But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith? (NASU)
We often think of supporting our missionaries by prayer and monetary provision. Certainly, we see examples of that in Paul’s writing. When he wrote to the Philippians in 4:15-17, he spoke of their support in the beginning when no other church was supporting him. They were a great support for his physical needs even when he was in Thessalonica. He rejoiced when they renewed their concern for him, most likely while he was imprisoned. Yet, the support for missionaries he expressed when writing to the Thessalonians is of a different nature.
It is possible to be vitally concerned for missionaries but not have the personal connection that Paul had with the Thessalonians. To be fair, this isn’t the same as when we send missionaries off because Paul had been sent to them. He saw their faith come to life as they were saved. He poured himself into them and they responded. Yet, their longing to see him is the kind of support we can also show to our missionaries. It can’t happen in isolation or by reading their newsletters without responding in some way.
Longing to See Each Other
For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:8 NKJV)
If we are ever going to get to know missionaries enough to have this kind of longing to see each other, it can only happen in two ways. The first is the example of the Thessalonians. They were converted by Paul’s work. They spent time with him and learned from him. In supporting our missionaries, the way to do that would be to work with them while they are with us. In mutual ministry, we can get to know each other and form the bonds of friendship that the hands-off impersonal support doesn’t achieve. When they are sent out to the field, the bond will still be there.
The other way is to go to where they are. We often question the effectiveness of short-term mission trips. What can a group of people do that really makes a difference in another culture? Can they effectively evangelize? If the goal is to win people to Christ, they may have some effect. If their goal is to make disciples, they are most likely less effective. But if their goal is to support and encourage the missionaries they are working with, then they may be more effective than we will ever understand. The desire to see each other again will be strong and the encouragement will be greater.
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.” (John 8:31 NLT)
Jesus made it clear that remaining faithful to His teaching was a mark of a true disciple. I believe most missionaries have a goal of making disciples and not just converts. Hopefully, they all share Paul’s attitude that their life purpose is accomplished when they see their disciples standing firm in the faith. I’m not sure that this is the attitude of many people in our churches. I’ve seen some people latch on to a great ministry concept, one in which a certain segment of the church is encouraged, is evangelistic, and disciple building. Once they have the project up and running, they depart to start up another project that “the Lord has laid on their hearts.” While they work diligently on the new project, the old one falls apart and eventually is left by the wayside.
What’s the problem? If Paul is setting an example, then there are two problems. The first is that they didn’t develop true disciples dedicated to the ministry who would stand firm and carry on when they moved on. The second is that they didn’t show concern for the ministry after they left. They didn’t follow up by sending a Timothy (or themselves) back to make sure the problems the ministry faced were being handled appropriately. They have a great ability to look forward, establish goals, and start ministry but they don’t apparently have the ability to look back and get the joy of living in the fact that their disciples are standing firm. Let’s encourage our missionaries not to move on too quickly until their disciples can stand firm.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. (Rom 1:9-10 RSV)
Prayer support for missionaries is absolutely vital. Without prayer, there would never be any effective missionaries. They would be like King Asa, “And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians” (2 Chron 16:12 NASB). Asa had two years of misery then died. Their ministry, done in their own efforts instead of seeking the Lord, will die.
However, there is an overlooked aspect of prayer support for missionaries that Paul expressed when writing to the Romans and the Thessalonians. The prayer is to see each other again. Have you ever prayed that you could go to some missionaries and see them face to face? In John Ortberg’s book, he tells of a man, Bob, who was challenged by Doug Coe to pray for Kenya every day for six months. If nothing extraordinary happened, Doug would pay Bob six hundred dollars. He didn’t know anyone there and after a while, he met a woman who helped an orphanage in Kenya. He went to Kenya and extraordinary things happened. After reading that, I began to pray more earnestly for Pakistan, knowing I would never go there. I was wrong. After nearly a year of prayer, in 2011, I was able to visit Saul, a young man who had established a Christian school in his hometown along with other ministries. They are still going strong and it would be great to see them again. Be careful how you pray. God may answer in extraordinary ways.
Lacking in Faith
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col 1:28 ESV)
Missionary support works in many ways. Missionaries are working to “complete what is lacking” (1 Thess 3:10) in the lives of those whom they serve. Their goal is to “present everyone mature in Christ.” However, is it possible that all missionaries have the same amount of faith or maturity? Of course not. If that were so, we wouldn’t see failures on the field due to immorality or other sinful misbehavior. We often expect them to be the epitome of spiritual fortitude. Some of them are. They have insight into God’s Word and have applied it to their own lives. However, there is always room for growth. None of us will be completely mature until we reach heaven, but we continue to press on to know what it means to be mature in Christ as even Paul did (Phil 3:12-16). This is what we must all do and we must encourage and help missionaries grow in their faith as well. Paul’s admonition in Colossians 1:28 is for us to warn everyone, teach everyone so everyone will be mature in Christ. That includes our missionaries, people we disciple, and ourselves.
 John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk On Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 91-93.