Reality of a Missionary Prayer Life
By Maria VanDerDecker
Prayer has been difficult lately. You know, we all have those days when our prayer life isn’t what we want it to be. Or those weeks, or months (or, to be honest, a whole year). Me too. Now before you freak out because this is your missionary saying this, let me assure you, I’m a real person too. If we could dispel that “missionaries are super-spiritual” myth, that’d be great. Prayer is hard sometimes for missionaries too.
I have a good friend who knows I struggle with prayer sometimes. She does too. And we both encourage each other to keep going, that it is really worth it, that it is hard and we understand, and we pray for each other and remind each other that it will get better. When I’m struggling, she’s not and can remind me of the truth, and when she needs some encouragement, God has given it to me to share. And I think that’s one of the awesome things about prayer–we can pray for one another. God didn’t just give it to us so we could communicate our own concerns to Him, He also made it so that we could communicate to Him about other believers and encourage them by our prayers.
I’ve been so beyond blessed to have so many people praying for me and things we have going on overseas. I honestly feel like it’s one of the best things about being a missionary. There is so much power in prayer and, when people pray together, God answers. And we get to be on the receiving end. Wow! It’s amazing. And I’m so humbled that all these people take the time to pray for us. They read our prayer requests, pray faithfully, remember things I asked them to pray for a long time ago, follow up, ask us how things are going, and if I don’t send prayer requests, they’ll ask for them, or just text to say: “How can I pray for you?” I can’t say thank you enough; thank you for praying.
So, in my many years of learning to pray, here’s some of the encouragement I’ve received along the way.
- Get yourself a prayer friend. Prayer is hard by yourself. And I don’t think it was meant to be that way. Sometimes it is but there’s definitely something to be said about two or three gathered together. (Well, Jesus said that, so it must be important!) So many times my prayer life has been rebooted by a friend. Pray together every week, text each other, remind each other you’re praying, keep track of prayer requests, just get a buddy and pray together.
- Read what the Bible has to say about prayer. I love doing this and so many times this helps my prayer life be better. Read Jesus’ prayers, the Psalms, prayers of Paul, what the Bible says about how to pray, what to ask for, what prayers God answers, the privileges we have in prayer, etc. This has helped me so much in knowing what to pray when I don’t know on my own and knowing the “right way” to pray, in a biblical “according to God’s will” way (John 17).
- Journal. I recently discovered that lots of people who were “heroes of the faith” kept a journal–spiritual one–of prayers, things God was teaching them, verses they studied, etc. I enjoy journaling and it’s so good to be able to look back on all God has taught you, how he’s been so patient to love you no matter what. It also helps to see answers to prayer, remember what you’re praying for, remember other’s prayer requests, and keep your mind focused on prayer rather than wandering off, thinking about what else you need to do.
- Read some good books about prayer. There are so many of these out there and lots of good ones. It can be easy to get stuck in a rut and do prayer the same way you always have or be stuck in prayer, not sure what to say and you don’t know why. A fresh perspective can be really helpful. Here’s some books I’ve enjoyed recently: Prayer by Timothy Keller, Living a Prayerful Life by Andrew Murray, Extreme Prayer by Greg Pruett. (And a lot more, just let me know if you want the full list!)
- Get a good devotional book with some prayer prompts. Or a list of prayers for your spouse, prayers for your children, prayers for your friends, prayer requests from church, etc. I’ve often found that once I get started, I can more easily keep going from there.
- Pray out loud and pray on your knees (if you can). In all my reading, I keep noticing people who were known for their prayer life and this is what they did, for hours. That’s always inspired me (and sometimes made me feel guilty). But there is something about getting our body involved that helps our mind also stay focused. And the posture of prayer helps your heart get in the right place. I don’t have as much time to do this as I’d like, but it does work–try it out!
- If you’re busy… I have 3 little kids, I totally understand. One of the coolest tips I received was when someone asked me to pray for them every time I saw a clock. They were on a mission trip with limited time to accomplish what they were there to do, so their main prayer request was that their time there would be spent well. So, each time I saw a clock, I thought of their time and their prayer request. Similarly, another friend said they prayed for people each time they saw a car on the road that looked like theirs. Blue minivan, red sports car, white suburban, etc., pray for that family. This was quite a few years ago and, although I’ve tried to implement this into my busy schedule (when I see something that reminds me of someone, stop to pray for them), I wasn’t sure how it was working. I tried to remember who gave me gifts, or things that were someone’s favorite, or a recipe they made for us, or a song they played or whatever. I checked recently, just writing down each time someone came to mind throughout the day that I prayed for. It was surprising. Although I don’t always have time to kneel quietly by my bed and pray, there are lots of moments throughout the day where I pray for people. (Now sometimes I pray for people as I wait for their photos on Facebook to load! Lol, #missionarylife)
- Share your prayer requests. Sometimes I don’t really know what I should be praying for, especially for myself or my family because I haven’t thought about it. Sit and write it down, or send it to a friend who will pray, and that will help both of you. (Send prayer requests back to your missionary!) When you have specific requests it’s easier to see God answer!
- Don’t wait to pray. If someone shares a prayer request with you, ask them if you can stop and pray for it right then. I remember the first time someone did this with me. I was in high school and one of the interns at an evangelism training I was at asked how my day was going and asked if she could pray with me afterward. We were standing in a stairwell with lots of kids walking by, going from one class to the next. I was like, “Um, sure, okay. Here? Right now?” But it was one of the most encouraging prayers. I knew she would be praying, and cared, and I still remember it. This can also help you remember to pray. Once you’ve prayed about it once, you’re involved! And God will bring it to mind again later for you to pray about more.
- Go to prayer meeting at your church, or pray with someone who’s older (like 70+). I guarantee you, it will change the way you think about prayer. It is a discipline. You do have to work hard to focus and praying in groups can be intimidating. But things won’t change unless you try and there’s nothing like seeing answers to prayer, being the recipient of prayers, and seeing the joy and closeness that comes from often communicating with God.
In recent months I’ve learned that prayer doesn’t have to be hard. Often my own misconceptions or unrealistic expectations make it seem more difficult than it has to be. Or sometimes I spend more time feeling guilty about my lack of prayer, when I could be praying. God doesn’t mean for us to be stuck feeling guilty. He offers forgiveness if we need it, and He knows everything, He gives freedom from guilt and confidence in prayer for “whatever we ask” (1 John 3:19-22). But, in reading the prayers of Jesus, I was reminded that it’s just a conversation. God is way more concerned about wanting us to talk to Him than He is about exactly how we do it. God doesn’t have any expectations more than your best friend would have expectations about how you shared things with him or her. He is always there, waiting for you to call His name, to fellowship together, honestly and from the heart. So, don’t be overly concerned about how you do it, just try something! God already knows you completely, nothing you say or do will surprise Him.
Maria and Jotham Van Der Decker are missionaries with Ethnos360 serving in Papua New Guinea. To learn more about the ministry of Ethnos360 visit their website [https://ethnos360.org]