Note: This article was originally posted on ABWE’s blog.
Goals and resolutions are helpful tools in the discipleship toolbox. The Christian life demands self-discipline and an orientation towards the future (Philippians 3:12-16).
But resolutions aren’t without their difficulties. Often, we, like Israel, pledge obedience and fail to deliver (see Joshua 24:24).
The power of our own resolve is limited. But the power of God is not limited in any such way. So, perhaps the best resolutions we can make in 2020 are prayer resolutions.
Perhaps no other ministry of the local church falls more easily out-of-mind than cross-cultural missions. How can we avoid letting our missions programs go the way of every other forgotten resolution in 2020?
A SIMPLE PRAYER
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” (Matthew 9:35-38)
It is not often that Jesus specifically commands his disciples to pray for something in the Gospels. We are told to pray for the glory of God and the coming of the kingdom (Matthew 6:9-10), for our daily needs (v. 11), for justice (Luke 18:7-8), and for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). But beyond this, Jesus does not often outline specific supplications for his people, though elsewhere in the New Testament we are encouraged to make all our requests known to God (Philippians 4:6). So it is noteworthy that Jesus does directly tell us to pray for gospel laborers.
While all believers are called to engage in the mission of God, I believe this text and others like it are to be particularly understood to refer to equipped, qualified, and sent ministers, and not just to everyday believers living out their calling as disciples. Every member of the body of Christ plays an important function, but the body still uniquely needs those who “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12)—individuals whose ministries are styled after those of “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (v. 11) in that they are centered around verbal gospel proclamation and instruction.
The bottom line is that we still need long-term gospel workers sent and commissioned to do the work of the Great Commission full-time. We need laborers committed to learning language and culture, translating Scripture, and preaching where Christ has not been named (Romans 15:20). Technological advances and the abundance of national ministers with whom we may partner have not altogether removed the need for us to send our own.
And if we’re willing to send our own and pray in this vein, I believe there is a special way in which God may see fit to work through our local churches.
FLIPPING MISSIONS ON ITS HEAD
Perhaps praying for laborers is exactly what the church in Antioch was up to when, in the midst of their prayer, worship, and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (see Acts 13:1-3). But notice something in particular about this passage: the Spirit communicated the missionary calling to the church leaders—not just to those commissioned to do the work.
Traditionally, contemporary churches and their missions committees organize programs, budgets, and special sermons or events oriented around missions, then enter into a wait-and-see posture. When someone “feels called,” they approach the pastors and elders, and from there, the church decides when and how to support them. While this model isn’t altogether wrong, it does reveal a somewhat weaker state of the church than that which was present in Antioch.
As you resolve to pray for laborers in 2020, consider flipping the traditional model of “calling” on its head. Rather than waiting for laborers to come to you, go to them. Approach gifted individuals in your church and, through prayer, ask if they would consider the calling of God to the least-reached—not merely in terms of the subjective call felt inside, but the objective, external calling of the local church to engage in ministry. Pray for laborers and pursue them.
Most of our resolutions will be forgotten by February, but if we consistently commit ourselves to praying for laborers this year—and actually seek out individuals to send from within our own church—it may be that the Lord would see fit to launch more faithful men and women out into his harvest.