Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” — Matthew 9:35-38 (MSG)
Until we went to Italy for the first time, we didn’t know what to pray for missionally. In retrospect, our conversation with the Lord on the plane there wasn’t very evangelistic. Being our first overseas trip, we of course prayed for the pilot. After drafting our wills, we prayed for whomever might become the guardians of our children if we perished. We prayed that we wouldn’t get too lost once we got there. There couldn’t have been a more human perspective. We were seeing this journey at this point through our own lens. The lens of the Romantics. The lens of Adventurers. The lens of Hopeful.
It took getting through customs and putting boots on the ground to see what Jesus had been seeing in Italy all along. To feel the compassion that Jesus had been feeling for the Italians. We couldn’t have known what to pray until we stood with Him in the urban centers and saw the people and their needs.
This is the “necessary evil” of what you may experience on your first short term trip overseas. The opportunity to go is exciting and this will be life-changing for you. As you prepare to go, you’ll pray. These prayers will be deeply felt, and faith-building. But, you won’t know what to pray for where you’re going until you see it as Jesus sees it.
From this perspective, Jesus’ words to his disciples takes on a vibrant meaning. They weren’t following Him onto a plane and jumping to a foreign country where the language and culture were unfamiliar. They were touring the small cities and villages of the country where they’d always lived. Some places they had passed through countless times. Never had they seen these places as a mission field. Never had they considered the spiritual need of these places or been moved to a greater sense of compassion like they saw in Jesus. We can only guess how suddenly unfamiliar their homeland must have felt once they embraced the vision Jesus was giving and the prayer he was encouraging them to pray.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Jesus may have said this with tears rolling down his cheeks. The scope and the urgency of the Gospel was set before these ordinary men. He was setting their minds aflame with vision. The heat of this vision would consume them emotionally. And, these new feelings would compel them to pray for the spread of the Gospel in that land.
Consider where you are going. What will Jesus show you once you arrive? What will you experience in your time as you walk with him there? What are you praying now? Let this story about Jesus and his disciples shape your prayers toward the spread of the Gospel in that country. When you get a vision for the work at hand, and invest your sincere prayers toward this work, then the work will come alive for you. The Gospel will spread through you.