My husband and I recently said goodbye to two of the best friends we’ve ever had. This couple had just walked with us through the most difficult season our marriage had yet faced, and the idea of continuing our journey without them was heartbreaking. True, we were losing them to the mission field, but we were losing them, all the same.
In the days since that goodbye, we’ve employed the full gamut of tools at our disposal for keeping in touch: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Skype, email, the works. But all these modern miracles aside, the single most effective means I’ve found of staying connected to my missionary friends isn’t remotely digital. In fact, it’s spiritual: it’s prayer.
“So, what’s been going on?”
No matter how many long-distance calls I make, I never seem ready for this question. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat mumbling in front of the Skype screen, either paralyzed by the sheer number of things I have to communicate or struck by a sudden and inexplicable bout of temporary amnesia.
But there’s a kind of magic to the question “How can I pray for you?” With this question in mind, our deepest worries and brightest praises steadily bubble to the surface of our Skype calls and WhatsApp chats. We know precisely which things we each want the other to hear, because they’re the same things we’ve been feverishly discussing with God.
What’s more, making my friends a part of my prayer life constantly reminds me to bridge the geographical gap between us. As I am faithful to pray, God is faithful to prompt me to reach out to them. Every time my prayer calendar circles back to my missionary friends, I’m motivated to get in touch with them again, asking about the conversations they’ve been anticipating, the frustrations they’ve been fighting, the relationships they’ve been building. Their texts and emails have become more than just updates on their lives – they’re an essential part of my life.
Social media has long been a source of envy for God’s people, and I’m by no means immune. Many a time, I’ve sat frowning over a picture of my missionary friends, brought almost to tears by how desperately I want to be the one laughing with them, getting them coffee, having them over for dinner. Never, since fourth grade kickball, has being left out felt so awful.
But prayer isn’t bound by space. When I intercede for my distant loved ones, I am in a very real sense joining them in prayer, as my conversation with the Father about them ties me closer to them. Facebook can make me a passionate spectator, but it can’t make me a participant in my friends’ lives. For that, I need prayer, especially for my friends on the mission field.
For you see, prayer doesn’t just support the work of missions. Prayer is essential to the work of missions. Prayer empowers God’s people to join hands with believers continents away, laboring alongside them for the glory of God. When I bring my friends before the Throne of Grace to plead for their work, their marriage, and their lives, I’m not watching from the sidelines. I am deeply and inextricably involved.
Like any living thing, friendships grow when you feed them. Whether it’s time, emotion, hard work, or actual money (i.e., for the pastries necessary for optimum Baptist fellowship), a certain amount of investment is essential to healthy relationships. But nothing hampers relational investment quite like an 18-hour transatlantic plane ride. I can’t take a walk with them or bake them a cake or help them clean their house – what can I do?
I can pray.
We treasure the things that have cost us dearly. The more time I spend in prayer for my far-off friends, the dearer they are to me. The longer I stand before Christ on their behalf, the more I want to hear about their lives. And the more prayers that God answers, the more I want to offer up. Prayer is no sorry excuse for quality time. It is a stunning foretaste of that glorious day when the entire family of God will be gathered together, a “great multitude […] from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9 [ESV])