Romans 15:30 I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.
Reading this with the awareness of the events recorded in Acts is very interesting. Obviously, even someone like Paul had the issue of making good, righteous plans and then having God change them completely. It would seem that he had not yet had the first of the various warnings that arrest and imprisonment awaited him in Jerusalem. That said, this request for prayer is one that resonates with every missionary, certainly. Until the advent of the Internet, missionaries were limited to in-person visits and letters, just as Paul was. Missionary “prayer letters” are a tradition and a responsibility that many identify with, both in good and bad ways. In the Facebook group for MKs that I’m a part of, several people have written about their feelings of visiting a home in their sending country and seeing one of their family’s prayer letters up on the refrigerator. For children, it can be embarrassing to have their picture up in the home of total strangers, but with more understanding, there is deep gratitude that people genuinely care, and evidently do pray. The NIV translates this verse as “join me in my struggle,” but the Japanese is a little stronger: “pray with me to the limit of your strength.” In other words, “Give it all you’ve got.” I don’t think many of us have experience praying that way! We tend to pray casually, either on a schedule or whenever it occurs to us, but the idea of “exercising strength” seems a bit removed from what we do. There are areas of prayer we haven’t experienced yet! Probably the ultimate example of praying to the limit of strength would be Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. After praying with such intensity that His capillaries ruptured, an angel had to come and strengthen Him. (Luke 22:43-44) He was praying for Himself, yes, but He was also praying for all mankind, who would have the path of salvation opened for them because of what Jesus would endure. We might be completely sure we could never pray like that, but God never calls us to do anything that He won’t enable, As Paul said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) When we are fully submitted, there is no limit to His strength!
As an MK myself, some of my parents’ prayer letters are real treasures. With the Southern Baptist system we weren’t begging for money, as many missionaries are reduced to doing, and for that I am grateful. The flip side of that is that in my own missionary career we’ve never had a sending organization, and thus no support outside of our own direct activities. Once we had permanent residency (the equivalent of a US green card) we were free to do anything that would be legal for a Japanese, and I have done various things for income, including computer consulting. However, we have been strongly impressed that our support is from the Lord. We have had various unexpected “windfalls” and the like. Cathy has been very faithful in writing Christmas letters (that sometimes didn’t come out until February), but maintaining address lists, first for physical addresses and now largely electronic, has been a major challenge. As I said, we don’t get material support from those, but prayer support is absolutely essential. There was a period in which we had largely lost our prayer support, and it was almost like I didn’t know what I was doing here or why. The spiritual warfare here can be subtle, but it is certainly intense, and we need all the “prayer backup” we can get! Today we are trying to re-launch children’s ministry in this church, and I have zero confidence humanly speaking. I need to pray to the limit of my strength! God’s plans for us might be as different from ours as His were for Paul, and I need to be at peace with that.
Father, thank You for Your plans. I certainly don’t know what they all are, but I know they are good. Help me flow with Your Spirit not only in Your plans for me, but also in praying for others. I’m not to be selfish and self-centered about prayer! May we all rejoice to participate in Your plans through prayer, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!