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?