Steadfast in prayer
Posted on: 18th August 2023
Would cross-cultural mission be possible without prayer? CMS NSW & ACT Executive Director John Lovell explores the vitality of prayer as partners in God’s mission for the nations. He also considers the importance of thanksgiving amidst some of the common obstacles to prayer.
What a privilege it is to know that our God, the all-powerful, all-knowing, creator and ruler of all, uses our prayers to accomplish his plans and purposes. In Colossians 4, Paul speaks of the importance of prayer for ourselves, and for the work of God through those set apart for mission:
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. (Colossians 4:2-4)
Paul knows that it is only God who opens doors to share “the word”—the gospel. So he asks for prayer “to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.”
Steadfast prayer for mission, with thanksgiving
Paul is a prisoner as he writes these words! It is striking that one of his concerns for the Colossians is that they pray “with thanksgiving”. Our circumstances can so easily overwhelm our gratitude to God. It is good to resist this temptation.
If you were to take a piece of paper and write down ten things you were thankful to God for, what would you write? Ten is not enough! As the song says,
“For all Your goodness I will keep on singing, ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.”
One great part of reading CMS missionary prayer letters is seeing the constant flow of answered prayers—reasons to thank God for all he is doing in and through his servants in mission.
CMS missionaries themselves are deeply aware that the CMS fellowship is supporting them through their care, financial support—and especially in prayer. The knowledge that they are not alone is a tremendous reason to praise God.
When CMS workers Dan and Marg recently returned to Australia from Jordan for Home Assignment, Dan shared, “One of the great highlights has been our acute awareness of people’s prayers for us, for our work at the school, for our children, for our relationships with local friends. Time and time again we were reminded that we had the support of the CMS fellowship.”
The Bible gives many reasons for praying
1. God has a heart for the nations
From Genesis to Revelation, the pages of Scripture speak of God’s heart for all nations. Here are some key examples:
- God’s promise to Abraham is of blessing not just for him, but through him to all the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3)
- God’s chosen people, the Israelites, are instructed to care for “the foreigners” among them (Leviticus 19:34)
- The psalmists speak of God’s saving power being known among “all nations”, anticipating the time when “all the peoples” will acknowledge and worship the Lord (Psalm 67:2-4)
- The Lord Jesus, rejected by his own people (John 1), criticised for keeping company with tax collectors and sinners, reminded the Jewish leaders how the prophet Elijah was sent to a widow in Sidon, a foreigner! (Luke 4:25-27)
- Matthew describes the scope of the work of mission for Jesus’ disciples: “all nations”. (Matthew 28:16-20)
- In Revelation we see the vision of “a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10). This is God’s vision for us.
God’s plan is to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Those who love God share that same heart. This is why people leave the comforts of their own home for the work of global mission. And—for those of us who are sending—we too are captured by this plan. Therefore, we pray.
2. God makes us fellow workers in reaching the nations
The Bible teaches that we, the people of God, are his chosen means of testifying to the nations.
So Israel is to be a light for the nations, that God’s “salvation may reach the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). The New Testament calls us God’s “fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9). The disciples of the risen Jesus—ultimately including us—are commanded to bear witness to him (Acts 1:8), beginning in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth, equipped by the Spirit.
It is the work of the Spirit in the lives of God’s people that equips them for the task of testifying. What a great motivation to be praying for CMS missionaries and their ministries!
3. God wants us to pray for more workers
Jesus said, “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers” (Matthew 9:38). We take part in the gospel harvest by praying. God chooses to spread the gospel through his people, and invites us to pray to this end—including by praying that more workers might be sent out.
4. God gives Jesus, and his disciples, as examples of prayer for mission
Jesus regularly withdrew to an isolated place to spend time in prayer (Luke 5:16) despite the relentless demands of his ministry. Likewise in Acts, there are constant examples of the disciples praying as they face opposition. Often, they are praying for boldness and courage in proclaiming the gospel—rather than for freedom from hardship (e.g. Acts 4:23-31). What great examples to us as we pray for God’s mission.
5. God sees our prayers as precious
The book of Revelation shows an amazing vision:
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. (Revelation 8:3-4)
What a glorious picture of the eternal impact of the prayers of the saints! God receives and honours our prayers in the heavenly realm. This is a wonderful motivation to pray.
CMS missionaries Chris and Grace Adams, serving in Timor-Leste, 6 cms.org.au at a re-commissioning service at a church in Victoria for their fourth tour.
There are, however, many obstacles to steadfast prayer. Let’s consider some, and how we might overcome them.
1. ‘I sometimes feel apathetic’
Apathy can creep in and become an obstacle to prayer. We might assume our prayers make little difference, and so we lose interest. We forget to pray. Ultimately, the resulting absence of prayer betrays a self-reliance and autonomy which forgets the God upon whom all things—including the gospel mission of CMS—depend.
I recently visited CMS missionaries Mike and Katie Taylor in Arusha, Tanzania. Before Mike even started their 4WD, everyone inside joined together in prayer! We prayed for safety and that the car would not have mechanical issues. As we bumped and bounced along the dirt roads, I was reminded of the many things in life we can so easily take for granted. What a blessing to instead acknowledge dependence upon God’s mercy in everything.
2. ‘I am too busy’
Many who support CMS missionaries are themselves busy. It is easy to feel trapped by our competing priorities, as if we have little control over our schedules and commitments. But the truth is, we make time for what is important to us. Perhaps our issue is not lack of time, but lack of conviction about the importance of prayer.
Two areas I’ve personally found helpful for establishing habits of regular prayer are daily routines, and planned spontaneity.
Daily routines of prayer often work best when aligned with another established routine, for example, you might pray on your trip to work each day (with your eyes open if driving!), before bed, during breakfast, etc.
Planned spontaneity sounds like an oxymoron, but it refers to the practice of responding in prayer to life as it happens, including unexpected news or events. Our family has been blessed by the habit of stopping to pray in the immediacy of key moments as they happen—whether that be good news to give thanks for, or hard news to bring before our loving Father. That can, of course, include praying for missionaries the moment we hear either exciting or challenging news from them.
3. ‘I’m not always sure what to pray’
It can be difficult to pray in an informed way if we have limited access to detailed information about the lives and ministries of those we are praying for. It may be that there are updates available that you are not currently receiving—in which case, the solution is to contact your local CMS branch and subscribe to receive future updates. It may be due to security sensitivities for the cross-cultural worker.
4. ‘I don’t really know the missionaries’
It is incredibly helpful to develop personal relationships with missionaries, where possible, so you can ‘put a face to the name’ of those you pray for. If your church is partnered with a CMS missionary, make the most of opportunities to meet them during their visit to your church for Home Assignment. Perhaps invite them to a home group dinner. CMS Summer conferences and similar CMS events are another great opportunity to meet missionaries personally.
CMS missionary Elle Bryce speaking at the 2023 CMS QNNSW Summer School.
Therefore: “Continue steadfastly in prayer”
CMS missionaries across the world are deeply thankful for your prayers. To help you pray, there are many resources available, including prayer letters, the CMS Prayer Diary, Monthly Prayer Points (available online) and children’s resources. Some of my recommendations are listed below.
It is a joy to participate in the work of making Christ known across the world through praying. May God, in his grace and mercy, answer our prayers to open doors for his word, that the mystery of Christ may be declared among the nations.
Start praying now! Perhaps you can take the next step and find resources and more reasons to pray in the list (below) of helpful prayer resources developed by CMS and others.
 Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman, 10000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) (Thank you Music, 2011).
Resources for prayer
CMS NSW & ACT Executive Director John Lovell shares four CMS resources and three book recommendations to help you continue steadfastly in prayer.
Firstly, missionary prayer letters are a fantastic way to keep updated and hear directly via email from our cross-cultural workers. If you would like to receive prayer news from any of our missionaries, you can sign up here.
Secondly, our CMS Prayer Diary is a great printed resource to assist you in praying daily for our cross-cultural workers and different regions of the world, as well as ministry partners, new trainees, branches and all the parts of our fellowship. Contact your CMS branch to get your copy.
Finally, if you are interested in great CMS children’s resources, either to use with your family at home or for church children’s ministry programs at church, have a look here.
I also particularly recommend some excellent books on prayer. Don Carson’s A Call to a Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers is well worth a read. Here’s a quote:
“Not a drop of rain can fall outside the orb of Jesus’ sovereignty. All our days—our health, our illnesses, our joys, our victories, our tears, our prayers, and the answers to our prayers—fall within the sweep of the sovereignty of one who wears a human face, a thorn-shadowed face.”
The second book is Paul E. Miller’s book, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. It encouraged me to live each day more conscious of God’s presence at every moment, and to pray more regularly in response to what was taking place around me—or to news I heard from missionaries serving on location. Highly recommended.
Also worth a look is former CMS missionary Stephen Shead’s recent book, Growing in Prayer: Learning to pray with dependence and delight. From Matthias Media (free sample available online).
 Carson, Don (1992) A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. United Kingdom: Baker Publishing Group. (pp 179-180)
 Miller, Paul E. 2009 A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. United States: NavPress.