by Pablo Martinez
Pablo is a psychiatrist, author and Bible teacher.
‘There is nothing more powerful than prayer; nothing can compare with it.’ Every Christian will undoubtedly identify with this statement from John Chrysostom. This truth expressed by the distinguished bishop of Constantinople is particularly true in mission work. There are many ways to care for mission workers, but none of them is more crucial than prayer. The purpose of this brief reflection is to consider how we may spur one another on to intercede for mission workers (Heb. 10:24).
A Key Factor in Mission Work
Intercessory prayer is to the mission worker what armour is to the soldier. It provides vital coverage in the fight. It is the reason mission expansion and the great revivals have always been closely linked to prayer. Many struggles against adverse forces have been won through prayer and this was made manifest in the times of the Reformation. It is well known that Mary Queen of Scots feared the prayers of John Knox more than whole armies of soldiers.
Intercession means using the power of prayer in order to help and support others. In this sense it is one of the noblest activities of the church as a support community. At the same time, it becomes a practical evidence of love. Intercessory prayer, either individually or as a church, is a deep expression of love. When we intercede, we love. Intercession always conveys a powerful message: we are with you and for you.
When You do Not Pray, You are Easy Prey1
The support that a church family can give workers through prayer is not a secondary matter, a sort of luxury that we can do without, but a vital necessity in their ministries and their lives. Why? All Christians, but especially leaders and mission workers, suffer an extra cause of weariness that goes beyond natural or human dimensions. Their work is not an ordinary work, it is God’s work. This is why it is subject to the same fierce opposition Jesus had to face and they greatly need our support in prayer. We make a mistake if we overlook the spiritual battle that we are immersed in. There is a supernatural dimension in the ministry of mission workers. ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against…the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Eph. 6:12).
Their work is not an ordinary work, it is God’s work.
Prayers of Intercession are Valued
We ‘…have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers’ (2 Cor. 1:10-11). Paul, whom we may consider the first missionary in Christian history, expressed this idea by giving his heartfelt thanks to the church in Corinth. In a moving passage to the Corinthians, he writes: ‘we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort…We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death’ (2 Cor. 1:7-9). Then Paul continues to express what their prayers meant in such a difficult situation: ‘Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many’ (2 Cor. 1:11).The prayers of the church played a key role in his ministry, and particularly during the very difficult experience he shares here. Paul warmly thanks the saints for the significant support he found in their prayers of intercession, which were an invaluable source of comfort – a treasure of great value!
Jesus, the Great Intercessor
The Bible contains many examples of intercessory prayer. From Abraham to the apostles we find a long list of tenacious intercessors. However, our supreme model is found in the person of Jesus.
The essence of the love that drives us to intercession, lies in generously seeking the good of my neighbour
The value of intercession is highlighted by an amazing reality: Jesus continues to intercede for us today from Heaven. In Hebrews 7:25 the Lord is portrayed as the One who ‘always lives to intercede for them [us]’. Likewise, the intercessory ministry of Jesus is described in Romans 8:34, with words that convey great encouragement. When Paul refers to the final triumph of those who are in Christ, he states with great certainty: ‘Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.’ Could we have a more challenging example?
Love: the Secret of a Good Intercessor
How can we become good intercessors, both individually and as churches? Jesus interceded for us because He loved us ‘to the end’ (Jn 13:1). This is the only requisite: genuine love. His prayer in John 17 is the expression of a strong love, even at a moment of great suffering and intense personal need. On that very day, facing Gethsemane’s agonies, Jesus had many reasons to concentrate on His own needs and forget others. Yet, what a paradigm of prayer! He forgets Himself and displays a magnificent expression of pure love: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory…[and that] the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (Jn 17:24,26).
Our Lord is genuinely interested in the wellbeing and the peace of those near Him, ‘those who will believe in me through their word’ (v20). What a great privilege that you and I are included in this memorable intercession of Jesus. And what a challenge to imitate Him!
The essence of the love that drives us to intercession, lies in generously seeking the good of my neighbour. Therefore, to pray for others, and particularly for those in mission work, is the result of the agape love that God puts in our hearts. It is a supernatural love that is not ours, but comes from God ‘…because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us’ (Rom. 5:5). That is the reason why it does not flow in a spontaneous way, but it must be cultivated in fellowship, abiding in the Lord.
We need to foster our love for mission workers and their strategic work through prayer
Intercession reflects the heart of Jesus and, as His followers, we should aim at being faithful intercessors. We need to foster our love for mission workers and their strategic work through prayer. It is not a matter of devoting more or less time to the task. Time should not be a hurdle. It is primarily an attitude, the attitude that has open hearts and alert minds for the needs of our fellow brothers and sisters. Paul refers to this sort of attitude in the memorable text on the Armour of God: ‘And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people’ (Eph. 6:18). Intercession deserves much more than a postscript of our time. Both individually and as a church, intercession is a great investment in the progress of God’s Kingdom. Let us become enthusiastic in the support of mission workers through prayer. In so doing, we are greatly pleasing Christ, the Great Intercessor, and supporting key soldiers in the battle for the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
1. E.M. Bounds, The Power of Prayer, Christian Art Publishers, 2008 (Devotional Book).