Praying the Scriptures for World Missions
A sermon preached Nov. 8, 2015, at CrossWay Bible Church, Blue Springs, MO
The ministry that we are involved in is in Budapest, Hungary. Many of you know that we were in Croatia and then in Bosnia before that for about 16 years, and for the last couple years we have been based in Budapest, Hungary.
The work we do is Bible Translation for Roma. What is Roma? What does that mean? Most people call them Gypsies – I’m sure that you’ve heard that; maybe you have even said that ‘I was gyped’ – well, it’s kind of a misnomer and not a very nice thing to say.
The Gypsies are a group that actually did not come from Egypt even though people thought they did, which is why they came up with the word ‘Gypsy’ (from ‘Egypt’). In reality, they came from India, so here’s a little history lesson. If you back up to 900A.D – well over 1000 years ago – and you were to look into the history of North India (see the brown area on the map below) there was a group in North India at that time who left. They were forced out during the Muslim invasion and they started to go west into Persia, which is now Iraq and Iran, and then eventually they went up into Turkey.
Some of them – as you can see by the arrows – did go down into Egypt, but the vast majority continued up into what is now Europe. They were in Greece for a while and then in Romania. They were held as slaves in Romania in the 1300s all the way up through the 1800s and then they were released from slavery and have spread all over Europe.
This is a map of Europe today comprising well over 25 countries and every single one of them has a Roma – or Gypsy – minority. The red wheel there is the symbol for the Roma for two reasons: they used to be nomads and they would travel around literally in wagons, and so the wagon wheel became their symbol; also that is the same symbol on the flag of India because it represents the Hindu belief of the cycle of life. So, in this map, the red wheel is larger in the countries which have a bigger population of Roma, and then also the green shows the percentage — the darker the green, the higher the percentage. We live in Hungary (see HU on the graphic), but we are also involved in ministry in countries around Hungary.
So today what we have is twelve million Roma living in Europe and in Western Eurasia. They are scattered, as I said, in over 25 countries, and among them there are 85 groups speaking distinct dialects. By and large, the Roma are an outcast people. They are kept at arm’s length, and most others think of them as dirty and poor and illiterate and uneducated. Many of them are despised and they are treated as outcasts.
These are pictures from a village in North-West Croatia. The Croats – the majority culture – have their city a few miles away and this is a village where the Roma are away off to themselves. The Roma are oftentimes illiterate. They drop out of school when they are quite young, sometimes the girls getting pregnant at 11-12 years old. It is a very difficult situation that they live in. In many ways the saddest thing is that, of these 85 different dialects spoken by Roma, only about a dozen have the Bible translated.
So there is a huge need and a huge task, and we are calling this the Decade of Roma Bible Translation. In the next ten years we would love to see at least the beginning of translation work in every Roma dialect that still needs it. The translation process will take much longer, but there is a big push now to begin all these translations in the next ten years. The Bible for all Roma, having God’s word in their own heart language, in the language that is really what they speak in and think in in the home, and the one that communicates most clearly to them–we want the Scriptures in that language.
In this message we’re going to be tackling a theme called Praying the Scriptures for World Missions. If you can turn in your Bibles, please, to Matthew chapter 9, verses 35-38. There are many valid methods for prayer, but I think that one of the most helpful methods is praying the Scriptures, and by that I mean going to the Bible and noticing those Bible verses which tell us either what to pray or give us examples of saints in prayer. You might think of, for example, David in the Psalms, or of the prophet Daniel in his prayers recorded in the book named after him. There are many New Testament examples as well. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray. Paul left us a lot of prayers, in fact oftentimes in his epistles he will tell the believers what he is praying for them or he will ask prayer for himself. So we have at our disposal in the pages of Scripture literally scores, maybe hundreds, of prayers recorded for us and we can use these in our own prayer life. I struggle with prayer myself, and you may as well, but the beautiful thing about praying Scripture is that you are going right to God in His own words and praying it back to Him. You’re praying what the Lord wants you to pray – you don’t have to wonder ‘what should I pray about?’, ‘what are the topics I should be thinking of?’ – rather you are praying it back to the Lord and re-presenting to the Lord the prayers of the Bible, His prayers. As the old Puritans said, ‘pleading the promises’. ‘ God, you promised this, you told me to do this, you said you would answer according to your will, and this is your word and so I come with confidence.’
Ben Patterson said,
“Prayer is not a means by which we get God to give us what we want. ‘Prayer is a means God uses to give us what he wants’… The Bible tells us what God wants.”
So when we pray the Bible, we are praying what God wants.
Now, as I said, there are many different prayers in the Bible, and we are going to look at 4 of them this morning, one in a little more detail, and 3 quite briefly, the first one being in Matthew 9.
Let’s go to the Lord in prayer first, and commit this time to Him, before we read the Scriptures together.
Lord, I thank you that you have not left us as orphans, but you have given us your Spirit. You have also not left us ignorant, but you have left us with your Word. You have instructed us how you want us to prayer. As we look, Lord, at these passages this morning, I pray that you will give us understanding; I pray that you will put a spark, a flame, in our hearts to pray your Word back to you with confidence, knowing that we are praying what you want us to pray, that we are praying in a way that honors and pleases you. Help us, Father, to pray fervently, to pray diligently, to pray earnestly, as we will see that we are commanded. Father, we love you and we lift up to you the nations of the world that are in such need. We pray from pole to pole, from the river to the ends of the earth, that people will come to know that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that you will send out your servants to preach the Gospel where Christ has not been named, as Paul told us in Romans, that you would consecrate a people from all the nations as an offering acceptable to you, as Paul said, and as we see in Revelation, that there will be someone from every tribe and tongue and nation around your throne. That’s what we pray for, Lord. We pray that you would teach transgressors your way, as David prayed, and let sinners be converted to you. We pray that you will give them repentance, that you will lead them into the way of truth, and deliver them from the snare of the devil, as Paul told us to pray. Lord, we commit this time to you and ask that you would be our teacher, and be our guide, and guide us and direct us. Teach us what we need to hear, rebuke us if we need it, and encourage us if we need it, give us your joy as we serve you. It’s in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.
35 And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.
36 And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.
37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
38 “Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matt. 9:35-38 NASB)
In this passage we see a real missionary spirit. The Lord Jesus was the greatest missionary of all. He travelled, he taught, he preached, in a very wide area. It says He went to ‘all the cities and villages’. He didn’t just go to the larger population centers, he also went to the out of the way places as well, into the villages. As he travelled through Israel and the surrounding regions, he saw the people there and he felt compassion for them. The crowds were needy, the multitudes had various needs that moved him and his heart went out to them. That’s really what our first reaction should be when we see the needs of the world. What a motivation to pray! Maybe it’s something on the news that you see, maybe it’s a missionary prayer letter that you’ve read, maybe it’s your own neighbors or your own family. But whatever it is, as you see the needs around you, let that be a motivation to pray, to pray the Scriptures.
Jesus had compassion; he relieved their suffering by feeding, by healing them, by teaching them, by proclaiming good news to them, and then, we will see in a minute, he also told us what to pray and then he sent the disciples out themselves. The New American Standard says that they were “distressed” and “downcast”, or the updated New American Standard Bible says ‘dispirited’, while NIV has “harassed” or “helpless”. These are the people that Jesus saw at this time. The term comes originally from a term ”to flay” or ”to skin” – a very graphic term, but it is used metaphorically here ”to be bothered” or ”to be tired”, ”to be worn out” or ”to be distressed”. So he saw the people, and it also goes on to say that they were ”downcast” or ”dispirited”. It’s sort of the idea of being thrown to the ground and laying there prostrate and unable to get up; completely helpless like sheep that can’t even move; they can’t go on to fresh water, they can’t go on to grass, they’re just totally dejected and distressed. So the passage tells us that he goes on and that he looks at them and has compassion on them. The same word is used here as when he fed the five thousand. He looked at them and they were hungry; he didn’t want to send them away. It says that ‘his heart was moved and he had compassion on them’.
I think that this is completely applicable to the situation that Pam and I see every day among the Roma. Many of the Roma are very poor. These are some Roma girls who live in a village in north-west Croatia. Pam and some of our colleagues were doing a soup-kitchen distribution when this picture was taken. Many of them are like that – distressed, dispirited, downcast.
This is a little boy called Roli whose family comes and begs at our house about once a week. This photo was taken in front of our gate at our house in Budapest. Roli and his dad, Alexander, often come by asking for food, coffee, diapers, things like that. We see them with a stroller many times that they are pushing. Sometimes it has a baby in it – they do have seven children, so we fit right in! – but oftentimes they are taking the stroller along to the trash cans because they want to dig through the trash and through the recycling to see what they can find.
So, what is our response to be? It is to have compassion. The Lord Jesus was compassionate to those who were outcast, especially the lepers. No-one else would go near the lepers; no-one else would hug them or touch them, but Jesus did. He saw them, he had compassion on them. In many ways the Roma are sort of the lepers of our day – in Europe, at least. They are social outcasts. The lepers not only were diseased physically, but they were ostracized socially. They couldn’t be around normal society; they had to stay away and literally keep their distance. The Roma are in many ways the same.
These are some Roma boys in a village in Serbia and many of them are marginalized; they are the lepers of the day; they are set aside and are those that no-one really wants to have around. You hear about them on the news, but usually only when they are being accused of something or else they are being driven out of a camp or a village where they are squatting or such. But even in spite of this, and in spite of all the challenges, our reaction should be that of the Lord Jesus – of pity, of helping them in practical ways.
For example, this is a Christmas food distribution, and on the left you can see the men unloading the van. On the right is a living room of one of the Roma leaders in this village in north-east Hungary. On the couch are big loaves of bread; the French bread comes in a 2 lb. loaf. Distributing food such as bread, meat, and other food staples to the Roma is one very tangible way to help the Roma, like the Lord Jesus, by meeting their needs.
But it also goes deeper than that. There is very much a spiritual dimension.
Jesus talked about the people as being “like sheep without a shepherd”. This is a metaphor that occurs several times in the OT. Spiritual leaders, i.e. the priests and Levites, as well as the kings were referred to as “shepherds”. They were responsible to watch over the people of Israel and to care for their spiritual welfare. They were to teach them God’s truth and lead them in God’s ways. But there were many times in Old Testament history where the prophets would have to come and rebuke the leaders.
For example, in Ezekiel 34:2 we read: “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not the shepherds pasture the flock? (NASB marg.)
Jeremiah 23:1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD. (NASB)
In Numbers 27:17-18, which is the account where Joshua is appointed as Moses’ successor specifically so that the people “may not be like sheep without a shepherd”.
1 Kings 22:17 predicts King Ahab’s death and says that the result will be that the people of Israel will be “scattered on the mountains like sheep that have no shepherd.”.
Jesus also dealt with this in the New Testament when he had to rebuke the Pharisees for not guiding the people, not shepherding the people.
And thus the people were in the Old Testament and in the New Testament were often seen to be like “sheep without a shepherd”; they were downcast, they were distressed. But Jesus had compassion on them. That should be our reply/response as well, and especially as it moves us to prayer.
Jesus’ heart was touched for their plight; he saw that the people were “beaten down”, or “oppressed”. In that time the Romans held them in an iron grip, taxing them and ruling over them harshly, and even the religious leaders weren’t a whole lot of help. Jesus said that “you placed burdens on their backs, but you do not lift a finger”.
Jesus “saw an ignorant, neglected, perishing crowd.
The sorrows, dangers, and sins of spiritual ignorance are great.
The Lord Jesus is the Shepherd of the unshepherded.”
The Roma, I think, fall in the same category. This is the same village in north-west Croatia where Pam was visiting. The Roma themselves are underneath the same type of oppression: they don’t have their own country; they are often on the outskirts; the religious leaders that are amongst them – The Catholic priests do not help them spiritually, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults that are very common among them only offer spiritual bondage; their witchdoctors give them no hope. They are sheep without a shepherd.
Then Jesus changes metaphors, from sheep without a shepherd to a harvest without harvesters. He compared the people to a harvest that was ready to be reaped, but there were not enough workers to bring in the harvest.
So what do you do when faced with a harvest, and you know that the crops might rot in the fields if you don’t get them in quickly and yet you know you don’t have the workforce to bring the harvest in?
You go to the boss. You go to the owner and you say “Give us more workers”. In a similar way, Jesus said “Go to the Lord of the harvest, and ask him…”. Ask God, beseech God who is the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers into the harvest field.
So this is my first point of ‘How do you pray the scriptures?’ Matthew 9:35 says “Pray that God will send forth laborers into his harvest field”.
Among the Gypsies, the Roma, there is a great need for more workers among the harvest field. They are “distressed”, they are “dispirited”, they are “downcast”, they are “sheep without a shepherd”.
David Thomas quotes a missionary as saying,
“I cannot, if I [wanted to], give up the idea of being a missionary, while I reflect upon this vast number of my fellow-sinners, who are perishing for lack of knowledge.”
Statistics tell us that even today in 2015, 40% of the world , which is well over 3 billion, are still unreached with the Gospel. That means specifically that less than 2% of the population in unreached areas are born again believers, and there aren’t enough laborers there to reach that unreached people group. So he continues to say that this fact:
“…intrudes itself upon my mind wherever I go, and however I am employed. When I go to bed, it is the last thing that recurs to my memory; if I awake in the night, it is to meditate on it alone; and in the morning it is generally the first thing that occupies my thoughts.”
- Is that our burden?
- Is that what perhaps wakes us up, or keeps us from sleeping?
- The idea that millions of people in this world are still waiting for laborers to bring the Gospel to them?
Most Roma don’t have people to tell them about Christ; they don’t have pastors to teach them about God’s word; they don’t have messengers to give them the Good News. Many of them do not have the Bible in their heart language; they do not have it in their mother tongue. So what are we do to? We are to have compassion on them
The founder of the work that we are doing, Bob Hitching, is in this picture, and he is putting his arm around a Roma woman there who is confined to a wheelchair and lives in a very small village with no running water and no electricity. This is the same organization that Elizabeth and Stephen will be joining with.
So what do you do when you see the Roma like this? Well, first of all you do what you can by reaching out in compassion, but also you pray – again my application point – you beseech the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest. You say, “Lord, this is your work, this is your harvest, and we need more laborers to get it done.” Pray Matthew 9:38
- Let me ask you, when was the last time you did that?
- When did you pray most recently for more laborers for the harvest field?
- Is that something you pray for daily?
- Is that something that you think about?
Do you use your time for prayer? If you are standing in line waiting to pay for your groceries, if you’re washing dishes, if you’re changing the oil, if you’re mowing the lawn … do you use that time that God has given you, those snatches of time as well as, hopefully, daily planned time, to pray that the Lord will send laborers into his harvest?
It is the Lord who does it. He is the boss. He the ‘owner’, so to speak of the harvest, and he sends out those whom He pleases. Just as the owner of a business can hire whomever he wants, so the Lord is the one who can send out whomever he wants.
We need, practically speaking, more missionaries! This is a picture taken in front of the garage of the house that we rent in Budapest, and it is a group of missionaries. Some of them are American missionaries like us, and we need that – we need more missionaries from the States – but we also need them from other places as well from South America, from Australia, from Europe, from Africa, even from China – there is a great move among Chinese to send out missionaries. But not just “foreign” missionaries. A couple of people in this picture are Croats, born and raised in Croatia, and they themselves are missionaries. We need Serbs as missionaries in Serbia, Hungarians as missionaries in Hungary, etc.
And then perhaps most importantly, the Roma themselves.
This is Biljana and she is a dear believer. She used to stand on the street in Serbia and beg for a living. Many Roma still do that – they don’t have work. In fact, in Hungary statistics say that 74% of Roma of eligible work age are unemployed. The life expectancy for Roma is 10-12 years less than of the average Hungarian. So, Biljana used to beg for a living, doing what she could to get by. Then God reached down and really transformed her life and she is now spending her full time doing children’s Bible clubs, writing Christian stories. Elizabeth will be working with her, helping to mentor her and others, and writing Christian books. Biljana’s husband, Djeno, on the right of the photo, is the pastor of a little church there in Croatia.
So – when you’re praying for laborers, don’t just think of foreign missionaries. Yes, we need more foreign missionaries and more national workers, but pray also for the Roma themselves, that they will be laborers sent out into the harvest field. In many ways, they are the most important link in the process of Bible translation.
This picture was taken pointing towards the street from the house where we live in Budapest, and this is with Zvezdan and (a different) Biljana. They themselves are Roma missionaries among the Roma. During the week they sell fruit and vegetables in an open market, and then on the weekends he pastors two different churchesy with Roma.
So, pray Matthew 9:38 for the Roma – that the Lord will send out laborers into the harvest field.
It is interesting to notice that the disciples became the answers to their own prayer. Why do I say that? Well, in the Bible, unfortunately there is a paragraph break after verse 38 before you get to chapter 10, but it is still the same story. It goes right on and says in the very next verse, 10:1, “Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority …” and v. 5, “These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them…”.
Then the parallel passage in Luke makes it even more clear. See Luke 10:2-3:
2 And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.
3 “Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”
So when you pray, be willing to be an answer to your own prayers. Or as Spurgeon said,
the sincerity of their prayers may be proved by their subsequent endeavours to obtain their petitions.
“What if God this morning should move some of you to feel that men are perishing, and you cannot let them perish! What if you should pray, “Lord, send out men to save souls,” and then he should put his hands on you and say, “You are the man yourself. Behold I send you!”
The world is dying, the grave is filling, hell is boasting, and yet you have the gospel; can it be that you do not care to win souls, do not care whether men are damned or saved! The Lord wake us from this stony-hearted barbarity to our fellow-men, and make us yearn over them, care about them, and pray about them, and work for them, till the Lord shall arise and send forth labourers into his harvest!
The picture of a harvest communicates urgency. When there is a harvest which has to be brought in, you cannot wait; you cannot delay and just say “Well, I’ll get to it later”. The harvest must be brought in all at once. You cannot wait, or the grain will rot in the field
There is the same urgency for the Roma — the harvest is plentiful among the Roma. For the most part, Europe is very closed to the Gospel. Most people are disinterested, it’s post-modern, post-Christian, but among the Roma it is a different story. Not among all of them, but there have been places in France and Spain in particular, and in some parts of England where up to 30-40% of the Roma are evangelical believers. God has reached down and had compassion on them. Like James said, God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith. But there is still a great need, especially where we are in Eastern Europe. God says, “beseech”, or “ask” or plead.
We stayed earlier this year with a family in central Iowa who farm 1000 acres. They showed me their farm and we walked around and they showed me their sheds which were filled with literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment – tractors, harvesters, combines, etc. These folk had of course cleared their schedule and were waiting for the time when the corn would be ready to harvest. Think about it – if you were them, and you’d cleared your schedule, you have all the equipment, but what happens if the time comes for the harvest and you find out that all your laborers are unavailable! They’re sick, they’re on vacation, they took another job. You would feel an urgency; you would feel a sense of “I’ve got to get this grain in, I cannot lose this harvest.” The same thing should grip us for the souls of men. There is a harvest, but time is short. “Work while it is day”, Jesus said “because the night is coming when no man will work”. So it is now that we need to get the Gospel out. It is now that we should send laborers into the harvest field.
So, my first challenge this morning as you pray the Scriptures, pray Matthew 9, that the Lord will send laborers into His harvest.
We’re going to look briefly at three more passages.
I love Paul’s Epistles because he tells us very specifically what he prays for the believers, and how he wants them to pray for him. So the first passage from Paul that we’ll look at is :
“Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; 2 and that we may be delivered from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. ” (2 Thess. 3:1-2 NASB)
“Brethren, pray for us.”
This is the missionary cry. This is why we send out missionary letters and emails. This is why I am standing before you this morning, to say “Pray, Brothers and Sisters, pray for us”. There is nothing I can ask you to do of more importance than that.
“You cannot tell how much God’s servants are helped by the prayers of His people. The strongest man in Israel will be the better for the prayers of the weakest saint in Zion. If you can do nothing else, you can pray for us. Therefore, day and night, be at the mercy seat on our behalf.
Paul tells us some specific things in this passage. He first of all says “pray that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly”. Literally, it says, that “the word of the Lord may run”. It’s the idea of it spreading quickly, going to all the corners of the globe, making good progress.
I see again among the Roma that there is a huge need for that progress. As I said earlier, they number 12 million Roma, living in over 25 countries of Europe, 85 different groups speaking their own dialect. They need “the Word of the Lord”. So Paul said “Pray that the word of the Lord may run, that it may spread rapidly.
The Roma need the Bible in their heart language. They need to hear the Gospel and be taught the Bible. They need the “Word of the Lord” in the language of the heart – their mother tongue. And they need it now. They cannot wait – we need it to spread rapidly.
Again, the big push this decade – the Decade of Bible Translation – to get the Word out there as quickly as possible. There is a proper sense of urgency to get the Gospel out, even in the next ten years, that the Word of God would spread.
So, praying the Scriptures means praying that God would send out laborers, but it also means praying that the word of the Lord will run, that it will spread rapidly.
Next, Paul tells them to pray that the Word of the Lord would be “be glorified, just as it did also with you”
The Thessalonians to whom he was writing had received the gospel, as the Word of God. Paul had come as a missionary and the people had received the Word. Paul says that “they received it not as the word of man but as it truly is, the word of God”. God’s word was honored among them, or ‘glorified’. To be glorified here means ‘to be given its proper high status as truth, as saving truth’.
To glorify means to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged.
So we want God’s word as it spreads not only to go there, but also to be acknowledged as God’s word – to be honored, to be glorified. That’s what it did among the people in Thessalonica, and that’s what it’s doing little by little among the Roma.
About 10 years ago among the group called the Bayash Roma, we were not aware of any believers. But now there are probably three or four hundred believers among the Bayash in Hungary, and Croatia, and Serbia, and they are gathered together in small churches throughout the region, like this one shown above. This is a little Roma church in north-east Croatia, about four hours from where we live.
So that’s what we’re praying – that the word of the Lord would spread rapidly and would be honored; that churches would be planted all over this region among the Roma.
The next thing that Paul says in this passage in Second Thessalonians is “pray that we will be delivered from … evil men, for not all have faith”.
You know, there are many areas today among the Roma where the Gospel is not really wanted. There are those who are definitely opposed to the Gospel; they do not want to see it spread rapidly; they don’t want it to be received by the people. There are mafia bosses who keep these Roma villages under an iron fist. There are loan sharks who loan money at 100% interest per month, then they get the people in their debt and it just goes on and on. There is drug and alcohol abuse as well.
Paul said to pray that when the Gospel spreads, it will spread rapidly and that we will be delivered from perverse and evil men. Just like Paul himself was opposed by the silversmiths when he preached in Ephesus. They made a living from making silver idols and they were upset that people were converting to Christ and no longer worshiping idols and so they lost their income. In the same way in many of these Roma villages where there is witchcraft that is practiced and deep superstition, it will mess up the power structure if the Gospel comes in and transforms lives. Those who extort money, and traffic children, who send Roma girls into prostitution as teenagers will lose their jobs and source of income.
So we pray, as Paul did, that messengers of the Gospel will be delivered from this type of “perverse and evil men”.
You may have seen in one of our updates not too long ago that one of the little churches in Sitnice, Croatia, which meets in a little rented home, had its windows broken out with rocks and then people in the village threatened to burn down the church and kick them out of the village they were in.
In another village in Serbia there was a planned three day Bible Club event for children and the police came and shut it down. So if you pray for missionaries, if you pray for the word of the Lord to spread rapidly, pray that the messengers would be delivered from evil men.
So far we have looked at 2 passages – Matthew 9:35-38 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2.
Do you see how instructive it is to pray the Scriptures?
The ability to pray effectively does not come naturally. It’s not easy for me, and it’s possibly not easy for you. We need the Scriptures to teach us how to pray. We must be taught to pray what the Bible wants us to pray. Let us never forget that God is God and we are not. He does not exist for us, but we exist for Him.
Prayer is ultimately about Him, not about us. Prayer is a means, not of getting what we want but of getting what God wants; seeing His purposes fulfilled, seeing His name glorified, seeing His kingdom come, seeing His will be done. Learning to pray Scripture puts the focus back where it needs to be – on God and on what He wants.
The third passage we want to look at briefly is Colossians 4:2-4:
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;
3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;
4 in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. (Col. 4:2-4 NASB)
So the passage tells us to:
- “devote yourselves to prayer” (NASB, NIV)—–
- “continue steadfastly in prayer” (ESV)
- “continue earnestly in prayer” (NKJV)
The idea is to “continue to do something with intense effort, even despite difficulty”. Prayer is effort – don’t get me wrong. Don’t deceive yourself – prayer is not easy, it is an effort that we have to persist in, that we have to be steadfast in.
We might say, “to keep on keeping on” – sometimes that’s the key to praying with persistence. That is my challenge to you and to myself.
- Are we devoted to prayer?
- Do we continue steadfastly in prayer?
- Do we persevere in it? Or do we quickly give up?
I remember praying for a young person about 16 years old in Bosnia. His mother had come to Christ a while back and we were visiting her, and Matthew and Edin had struck up a friendship. I started praying for Edin after that visit but, to be honest, after a couple months I just thought that “he’s never going to be saved, it’s just not going to happen. He’s not interested, his Dad’s not a believer, his brother’s not a believer.” Well, to be honest, I quit praying for him specifically. But then I received an email out of the blue from missionaries who work with him, and they said “you’ll never believe what happened!” You need to understand that this was a Muslim town where we used to live and where we started a church, but there were very few believers. They said “Last night we were having a Bible study and four people said that they wanted to be baptized!” – and they did, they baptized them in the bathtub. Edin was one of them. I received an email a couple of weeks ago and Edin is growing in the Lord and he’s talking to others about Christ, and I was rebuked by that because I hadn’t persevered in prayer – I had given up. Don’t do that. Paul says very clearly “continue steadfastly in prayer”.
George Swinnock calls this “the high affairs of God”. I love that old puritan language.
“Do you not blush to think that worldlings are more busy and laborious about the low things, the rattles and trifles of this life, than you are about the high affairs of God and your soul, the noble and serious concernments of eternity? George Swinnock
So it should demand our highest level of energy, our intensity, our perseverance.
The text says: “keeping alert” NASB; “being watchful” NIV; It means to “watch, be alert, be vigilant”. Like a guard in the military or a security guard. If you are at a guard post, you’re not allowed to go to sleep on your watch! If you are a security guard, you can’t just lay down whenever you want to. You have to be on your guard. If you are a doctor in your residency and you’re worn out and really want to go to sleep, but you’re on call for that shift, you have to be ready at any time. It’s the same idea with prayer – we have to be vigilant, we have to be ready at all times.
It’s amazing how many times Paul tells the believers to “be on your guard”, “be watchful”, to “be on the alert”. The Lord Jesus himself, when he was praying under the deepest, darkest night of his soul in the garden of Gethsemane, said “Pray”. He said “be watchful that you do not fall into temptation”, so keep alert, keep on your toes.
But it also says “with thanksgiving”. Prayer is not just a grocery list or a laundry list of “God, do this, do this”, even in spiritual things. It’s also time to praise and to thank God for what he has done.
F.F. Bruce says,
The remembrance of former mercies [in other words, answered prayer] not only produces spontaneous praise and worship; it is also a powerful incentive to renewed believing prayer.
So as we thank God for what he has done, that also boosts our faith. “Yes, Lord, you did this; I’d like to see you do something in this person’s life as well.” So again, as we pray the Scriptures, it is also time to give thanks to him for what he has done. Let’s praise him for his kindness, and let that be something that moves us and motivates us to persevere further in prayer.
This passage goes on to say “pray for God to open a door for the Word”. This is a conference we had for Roma leaders. We gathered well over 100 Roma from 12 different European countries, and missionaries who work with them, and I gave this challenge to have a Bible-centered ministry, with all that they do being centered around the Word, and that God would open a door for the Word. That’s a perfect prayer for Bible translation – that God would open a door for his word. It says that we may proclaim “the mystery of Christ”. Simply put, that means in the Old Testament that Jesus was predicted, but that was hidden, and in the New Testament this mystery is revealed, it is shown in its full glory. So in other words he is saying to pray that God would open a door so that we can proclaim the truth about Jesus – the Old Testament prefiguring and then the Jesus who came and died and rose again.
Again, this is such an appropriate prayer for Roma Bible translation. These are some Roma who live in one of the larger settlements in Hungary and we were handing out to them some Gospel comics. Sometimes we start very simply with comics or children’s books.
When we translate the Bible into Roma dialects we want the message to be clear to them. We want the Roma to not have any obstacle or any thing in the way to keep them from understanding God’s word in their heart language – the language they understand best.
This is my desk when we had a checking session. We were looking over some passages from the Gospel of Luke in one of the Roma dialects. We strive and we pray that God will give us the words, that we can be accurate to the original Greek and Hebrew in our translations, and that we can be clear, and that what we translate will be natural and clearly understood by the Roma.
So, Colossians 4 gives us some excellent things to pray for in missions. Please pray for the work among the Roma, that Christ will be clearly presented.
And lastly, I want to look at one more passage : Ephesians 6:18-20
18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph. 6:18-20 NASB)
This passage is packed full of great things to pray for missions and for missionaries.
The first thing he says is that we are told to pray “with all prayer and petition”. You notice in that verse that four times Paul uses the word “all”. Use the full arsenal at your disposal. Use all prayer and petition. Pray in the Spirit. Be alert when you pray. Don’t give up or give in, but rather pray with perseverance. Pray for all the saints.
This is a little church in southern Hungary with Roma believers. The scriptures tell us to pray for all the saints and I want to ask you to do that. Pray for the Roma believers in Europe today. God is at work and he is building his church there among the Roma, but they do have a lot going against them. They do have many challenges and it is oftentimes three steps forward and two back, but pray for all the saints.
That is one reason why it is so important that you get missionary prayer updates because then we can show you pictures of the people; we can even give you specifics. If it is appropriate we can tell you their names and/or the names of the villages where they live. We can give you specific prayer requests so that you can pray intelligently and specifically. We do our best to make it simple to pray by having a prayer calendar so that you don’t have to wonder what to prayer. There is a very clear and distinct thing for each day of the week, something to pray about or to praise God for through our daily prayer calendar. You can get this if you don’t already receive it, if you sign up; we would be happy to send it to you whether by snail mail or email.
It’s so important when you are praying for all the saints to have that information, that ‘ammunition’ so to speak for prayer. And again, you can also get all of that by following us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+. We try to get it out there because we really covet your prayers and we really want you, Brothers and Sisters, to pray for us, and we want to be as specific as possible so that you know how to pray. It helps you to know “the saints” for whom you should pray.
So, this passage tells us that – as we saw in Colossians 4 and we see it here in Ephesians 6 – that we are to pray with thanksgiving. Let’s give thanks to the Lord for what he has done.
Next, Paul says to pray for him “that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
This picture is of Stephen, when he came to visit us there, and one of our colleagues in Serbia. We were visiting some Roma villages there and doing a little bit of work to find out about their language and their needs for Bible translation. This is what we’re praying for – for boldness to speak into the lives of these people in these different villages.
The phrase “to open the mouth” is a biblical way of referring to proclaiming God’s Word (e.g. Ezekiel 3:27: “But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’).
Pray for God’s workers among the Roma that God will give them boldness, as we see in Ephesians 6 that God would enable them to speak as they “ought to speak”.
Once again, I think that this is a fantastic prayer to pray for Bible translation for the Roma as well. God is the author of Scripture; He wrote it; He knows the best way to translate it into each of these Roma dialects.
This is my desk in my office in Budapest where I was working on a Bayash dialect in Hungary, comparing some other Bayash dialects along with Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, English, together. We want to make sure that it is a clear presentation of God’s Word in the language of the people. Please pray for that, that God would give us the proper words, that he would “give us utterance”, literally what to speak and what to put in the translation.
So, we have looked at four passages of Scripture which are tremendous fodder for prayer. There is so much in the Scriptures that we can use to motivate us to prayer, but also to instruct us in how to pray.
We’ve seen, for example, in:
Matthew 9:35-38 that we are to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers;
2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 tells us to pray that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, and that God’s messengers will be rescued from evil men;
Colossians 4:2-4 says to pray that God will open a door for the word, and that we may speak as we ought to speak;
And finally in Ephesians 6:18-19 we are to pray for all the saints, the worldwide body of Christ, that utterance would be given us to make known the Gospel clearly.
So in closing I just want to challenge you to do that. To pray for world missions. Take our new prayer card (pictured above). It has prayer requests on the back to remind you to pray, and also has all of our contact information so that you can get our prayer requests. My challenge to you is get our prayer card, sign up for the prayer requests, and not just for us but for other missionaries that you know personally. Pray for them. Pray the Scriptures for them.
So now let’s do just that. Let’s pray.
Lord, I thank you that you have given us your word, and you have told us how to pray – not only in Matthew 9 and in these other passages in Paul’s epistles, but throughout the Scriptures literally dozens, maybe hundreds of prayers to instruct us how to pray. We pray that you would move us to do that. Teach us to pray in our own Bible study, in our own devotions, as we rise up and as we lie down and as we walk in the way, we pray that we would be men and women of the Scriptures who pray the Scriptures. Lord, we pray that your word would be honored. We pray that you would enlighten those who are speaking contrary to your word, as they have no light in themselves but we pray that you would enlighten them. Magnify your name and your word above all things as David said in the Psalms. Glorify yourself in these who are sheep without a shepherd going astray; return them, as Peter said, to Jesus Christ the shepherd and overseer of our souls. Lord, we pray that those who hear your word would be convicted of sin, as John records the word of Jesus, that your Spirit convicts of sin and righteousness and judgement. Disclose the secrets of their hearts, draw them to yourself that they may say ‘yes, God is truly among us’, even as Paul said. Lord, we just re-present to you your words, we plead the promises, we bring them back to you and say to you that ‘this is your word’, and we pray it for your honor and your glory, in the Name of your dear Son, and on his merit and for his glory. Amen.
 C. H. Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes & 4: Matthew to Revelation, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 26.
 C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 19 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 467.
 C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 19 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 468.
 Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: 2 Thessalonians, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 56.
George Swinnock Adapted from George Swinnock, vol. 1, The Works of George Swinnock, M.A., Volumes 1–5 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1868), 72.
 Elliot Ritzema and Elizabeth Vince, eds., 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).
 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 172.