This article is adapted from our latest release Small Town Mission: A Guide for Mission-Driven Communities. Get your copy today!
What does the Bible say about the connection of prayer and mission? Here are some thoughts about it based on Ephesians 6:19-20 and Colossians 4:2-4.
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. – Ephesians 6:19–20
Paul asked his friends to pray also for me, then he went on to detail how they could specifically pray for his mission. Stop right there. Did you see what Paul did? Paul, of all people, asked his friends to pray for his mission! If you know anything about Paul, he seems like the kind of guy who was naturally talented at sharing his faith and wasn’t fearful at all when sharing the gospel.
Paul realized that, even on his best day, he desperately needed his friends to pray for him and for the grace of God to empower his mission. Think of the most naturally talented evangelist in your church. Just like Paul, that man or woman is in desperate need of the grace of God and for others to pray for them. The same is true for us. What friends should you start sharing prayer requests with for the sake of your mission?
Paul goes on to ask his friends to pray that God would give him words to say whenever he opens his mouth to talk about the mystery of the gospel (Paul calls it a mystery because until this point people in the Old Testament didn’t know when or under what circumstances Jesus was going to arrive). This is interesting because Paul’s sermons in the book of Acts were phenomenal, he was an incredibly talented public speaker, and he was awesome at advancing the mission.
But even with all his natural talent, Paul was convinced that he needed God to give him words whenever he opened his mouth to talk about the gospel. Paul knew that fruitful and effective words only come from God. This makes me breathe a sigh of relief because it’s comforting to know that powerful and effective words don’t come directly from my natural talent, but directly from the grace of God in response to prayer. This is good news for those of us who aren’t naturally talented at sharing our faith.
Paul then twice asks his friends to pray that he would fearlessly declare and make known the gospel. The Greek word for fearlessly means “to have a free and fearless confidence” and it’s the same Greek word that is used for boldness in Acts 4:29. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man is a snare but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”
In this proverb, the fear of man is contrasted with trusting the Lord. Fear, in the biblical sense of the word, includes being afraid of someone but it also extends to holding someone in awe, being controlled or mastered by people, worshiping people, or using them for our personal sense of value, dignity, and worth.
In other words, the fear of man can be summed up in five simple words—we replace God with people. Instead of fearing the Lord, we fear people.
Think of if it this way: Jesus is the only one who should sit on the throne of your heart and mind. But when we fear people, somebody other than Jesus sits on that throne. Consequently, we care about that person’s approval of us at least as much as much as God’s approval. We want to please and appease them and we want them to never leave us nor forsake us. You know what that’s called? Worship. That’s because the most important relationship we have is with whoever sits on that throne.
The fear of man will paralyze your mission because you can’t witness to someone that you’re trying to worship. Do you see how worship and mission are so deeply intertwined with each other? The most basic solution for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. That’s why, like Paul, we need friends who will pray for us to be fearless in our mission and have God as the only one competing for the throne of our heart and mind.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. – Colossians 4:2-4
Paul urges his friends to devote themselves to prayer. “Devote” is such an intense word! Would your closest friends say you’re devoted to prayer? Keep in mind that being devoted to prayer isn’t necessarily the same thing as being devoted to God, which is kind of like when someone is devoted to talking but doesn’t pay attention to the person they’re talking to. I think we all know people like that.
If you ever do a brief study on how Jesus prayed you’ll quickly notice that when he prayed he focused his attention on the Father. This is often in contrast with how many of us pray because we usually focus on prayer instead of the Father, which is kind of like focusing on the windshield when you’re driving instead of focusing on the road. Those are the kind of people who cause accidents!
We’re also to be watchful and thankful in the midst of being devoted to prayer. At the very least, being watchful and thankful is the opposite of going through the motions. Do you tend to go through the motions in life? If so, then you’re probably going to miss lots of opportunities for mission. That’s why it isn’t a coincidence that Paul immediately proceeds to ask his friends to pray that God would open a door and provide opportunities for him to share the gospel.
Is that the kind of request you ask your friends to pray for, or do you usually just ask them to pray for things like your Aunt Ethel’s broken hip? I mean no offense towards Ethel or her hip, but are tragedies and physical health the only things we’re called to pray for?
Look at your church’s prayer chain; I can almost guarantee that it’s filled with prayer requests concerning tragedies and physical health. It’s obviously good and right for us to pray for these things, but when was the last time your church’s prayer chain overflowed with prayer requests like those in this passage? According to this passage, we are missing opportunities to share the gospel when we fail to pray for open doors. When it comes to prayer requests, are there imbalances like this that should we repent of?
Lastly, Paul asks his friends to pray that he would proclaim the gospel clearly. We should be eager to explain the gospel in a way that our non-Christian friends can understand. Unfortunately, many Christians talk about spiritual topics in a way that doesn’t make sense to the average non-Christian.
Often it’s like we’re speaking Klingon to them. This is unfortunate because almost no one understands Klingon except Klingons. Similarly, nobody understands Christian lingo and clichés except Christians. We also must conclude from this passage that clearly proclaiming the gospel is something that we should actively be praying about.
This is crucial to remember because it’s easy to think that the biggest reason why our mission isn’t going well is because we don’t know how to share our faith. While I certainly think that many of us would benefit from being better trained in how to share our faith, this passage leads us to believe that being trained will amount to nothing if we aren’t devoted to praying.
Aaron Morrow (M.A. Moody Bible Institute) is one of the pastors of River City Church in Dubuque, Iowa, which was planted in 2016. He and his wife Becky have three daughters named Leah, Maggie, and Gracie.