Will you please support …
- my mission trip to India?
- Bible smuggling in North Korea?
- me as I go to England with YWAM?
- the college ministry I joined as staff?
- my church-planting ministry in Germany?
- our kingdom business in West Africa?
- our orphanage in San Salvador?
- the local rescue mission?
The list keeps growing. We have a lot of close friends and relatives who are supported in their ministries by donations. Our “Global” Sunday School class hosts a steady stream of missionaries all needing more money. And all our mission-minded friends have kids who are now graduating from college, joining various ministries, and raising their own support.
Needless to say, as much as we’d like to, we can’t support them all.
When someone asks for our financial support, and we explain that as we, too, are largely supported by others, and we don’t have lots of extra money to give beyond our tithe, I can almost always predict what they’ll say next: “Well, then, can you pray for us?”
Usually, there’s an implied “at least” in there, as if prayer is good, but financial support is better.
I used to answer, “Sure, I’d love to.” It ended the awkward moment and assuaged the guilt I felt from turning down their support request.
Then I’d pray for them for a week or two until they gradually slipped my mind. If something reminded me of my commitment, the remorse was overwhelming… but it didn’t change the frequency of my prayers for long. I finally concluded that I was irresponsible and ungodly.
Then I learned a bit more about prayer.
Now, when someone asks for prayer for their ministry (or any other reason), I do the same thing as when someone asks for money. I pray about it. God, am I supposed to pray for this person on a regular basis? And surprisingly, He often says no. In fact, He usually says no.
At this point, I take a deep breath, ask God for strength, and tell the person that God is not giving me this assignment, but that I’m sure He has someone else in mind for them.
They usually look astonished. Who refuses to pray?
The point is, I’m not refusing to pray. I’ll pray for them right then and there. I am not, however, agreeing to provide an ongoing prayer shield for them.
Once in a while, God says yes. When He wants me to intercede for someone, I know it. There is no question. In Christian-ese, we’d say that God “laid them on my heart.” I don’t have to check my Bible bookmark, or be reminded by the arrival of a ministry report. In fact, I can’t get them out of my mind! I can pray for hours (not something I ever expected to be able to do).
I don’t even need to hear from the person—the Spirit tells me what to pray for. I find I have special insight into their situation, sometimes understanding what is going on better than they do. Plus, instead of the feeling that my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling, I am aware that God is at work in response to my intercession. It’s an incredible sense of working hand in hand with Him.
I’ve been praying for some people for years. Others are more of a short-term assignment… perhaps for a specific situation or need. Just as I know when I am to pray, I know when to stop. I can rest from my work (and prayer takes a lot of work!), knowing that I’ve done my part and God has everything under control.
Treating ministry prayer support in the same way that I treat financial support has taken a huge weight off my shoulders and actually made me more excited about prayer in general. Now I need to practice being encouraging while gently saying no.
What do you do when someone asks you for support… or prayer? In what other ways can we support ministry workers?
My but you deal with some heavy things here, Leslie. Gives me much to think about.
Last time I checked, in the financial file on Ginny’s desk there were 18 appeals letters from various Christian and environmental organizations, all asking us for money. All worthy causes. Some of them even guilt us into giving cash by sending us gifts of calendars, greeting cards, bumper stickers, window decals, wrapping paper, tee-shirts, and prayer letters with photos of starving kids holding out begging bowls.
Now, we believe in most of these causes but we rarely send them donations. We keep the appeals just in case we ever win Lotto and feel inclined to share. Fat chance.
One group advocates saving whales. I believe in saving whales so much that I have not harpooned a single whale this week.
By and large, I doubt that Jesus raises money for His causes by poor-mouthing and hitting up strangers for pocket change.
Yes, He did borrow a boat, and a donkey, and a tomb–all of which He returned in good order, hardly used. But I doubt that He begged, borrowed or stole to support His ministry.
Then there’s the problem of people who approach us directly asking for money. Jesus said to give to him that asks of thee and turn not away from him who would borrow. Hadn’t He ever met a wino? What about “good stewardship”?
Ginny and I each keep a “poor pocket” in our wallets, a separate place with a set amount of cash, enough to buy a meal. And we give the amount in the “poor pocket” to the next person who asks. We may be buying the guy a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 but I don’t see Jesus making anybody fill out an application form to get what they ask for.
Then, if I read Leviticus aright, God’s people were to set aside a tithe, a certain amount of each year’s profits–and take the family on vacation!
Then, in the time of Jesus, folks engineered a neat idea to get out of financial obligations. They called it corban. That meant that if I owed you support, I could give a cash gift to the Temple and then tell you, “What I owed to you, I gave to God, therefore I owe you nothing. Tough”.
Jesus was not crazy about the practice.
I suspect we honor the Lord more by paying our legitimate bills than by sending money to missions or charitable causes. Somehow, the credit card company does not think my sending cash to the Lord’s Work instead of them, honors His name.
Then your posting segues into the subject of prayer. Personally I avoid ever saying I’ll pray for you. I feel that sets me up as a superior praying for an inferior. That mindset makes me uncomfortable. Jesus said to pray in secret–and I think He meant for me to keep it secret even from the person I’m praying for.
You may have guessed, but I’m not comfortable with my own ideas about the subjects you’ve brought up. You’ve certainly given me much to think about.
Glad I made you think! I sure appreciate your comments. Now YOU’RE making ME think. Thanks!
Regarding prayer, Paul frequently asked the churches to pray for him and his ministry. I see no problem with that. In fact, we need all the prayer support we can get. We’re fighting a battle, and it’s the kind that is only won in the spirit realm. We have a confidential “armor bearers” prayer team, and a more public mailing list. We would be totally ineffectual without them.
As to the money/support issue… it’s difficult. Even though we are officially “missionaries on support” I don’t think the church today goes about this in the right way, and I’ll be writing about that once I get my thoughts sorted out. In the meantime, we make do with the current system, and also work as tentmakers whenever possible.