“I don’t believe that everyone should pray for everything.”
Heretic! I shouted in my head. But out of respect for the elder professor, I simply kept smiling and listening.
It was October of 2005 and I was on my yearly visit back to my Alma Mater to visit friends during Homecoming. I also took the opportunity to share a missions challenge with current students at the college. I had serving as a support-based missionary for three years and enjoyed sharing about the work that God was doing on the mission field and inviting people to be a part of it through prayerfully and financially supporting me or other missions projects.
As I packed up my missions display at the end of class period, an older professor came into the room to set up for the next class. Dr. Bende had arrived at the college after I graduated, so I didn’t know him at all. Curious, he picked up one of my prayer cards and started asking me questions about the mission work I was doing.
We talked for quite some time about the ministry, eventually discussing the topic of missionaries raising support and the topic of prayer.
“I don’t believe that everyone should pray for everything,” he said, startling me into rapidly searching my mental Bible database for handy “pray for all things” verses.
I hid my startled-ness (I think) and let him continue.
“If everyone tried to pray for every thing, no one would be able to pray effectively. We should be praying for the things that God directs us to pray for. I have a map of the world in my study,” he continued. “Each person that I’m praying for has a pin representing where they are serving on that map. The map is divided into seven sections and each day I pray for one section of the map and for each person in that section. I strategically, deliberately pray through the map every week. I don’t tell someone I’ll pray for them unless I’ll put them on the map.”
Looking straight at me and addressing me by name, he said, “I will pray for you.”
I felt like someone had handed me a million dollar check.
Dr. Bende’s words continued to reverberate in my mind for months. Then years. I was already purposeful in my use of “I’ll pray for you.” I didn’t use those words flippantly, but his words seemed to challenge me at a deeper level.
Should we pray about prayerfully supporting a missionary just as much as we would pray (hopefully!) about financially supporting a missionary? Is it ever right to tell someone asking for prayer support that we don’t feel God leading us to be among their strategic prayer partners? That doesn’t mean we can’t pray for them, of course, but there is a difference between praying for someone when we occasionally think about them and committing to pray strategically and regularly for them.
This conversation has continued to impact how I raise support for missions. No longer is the “or pray for me” tacked on to letters and conversations as a spiritual sounding closure, but rather, I ask people if the Lord would lead them to be one of my strategic prayer partners. And I give them time to pray about that and respond. And I let them know that it’s okay if the answer is no. After all, God puts different burdens on different people’s hearts. And that everyone is not called to pray for every thing.
It was just last month I talked to Dr. Bende on the phone again. He had been on my mind a lot the previous few weeks, so I gave him a call to touch base. He filled me in quickly that he had just gotten home from spending two weeks in the hospital with unexpected health issues. We marveled at God’s Spirit at work in our lives and as we wrapped up the conversation, he gave me another gift.
“I pray for you and your family every day, Mrs. A.” he said.
And I knew that he really did.