We are all aware of traditional missionaries who relocate to other nations to serve in mercy deeds or preaching. But I believe the Lord is also highlighting a new type of missionary that is essential to seeing the gospel of the kingdom preached in all of the nations (Matthew 24:14) and Jesus returning to earth to rule as King of kings to be exalted and lifted up above all else.
An intercessory missionary is a “missionary“ in the sense that they dedicate their lives in ministry for the Lord and for others like a traditional missionary does. But rather than exclusively serving through mercy deeds, their service is first and primarily through ministry to the LORD in night and day prayer. The motivation and biblical support for an intercessory missionary comes from various passages, including:
The words of Jesus in Luke 18:1-8, where Jesus exhorts the righteous to cry out in prayer day and night for faith in an ultimate and lasting justice to be established at the second coming of Jesus
The exhortation of Jesus in Matthew 9:37-38, saying “pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers” for witnesses to be raised up proclaiming the Day of the LORD, the restoration of all things, and the coming kingdom of God
Inspiration from Anna in Luke 2:36-38, where she fasted and prayed in the temple day and night for decades unto the first coming of Christ
The ministry of John the Baptist as a messenger of repentance and bold proclaimer of the Day of the LORD
The practical outworking of a traditional missionary flows from the place of night and day ministry unto the LORD. These are the good works that we were created for (Eph. 2:10), including hands-on service to others, feeding the poor, and aiding the widow and orphan.
How is this type of missionary different from a traditional missionary or any believer in Christ for that matter? As believers we are all invited and commanded by the Lord to pray, fast, evangelize the lost, and care for the orphan and widow. But it is not possible to compare a Bible-believing, church-going Christian to an intercessory missionary, because one describes an identity before God and the other describes a function or occupation. God invites all to live wholeheartedly as a believer in Jesus as their identity. But not everyone in our time is called to full-time ministry unto the Lord coupled with service to the widow, orphan, and needy as his or her occupation. The Lord’s plan was not for everyone in Israel’s early days to be a priest or judge, and so in the same manner in this century it isn’t His plan for everyone to be a wheat farmer, full-time pastor, or traditional missionary.
But God is no respecter of persons, and one’s function or occupation does not determine how God relates to them. The mom who faithfully serves her children and husband at home has the same access to God’s heart as the full-time pastor or intercessory missionary. Many in the body of Christ tend to exalt a position in ministry as the highest possible position to attain to in order to know and understand God, but this stands in stark contrast to the teaching and examples of the New Testament. Jesus came and opened His heart to those in the marketplace, the moms, and tax collectors of His day. The Pharisees in “ministry” who thought they understood God’s law and walked it out externally were actually hardened by Jesus’ message, inflexibly clinging to their self-proclaimed exclusivity of the knowledge of God. They claimed to know Him yet missed God Himself standing in front of them. Intercessory missionaries are not “super saints” and do not have a privileged role or are somehow favored by God above the rest of the body of Christ because their primary occupation is ministry unto the Lord through prayer and worship. They are ones who humbly recognize their function as part of the larger body, knowing that they are just as weak and dependent upon the Lord and on each other in the same way as the wheat farmer, full-time pastor, stay-at-home mom, traditional missionary, or university student is.
We all know that prayer truly moves the heart of God. He is sovereign and enthroned above all, and hears the cries of His children. An intercessory missionary is committed to ministry to the LORD through worship and intercession, petitioning for light of Christ to shine into the darkness and for the gospel of the coming kingdom to be spread with power through and by the entire church. When the church prays for the church, God releases more. The apostle Paul wrote that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against demonic rulers and powers (Eph. 6:12) that speak lies about God (and today especially those related to the good news of the Messiah, the coming Day of the LORD, the future kingdom of God, the resurrection, and the restoration of all things). As a result, any solution to a demonic assault of lies against the body of Christ cannot be a natural one. But through the mighty weapon of prayer, the full-time intercessory ministry goes to war for the pastor, farmer, mom, traditional missionary, and student. As a result of the intercessory ministry, the members of Christ’s body are strengthened in ways they would not have otherwise been strengthened without prayer, and have a greater grace to be able to spread the gospel and exalt Christ through their lives. The intercessory missionary stands in the gap in a full-time capacity for the whole church, providing prayer before God that supports those called to other walks of life in the body.
But the prayer movement that God is raising up is also a justice movement that cries out night and day for justice, then overflows in works of justice to the poor, widow, and orphan, bearing witness to the true and ultimate justice that only Jesus will bring at His return. Prayer alone must never be substituted for works of justice or vice versa, because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20), and it is when we bear good fruit of walking out the first commandment first that our Father is glorified and seen as beautiful among others (John 15:5; Matthew 5:16; Matthew 27:37-39). Prayer first brings us into agreement with God’s heart, and from that place of full agreement and partnership God releases His power through weak and broken people like you and I on the earth as a witness to the coming Kingdom of God. John Piper says:
“Not only has God made the accomplishment of his global purposes of salvation hang on the preaching of the Word; he has also made the success of the preaching of the Word hang on prayer. God’s goal to be glorified in a world full of white-hot worshippers from every people and tongue and tribe and nation will not succeed without the powerful proclamation of the gospel by people like you and me. And that gospel will not be proclaimed in power to all the nations without the persevering, earnest, global, faith-filled prayers of God’s people. This is the awesome place of prayer in the purposes of God for the world. They won’t happen without prayer.” – Prayer: The work of missions – John Piper, 1988
“So the question is: How can we endure? How can we be found with faith and love? How can we avoid being like Lot’s wife and like those who are left in judgment? So Jesus tells a parable to give the answer. And it is one of the few parables which he interprets for us lest we miss the point. Luke 18:1 tells us the point of the parable: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Jesus’ answer to the question how to endure to the end is, Pray! Pray! Pray! And don’t grow weary of praying.” – Always Pray and Do Not Lose Heart – John Piper
Why is the night and day prayer ministry so important?
Right now, the prayer ministry across the earth is weak, but the Lord is strengthening it in ways we have never seen before in history. I firmly believe that the expression of prayer in the church across the world will move from the one-hour prayer meeting on a Wednesday night in the pastor’s basement to the forefront of the hearts and minds of everyone in the body of Christ.
Even though we would all agree that the prayer ministry is very important and necessary, prayer is for much more than “getting from God what we need”, because He knows our needs before we even ask Him. Prayer does not force God’s hand to do anything, nor is prayer a “formula” to obtain God’s power for self-exaltation and pride. Prayer is about a humble interaction, dialog, and relationship. When God answers prayer and gives us foretastes of the age to come, His glory is magnified and it exhilarates us. Being connected at the heart level with God and seeing His answers to our prayers causes us to devote ourselves to Him in a greater way and proclaim His word and His return with boldness. Intimacy and relationship with God is the primary reason that the church will always be engaged in prayer, because relationship with His people is what He has longed for from the beginning.
There is a groundswell of desire sweeping across the body of Christ today for fervent prayer and worship – something that is unprecedented in our day. From big cities to small towns, prayer rooms in schools, basements, and churches as well as dedicated houses of prayer are springing up without any coordinated effort, franchise, or organization. History has given us examples where God’s eyes have looked upon the earth and found a dim reflection of what continually surrounds His throne – perpetual, incessant worship – but there has never been anything comparable to the scale of the present movement. This should be encouraging to us, but also should cause us to ask “why?” The answer to this question leads us into a grand drama that is unfolding before our eyes and that will end in a way that we cannot possibly imagine.
History has a purposeful end. God has ordained a day when He alone will be exalted. He will cause every governmental institution, every ideology, every false religion, every idol, and every person to bow low before Him so that He alone may be exalted (Isaiah 2:17-19, Haggai 2:6-7). This is where the story is going. God will do this by vindicating His name and proving to the world that Jesus Christ is the LORD – that He is God (Isaiah 45:5-6; Philippians 2:6-11). Through the exhibition of His life, death, and resurrection, God will once and for all demonstrate to the world the depth of His love, desire, and commitment to His glory and His people. The One who was perpetually adored by the angels, took on flesh and walked the earth unrecognized, died on a cross and was resurrected and raised to the right hand of God in power will be seen as preeminent in all things and worshipped perpetually by every living thing for all eternity (Colossians 1:17-18; Revelation 5:13).
But this story of the ages will not simply happen in a vacuum or apart from the involvement of His church. With this in view, we can look to the increase of night and day prayer across the nations and better appreciate its meaning and timing. As Jesus’ return draws near, we can now say with confidence that its larger purpose is unto Jesus being adored on the earth as He is in heaven – unceasingly and universally.
The goal of night and day prayer or extended prayer or worship meetings is not to organize people to do an activity without stopping, nor should its goal be primarily because there is so much need that we must petition Him unceasingly in hopes of revival. Before there were lost souls that needed to be saved and prior to any humanitarian need, the confession of those who beheld Him was that His beauty warranted their undivided attention and incessant adoration. Today as we give ourselves to prayer, this confession must be our primary reason and ultimate motivation.
Though now our worship is rightly mixed with intercessory cries for God’s intervention in the affairs of a fallen people that have strayed from Him, at the center of the prayer movement He is raising up stands a breathtaking Beauty that knows no rivals – Jesus of Nazareth.
You are fairer than the sons of men; grace is poured upon Your lips; therefore God has blessed You forever. Psalm 45:2
As the Holy Spirit increasingly brings the glory of Jesus to the forefront of the church, there will be no need to convince anyone of the legitimacy or necessity of night and day worship and prayer. Love will compel them to stand before Him in adoration and spend the best of their strength at His feet. The farmer, student, mom, and missionary, while of course still functioning in those roles as their occupation, will have a different primary identity – a passionate lover of God consumed and preoccupied with the glory and preeminence of Jesus Christ. The deep conviction and confession of the whole body of Christ will be that there is truly no one like Him.
As the Church across the world begins to take on her eternal role as a people of prayer by truly holding the First Commandment in first place, God’s power will be released as a witness to the nations of the preeminence of Christ in All things.
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By Joshua Hawkins. © Joshua Hawkins. Website: joshuahawkins.com