Missionaries need our prayers. That seems like a pretty obvious assumption. Most of these men and women have left the comfort of their home cultures to spread the good but offensive news of the gospel among peoples who often couldn’t care less about why they are there. So it’s a good practice to pray for them. Our prayers are usually about their protection, provision, and production (fruitfulness). And we should pray these things for our brothers and sisters.
However, they should only be the beginning of what we pray. There are other needs that are equally important and biblical for us to pray for. Here are six less obvious things for which missionaries need prayer.
1. Community of Fellow Believers
In Acts 2:42 ff, Luke wrote of the early church, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers . . . All who believed were together and had all things in common . . . And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (ESV).
“Pray for these men and women to know God is with them, and pray that they would have a community of believers to strengthen them.”
Christian witness is no stronger than when believers join together and live in community as God intended. There are times when missionaries are on their own in order to reach those who have never heard the name of Jesus. However, for the good of their ministries and lives, they need the fellowship of believers. Pray for these men and women to know God is with them, and pray that they would have a community of believers to strengthen them (Acts 2:42–47; Phil. 1:3–8.)
2. Love for Their Family, Team, and City
Ministry can be life-giving and joy-filled, but it can also be time-consuming and exhausting. The work of the missionary is no different. In seasons of fruitfulness and growth, it is easy to abound in love and grace. But seasons of fruitlessness and exhaustion do come. In those times, it is harder to show love and grace, even to their own families. Pray that God would give them a love for their families, teams, and cities. Pray they look to God who freely extended love and grace (Eph. 3:14–21; Ps. 16:5).
3. Strength to Withstand the Schemes of Satan
One thing I often hear others say about missionaries is, “I could never do what they do. I’m not spiritually strong enough.” It is true that God has given these men and women a desire to serve him overseas, but that doesn’t make them super-Christians. Missionaries are reminded every day that they cannot carry out the work before them without the Lord and his strength. One way Satan seeks to thwart the work of God around the world is by luring missionaries into sin. Pray for our brothers and sisters, that they may take up the whole armor of God to withstand Satan’s schemes (Eph. 6:10–17; 1 Pet. 5:8).
“Missionaries are reminded every day that they cannot carry out the work before them without the Lord and his strength.”
4. Refreshment and Joy Amid Discouragement and Trials
Discouragement, trials, and even tragedy are realities that all missionaries face. In fact, these burdens of life can be compounded by being distanced from friends and family. In times of grief, fatigue, or discouragement, it is vital for those on the field to remember the source of their joy and the primary reason they are there. Pray that in the midst of discouragement and trials, they would find joy in their salvation and in the truth that the Lord is near (Ps. 34:17–19; Ps. 51:12).
5. Endurance in the Disciplines
My pastor says, “The gospel is not just the diving board off of which we jump into the pool of Christianity; it is the pool itself. It is not only the way we begin in Christ; it is the way we grow in Christ.” Missionaries must remain centered on the gospel in order to be a light in the world. It does not matter who you are, spending time with God is key to maintaining and growing in godliness. Just as a lightbulb needs to be connected to its source for power, so do laborers in the field need to be connected to their Source in order to shine brightly in the darkness. Pray that missionaries would be disciplined in walking with God so the light of Christ would shine in the darkness (1 Tim. 4:7; Matt. 5:14–16).
6. Satisfaction with Faithfulness to Christ as Success
Many times, success for missionaries is measured only in seeing a large number of people come to faith. And though Christ commands us in the Great Commission to make disciples, God does not specify how many people you should see come to faith. In fact, it is almost certain that a missionary who serves any length of time will face seasons when they don’t see the results they were hoping for.
The only thing that protects a missionary’s heart from questioning, comparing, or becoming defeated is to “know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58 ESV) and to remember that the Lord demands faithfulness to Christ. Pray for these men and women to be steadfast, always abounding in the work of the Lord, and to steward the mysteries of the gospel well so that they may be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:1–2).
So, when we pray for the laborers in the field, let us not just pray for their protection, provision, and production. If you don’t already, get to know a missionary or two and sign up to receive their newsletters. Be intentional about praying for them in specific ways. Pray for them to have life-giving community with other believers, love for their families and cities, strength to withstand the schemes of the enemy, times of refreshment and joy in the midst of discouragement, endurance in the spiritual disciplines, and satisfaction with knowing faithfulness to Christ is success.
Phil Bartuska is an MDiv student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is completing his degree in international church planting. He serves as a church-planting facilitator in Vienna, Austria, with his wife, Becca, and son. You can find him on Twitter @Phil_Bartuska.