This semester I’ve been writing about how prayer and mission are inseparable. Sometimes the “prayer people” can look at mission people and think, “You’re all about doing stuff, but you need to pray so you’re not operating in a worldly way.” Sometimes the “mission people” can think, “You’re all about praying, but you should get out of the prayer room and do something.” I believe both camps (prayer people and mission people) are right, and this may be the best passage to prove it.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:35-38
Mission Starts In Prayer
When Jesus saw the throngs of people, he saw their spiritual condition. He told the disciples that the task of reaching these people was enormous. There is simply too many people out there who are spiritually dead, without a witness to the truth. More workers were needed.
This passage has the making of a great coach’s speech. He identifies the needs of the people, says we just need more people, and seems primed to say “no go out there and do something!” Instead, the “something” he tells them to do is to pray. Specifically, he asks them to pray for more workers.
It’s obvious that Jesus links prayer and mission. Here are at least two reasons why.
Prayer Purifies Our Motives
Prior to Jesus giving this command to pray, he was moved with compassion. This is the most used word in the gospels describing Jesus’s heart and motives. Compassion is where it starts for Jesus, and his compassion was aroused by his insight into the spiritual condition of the throngs of people.
When we pray, our mind is renewed and we are able to see with spiritual eyes. Prayer is the place where our compassion can grow for our families, our friends, and the nations. If we’re not prayerful, our minds can become worldly and we don’t see the true spiritual condition of the people around us. Our hearts become hardened.
Answering Our Own Prayer
I find it ironic that in the last verse of chapter nine Jesus asks them to pray for more workers, and then the very next verse we read this: “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”
This is the passage where Jesus sends out the twelve disciples to go ahead of him to every town to demonstrate and declare the gospel. Now we may not know the exact chronology of these events, but the fact remains that Jesus called them to pray for workers and then sent them out as workers.
Justin Christopher is the National Campus Director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He facilitates CRM’s Partnering Campus Network and also gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.