amuel Zwemer, known as the apostle to Islam, said, “Missions is the history of answered prayer.” While not every Christian is called to be sent internationally as an overseas missionary, every Christian is Biblically responsible to pray for the cause of world missions. John Piper said, “There are only three kinds of Christians when it comes to world missions: zealous goers, zealous senders, and disobedient.” The most important and fundamental way to be involved in world missions is to pray for laborers to be sent.
In Matthew 9:35-38 we see the response of Jesus to the need of world missions.
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
In this moment Jesus is faced with the limitations of His incarnation. When He looks out upon the multitudes that were lost and in need of a savior, He is cut to the heart with compassion for them. He turns to his disciples and explains to them the same great crisis that we face today: “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” Today we now look out on a lost and dying world with over three billion Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and others who have never heard the good news of Jesus!(1) The need in this hour for the gospel is staggering, and it can often be overwhelming to figure out how to even begin to respond.
Thankfully, Jesus gives us the answer to the crisis: “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” When Jesus tells His disciples to pray, the word He uses is deomi. In the Greek deomi means “to beg as if binding one’s self.” It is in the aorist imperative tense, which makes it a command. Jesus actually commanded His disciples to beg Him! This takes place nineteen chapters before Jesus gives the disciples the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. This gives us a Biblical precedent that before we financially give and go to the mission field, we must first pray!
The word “send” that Jesus uses in the Greek is not the word regularly used in the New Testament, which is apostello. Meaning “to send” as you would a letter, apostello is also where we get the word apostle, which means “sent one.” Instead, the word that Jesus uses is the word ekballo, which means “to violently hurl forth or to cast out,” similar to how a pitcher hurls forth a baseball from the mound. Other times this word is used in the New Testament are Matthew 9:33 and Mark 1:34-39 when Jesus ekballoed demons by the hand of God. The reality is, when Jesus ekballoes demons, demons have no choice but to go. When Jesus ekballoes laborers, laborers have to go!
Never before in history has the Great Commission been as attainable as it is today. Through innovations in technology and transportation, we have access to the most isolated parts of the globe that have been left untouched by the gospel since the fall. But no amount of strategy, mobilization, financing or human innovation will matter if the Lord of the Harvest is not the one who sends forth laborers in this next great missions movement.
Andrew Murray, a Christian author and pastor of the 1800s, said in reference to Matthew 9:38, “The number of missionaries on the field depends entirely on the extent to which someone obeys that command and prays out the laborers.” From the Moravian Missions Movement of the 1600s to the AD2000 Movement of the 1990s, every great move of God throughout history has been preceded by great moves of prayer, and missions movements are no exception. As Christians we cannot simply wait passively for the cause of the Great Commission to move forward on the wheels of inevitability, we must lay hold of this divine moment! If we are to see the greatest missions movement in history take place in our generation, we must see a great prayer movement sweep the globe where the church beings to cry out, “Lord of the harvest, send forth laborers into Your harvest fields!”
Romans 10:13-14 says,
“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”
It is here, as we remember the commandment of Jesus to His disciples and who He is as the commissioner of laborers that I would add:
“And how are they to be sent unless someone prays ekballo?”