How the Rhythm of Prayer Fine-Tunes Ministry
Editor’s Note: Cortina Orr passed away in early May as we were going to press. Our deepest condolences to Dr. Orr and his family.
In 1983 our first assignment as missionaries led us to the inner city of Washington, DC. For a newly married couple, it was not an easy thing to do. Almost immediately after arriving, it seemed as if we struggled in so many ways. Strained relationships between missionaries and our new roles as newlyweds proved difficult. We worked hard in the ministry but seemed to spin our wheels, unable to see the kind of results we wanted. Grappling with relationships, unable to see any difference, we often faced discouragement and, over time, we grew weary.
After three years, we moved to Dallas so I could study at DTS. While living there, my wife, Cortina, and I attended a church that focused on grace. We needed a church like this, especially since we had grown discouraged from all the struggles we faced in DC. We contemplated that perhaps our missionary career needed to come to an end. We considered starting over—looking for something else to do. In this church, however, we found rest, and this gave us hope. Studying God’s Word in seminary also brought us plenty of blessings, and it helped us to grow in our walk with the Lord.
A New Requirement
After graduating from DTS, we wanted to go back to work. As we packed our bags for Kenya, we received an email from one of our supporting churches notifying us of a new way of ministry for all of their missionaries. The pastor wanted to bring all the small groups in the church and the missionaries in the field closer together through prayer.
“Oh no, not another requirement!”
We had no choice. For us to keep receiving support from the church, we needed to fulfill this new requirement. Needless to say, the church got our immediate attention.
Right away we had to send out a prayer request list for every day of the month. In return, members of the church would volunteer to pray daily for those of us who served in the mission field. The “assignment” brought the church and missionaries into one dynamic unit for kingdom-building. It seemed like a good idea. Yet, we wondered where we would find the time to write out and send these lists every month. We took a risk. At that time about fifty percent of our supporters had email. We decided to combine our prayer letter with the list in an email.
After a few months of emailing, we saw changes in our ministry. The struggles with relationships we had dealt with in the past faded away. The results we saw in our work encouraged us. We had taken a breath of fresh air—our ministry had now shifted into a new direction. By the end of the first year, our attitude toward making our monthly list had changed. We made communicating our prayer needs with our support team one of our highest priorities.
The military teaches that to hinder an enemy, one must cut off its lines of communication to prevent them from resupplying. This makes them easier to defeat. We often saw this kind of spiritual battle occur when the time came to email our prayer list. The devil knew our effectiveness in ministry depended on those who prayed for us. And of course, he had to try to stop this vital flow of resources. So we prayed, and so did our church.
With email, we found we could send emergency prayer requests to our prayer team so they could pray right away. We saw results sometimes before the end of the day, which thrilled both our prayer team and us. Those involved in our ministry enjoyed having a vital part in what we did in ministry. We worked as a team ministering in sync with each other, led by the Spirit.
Over time, others apart from our church joined our prayer support. People got excited about starting prayer teams in their churches as well. Other missionaries heard about our ministry and answered prayers. They wanted to have a prayer team like ours as well. God moved people.
We also saw him move in our ministry effectiveness. We know having people pray for us created the turning point in our missionary career. We saw a marked change in our walk with God and our family and missionary relationships grew. After thirty-four years of working in missions, the excitement of serving God and serving others has remained. Once strained relationships evolved into the best part of working for God’s glory. We’re not afraid to trust God because we know he has our best interest at heart.
And guess what? Since 1990, we have tabulated our answers to prayer. We know God answers all prayers in different ways. Sometimes he says “yes,” sometimes he says “no,” and sometimes he says “wait.” We only keep track of the “yes” answers since we prefer to hear them more than any other answer. They make us want to praise God even more than when he says “no” or “wait.”
Over the past twenty-seven years, we have averaged fifteen answers to prayer each month. That comes to about 4,800 answered prayers. What does this do to us to see God’s hand in what we do? It gives us confidence that God listens. It motivates us to continue to talk to him and it causes our faith to grow. It deepens our intimacy with the one who remains a faithful friend.
We’ve seen him do miracle after miracle—almost on a daily basis—for many years. For this, we have cause for praise and worship. He takes care of everything. And we know there’s much more he wants to do to help us glorify him if we would only ask.
When we face a crisis of financial shortfall, instead of looking for credit cards, we look to him in prayer. In making decisions, instead of running to our friends or relatives for advice, we look to God in prayer. When we face medical difficulties, we seek God’s healing power first and foremost. He remains our ever-present help in time of need (Ps 46:1; Heb 4:16).
We faced the biggest test of our ministry existence in 2014. Cancer. Cortina had taken a routine blood test and the results showed some abnormalities. This required us to get a second test. It confirmed the first. We soon met with a hematologist/oncologist who implemented the process of chemotherapy treatment for multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow.
As soon as we found out, we requested prayers. We asked God to heal Cortina. Thus far, we’ve endured two years of chemo and a bone marrow transplant. Through this, we have grown in our communication with the Lord, and he has strengthened our marriage. Together we can give God the glory for taking us through this harrowing time. His ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8), and we’ve had to learn to accept answered prayers that challenge us and make us both happy and sad, sometimes at the same time.
A Powerful Lesson
Working for God and having people pray for us increases our effectiveness. Our troubles don’t change that. Why waste your time working from dawn till dusk when God can accomplish anything? After all, he has the resources to do everything he has planned. The Lord has filled his people with the Spirit so we can experience joy and happiness in the midst of our work together.
A prayer ministry is not a one-way street of prayer requests coming from the missionary—the worker—to those who pray. Instead, it’s a complete cycle. It’s encouragement from those involved to share their prayer requests with you and each other. It causes people to organize their prayer support team in community.
If you would like God to use you, your example over time will develop into a powerful lesson, especially to those who have prayed for you. It will expand the importance of prayer in the lives of all who partner together as prayer warriors. Everyone will grow in faith together as they share in the work. Sometimes called the reflex action of missions for missionaries, this gives the sending church a whole new perspective of missions. It helps others know their role in God’s plan to send his people to the ends of the earth.
Sustaining a vibrant prayer life requires regular communication. The internet and email are ideal for this. You have to allow those partnering with you see what you do. You can let them know what you need, and how God—through their prayers—makes a difference in your life.
Make spending time with God a priority when you find yourself the busiest. I often teach my students to prioritize their tasks by putting an A on the most important things, a B on the next, and a C on the least. I ask the students, “What consequences will you experience if you skip an A-rated task? What will it cost you if you don’t get this thing done?”
No one wants to fail in ministry. Thus, making prayer a priority by communicating with a prayer support team should come first. Think about it. More than likely, the things I share with my prayer partners will affect my family and vice versa. My family has devotions, and they pray for those who pray for us. Our children see God answer them, and it’s thrilling to witness his hand in the life of those who walk alongside us as we work.
What, then, is the next step after you get a group together to pray for you? Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more. Keep a record of answered prayers. You will grow in your trust in God and each situation of your life—even the hard times. See your prayer ministry as disciplining your team. Encourage others to develop their prayer ministry too. Think about the time wasted in a prayer-less ministry. Prayer is an efficient way to do ministry. It makes sense! It makes a difference. Encourage others to pray in your work, ministry, and church. See if your effectiveness doesn’t increase for the glory of God.
Photography courtesy of JORDAN PARKER (THM, 2016). You can find more about Jordan on Facebook @bytheparkers.
About the Contributors
Rodney H. Orr
Dr. Orr spent his formative years in Ethiopia and Germany. He served with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) for 34 years, 17 of which were overseas. Dr. Orr taught at the Nairobi International School of Theology in Kenya and, serving as executive director, helped build Africa Leadership and Management Academy (ALMA), a graduate school in Zimbabwe. While stateside, his ministry focused on Yale University and United Nations diplomats in New York City. Dr. Orr is married to Enid and they have 10 children and 3 grandchildren.