a specific strategy "unto every good work" for your missionary. Your prayers of intercession will open his eyes to decisive points of battle.
2) Thus, being involved in good works, you and your worker are interested in seeing "fruit that remains." To birth a child is (to say the least) hard work! Yet, so says the Word, "for the joy that a man is born, the pain is forgotten" (John 16:21). To raise a child in godliness is incomparably more difficult.
To be used of the Spirit to birth a child spiritually and cross-culturally is hard work! To nurture that child to maturity demands the patient endurance of years.
It is true that one sows, another waters, but the Lord gives the increase (see 1 Corinthians 3:6).
"... and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10).
The personal devotional life of your worker is at stake here. On the field there are many factors that can lead to spiritual drought:
1) Your worker may become so busy "working for the Lord" that there is no time for personal intake. His head can still nod at the appropriate times; his public prayers can still sound almost angelic; his teaching can still be most proper! But the life of the Spirit is gone.
2) Loneliness haunts many cross-cultural workers. More susceptible, of course, are single adults. This can lead to seeking inappropriate relationships, which can lead to spiritual drought.
3) Failure in task takes its toll on some. High American expectations are not met. Discouragement debilitates. This downward spiral of morale is as slippery as grease. At the bottom of the slide are many spiritually depleted field workers. Often these burned-out workers do not realize they should go home. They become an embarrassment to the mission endeavor, a drain on the energies of others who are trying to help them and a dismal blot on the testimony of God’s Church in the world!
4) Disillusionment can bring awful frustration, which in turn may lead to spiritual drought. In the mission process there are many tasks that aren’t very glamorouscleaning the grease trap outside the kitchen door, keeping inventory on radio parts, or being reviled by a drunken street-sleeper.
5) One may become discontented with other workers. "Discontent" is putting it mildly! "Radical interpersonal relationship problems" might be more accurate. This is the number one cause of missionary failure. Why? Because Jesus said, "They [the ones your worker has gone out to seek and to save] will know we are His disciples by our love for one another" (John 13:35). So here is a major area of attack by the enemy: If he can destroy our unity he will destroy our testimony!
Your prayers and the united intercession of the prayer support team for your cross-cultural worker will put a hedge of protection around him (Ezekiel 22:30), will guard his thoughts (Philippians 4:4-7) and will give him the wisdom of a peacemaker in those tough interpersonal situations (James 3:13-18).
"...strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power" (Colossians 1:11).
In Acts 1:4 and 8 Jesus gave clear instruction to His disciples to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s a jungle out there! It is insane to step into cross-cultural outreach ministry without "His glorious power." It is imperative to have a vital, personal, alive, active, growing, dynamic, real relationship with the third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.
Intercede for your cross-cultural worker that he would be continually being "filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). Pray that he will daily "mind the things of the Spirit" (Romans 8). Life and ministry in a second culture (Actually, we all walk in an alien world!) hold challenges foreign to your worker but not to the Spirit of God. As you pray, the Spirit of truth will guide him into all truth (John 16:13).
"...unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness" (Colossians 1:11).
Joe and Sue were ready to leave Brazil. Because they had stayed several months over the two-year visa issued, the federal government in Brasilia had provided them with a letter assuring them all was in order. However, when on departure they presented that letter andd their passports (which showed an expired visa) to the state official, he looked at Joe and said, "You are in our country illegally! That will be a $500 fine!" Not having the money, Joe and Sue spent three long days, luggage in tow, trudging from official to official until they were finally permitted to leave.
Missionaries, particularly those in Third World ministries, are more than familiar with bank lines, gas lines, food lines and delays in mail deliveries, material deliveries and baby deliveries! Patience and longsuffering are critical!
But there is another phrase: "with joyfulness." Yes, your worker might in stoicism realize he has no alternative than to wait. But can he brush off the cobwebs of delay with joyfulness? Can the joy of the Lord be his strength as after a two-hour wait in line he steps up to the telegraph clerk’s window and is told, "Sorry, we are going on strike right now!"?
Yes, your prayers as vials of sweet incense intercede for him before the Father day and night, meting out to him the measure of grace sufficient for any trial. Prayer is where the action is!
"Giving thanks unto the Father" (Colossians 1:12).
Paul enjoined the Christians in Philippi to "Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6). A thankful attitude reveals a heart that is right with God.
The pressures of the mission field, however, can produce in your worker something other than a thankful attitude. The difficult living conditions can say,"It’s not fair!" The depleting of finances each month can shout, "I need more!" The lack of apparent spiritual response can cry, "You’re not worth my time!" The breakdown in health can mull, "I guess God didn’t really call me to these people!"
Your prayers can be used to challenge your missionary with Mordecai’s words: "Who knows but that for such an hour as this you have been called to the Kingdom?" (Esther 4:14). Your prayers can be used to help your cross-cultural worker identify with Paul: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). Your prayers can be used to stir the resources that will build in your field worker an attitude of thankfulness: "It is a privilege to be about our Fathers business.
"And I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none" (Ezekiel 22:30).
The "gap" mentioned in Ezekiel has been used to express a number of concepts. Prophetically Jesus came to bridge the chasm between God and man. As an appeal to people to go to the mission fields of the world, filling in the "gap" of front-line workers is critical. There are cultural gaps between the missionary and the people group he is trying to reach.
But in the context of Ezekiel, "in the gap" speaks more directly of the role of an intercessorone who forms a barrier (a hedge) between God (who is speaking) and "the land, that I should not destroy it."
"I looked for a man...." Abraham became that man: "God, will you not spare the city for fifty righteous men? Forty-five? Forty? Thirty? Twenty? Ten? Far be it from Thee to slay the righteous with the wicked.... Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (See Genesis 18.) Those are powerful words for one who had "taken upon himself to speak to the Lord, seeing [he was] but dust and ashes!" He stood in the gap.
"I looked for a man...." Moses became that man: "And Moses besought the face of the Lord his God, and said, `Lord, why does Your wrath wax hot against Thy people?" Just four verses earlier, in His anger God had called them Moses’ people! After two more verses of intercession, "the Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people" (Exodus 32:11-14).
Another time Moses even more boldly said: "Yet now, if you will forgive their sin...; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Your book which You have written!" (Exodus 32:32). Read Deuteronomy chapter nine for a review of the many times Moses stood in the gap for His people. Moses was definitely an "in-the-gap" intercessor!
"I looked for a man...." Aaron became that man (Numbers 16). Nehemiah became that man (Nehemiah). Jesus became that Man (John 17). Paul became that man (Romans 9). Others through the generations of time have become that man, that woman who stood in the gap.
And today Scripture still declares the voice of Godwhich perhaps says to you, "I looked for you to make up the hedge, to stand in the gap!"
A battle is raging for the souls of mankind. In the book of Job, we have been given some insight into the spiritual realm from which this war emanates.
Job had arrived! He was rich. He was famous. He was perfect and upright. He feared God and hated evil. At least this is what the world could see.
But behind the scenes of this visible world is the real world. And Satan saw the hedge completenot only around Job, but "about his house, and about all that he has on every side" (Job 1:1-10). Two excellent novels, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti, give thought-provoking possibilities to the subtleties of this behind-the-scenes war (see "Resources," page 200).
The "accuser of the brethren" (Revelation 12:10) is "going to and fro in the earth, and is walking up and down in it seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). When he sees the breach in the hedge, the broken-down walls, the secret thoughts of sin, his entrance to the minds and hearts of men is with ease.
And even when that hedge is complete around a man, Satan presents himself before God. It’s those "perfect ones" he wants to get. So God, knowing his thoughts, says, "Satan, have you set your heart on my servant, Job?" (Job 1:8).
This is one of the works of the enemy: To set his heart on even the elect, if it were possible (see Matthew 24:24). Jesus said, "Peter, Satan desires to have you to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you" (Luke 22:31). Satan and a third of the host of heaven who rebelled against God with him are out to destroy to whatever degree and with whatever diabolical consequences they can connive.
Picture the scene in that heavenly throne room, that secret place you enter boldly to obtain mercy and grace to help in the time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Not only are you and God there as you intercede for the "mercy and grace" your cross-cultural worker needs, but also present is the adversary. The enemy of our souls is telling the truth about our weaknesses or lying through his teeth about us, using any tactic in his fiendish reservoir to break through the hedge, to rush through the gap.
One of the strongest weapons to bind the work of the enemy is the intercessory, effectual, fervent prayer of a committed, united team of believers.
The Prayer Support Team should never be limited in number. A missionary relates: "One morning while trying to watch my son’s surgery, I ’decided’ to faint! In the process, I sustained a fractured skull and serious brain concussion. For three weeks I lay flat in bed and lived from one pain pill to the next. All the missionaries in the area were praying. But one night my wife got on the ham radio to solicit additional prayer force from the team back home. She contacted our pastor’s wife just as she was preparing to go to a church prayer meeting. Following that burst of intercession, I never took another pain pill. I had no more pain. To God be the glory!"
Unbelief is the single most serious factor that breaks down the hedge. God is looking for a team, for a woman, for a man "to make up the hedge, to stand in the gap before Me for the land [in behalf of the people], that I should not destroy it: but I found none!" And, in the Ezekiel account, destruction came!
May it not be said of us on that awesome judgement day that He was calling from among us a man, a woman, a prayer support team to stand in the gap, but He found none!
Rather may It be said, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord!" (Matthew 25:21).
Fasting and Prayer
In a trilogy of instruction in what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "When you give..., when you pray..., when you fast." He presumes that we will fast. He follows each injunction with contrasting instruction: "Don’t do it this way; but do do it this way" (Matthew 6:1-18).
Unfortunately, today what most Christians know about fasting and food is fast food!
The biblical significance of fasting, however, is so profound throughout the Old and New Testaments that for us to be ignorant of or indifferent toward its place in a Christian’s life is equal to spiritual starvation.
"But I’ll starve to death!" is exactly the way many Christians respond. Therefore, we need to know the "what, why, when, and how" of fasting.
What is fasting? Both in the secular sense and in the biblical sense, fasting means abstaining from food. A total fast is abstaining from all food and drink (Exodus 34:28). A normal fast allows the intake of drink (Luke 4:2). A limited fast indicates restriction of certain types of foods (Daniel 10:2-3).
Why should we fast? Because Jesus told us to. Isaiah gave clear spiritual and physical purposes for the exercise of fasting:
a) Spiritual: "To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke."
b) Physical: "To deal your bread to the hungry, to bring the poor that are afflicted to your home, to clothe the naked, and to be available to help your own relatives" (Isaiah 58:6-7).
When should we fast? Definitely not when Christ the Bridegroom is around. "But when He is taken up from among them, then they will fast" (Matthew 9:14-15). As we still await the return of the Bridegroom, now is the time for fasting!
How should we fast? Definitely "not as the hypocrite who puts on a gloomy face and neglects his appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Rather, brush your hair and wash your face so that nobody knows that you are fasting. Let it be a secret between you and your Father. For He knows all secrets and will reward you" (Matthew 6:17-18).
Because our bodies are meant to take in food, and there is no spiritual merit in injuring our bodies through fasting, there are other important "do’s and don’ts" we must consider as we enter and conclude a time of fasting. The finest work on the subject of fasting is Arthur Walls’ God’s Chosen Fast (see "Resources," page 200).
When prayer and fasting are practiced in concert, they present a unique and powerful duo. Incorporate the practice of fasting with your prayer support.
Prayer for More Field Workers
Jesus left His outreach headquarters, Capernaum. "He went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and spreading the Gospel of the Kingdom, healing every sickness and disease among the people."
A gruelling itinerary. A heavy schedule. But on one occasion, "when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.
"Then He turned to His disciples, and said, The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few: therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest’" (Matthew 9:35-38).
Having painted a picture of a vast harvest, Jesus shared His means for reaping the harvest: field workers! His harvesters are ordinary human beings who will be obedient to His Great Commissionpeople who know Him sharing with people who don’t.
Jesus tells us to pray to the Father that He will send them forth. There is a crying need for field workers today; this is still a most needed prayer. But be careful when you pray it. Remember that several verses later He sent forth the very men He had instructed to pray!
Prayer for an Entrance of the Gospel
Paul solicited the prayers of the Christians in Colosse with these words: "Include us in your prayer, please, that God may open for us a door for the entrance of the Gospel. Pray that we may talk freely of the mystery of Christ" (Colossians 4:3).
Our prayers should be that the Gospelthe mystery of Christno longer remains a mystery to them, but enters through the door of their hearts.
Often a "door" that will open into a culture is a story or tradition in that culture which encourages a receptivity to the Gospel. In missiological circles these are called "redemptive analogies."
For example, missionary Bruce Olson found that the Motilone Indians of the jungles of Colombia had a ceremony in which they cried for a god to come out of a hole dug in the ground. Olson used this tradition as a bridge to tell the Motilone of the resurrected ChristWho came out of His tomb, a "hole in the ground"!
Two of the best books on this subject are, Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson, and The Discovery of Genesis by C.H. Kang and Ethel R. Nelson (see "Resources," page 200).
So pray for opening doors as your field workers research to discover redemptive analogies for the people among whom they labor.
Prayer to Bind the Strong Man
As Paul told the Christians in Corinth that he would stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, he said, "For a great and effectual door has opened unto me, and there are many adversaries" (1 Corinthians 16:9).
Behind every open door of opportunity, there are enemies of the crossalways one with a foot stuck out to trip up those who would walk through. Sometimes the enemy is even able to use the actions of other believers to thwart plans!
There is a time to resist the devil (James 4:7). There is a time to cast out devils (Mark 16:17). There is a time to bind the works of the enemy, to bind the "strong man" himself (Matthew 18:18; Mark 3:27). And there is a time to inhibit his activity and pseudo-authority in the affairs of men (1 John 3:8).
This takes bold men and women praying bold prayers, for the enemy does not like being exposed for the fraud he is.
Prayer for His Kingdom to Come
Jesus said it so simply: "When you pray, say... Thy Kingdom come" (Luke 11:2). Pray for the people into whose lives the Kingdom has not yet come.
More than two billion individuals in nearly 12,000 distinct people groups are today without a solid Gospel witness, many with no knowledge of even the name of Jesus Christ. More than 55,000 die every day without a chance to respond to the message of salvation in Christ.
And we are not talking only about those who live in deep, dark jungles. An evangelist was sitting with his team at the breakfast table of a hotel restaurant in Singapore, a city/nation that enjoys a higher standard of living than the United States and is home to thousands of believers. The group had their Bibles out, and the waitress asked them what that Book was. "The Bible," they told her. Her response: "What is a Bible?" She had never heard of such a Book!
Pray for fallow ground to be broken up (Jeremiah 4:3). Pray for the seed to fall on fertile soil (Matthew 13:3-9). Pray that the waterers will neither drench nor parch the seedling. Pray that the cultivators will not mar the plant by misusing their tools. Pray that the Lord of the Harvest will give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6).
What a privilege that He allows us to participate in His Plan of the Ages by coming boldly before Him. Interceding on behalf of the lost of the world as well as for the workers who have gone out to the fields of the world. If God be for us, who can be against us? What an unequal contest it seems!
It is prayer that links the missionary enterprise to the irresistible power of God. Prayer is the decisive point on which the battle turns. The mightiest weapon we can use is the weapon of prayer potent, powerful, prevailing prayer, the prayer of faith against which the adversary has no effective counterweapon.
Pray without ceasing.
Case Study in Prayer Support
How does the Core Group we have been following handle prayer support?
Our prayer support for Lou and Sandy is much harder to talk about than the other areas of support. For example, in regards to financial support, we can discuss how we raised monthly support and then have the concrete evidence every month when the checks come into the church office that the people are following through with their commitment.
But prayer support is a little more difficult. At best we can say how we’ve tried to encourage people to pray, and how we pray that they are following through with their commitment.
One element of prayer support is an awareness of needs. Lou and Sandy’s needs are made known in several ways:
1) Everyone committed to support them in prayer is encouraged to have one clock in their house set to Filipino time (16 hours ahead). When we wake up at 6 a.m. and realize that it is 10 p.m. the next day in the Philippines, it can prompt us to pray with an increased awarenessperhaps for a good night’s sleep!
2) Lou and Sandy have a monthly newsletter they mail out to supporters with a specific section summarizing their prayer needs. This portion of the letter can be cut out, highlighted and stuck to the refrigerator with the photo magnet of Lou and Sandy that each supporter received in their initial packet.
3) Two prayer chains have been formed. A prayer chain is simply a list of names and phone numbers. As a prayer request is made known via letter, phone call or fax, the person at the top of the list is notified. He phones the next person on the list who then relays the message too the next person and so on until all are made aware of the need.
Two prayer chains were developed for this reason: It was felt that there may be times when a need would arise that was of such a personal nature that It might be best if only the Core Group and a few others determined by Lou and Sandy would know about it in detail. The second prayer chain would receive that prayer request in more general terms. Other requests may be given to both groups.
Another element of prayer support is to be able to intercede as led by the Holy Spirit without even knowing the needs. Or, perhaps, the information we receive indicating their needs aren’t really the needs at all! It is necessary for us then, by the Spirit, to perceive the real needs as we get together in intercession for Lou and Sandy and the people among whom they’re ministering. We’re always trying to expand our prayer so we include the people group: Lou and Sandy will be coming home one day, and it seems only reasonable we would develop hearts for the needs of those people now so we can keep praying for God’s activity among them for years to come.
One way we are attempting to increase the efficacy of our prayers was expressed in a recent mailing we sent out to all prayer supporters. In it we asked for volunteers to make a weekly commitment to fast and pray for one hour. We suggested a dinner fast (actually starting right after lunch) with a prayer time following in the evening. We also stated that if they felt led to commit to a longer fast or even a partial fast, that was certainly between them and the Lord. We asked them to make this a four-month commitment and to complete an enclosed form detailing what day they had chosen to fast. This has been on a strictly voluntary basis. The results in terms of commitment will ultimately be seen in a new release of the Lord’s power in Lou and Sandy as they go about their work.
There is so much to learn in this area of support. May the Lord grant us ever willing hearts to grow in prayer and may we be ever submissive to get down on our knees and be about our Father’s business through prayer.
Prayer is truly a powerful weapon to be used in the spiritual conflicts encountered in cross-cultural ministry. Yet, again, there are other aspects of your worker’s life that must be considered. He as a cultural being will want you to keep in touch with him through communication support.
(In addition to the individual study below, see the Group Leader’s Guide for session five beginning on page 191.)
For Your Personal Involvement
· Keep a record for one week of the prayers you pray. Is there a good mixture of praise, personal petition, intercession and thanksgiving?
· Study the prayers of several Bible characters. (Be sure to include the publican! Or read through all the prayers of one person. Identify if each is a prayer of thanksgiving, praise, personal petition or intercession. Become familiar with the way the prayer sounds. Compare (or contrast) them with your style of praying.
· Locate, read and study the nineteen recorded prayers of Jesus.
· Begin or become part of a missions prayer group where you can learn to participate m the power of united prayer.
· Read Arthur Wallis’ book God’s Chosen Fast
By the time you have read Chapter Five, completed the For Your Personal Involvement section and participated in a discussion group, you should...
· More closely pray the prayers of the Bible. Be on guard against the ever-popular "gimmie" prayers.
· Be able to decide if prayer support is a commitment you can make to your missionary. If you can, write to him, letting him know of that commitment and of your desire to be kept informed of his prayer needs.
· Practice the Christian discipline of fasting.
· Pray without ceasing!
· Multiply yourself. Actively look for others in your circle of relationships who have or who might develop a heart for prayer.