If you spoke with one of our missionaries or mission workers, what request might they make? I suspect that they’d say, ‘Pray for me.’
Will you commit to doing this?
Having chatted with a missionary—or having read a mission news bulletin or one of their social media updates—will you participate in the work of mission by bringing it to God in prayer?
Paul knew the importance of prayer. In his letters he often prayed for the believers, and he also asked that they pray for him. For instance, he requests of the Ephesians: “And pray for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19, NKJV).
As he did his work in the fledgling churches and also among those who didn’t yet know the Lord Jesus, he depended heavily on God’s help and strength. For his preaching task, Paul knew that he needed all the resources of heaven behind him.
Pray, he says, “that utterance may be given.” Every preacher who’s ever been nervous before opening the Word can relate to this request. In those moments, our own weakness and unworthiness suddenly become apparent. We experience the weightiness of what we’re about to do, preaching the Word of the living God! So we ask God to give us ‘utterance.’ We ask God to bless our mind with clarity, and our words with power.
Our missionaries have the task of proclaiming the gospel of salvation in Christ. No message on earth is more significant, for if a person accepts it by true faith, they will be delivered from the kingdom of darkness and granted life everlasting. So we ask the Holy Spirit to help them speak God’s Word freely, clearly, and boldly. It is only through the Lord’s enabling work that a man can faithfully bring the gospel message.
It’s actually remarkable that this is Paul’s principal prayer request. From Ephesians we learn that he’s confined to a prison in Rome. So what would you expect him to pray for? Freedom, maybe. Perhaps a miraculous escape like in Philippi.
But he doesn’t have an eye on his own well-being. He asks for the opportunity—even in jail!—to tell more people about God’s amazing love in Christ. Paul’s request teaches us to pray regularly for the preaching of the gospel, at home and on the mission field.
Now, it’s true that preaching always looks like a solo effort. It’s just one man standing at the front, presenting the sermon that he worked on by himself in his study. But it’s never an individual endeavour. Preaching requires many prayers to God, and not just the prayers of the preacher. For the task of preparing and delivering a message from God’s Word simply cannot be done without his blessing.
For this work, there is so much that a preacher needs. He needs spiritual insight into the text to understand its main message. He needs clarity to think it through in a coherent way.
And then there’s sometimes the challenge of preaching in a language he might’ve learned much later in life! He wants to pick just the right words, with appropriate emphasis, and good timing.
It’s also surprisingly tiring to preach for half an hour or more, so he needs the blessing of good health and physical strength. And he should have the spirit of joy that’s fitting for someone preaching the good news of Christ.
A missionary (or any preacher) needs boldness too. Bringing a message always evokes a reaction, so perhaps he wants to win the audience’s approval or avoid their criticism. But he must be fearless and forthright in preaching the Word that God has set before him. So pray.
God has made the preaching of his Word crucial to the life and growth of the catholic church. So you can be sure that Satan will target the preaching. He’ll bring his attacks against the preacher, the missionary, and the evangelist. Pray that they can resist the devil’s myriad temptations: pride, laziness, sexual impurity, cynicism, and more. Pray for our missionaries’ watchfulness and perseverance. Pray steadfastly, for no servant of God can endure unless the church upholds him in prayer.
In short, the gospel will not advance except through the prayers of the saints. That is true locally, and it is true everywhere, whether in Manila, Toronto or Beijing. Pray that the true Word will be preached and also received in faith by many.
I often hear it said that the work of our missionaries feels very distant from us. Yet when we read the pieces in the mission bulletins or elsewhere, let’s have an eye for how each of them stimulates us to prayer.
Sometimes mention is made of specific prayer points. At other times, praying thoughtfully requires us to read between the lines. When we read about wonderful opportunities for the gospel, or about Satan’s opposition, or physical dangers, or new growth, we should be moved again to pray to the Lord of the church. In his power, our prayers can transcend any distance.
“Pray for me,” Paul asked the Ephesians. Donald Carson comments on this kind of prayer request, made regularly by Paul in his letters: “He wants his way to be smoothed so that he can get on with the next phase of outreach. He cares about the gospel; he is passionately committed to its extension. This is what drives his prayers. Is that what drives ours?”
Let us pray. Pray with diligence and with confidence because in our Lord Jesus we have a glorious Saviour and King! Pray for his gospel to advance in your own life, in your congregation, and in all the world.
 D.A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 198.