John Piper has ably passed on the story of the birth of Baptist missions and of William Carey’s powerful image of the church “holding the rope” for her missionaries.
It was a little band of Baptist pastors, including William Carey, who had formed the Baptist Missionary Society on October 2, 1792. Fuller, more than anyone else, felt the burden of what it meant that William Carey and John Thomas (and later, others) left everything for India in dependence, under God, on this band of brothers. One of them, John Ryland, recorded the story from which came the famous “rope holder” image. He wrote that Carey said:
Our undertaking to India really appeared to me, on its commencement, to be somewhat like a few men, who were deliberating about the importance of penetrating into a deep mine, which had never before been explored, [and] we had no one to guide us; and while we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were, said “Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” But before he went down…he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us, at the mouth of the pit, to this effect—that “while we lived, we should never let go of the rope.”
Church, we must hold the rope for our sent missionaries. As modern Americans we are perhaps accustomed to thinking of “holding the rope” in terms of financial support. In fact, I want to argue this morning that intentional, consistent prayerfor our missionaries and their efforts is the primary way we hold the rope today, as is reflected in our covenant.
As a body of born again believers,
We covenant to become an authentic family by
loving one another as Christ loves us,
praying for one another,
speaking truth to one another in love,
being patient with one another,
protecting one another,
considering one another as more important than ourselves.
We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by
studying God’s Word faithfully,
learning the gospel together in family worship,
giving ear only to sound doctrine,
living out the gospel in our lives,
embracing the whole counsel of God.
We covenant to bring glory to God by
gathering for worship faithfully,
singing to the glory of God,
joining together in fervent prayer,
doing good works to the Father’s glory,
living lives that reflect the beauty of Christ,
giving offerings to God joyfully and faithfully.
We covenant to reach the nations by
sharing the gospel with those around us,
reaching out to the poor and the needy,
praying for the cause of missions in the world
To “pray for the cause of missions in the world” is to fulfill William Carey’s plea for us to “hold the rope.”
We should pray for God to open doors all around the world for the advance of the gospel through missions.
What should the content of our prayer for missionaries be? It should be first and foremost that God would open doors for the advance of the gospel through missions. In Colossians 4, Paul calls upon the church to pray for exactly this:
2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 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— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
Note the quality of our prayer for missions: steadfast. We should “continue steadfastly” in our prayers for missions. That is, our prayers should come from a place of deep conviction about the utter importance of the gospel reaching the nations. And we should pray “that God may open to us a door for the word.” Our missionaries are always looking for open doors, leaning on this door and that door to see if it will open for an opportunity for bearing witness. Of course, when Paul writes this he is, as he says in verse 3, in prison. In part he is praying for the door to his cell to be open. But he is clearly asking for much more than that. He is asking for doors of opportunity to open to him and to all who are traveling throughout the nations declaring “the mystery of Christ.”
Think of a young missionary family in a closed country, a country where it is not legal to share one’s faith openly. This missionary family is there under the auspices of, say, teaching English or running a business. They have been carefully building relationships with their friends and neighbors. They are praying that God might open a door so that they can present the gospel. When Paul calls upon the Colossian Christians to pray “that God may open to us a door for the word” he is asking us to pray for that moment. He is asking us to pray that this missionary family will finally have that opportunity to tell their friends about Jesus. We should be praying for that moment, for that door to open!
John Piper put it nicely when he said:
God has ordained prayer to have a crucial place in the mission of the church. The purpose of prayer is to make clear to all the participants in this war that the victory belongs to the Lord…Prayer is the walkie-talkie of the church on the battlefield of the world in the service of the Word. It is not a domestic intercom to increase the temporal comforts of the saints…It is for those on active duty. And in their hands it proves the supremacy of God in the pursuit of the nations. When mission moves forward by prayer, it magnifies the power of God. When it moves by human management, it magnifies man.
Yes, this is true! Missions advances as the gathered church lifts up its sent missionaries to the throne of grace and calls upon God for open doors for the advance of the gospel. Are we praying for that?
We should pray for power, boldness, and success for our sent missionaries.
We should also pray for power, for boldness, and for success for our sent missionaries. In Ephesians 6, Paul writes:
18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
We are accustomed to sitting in pews and watching somebody preach. Our posture unfortunately becomes one of consumption the longer we do this. That is, the preacher provides a sermon and we consume then critique it. But this is not the posture we should have either for our pastors or our missionaries. Rather, our posture should be one of prayer. We should be praying “that words may be given” to those who proclaim the gospel, preacher or not, and that we all might open our mouths “boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,” that we might “declare it boldly” as we “ought to speak.”
When is the last time that you prayed for our missionaries or our pastors or our Sunday School teachers or all of as we present the gospel day to day, that we might have boldness and power? Can we break free from our consumeristic mentalities and beseech the throne of heaven to grant us power? Can we set aside our focus on self for a moment and beg God that the brave men and women and boys and girls who we have sent throughout the world would be able to speak boldly and passionately the good news of Jesus Christ? Can we do that?
2 Thessalonians 3 is another passage in which Paul pleads for the church’s prayers for success in missions.
1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored as happened among you
I love this verse! It almost sounds as if the church’s prayers are turbo boosters on the efforts of our missionaries. When we come alongside our missionaries in prayer, the word is enabled to “speed ahead and be honored.” There is power in the prayers of a pleading church! We should plead to God on behalf of our sent missionaries! We should call out to Him that doors might be opened and that the gospel would speed on ahead bearing great fruit!
Let me ask an honest question: what if we do not pray for the cause of missions in the world? What would happen if the church simply did not pray for her missionaries? What if we do not pray:
- for the 3,667 Southern Baptist International Mission Board field personnel who saw over 45,000 baptisms in 2016, over 4,500 new churches planted, and over 800 people groups engaged with the gospel? What if we do not pray for them? What if we do not pray…
- for Pastor Bike, who rides his bicycle all over China telling people about Jesus, who leads “an average of two to three people to Christ every day,” who pastors a house church, and who “baptized hundreds of new believers this past year”? What if we do not pray…
- for Somxi, a Chinese girl who became a Christian only to have her parents say that “they would rather she be a prostitute than a Christian,” who leads worship in a house church for the Khmu minority in the area and who works with the youth in her church? What if we do not pray…
- for Suta, an Indian believer who “was nearly beaten to death by Hindu activists in 2014 for sharing the gospel in a Rajastan village” and who continues to minister and witness in the village where he was beaten? Suta “says persecution in the area is increasing and that it has become more difficult to live and work there”? What if we do not pray…
- for Padina, an Iranian woman who came to know Christ after hearing a sermon on satellite television and who “became a dedicated evangelist herself, sharing Christ throughout Iran and developing an entire house church network”? What if we do not pray…
- for Qabil Matar of Pakistan, a “missionary for nine years in one of Pakistan’s most dangerous regions, the Northwest Frontier province,” who was kidnapped in 2008 “and tortured by the Taliban, who held him upside down in a hole full of excrement” until he escaped? Who says that after he escaped he returned to the area to share the gospel when he learned that Christians were praying for him.
What if we do not pray for these and others bearing witness all around the world? Samuel Balentine has offered a powerful answer to the question:
What if we do not exercise our God-given responsibility as a community of faith? What if we do not pray to keep ourselves and our world in God? What if we do not pray and fight to keep God in the world? I submit that if we do not, either the church will become a den of robbers where thieves congregate to count their loot and hide out from God, or it will become a shining, splendid edifice, pointing to the heavens but counting for nothing on earth. In either case, God is anguished and the world is impoverished.
How terrifying! Do we want to become “a den of robbers where thieves congregate to count their loot and hide out from God” or “a shining, splendid edifice, pointing to the heavens but counting for nothing on earth”? Do we want this to happen to us? No? Then let us pray for missions! Let us get out of our own heads and beg God for amazing success for our sent missionaries throughout the world. And as we do that we will notice something happen to us: when we move missions back onto our radar we will begin to see that we too our sent missionaries, that the church is a missionary body, that the theyfor whom we are praying is also us!
Pray for the cause of missions in the world! Pray for the sent church! Pray for our sent-out missionaries! Pray for doors to be open, for courage to be given, for boldness to be displayed, and for the lost to come to Jesus! Church, pray, pray, pray!
John Piper, Andrew Fuller. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), p.21.
Quoted in Wright, Christopher J. H.. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life) (Kindle Locations 5011-5019). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
All of these examples and quotations come from pages 11-13 of the December 2018 edition of The Voice of the Martyrsmagazine.
Quoted in Wright, Kindle Locations 5052-5056.