How Should a Missionary Pray About Travel Plans? (Romans 1) :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

How Should a Missionary Pray About Travel Plans? (Romans 1)

Alan Patterson
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Paul’s heartfelt explanation about his long-continuing desire to visit the Roman believers gives an inspired example of how missionaries should pray earnestly about their travel plans. In Romans 1:9–13 he introduces the topic, and then he elaborates further in Romans 15:23-32. The two passages give a veritable guidebook on how missionaries should view travel. To get us started, we will focus in this article on Paul’s first mention of his praying and planning (1:9–13). In a follow-up article, we will analyze Romans 15:23–32 for further insights on how missionaries should plan and pray regarding their travel. 

Pray Repeatedly 

First, we notice that Paul prayed repeatedly about visiting the Roman believers. He had not yet made it to Rome, but his heart yearned in prayers “without ceasing” to have a successful journey to see them. His prayers are “requests” (to ask for something pleadingly) to finally, after a lengthy wait, be allowed by God to make this trip. Sometimes we make brief prayers on the spur of the moment and then forget that we ever made them. We have all done that and sometimes (such as when Nehemiah had to answer the king quickly) those prayers are perfectly appropriate. But often the quick prayer is quickly forgotten, and we never look for the return (answer) of that prayer. Paul’s prayers about travel to Rome were not like that, and given the challenges he faced in other travel and ministry, the frequency and definiteness of his praying about this travel are amazing.

Writing this letter from Corinth, he certainly had plenty in that city to absorb his attention.  But he kept enough focus to be able to say he made mention of them in prayer unceasingly. He prayed not only regularly but also for a long time about visiting them. In other words, his situation was that he had waited for months and maybe years for an answer, but all that time he was constantly praying about the matter. We catch a further sense of Paul’s patience when he says, “now at last” (v. 10, NASB).

As we will see, driving Paul’s persistence in prayer was not the thrill of seeing new places on his bucket list, but the pure burden of furthering God’s work. The “if” of verse 10 indicates that God’s answer of an eventual “yes” was not certain, but neither had a “no” been given, so Paul persisted. His persistence has direct application to missionaries today. For example, how often do we persevere in prayer about the expansion of the Gospel? We must have Paul’s passion for the expansion of the Gospel to all people, for we too have a gospel obligation “both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise” (1:14).  The timing was not yet right, but Paul’s burden was.

Pray Submissively

With Paul’s persistence in mind, we notice in the second place that he prayed submissively. As much as Paul yearned to visit the Romans, he was content to leave the timing and circumstances entirely in the God’s hands. He places the fulfillment of his travel plans and his pleading request in full subservience to the “will of God.” He repeats that theme in Romans 15:32: “That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.” The missionary may inform his friends or his would-be friends about his heartfelt longing to visit them. If that longing is submitted to God’s will, he may make this request doggedly. Paul was strong-willed about visiting Rome.

In another text we also read about his determination to visit Rome: “After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21). Paul had gone so far as to “purpose in the spirit” to visit the Romans. It was a “must see” for him. Clearly, this visit was rooted deeply in his heart. Nevertheless, he was willing to wait upon God’s way and timing. Paul prayed persistently, but submissively.

Pray Spiritually

We pray as we do because we believe as we do. Therefore, having the right reasons for our requests is vital to getting good answers. Paul demonstrates how to pray about travel with God-honoring, scripturally-based purposes. We could put it this way, Paul prayed spiritually. His requests were based on a theologically sound understanding of God and His work. He wanted to help the Romans spiritually, and he even uses that kind of phraseology in the statement of his first desire—“For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you” (1:11a).  

As we will note later, Paul’s visits were often a great joy and even refreshment to him, but his primary purpose was not to receive. He was coming to give, to be a blessing. Missionary praying must begin with this desire to impart spiritual help to the people. Explaining further, Paul states that his burden for them was that they be established and strengthened spiritually (1:11b). No doubt the following chapters in Romans of marvelous theological teaching are a good sample of what Paul knew would ground them even more deeply in the truths of the Gospel. Those chapters in themselves are an inestimable spiritual gift!

Finishing out the explanation of his spiritual purposes, Paul speaks of mutual encouragement (v. 12) and a gospel harvest from among them (13). Though greatly desirous of blessing the Romans, Paul also fully expected to receive spiritual encouragement and strengthening from them. This humble balance is another example for all missionaries to follow. Summing up Paul’s praying spiritually about his travel, we see that his reasons for wanting to visit were to be a blessing in these ways: to use his spiritual gifts for building them up, to experience mutual encouragement, and to gather a harvest of souls. Prayer for missionary travel for those purposes is always appropriate. In the follow-up article we will learn more about appropriate missionary praying regarding travel, and we will also see if and how God answered Paul’s requests.


Photo credit: Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay