“Prayer surrounds every important event in Jesus’ ministry. Prayer is the means whereby God directs Jesus’ mission of salvation to a yearning humanity. It is the way Jesus apprehends the dynamic power of the Spirit for salvation history. The Messiah’s redemptive work flowed from His relationship with God in prayer, not from his many deeds.” — Robert L. Gallagher, “From ‘Doingness’ to ‘Beingness’: A Missiological Interpretation”, in Gallagher and Hertig, ed., Mission in Acts: Ancient Narratives in Contemporary Context, p. 56
Prayer has always been the conversation of mission, including Christ’s mission to redeem a people for Himself. The beginning of mission is the Father’s sending of the Son, and the grounds for prayer in mission is the ongoing conversation between the Son and the Father, and the Son’s complete and perfect dependence on the Spirit. Prayer is and must be inseparable from mission.
Modern missions began immersed in prayer. William Carey’s pioneering endeavor to India had its inception in local churches joining together to pray that God would use them to reach the unreached. The resolution those churches drafted in June of 1784 called on the Baptist churches meeting at Nottingham to set aside the first Monday of every month for prayer over missions efforts that did not yet exist. “The grand object in prayer is to be”, the resolution stated, “that the Holy Spirit be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners be converted, the saints edified, and the name of God glorified…let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately remembered, and the spread of the Gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe be the object of your most fervent requests.”
Dependence on the Spirit. Sinners converted. Saints edified. God glorified. All for the glory of the Son and the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. John Sutcliff, Andrew Fuller, and those English Baptists were convinced that mission to spread Christ’s name to unreached peoples could not be accomplished without intentional, habitual, and fervent prayer.
This kind of prayer is necessary for mission because mission is war. Strongholds are being thrown down. Worldviews are being smashed. Gospel antagonism is being challenged and transformed through the good news of Jesus. Gospelizing those who have never heard of Jesus in the hard-to-get-to places around the world is war against a kingdom that challenges the sovereign rule of Jesus over all the earth. It is a war fought not only in the proclamation of the good news, but through the prayers of the church.
This is the thrust of John Piper’s appeal to prayer as an instrument by which God accomplished his ends in mission. Says Piper in “Let the Nations Be Glad”:
“The purpose of prayer is to make clear to all participants in this war that the victory belongs to the Lord. Prayer is God’s appointed means of bringing grace to us and glory to himself…Prayer puts God in the place of the all-sufficient Benefactor and puts us in the place of the needy beneficiaries. So when the mission of the church moves forward by prayer, the supremacy of God is manifest and the needs of the Christian troops are met.
“…The early church meant to make God supreme in the mission of the church. She would not live on her own strength or her own wisdom or even her own faith. She would live on God. God would be the one who would give the power and the wisdom and the faith. And therefore God would get the glory.
“This crucial place of prayer reaffirms the great goal of God to uphold and display his glory for the enjoyment of the redeemed from all the nations. The missionary purpose of God is as invincible as the fact that he is God. He will achieve his purpose by creating white-hot worshipers from every people, tongue, tribe and nation (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). And he will be engaged to do it through prayer.
“…The call of Jesus is for prevailing prayer: ‘Always…pray and [do] not lose heart’ (Luke 18:1). By this his Father will be glorified (John 14:13). The supremacy of God in the mission of the church is proved and prized in prevailing prayer. I believe Christ’s word to his church at the beginning of the twenty-first century is a question: ‘Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily’ (Luke 18:7-8).
“…The War will be won by God. He will win it through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel will run and triumph through prevailing prayer — so that in everything God might be glorified through Jesus Christ.” — John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, pp. 78-79, 83-84, 90-91
We tend to think of prayer as a tack-on for missions. It’s what we do in lieu of doing anything else. It’s what we do when we can’t think of anything else. But as John Piper reminds us, prayer is not an intercom. It’s a walkie-talkie. It’s verbal text messaging. Two-way. Always on. It’s what we do first, not at the end of strategic endeavor for the gospel.