Paul’s Plan, God’s Will: Essential Qualities for Missions

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at least succeed in coming to you.”
~
Romans 1:8-10
 
In 1943, 5 men went out with their wives and 6 children to reach an unreached group deep in the jungles of South America. Their goal was simple: preach Christ crucified. Before leaving, one of those men wrote, “Perhaps more Christians at home would become more aware of their responsibility to lost men and less concerned over the material things if this expedition failed and we lost our lives.” And that’s exactly what happened. After making contact, the five men were never heard from again, and it wasn’t until seven years later before anyone knew the full story of what had happened.
Upon hearing this story, many would assume this is the story of Jim Elliot and the group with him that perished at the very hands of those they were trying to reach. It’s not. This is the story of Cecil Dye, Bob Dye, George Hosback, Dave Bacon, and Eldon Hunter. This tale occurred several years earlier and in Bolivia, not Ecuador and it is less known (most likely because of the timing; this story occurred when the world’s media was rightly fixated on WWII). To many, this is a story of tragedy and unnecessary loss of life. To others though, it is a story of God-oriented service and it is a story that motivated others to go to the mission field, just as Ceil Dye had written. Even more fascinating, while these men did not plant a church as they hoped, the work continued and eventually one was planted as tribesmen came to know Christ. Therefore, not only were the plans of the men realized, but the impact went further. It demonstrates, that while plans may be made, God’s will takes precedence and is often far greater than we could have anticipated, especially in such a tragic loss of life.
Paul was also an example of a man who made plans for God-oriented service, and while those plans sometimes seem to be thwarted, the result was often God-glorifying. Throughout his writings, Paul exemplifies characteristics that we should expect to be found in the discipline of missions. Chose almost any number of passages and you will see a man committed to the Lord, committed to the Lord’s people, and committed to the Lord’s service. However, it is in Romans 1:8-15 that I turn to for some quick lessons about qualities that should exist in missions (and ministry as a whole).
Romans 1:8-15 is an obscure passage because it is essentially part of the introduction. It also comes before Paul’s powerful words, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17). As a result, it receives muted attention in such a theological proficient proclamation as Romans. Yet, there is much to learn from Paul’s words here and several key applications to ministry.
Paul’s Prayer
The first essential quality of missions is found in verses 8-10. It is there that Paul indicates that he is in constant prayer for them, giving thanks to God for their faithfulness. It is common for Paul to be thankful for the faith of those he writes to. We see this with the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:15-16), the Colossians (Colossians 1:3-4); and the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). However, notice something very important; Paul doesn’t not give thanks to them, but for them. In every instance, Paul directs his thankfulness to God.
Not only does he thank God for them, but he also prays to God for them. Yet the character of this prayer is noteworthy because he says without ceasing. The word utilized in this passage does not mean that Paul is on his knees 25 hours a day seven days a week with no time for other aspects of ministry but instead is meant to convey something more. Paul prays for them regularly. He issues a similar charge to the Thessalonians telling them to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
In his prayer for them, we see a man who is a humble servant of the people by being a humble servant of God (consider Romans 1:1 in addition to verse 9). His prayer is further accentuated by the following verses when we see Paul’s spiritual desires for them. He is not envious of them and rooting for failure, neither is he disgusted with them for not growing, but instead, he desires to see them grow more.
Such a deep conviction must be manifested in any ministry. As one serves the Lord, reaching out to those (whether believer or unbeliever) it will be done with prayer because prayer indicates both dependence upon the Lord and submission to his will (as we will later see). Therefore, the first essential quality to ministry is prayer.

For the sake of time, we will look at three more qualities from verses 11-15 in an upcoming post.

Photo “Globe” courtesy of user Jason Bachman and Flickr.