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Intercessory Prayer in Missions

John Mott

The most crucial problem of foreign missions is how to lead Christians to use what Dr. Arthur H. Smith of China has characterized as “the deeply buried talent of intercessory prayer.” Without doubt the flood tide of superhuman power is held back from the missionary movement owing more largely to this cause than to any other. The evangelization of the world is not primarily a matter of numbers, wealth, knowledge, and strategy, but of the unhindered working of the Spirit of God. Such divine manifestation has been associated invariably with prayer. Whatever, therefore, influences Christians one by one and also corporately to devote themselves in the right spirit and manner to missionary intercession, will most directly and effectively ensure the realization of the missionary purpose of Christ.

How to enlist the co-operation of Christians in prayer, and how to increase their efficiency in this form of spiritual work is a most vital question. Mr F.S. Brockman, the leader of the Student Movement in China, has well called attention to a great weakness in this respect: “The great body of Christians have not hitherto taken seriously the efforts of leaders of missionary work to promote prayer. This is due, no doubt, to the fact that the leaders themselves have not seemed to put prayer first. The burden of their appeal is for men and money. The appeal for prayer is spasmodic and incidental. If the same energy, time, earnestness, and skill, were put into getting prayer as are given to enlisting men and money, and if equally practical schemes were devised for awakening the conscience of the Church, and for promoting the habit of daily prayer for the world’s evangelization, the Church would do much to open the channels and let flow out the mighty power of the Spirit of God which is necessary for convincing and convicting the world.”

If Christians are to be influenced to devote themselves more faithfully to prayer, they must first be led to realize deeply the possibilities of prayer and the great need of their help in prayer. Professor Warneck of Halle has shown that “it is much more difficult to pray for missions than to give to them. We can only really pray for missions if we habitually lead a life of prayer, and a life of prayer can only be led if we have entered into a life of communion with God.” 

There is great need of more Christians becoming students in prayer. That it requires study and practice and resolute perseverance is well emphasized by the Commission on the Home Base in their Report to the Edinburgh Conference: “It is not sufficient in an hour of vision and aspiration to dedicate ourselves to the work of intercession. Prayer is the putting forth of vital energy. It is the highest effort of which the human spirit is capable. Proficiency and power in prayer cannot be attained without patient continuance and much practice. The primary need is that individual Christians should learn to pray. If this work is to be taken seriously, the hour of prayer must be definitely set apart and jealously guarded, in spite of weariness and many distractions. The secret and art of prayer can only be learned from the teaching of the Master himself.”

It need only be added that Christians learn to pray not only from the teaching of Christ but possibly even more from His contagious example. The more fully His life of unbroken communion, as well as going apart for special intercession, and His agonizing in the Garden on behalf of the world are studied, the more deeply will the Church enter into the secret of overcoming the world. “Our duty to our generation involves a sense of spiritual responsibility that will open a Gethsemane wherever there is a Christian.”

John R. Mott, 1910