The missionary church is a praying church.  The history of missions is a history of prayer.  Everything that is vital to the success of the world’s evangelization hinges on prayer.  Are thousands of missionaries and tens of thousands of native workers needed? 

“Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He send forth laborers into His harvest.”  Is a vast increase in gifts required to adequately administer the enterprise?  Prayer is the only power that will influence God’s people to give with pure motives and real sacrifice. Prayer alone will overcome the gigantic difficulties which confront the workers in every field.  Nothing but prayer will strengthen the weak and tempted native Christians, who have been raised up from lives of sin and degradation, and give them the evangelistic impulse.  It is in answer to prayer that the Holy Spirit is poured out in mighty Pentecostal power on the workers and Christian communities in the far-off, needy fields.  

Hope and confidence should not be placed in the size and perfection of organizations, not in the experience which has been accumulated and the agencies and methods which have been devised in a long century of missions, nor in the strength of the missionary body, not in the multitude who have been gathered from every nation and race into the native Church, nor in the wonderful resources and facilities of the home Church, nor in our far-sighted and comprehensive plans, nor in the enthusiastic forward movements and inspiring watchwords.  It is easy to magnify human personality and agencies.  

Prayer recognizes that God is the source of life and light and energy.  Let methods be changed if necessary, that prayer may be given its true place.  Let there be days set apart for intercession; let the original purpose of the monthly concert of prayer for missions be given a larger place; let missionary prayer cycles be used by families and by individual Christians; let the best literature on prayer be circulated among the members of the Church; let special sermons on the subject of intercession be preached.  By these and by many other practical means, let us labor for a larger, deeper and wider spirit of prayer to be cultivated in our churches.  

The Church has not yet touched the fringe of the possibilities of intercessory prayer.  Her largest victories will be witnessed when individual Christians everywhere come to recognize their priesthood unto God and day by day give themselves unto prayer.  If added power attends the united prayer of two or three, imagine the mighty triumphs there will be when hundreds of thousands of believers with one accord day by day intercede for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Mr. Robert E. Speer, in his pamphlet, “Prayer and Missions,” which has done so much to awaken the Church to prayer, goes to the heart of the subject; “The evangelization of the world in this generation depends first of all upon a revival of prayer.  Deeper than the need for men; deeper, far, than the need for money; aye, deep down at the bottom of our spiritless life is the need for the forgotten secret of prevailing, world-wide prayer…"

Prayer and missions are as inseparable as faith and works; in fact prayer and missions are faith and works.  Jesus Christ, by precept, by command, and by example, has shown with great clearness that He recognizes the greatest need of the enterprise of world-wide evangelization is a need for prayer.  Before “give” and before “go” comes “pray”, this is the divine order.  Anything that reverses or alters this order inevitably leads to loss or disaster.  This is strikingly illustrated in the wonderful achievements of the early Christians, which were made possible by their constant employment of the irresistible and hidden forces of prayer.  They ushered in Pentecost by prayer.  When they wanted laborers they prayed.  When the time came to send forth laborers, the Church was called together to pray. Their great foreign missionary enterprise, which carried forward its work so rapidly through the Roman Empire, began in prayer. One of the two reasons for establishing the order of deacons was that the apostle, that is the leaders of the Church, might give themselves to prayer.  When persecutions came, the Christians nerved and braced themselves by prayer.  Every undertaking was begun, continued, and ended in prayer.  In this we find the secret of those marvelous triumphs of the early Christian Church which never fail to move us…

Prayer is the greatest force that we can wield.  It is the greatest talent which God has given us.  He has given it to every person here. We may differ among ourselves in wealth, social position, education or inherited characteristics; but in this matter of exercising the greatest force that is at work in the world today, we are all on the same footing.  It is possible for the most obscure person in this great convention, if that one’s heart is right toward God, to exercise as much power for the evangelization of this world, as it is for those who stand in the most prominent positions but do not use this talent.  

Therefore is not the greatest sin which we can commit the sin of omitting to pray?  Think of the blessing that we are withholding, not only from ourselves, but also from our colleges, from our missionaries and from the distant mission fields.  What right do we have to leave unappropriated or unapplied the greatest force which God has ordained for the salvation and transformation of men and for the inauguration and energizing of Christian movements?  May the wish of Spurgeon be ours—the wish that there might be 500 Elijah’s, each one upon his Mount Carmel, making incessant mention of the cause of missions in prayer.  Then that little cloud, which is no larger than a man’s hand, would spread and spread until it darkened the heavens, and the windows above would open, and the showers would come down upon this thirsty earth. 

John R. Mott (1865-1955) was a Methodist layman and evangelist who served as the chairman of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions (1915-28) and of the International Missionary Council (1921-42). He also wrote The Evangelization of the World in this Generation, Confronting Young Men with the Living Christ, and The Present Day Summons to the World Mission of Christianity.

The Evangelization of the World in this Generation by John R. Mott,
Addresses and Papers of John R. Mott, Vol. 1 The Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions