It is their way of participating in the mission itself without having to be there.
Prayer gives Paul strength. He asks others to pray for him to have strength when he was on a mission. Being on a mission can turn into a very lonely experience. He wanted prayer that he would be strong and lack timidity when it came to spreading the Word in a strange land. In Thessalonians, he writes, "Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you" (II Thessalonians 3:1). Here we see Paul's needs in prayer. He needs protection, comfort and the knowing that he is looked after by those above and below the heavens. There is no doubt that Paul is understood the power of prayer. He knew that he would need it when he was serving in the mission field because so many were not open to the Gospel. Prayer is a form of support as well as a time f communion with God. Paul wanted others to continue in the faith while he was away. He knew that he could trust his brothers and sisters in Christ for prayer and while they were praying, he knew that they would be keeping the lines of communication with God open. Paul also knew the importance of prayer extends far beyond one believer. He knew that prayer moves God and he knew that believers would be empowered by prayer and God. However, he also knew that man if frail and weak and might sometimes need encouragement or inspiration to pray. Prayer can keep people grounded and when believers pray for others, they feel closer to God.
Paul's influence can never be doubted. As a writer in the New Testament, he brings attention to prayer in ways that it has almost been forgotten today. He earnestly prays for others while he is away from them and he expects others to pray for him. Prayer is the thread that connects believes across time and space. He knew the significance of prayer and spoke about it repeatedly. He thanked the Corinthians for helping believers in other cities and towns. He also told Timothy to encouraged believers to do good and to be "rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share" (1 Timothy 6:18). Among these good deeds are prayers. He is not ashamed to ask for prayer in the area of his mission work because it is at the very heart of God. Even in the face of discouragement and stress, prayer was held in high regard. In Corinthians, he writes:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (II Corinthians 1:8-11)
His words echo so much of what mission work is all about. He faces pressure and he suffers to the point of wishing it were all over for him. He does not look upon these things as discouraging as much as he sees them as an opportunity to lean on God. He also sees the hope in prayer in these verses. He will not allow himself or others to forget the favor that prayer has placed upon him and others in the field.
Paul was a man of his words. He lived and breathed his faith and we have his letters to illustrate this. He was a firm believer in the power of prayer and we seldom see him writing without mentioning prayer in one form or another. Paul uses prayer in many ways. He sees it as a way for other to connect to God. Prayer also connects individuals that might be far apart. Paul never wasted an opportunity to tell others that he was praying for them and he often asked for prayer in return. He was aware the power moved God and he was doing God's will and while he was in a foreign land, he needed prayer for many things. The mission needs it for the very basics. Prayer was need for lodging in new locations. Paul asked for prayer regarding the new converts and even for those that might set out to harm him. He needed to be provided for while he was away and only God, through prayer, can do these types of things. While he did ask for prayer for these things, we cannot forget that Paul also needed prayer for him to feel connected to those that are far away. Prayer is a lifeline during tough times or in times of persecution. Paul knew that he would be stronger with prayer and he depended upon it even in his darkest hour. He needed prayer and he was not above asking for it. Paul also knew that prayer increased faith. He knew that when believers would see their prayers answered, they would be encouraged to pray more. Prayer provides hope - for those things that can bee seen and for those things that cannot be seen. Paul knew that if he asked other believers to pray for him, they would see their prayers answered and, as a result, lean more to God because they know he listens and responds to prayer. Nothing like the growth of the church miles away to convince anyone that prayer works. In addition, there is nothing like the life of Paul to illustrate that prayer works.