Essential Motivations for Prayer in Gospel Mission

Adoniram Judson
I want to begin with a little story about someone you may have heard of before. His name is Adoniram Judson.

He was a pioneering American missionary, and he entered the land of Burma in July of 1813.

At that time, Burma was a hostile and an utterly, utterly unreached place. Almost completely Buddhist and animist, in today’s culture, by today’s standards, the Burma of 1813 would most definitely have been considered a closed country.

In fact, most people encouraged Judson not to go to Burma; “Go work with William Carey in India maybe, but not Burma.”

It had a despot of a monarch who ruled his kingdom with torture and mass executions; the country was filled with anarchy, there was civil war and threats from within, there were raids and attacks from without, and there was ZERO religious tolerance.

Previous missionaries to Burma had either died or they had left. It was a land of no Bibles, no preachers, and no common conveniences. This was the Burma that Judson set foot in, in 1813.

At 24 years old — at JUST 24 years old, with his wife Ann, (they had been married one year; she was 23) they set sail for that land. And for the next 38 years, Judson gave his LIFE to establish a Gospel beachhead in that dark land until his death at the age of 61.

And in all of that time, he only came back to New England once, and that only happened after 33 YEARS of service.

But he gave away his life in this way because as a young man he became convinced that, “Asia, with its idolatrous myriads, is the most important field in the world for missionary effort.”

Or as his wife Ann recorded it, young Adoniram was “deeply impressed with the importance of making SOME attempt to rescue the perishing millions of the East.”

If you know anything about his life, even just a little bit, you know that the price Judson paid to take take the Gospel to Burma, that sacrifice was immense.

Consider just a few agonies:

  • aboard the ship that was taking them from India to Burma; his first child, was stillborn
  • spent nearly 12 hours a day FOR THREE YEARS just to learn to speak the language;
  • significant isolation from any Europeans or Americans, especially in the early years;
  • their second child, Roger, died when he was only 8 months old;
  • slow growth in the church with both Judson and his fledgling converts at risk of endangerment and death by the Burmese government;
  • during the war between Britain and Burma, Adoniram spent nearly 20 months in brutal imprisonment at the notorious “death-prison” in Ava, all under false pretense (they thought he was a spy); iron shackles, left in his own filth, not allowed to wash, fraught with sickness and hunger, each night being hung by his feet from the ceiling with just his head and shoulders touching the ground. And he was kept alive during this time by his precious, Ann, who basically lived in a hut outside the prison, nursing their third child and sick with fever herself, she risked her own life and well-being to bring him food and what comfort and encouragement she could while constantly begging any government official who would listen to release him.
  • And shortly after his release? Ann Hasseltine Judson–courageous, faithful, precious Ann—the joy and rejoicing of Judson’s heart—Ann died, finally succumbing to the fever that had ravaged her weak body for the months prior. (likely cerebral meningitis) She was just 37.
  • And then, just six-months later, his third child, Maria, died;
  • Four months later he got word that his beloved father had died back in New England;
  • 10 years later Judson remarried, Sarah Boardman; they had 8 children together; but only five made it to adulthood; And just 10 years later, Sarah herself got sick and died.

In the short span of 20 years he experienced the loss of six children, two wives, all of his original American teammates, and some of his believing Burmese converts.

And time simply does not allow us to recount the loneliness, the serious bouts of depression, the year-long, paralyzing “dark night of the soul” that nearly drove him mad after Ann died, the fears and anxieties, the sheer uncertainty of life and ongoing sickness;

And, as you might guess, it was sickness—a lung disease—that finally took Judson’s life on April 12, 1850 just 167 years ago.

But you can’t go visit his gravesite. No, like his first child, and like his second wife, Judson died on a boat, somewhere in the middle of the Bay of Bengal; the sea is his tomb . . .

Year after year after year, the price that he paid was immense. Judson was like what Jesus describes in John 12:24, “a seed” that must fall into the ground and die.

And JUDSON’S life was like a seed that fell into the ground and died . . . . and died and died and died and died. His life, his living, his ministry in Burma was one of incessant and unremitting dying . . .

BUT, oh, the fruit that God brought forth from the death of that seed! Consider these miracles:

  • he translated the entire Bible into Burmese;
  • he had hoped to plant one church and have about 100 converts by the end of his life—but instead, when Judson died, Burma had 100 congregations and over 8,000 believers!
  • And today in the nation of Burma (Myanmar), the largest Christian group there is the Baptist Convention, and they owe their roots—200 years previous—to the work of Judson and his dying and his dying and his dying. Today there are nearly 4,000 congregations with about 600,000 in membership.
  • And all of this is to say nothing of the printing of Ann Judson’s letters back in the States and the subsequent biographies of Judson that have inspired many thousands in the missionary cause for nearly 200 years.

All of this eternal fruit, by God’s grace, the result of Judson’s dead seed.

And I mention the story of Judson because as we consider the prayer of MT. 9:37-38, that God would raise up laborers, we’re actually praying that God would raise-up another Judson or two, or a hundred or a thousand.

That He’d raise-up many, many, many, many more unsung, unknown, unheralded missionaries—like the thousands missionaries who lived their lives day after day, death after death for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.

They were faithful—to the end—in the harvest mission because, PERHAPS, a group like us prayed to the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth those laborers.

I’ve chosen for my primary text this morning MT. 9:37-38
But I’m also going to read Luke 10:1-2

Jesus says to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

“After this the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

The title of my message this morning: “Essential Motivations for Prayer in Gospel Mission”

The text again – Matt. 9:37-38
Jesus says to his disciples, The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Notice the word “send-out”—ekballo—to cast out; to fling out; to thrust out; to forcibly hurl; to expel; same word used to describe the casting out of demons

And this is what Jesus tells us to pray for: that He’d raise-up many workers and cast them out into the harvest field
Truly, there is something sobering about taking this prayer seriously.

There’s something awesome about the privilege of praying that God would—cast-out, fling-out, expel—workers into his harvest.

It’s sobering because we’re asking the Lord to compel men and women and boy and girls who will go and die over and over again—die to life, to time, to desires, to money and possessions, to sense of ownership. And maybe even give-up their physical lives.
The history of missions if FULL of examples of the Lord of the harvest answering this ekballo prayer, sending people to into harvest death.

And so it’s a serious thing to prayer this prayer: it challenges the casualness of our own obedience. Do we really mean what we say? Do we even know what we’re really asking?

There is almost a holy aspect to this that should make us tremble.

We’re praying to the Lord of the harvest about something that is right at the CENTER of the whole story of the universe and redemptive history

  • Human history doesn’t happen apart from God answering this prayer.
  • It is the REASON history unfolds and time marches on.
    • And you and I have a part in it by praying this prayer.
    • And so it should humble us
  • it should quiet us
  • it should fill us with awe
  • maybe even a sense of dread, but also of deep joy.
  • Because we’re praying to the Lord of the harvest that he would accomplish that great plan of cosmic redemption by sending out laborers on mission
  • across the street to our neighbors;
  • and across oceans to the nations.
  • And this morning, I want to get underneath this prayer a bit and talk about motives.

So here is my question:

WHERE DOES THE MOTIVATION TO PRAY THIS KIND OF PRAYER COME FROM? WHAT IS THE SOURCE OF OUR MOTIVATION? Or another way to ask it: What is the great incentive of this prayer?

Well, right here in the text we have two “essential motivations” that should encourage our hearts to pray this prayer.

The first motivation has to do with AUTHORITY and the second one, which flows FROM the first, has to do with ASSURANCE


One motivation arises from what we can believe about Jesus and the other arises from what we can believe about how he works in the world.

BOTH should motivate us to passionately and regularly PRAY this prayer.

What do I mean by this?

Look at the term used: He’s called the LORD of the harvest. This is the Greek word MASTER.

  • It is a word that speaks of ownership and possession
  • One who obtains what is his by right
  • It’s usage in Greek is rich with a sense of authority and power and control and determination and sovereignty, and in this case, over the harvest process.
  • The Master; the Boss; the one in charge; the Owner of the field; the field Master. Authority over everything in that field.
  • This great harvester is referred to as “the Lord.”

To emphasize this idea of possession . . . End of verse 38: “HIS harvest”
“Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

We are motivated to pray this prayer when we recognize that the great Lord of the Harvest is none other than the Sovereign Christ.

It’s HIS harvest. He has ALL authority over it because he is the LORD.

Consider just a few texts that confront us with the awesome authority of Christ:

Hebrews 1:1-3
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (PROXY),

  • whom he appointed the heir of all things (LEGAL),
  • through whom also he created the world (CREATION – Col. 1:6 – by him, through him, for him).
  • 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (SUBSTITUTIONARY – Jn 14:9 – see me, see Father; Col. 1:15 image of the invisible God),
  • and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (SUSTAINING – Col 1:17 “in him all things hold together”).
  • After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (SALVIVIC – CROSSWORK)

Notice how this authority and lordship is connected to Jesus’ work on the Cross . . .

Phil 2:8-11 – “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD (Master), to the glory of God the Father.”

And notice he is given this authority from none other than God the Father.
We see this also in texts like:

  • Jn 5 – “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.”
  • Acts 17:30-31 – “God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he (that is GOD) has given assurance to all by raising him (JESUS) from the dead.”
  • Rom. 1:4 – “and He was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
  • Matthew 28:18-21 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

So when we meditate on this title of Lord/Master of the Harvest we quickly come to see that it’s rich with meaning. Who is this Harvest Lord?

He’s the voice of God; God incarnate; the heir of all things; he’s the agent of creation; he’s the sustainer of my life; he is the mighty savior; he is the righteous judge;

All of this authority given to him by the Father.

And to prove that all of this was TRUE; that he was truly the Son of God and Son of Man and that all authority truly had been given to him—God raised Jesus from the dead;

He exalted him and seated him on a throne until his enemies shall be made his footstool

And until every knee shall bow and every tongues should cry out “Jesus is the Master!”, to the glory of God the Father.

This is our Christ.

And so because of who he is—that he is called the LORD of the Harvest—we have motivation to pray this prayer in Mt. 9

But this text goes on beyond that. It holds another motivation.

The “absolute authority of Christ” is one pillar of motivation, but there is another pillar of motivation here.

Because we know the authority of the Master, we also know that his mission, namely securing a harvest, will be successful.

The success of the harvest mission flows from the authority of the harvest master.

Notice back in Matthew 9, Jesus says to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

He is not referred to as the Lord of the soil, though he is the Lord of the soil.

He’s not referred to as the Lord of the scattered seed. “Pray to the Lord of the scattered seed that he bring forth laborers to go harvest the seed which might eventually grow and stalk and become a plant” — that’s not what it says.

He is not the Lord of the watering. He is not referred to as the Master of the watering, though he is.

He’s not called the Lord of the green stalk.

He’s not even called the Lord of the budding shoot or leafing branch.

If he was called any of those things, there might be, in the back of our minds a little bit of doubt that maybe, just maybe, something would happen and the harvest wouldn’t come in.

But he’s not referred to as any of those things. He is called the Lord of the harvest.

Remember the NT imagery is that of a fieldmaster or a great landowner; a “Lord” who will get his harvest; he owns it; it is HIS.

Jesus sends out laborers with scythe and sickle—the Gospel, the Word of God in their hands,

and those laborers are going out, and they’re cutting down stalks with the proclamation the Good News and through acts of sacrificial love.

They’re harvesting the souls of men because the Master will have His harvest.

He is a Harvest-lord. He WILL get a return on his investment.

And remember this Harvest Lord is utterly unique.

He has gone so far as to secure the reality of a harvest through the giving up of his own life.

  • The King dying for his subjects.
  • The Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep.
  • Having given up himself, shall he not most assuredly bring in the harvest?

I think we have another hint of the success of the harvest in the Parallel passage in Luke 10

Listen to what it says:
“After this, the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them on ahead of him two by two into every town and place where he himself was about to go.”

The accounts of the sending of the 72 and the sending of the 12
those are like a little microcosm of the greater missionary sending call of Matt. 28
the call for us to go to our neighbors and the nations.

And notice, he was sending them out to places where he was about to go;

  • where he was about to SHOW UP on mission.
  • And when Jesus shows up, there is always success in the mission the lame were healed, sight given to the blind, the deaf could hear, demons cast out and the Kingdom of God proclaimed

Another text that points to the absolute success of this mission is in John 10:14.

  • Here Jesus is speaking of the Gospel going to the Gentiles.
  • Listen very carefully: Jesus says, I am the good shepherd.
  • It’s a different metaphor now.
  • We’ve gone from a Master of a Harvest to a Shepherd of a flock.
  • From harvest fields to sheep.
  • Listen to this. I am the good shepherd,
  • and I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
  • and I lay down my life for the sheep.
  • And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.
  • I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.

So, (or “in this way” or “because of this”), there will be one flock and one shepherd.

There it is—a different metaphor, but there it is, the assurance that there will be a flock.

The mission of the Lord of the Harvest and the mission of the Good Shepherd are the same: a people ransomed for God. There WILL be a harvest, there WILL be a flock.

Listen, my friends: The death of Christ was not wasted.

  • It didn’t make salvation merely possible.
  • It was effective. It actually purchased souls for God!
  • And over time and throughout history the Lord Christ IS GETTING HIS harvest from every tongue and tribe and people and nation.

And this is glorious. We’re right on the precipice of some of the most exhilarating truths in all the universe.

Friends, if this captures us, this is the grand narrative of all of human history.

There will be success. It won’t fail. God is calling out for himself in time, those for whom His Son died—out of all the people groups of the world. He doing it! It IS a harvest.

He does not send forth laborers into THIS harvest IN VAIN.

There’s a plan that’s being fulfilled, there’s a goal that’s being achieved — namely, harvested souls from all the ethnos.

Ultimately, there will be only success in the Gospel enterprise.

There will be no ultimate failure, there will be no ultimate defeat, even if our eyes in this lifetime might not see it as such.

But perhaps someone says, “Wait a minute. Time out for a second.”

What about the Enemy? What about all of the wrath and the fury that Satan has unleashed on the laborers as they go to the harvest? How do we know the mission won’t get derailed?

Scott, “You’re up there saying that there will be success in the mission.

But look, the passages themselves say that they are being sent out like sheep amongst wolves.

  • Sheep amongst wolves? Sheep get eaten by wolves
  • That means you get attacked ripped apart.
  • That means you suffer and die.
  • It doesn’t sound particularly hopeful or victorious or successful.”

These are important questions:

  • Will the mission get derailed because of the enemy? Will the mission get derailed because of my sinful heart?
  • How do we know that Satan won’t somehow destroy God’s mission?How do we know that our own sin won’t ruin the mission—our laziness, our fear of man, our missed opportunities, our lack of giftedness, our faithless heart?

Well the answer is simple and profound:

  • It is because of the cross work of Jesus Christ.
  • The ultimate victory of the harvesting of the nations is not at risk because the decisive battle with the enemy and with our sin has already taken place.
  • Let me say that again. “Harvesting from the nations a people for God.”
  • The enemy has emphatically been defeated.
  • The showdown was on a cross on a hill called Golgotha.
  • The proof of ultimate victory is an empty tomb.
  • Satan? defeated
  • Your sin? defeated
  • Assurance that God’s mission will be successful? Guaranteed at the cross.
  • Hallelujah, “It is finished.”

Now listen, Satan is angry.

  • Satan is crazy.
  • Satan, under God’s providence, can inflict a lot of pain and violence on the church, but he cannot ultimately derail the mission.
  • Satan has been defeated by our Elder Brother Jesus such that in all of our suffering and dyings we can say, like Judson and like the Apostle Paul – To live is Christ, and to die is gain.

The Bible is crystal clear on this reality of the defeat of Satan:

  • All the way back in Genesis 3, the first hint of this truth was put forth.
  • The serpent was told that, The seed of the woman will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.
  • The language there is important.

The seed of the serpent will strike the heel, The seed of the woman will strike the head.

The cross was a crippling blow to the seed of the woman (Jesus)

The cross was a fatal blow to the seed of the serpent (Devil).

John 12:31-32 – “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” In the lifting up of the Christ, the ruler is cast out, unable to ruin the harvest.
Colossians 1:13 – “God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son”—from the domain, the territory, the bondage, the realm of Satan’s darkness.

  • The ingathering of the Harvest is like God have robbed or looted the enemy
  • God is in the business of transferring people from darkness to the Kingdom of his beloved Son.

Colossians 2:14-15 —Paul describes the crosswork of Christ this way: He disarmed rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, triumphing over them in Christ.

Hebrews 2:14-15 “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might”—here it is. It can’t be clearer than this—”that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to slavery at the cross.”

1 John 3:8, The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. It can’t be more plain than that.

And then this glorious verse, Revelation 12:10-11 – “I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ (there’s our phrase) has come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they (notice the language) And they have conquered him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony. (Do you know what the word for testimony is there? martureah — martyr.). They loved not their lives even unto death.”

The works of the devil have been destroyed

They’ve been conquered by the blood of the Lamb and the martyr’s sacrifice which point to the conquering act of the Lamb.

And because of this, now God’s people are unleashed to go and joyfully lay down their lives for their neighbors and the nations.

My friends do you know the freedom that comes from recognizing the absolute authority of Christ?

Do you know the relief and motivation that comes from the assurance that God’s saving will is being accomplished in the world through you—your prayers and actions?

And, listen, in saying this, I am not in any way making light of persecution. I’m not making light of martyrdom. I’m not making light of death or famine or nakedness or peril or sword or any of these things. I don’t mean to suggest that any of this is EASY. Adoniram Judson’s life was not easy!

There is real persecution that you may face or that others may face as a result of you praying this kind of prayer.

Dying to self, to time, to money, to comforts, to ease—all of this hurts

But listen: inconvenience or suffering; persecution or even martyrdom is not an indication that the mission is somehow weak or tenuous or that is might fail.

In God’s economy it’s the exact opposite!

It’s a sign that GRACE is on the move!

Brokenness and weakness and death is always indication that grace is on the move and that there is a resurrection coming.

It’s not a sign of mission-fail. It’s a sign that Christians don’t value their lives the way they used to before they knew Jesus.

It’s a sign that the Gospel has radically transformed you.

For someone to say “to die is gain.” That’s not natural. Nobody talks that way. Nobody says that unless God has become a greater treasure than life itself.

It’s not that persecution and suffering and sacrifice doesn’t hurt, it’s not that it’s not a big deal—it’s just that it’s just not ultimate.

The goal of my life is not to try to protect it. The goal of my life it to lay it down over and over again in love for the sake of the mission.

Only when the seed falls into the ground and DIES does the fruit come.

Our suffering modeled before a lost world is actually a God-ordained means for the furthering of the Gospel mission.

I’ll say that again. Listen. This is hard but this is glorious:

Our joyful suffering, our persecution, our weakness on display before a lost world is actually a God-ordained means causing the Gospel message to flourish in the harvesting of the nations.

So Matthew 9:38, holds forth two great, glorious, unchangeable foundational truths that should motivate us in our prayers:

  • Jesus Christ—to whom all authority has been given—this Jesus is the master of the harvest, and (because of this)
  • There will be a harvest; it will be successful.

And so the application today is very simple: We say, “Oh Lord, do a miracle. Help align my faith around the authority of Christ and the assurance of the harvest. And birth in me a desire pray this prayer.”

And I will close with this little aside. We must be very careful at this point not to somehow be moved to pray and think that we’re somehow praying that God would go and take from “this” pool of potential candidates and grab some laborers and put them out there in the harvest.

“God, go take those people and put them in your harvest, Lord. I’m praying send forth laborers. Go get you some laborers, God, and go stick them out in the harvest. ”

No, my friends, this is the final reality we must come to. This glorious prayer—well, we’re not exempt from it.

The prayer of Matthew 9 needs to be joined to the prayer of Isaiah 6

To say, “Oh, Lord, Lord of the harvest, send forth laborers into the harvest,” this kind of nuzzles right up against another text which says, “Here I am, Lord, send me,” that prayer of Isaiah 6.

For us to pray the ekballo prayer, “Lord, fling out workers into the harvest. I have faith in the authority of Christ. I’m confident about the success of the mission. Lord send forth laborers!”

Grace, this means we must be willing to say “Here I am, Lord. Would you use me? Could you use me somehow? Would you send me? Would you do a work in my heart that causes me to die to self and all that I think I own? And, Lord, would you somehow engage me for the sake of the unreached, for the sake of the unengaged, for the sake of my neighbor? Lord, here I am. Send me.”