|Visit "WorldView Conversation," the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com. Listen to an audio version at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/169/16904/16904-95293.mp3
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- It's a familiar prayer. Too familiar, some say, to mean much.
"Lord, bless the missionaries."
For church folks of a certain age, these words are as comfortable and automatic as "Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies" or "Bless the gift and the giver."
Mission leaders who've heard this prayer uttered countless times sometimes criticize it as perfunctory, meaningless or ritualistic. Which missionaries? Where? Bless them how? And what about the people the missionaries are trying to reach with the Gospel? Don't they need prayer, too? A quick "Lord, bless the missionaries" gives people an excuse to check praying for missions off their to-do list, like dropping a buck or two in the offering plate takes care of supporting missions.
Effective praying for missionaries and their ministries needs to be a bit more specific.
"I continue to be intrigued that God, a sovereign God, would link His activity over the nations to the prayers of His people," said Jerry Rankin, retired International Mission Board (IMB) president. "But are we willing to move beyond a simple 'God bless the missionaries' and pray to invoke His blessings on their efforts? Prayer is not simply a way to bless the strategies and methods of our missionaries. It is the foundation of the strategy. Missionaries go to tell the story and to reap the harvest, but if the doors are to be opened, if the barriers are to crumble, if hearts are to be softened, it's our responsibility to pray them into the Kingdom."
Wanda Lee, Woman's Missionary Union executive director-treasurer, made a similar observation years ago: "Praying 'God bless the missionaries' once you are informed is not specific enough to open these dark places to the light of Jesus Christ. It will take informed, inspired praying to reach our world with the message of salvation."
"Informed" is a key word. There are many ways to become informed about the needs of missionaries and the people groups they strive to reach. A good place to start is www.imb.org/compassionnet, IMB's main prayer network, which offers a variety of ways to pray strategically for missionaries, mission teams and people groups. You and your church even might become part of one of those teams as you discover God's heart for making disciples among all nations.
Storming the gates of darkness requires informed, committed spiritual warriors willing to pray big prayers -- and "small" ones. God cares about little things, because they aren't so little in the grand scheme of His work. Continued...