Robert S. Marsden
It is not a mere coincidence that missionary effort in America began in a prayer meeting. The famous “Haystack Prayer Meeting” held at Williamstown, Massachusetts over a hundred years ago was the genesis of American missions. The purpose of God as revealed in his Word is that missions should be carried on through prayer.
Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2). This is not a pious admonition, but a command of Christ that missionaries shall be raised up and maintained through prayer. Certainly the Lord does not expect us only to pray concerning sending missionaries, but also that he may sustain those whom he has sent. Prayer is the first essential of missions; without it, missionary endeavor cannot possibly be successful.
Practical questions arise as to when we should engage in prayer. The admonition of the Apostle is to “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5: 17), and that admonition may well be taken seriously in regard to prayer for missions.
But there must be special times set aside for prayer if it is to be effectual. Each individual must face the problem in his or her own life, but none dares to offer the excuse of being too busy to pray for missions. A life which is too busy for prayer is not being lived to the glory of God, and a life which is not being lived to the glory of God is not a Christian life.
The same thing may be said of the life of a church. Each particular church should have some time in its prayer program for concerted prayer for missions. Missionary society meetings, too, will be found to be much more beneficial if they have a time set aside in their programs for intercessory prayer for the missions in which the society has a particular interest. A church that is successful in its work at home will be a missionary church; a missionary church will be one in which much time is spent in prayer for missions.
At the risk of being trite, I offer some suggestions to members of the church as to the subjects of missionary prayers. The missionaries should be presented before the throne of grace as individuals who need the guidance and power of God. To do that it is necessary to know who the missionaries are and to know something of their needs. These missionaries need your personal prayers but, apart from individual needs, all of them have certain needs in common.
Missionaries need physical strength, for their tasks are most arduous. Constant calling and dealing with individuals in an effective way requires physical stamina, and this should be the subject of prayer. Likewise, they need great perseverance in the midst of discouragements. One missionary recently told me of having made over a hundred calls, and on the following Sabbath he found not one of those upon whom he had called at the services. It is a difficult thing to prepare worthwhile messages for great crowds, but it is more difficult to prepare them from week to week for a faithful few. Our missionaries need your prayers lest they become discouraged by the paucity of the immediate results of their labors.
Not a few missionaries tell of the petty persecutions of entrenched religionists, akin in spirit, if not in manifestations, to the persecutions of the early church. These missionaries need our prayers that they may endure for the sake of Christ. Likewise, it is a rare missionary who is not undergoing privations for the sake of the gospel, and with all of them it requires a consecrated efficiency in matters of finance to “make ends meet.” They need our prayers for the alleviation of financial difficulties.
Then there are the problems of places and methods of labor which all our missionaries have to face. Some of them have not yet been guided to a permanent place of service, and most of them need special light on the problem of buildings suitable to the needs of their infant congregations. These very important items should be the constant subjects of our intercessory prayer.
Then, of course, there is the financial problem which faces our whole missionary enterprise. We know the Lord’s resources to be inexhaustible, and we know that he is more willing to give than we are to receive. But it is also true that we fail to receive because we fail to ask. That the Lord may raise up sufficient funds to keep our consecrated missionaries on the field and to expand our work must be the constant prayer of all of us. Only as he provides can the work be carried on, and this should form an important item of our missionary prayers. Such prayers, backed up by sacrificial giving, will be answered by him who possesses all wealth.
What a wonderful thing it would be if our church were to become a church of praying people. What a change in our missionary situation would be seen if every individual were engaged in prayer every day for our missionary endeavor. What a wonderful blessing would come to our churches if each of them would be engaged in united prayer for missions each week. What wonderful resources of God’s gifts and power would be called down upon our missionaries. Shall we become a successful missionary church? We will if we become a praying church.
Let us unite in our purpose that we will become a church that has power in prayer, a church whose whole missionary enterprise is being richly and powerfully blessed of God.
This article is edited from the September 1938 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian. Robert Marsden, who died in 1960, was general secretary of the Home and Foreign Missions Committees of the OPC from 1938 to 1948. Reprinted by permission of The Presbyterian Guardian.
Reprinted from New Horizons, June–July 1989.