A Missionary's Calling Should Intensify Our Prayers About His Travel :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

A Missionary's Calling Should Intensify Our Prayers About His Travel

Alan Patterson
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Prayer Governed by God’s Calling

In the first article about Paul’s praying about travel, we learned that traveling to Rome was of huge importance to him. He prayed repeatedly over several years; he prayed submissively to God’s will, and he prayed spiritually, expressing his excellent motives for wanting to visit. In this article we jump forward to Romans 15:23-32 for further insights and applications. The first insight is that a missionary’s sense of God’s calling should govern his travel plans. On the one hand, Paul had a compelling, passionate “desire” to get to Rome that had continued “these many years” (15:23). But ships were sailing all those years and we must ask why Paul had not pursued his desire? Backing up one verse we find the answer: “For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you” (15:22). The “cause” which overrode Paul’s personal desires was his sense of calling to “strive to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named” lest he “should build upon another man's foundation” (15:20). That work of “fully preaching the gospel of Christ from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum” took priority over all other plans. Paul was a debtor to all men and no matter how strong his desire was to visit Rome, he had to obey the call to preach first to those nearer in territory who were still unreached with the Gospel.

Prayer for Protection and Safety

Paul also knew that opposition from those “that do not believe” (15:31) could change his plans. In fact, he was virtually certain that Jewish opposers in Judea would resist and even harm him if God did not “deliver” him through the diligent prayers of believers (15:30-31). Therefore, a second insight about missionary travel is that protection and safety are essential requests. Travel safety can never be taken for granted. The danger could come from unbelievers, some of whom might even be terrorists. GFA has missionaries who have lived in terrorist areas or even (unknowingly) with terrorists in their village. Some live in countries controlled by dictators who mistreat national believers and could do the same with missionaries. One missionary with his young son also inside the truck was robbed of that new vehicle at gunpoint. The vehicle was never returned.

Others live amid hostile religions. Besides the opposition from these mentioned, who in another text are also described as “unreasonable and wicked” and “having not faith” (see 2 Thessalonians 3:2), some missionaries also face unusual exposure to travel dangers. For example, traveling over the bush roads and bush bridges of Papua New Guinea is nerve-wracking and incredibly risky. A few years ago, I was flying with one of our missionaries in Mexico in a small plane. We learned later that during that multi-stop flight, which took us over mountains of 10,000 feet or more, a large gash in the manifold was spewing hot exhaust onto the engine. Our plane could have caught fire at any time! On a more common level, we should note that missionaries on deputation travel all over the United States, usually for two to four years. So, for various reasons, every missionary you know needs prayer for travel safety!

Prayer for Receptivity

Giving a somewhat different nuance to an earlier point that a missionary should pray for spiritual fruit from his travel, Paul adds in Romans 15:31b that praying for the people visited to “accept” the missionary's ministry is also imperative. Consider Paul’s situation. He is delivering a love offering of famine relief from Gentile converts to starving, suffering Jewish believers, and we would expect these converted Jewish recipients to express deep gratitude for the kindness shown. However, knowing the inveterate prejudice against Gentiles by Jews, even by some believing Jews, Paul openly acknowledges the necessity of prayer for acceptance of this service (15:31). In making his travel plans, a missionary must keep in mind that those plans can be hindered by unbelievers and even by prejudiced believers. If prayer is sometimes needed for genuine “saints” to accept the kind and helpful ministry of a missionary, how much more is prayer needed that the unsaved would receive the missionary’s ministry of what may be a totally foreign and new religion.

Prayer for Mutual Benefit

Nearing the conclusion of his explanation about how to pray for his travel, Paul reiterates his submission to “the will of God” (15:32) and states his final request. When the time comes for God to allow this travel, Paul has two desires: he wants (1) to bring them joy and (2) to enjoy with them a personal season of rest and refreshment. We learn here that missionaries may legitimately desire to receive personal benefit from their travel. Of course, the missionary wants to be a blessing, but it is also appropriate for the missionary sincerely to look forward to some sweet fellowship, to some down time, and to needed rest and the renewal that results.

Prayer Answered

From this study we need to answer the obvious question: How did God answer the prayers of Paul and his Roman friends? He prayed frequently for a long time about that trip, even outlining for his readers some very specific requests. What was the result of all that praying?

  • Was he able to go on God’s timetable? Yes, he waited submissively for that time, though it came in an unexpected way as he appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11-12) and traveled as a Roman prisoner (Acts 27:1ff).
  • Was his travel safe? Yes, God got him there safely despite his being a prisoner and having endured a death-threatening storm and shipwreck (see Acts 27-28).
  • Was his travel and visit pretty much as he had anticipated? NO! His travel was not smooth sailing, and it was not on his terms but on the terms of the Roman government.
  • Was he able to travel to Rome “with joy”? Yes, and for various reasons.
    • The preservation of the lives of the entire company on the ship was miraculous.
    • The reception of brothers in Christ as he neared Rome encouraged his heart (Acts 28:15).
    • When writing from the Roman prison to the Philippians, Paul stressed the theme of joy (Philippians 4:4).
    • He saw God’s hand even in the unorthodox way of getting him to Rome (“I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).
    • Despite being a prisoner, he lived in his “own hired house.” There he had freedom to receive visitors and to preach and teach them about Christ and the kingdom of God, with “no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31).

Much Prayer, Much Blessing

Before beseeching the Romans to pray, Paul had already stated his assurance (“I know”) that he would come to Rome “in the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (15:29). So why the need to pray if this blessing was certain? Evidently the answer is that we can always know God will bless His faithful, prayerful children, and therefore, our confidence in God’s goodness should intensify, not minimize our praying.  The more we and other saints prime the pump with fervent prayers, the more the blessings flow in our travel for the Lord. What an answer God gave in response to the many prayers of Paul and the Romans—people coming to him to hear the Gospel and to be taught!


Photo credit: Patrick Rosenkranz from Unsplash