John G. Kayser, Ph.D.

You cannot estimate prayer-power. Prayer is as vast as God because He is behind it. Prayer is as mighty as God because He has committed Himself to answer it. — Leonard Ravenhill

The Role of Prayer in Missionary Work

Prayer is increasingly being recognized as a critical part of missionary strategy.

The Lisu people of Yunnan Province in China live in rugged, mountainous terrain. Only a few decades ago they were enslaved and controlled by demons.

In one area the demons forced their priests to propitiate the “great spirit” by recruiting “purified” volunteers to climb a ladder of sharp swords, in their bare feet.

James O. Fraser, an outstanding missionary among the Lisu wrote:

They all tell me that no man so ‘prepared’ is ever injured, though they frequently tremble from fear beforehand. They say, too, that no one ‘unprepared’ would dare attempt it, for the blades would just about cut his feet in pieces. When they get to the top of a kind of platform, they look down with glaring eyes and give messages from the spirits. At times they make a huge fire in which they bum iron chains until red hot. Then, in some kind of paroxysm, they pick them up and throw them around their shoulders. In this case also they say that no harm comes to them. (l)

For all his efforts, Fraser saw little fruit. Even the few converts fell back into the clutches of their previous demon-worship. Fraser himself was under constant attack -ill health, deep depression, doubts about the Word of God, and even thoughts of suicide from time to time.

Victory through prayer

Breakthrough occurred when two events took place. First, he learned to pray the “prayer of faith” and, second, he succeeded in forming a support team of 8 to 10 people in his home country who prayed for him every day.

Regarding the “prayer of faith” he wrote,

Deliverance from the power of the evil one comes through definite resistance on the ground of the cross. I found I could have victory in the spiritual realm whenever I wanted it. The Lord himself resisted Satan vocally, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’ I, in humble dependence upon Him, did the same. I talked to Satan at that time, using the promises of Scripture as weapons. And they worked, Right then the terrible oppression began to pass away. (2)

Fraser had begun to learn that missions is spiritual warfare and that there is victory ground in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. As attacks would come thereafter, he would often go out on the hillside and shout his resistance to Satan and all his ways on the basis of the Redeemer’s victory on the cross.

This aggressive stand, coupled with the strong prayer support given by faithful men and women in England, resulted in a dramatic turn-around in the response of the Lisu to the gospel. Within weeks, without any further effort on his part, he saw the Spirit of God transforming the lives of people. Hundreds of families turned to Christ. Eventually a people movement involving tens of thousands of Lisu resulted. To this day in southwest China and northern Bumla the Lisu are missionaries to other tribes.

Regarding the place of prayer, Fraser wrote,

I am feeling more and more that it is the prayer of God’s people that calls down blessing upon the work. Solid, lasting missionary work is done on our knees. What I covet more than anything else is earnest, believing prayer. I used to think that prayer should have the first place and teaching the second. I now believe that it would be truer to give prayer the first, second, and third places, and teaching fourth. We are not dealing with an enemy that fires at the head only-that keeps the mind in ignorance-but with an enemy who uses poison gas attacks, which wrap the people around with deadly effect and yet are impalpable and elusive. The breath of God can blow away all these miasmic vapors from a village, in answer to your prayers. We are not fighting against flesh and blood. You deal with the fundamental issues of this Lisu work when you pray against the principalities, the powers, the world rulers of darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies. (3)

Defeating the “strongman” in Guatemala

Harold Caballeros is the pastor of a church of several thousand members in Guatemala. He is well familiar with the role and importance of prayer for effective evangelism. His church is thoroughly involved in spiritual warfare on be half of their country. The event which catapulted the church into new aggressive prayer happened as follows:

One day a woman came and told Pastor Caballeros of a dream she had. She knew it had spiritual significance, but she did not understand it.

In her dream she saw three cities in Guatemala, all united with a transparent rope which took the shape of a triangle. Then three hands appeared, each holding one side of the triangle. The hands looked rough, calloused, and strong, like the hands of a strong individual.

Pastor Caballeros had been meditating the few previous days on the three references in the gospels to the need to “bind the strongman” (Matthew 12:29, Mark 3:27, and Luke 11 : 21,22). He was struck by the word” strongman” rather than “spirit” or “principality” and had come to the conclusion that it may signify an interaction between human beings and the spiritual realm, especially leaders who are raised up by Satan because of their willingness to follow him and their potential for influencing society.

Harold discussed this with a brother from the church who received spiritual discernment. Immediately the man was able to list the first and last names of three men in three cities.

Investigation showed that the three were secretly involved in evil at a high level in the three cities-one in drugs, one in politics, and one in finance. God then gave them a strategy to bind the principalities associated with these three men, breaking their power, but blessing the men themselves, since Christ had died for them also.

The church went to prayer and soon the first man was arrested, the second man was removed from office, and the third suffered personal problems, losing most of his influence and power.

Since then the churches have seen a reduction in violence, more fruitful evangelism, and positive social changes. (4)

Why is prayer so critical?

Prayer is critical because mission is war and missionaries are involved in spiritual warfare. Unfortunately, as John Piper states,

Most Christians don’t really believe that life is war and that our invisible enemy is awesome. How then are you ever going to get them to pray? They’ll say they believe these truths, but watch their lives. There is a peacetime casualness in the church about spiritual things. All is well, so why pray? (5)

John Robb believes that many potential breakthroughs have not occurred for two reasons: 1. prayer was not understood and used as a strategic weapon, and 2. prayer supporters were not kept supplied with information from unreached groups. He says that prayer is the missing link for accomplishing world evangelization. (6)

You and I are members of the body of Christ. Responsibility for world missions has been laid on our laps. Through prayer we not only undertake our responsibility, but we will see a great ingathering into the Kingdom of God.


1. Eileen Crossman from J. O. Fraser’s letters in Mountain Rain, Singapore, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1982, p.59.

2. Ibid., pp. 68, 69.

3. Mrs. J.O. Fraser, Fraser and Prayer, London Missionary Fellowship, 1963, pp.26, 46, 47.

4. Harold Caballeros, “Defeating the Enemy With the Help of Spiritual Mapping,” in Breaking Strongholds in Your City, ed. by C. Peter Wagner, Ventura, CA, Regal Books, 1993, pp. 132-136.

5. John Piper, “Prayer: The power that Wields the Weapon,” Mission Frontiers, June-July 1989, p. 15. 6. John D. Robb, “Prayer as a Strategic Weapon” in Frontier Missions, Jan. 1991, p. 23.

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John Kayser, Ph.D
Bethany International
6820 Auto Club Road Bloomington, MN 55438 USA

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