I used to think [he continued] that prayer should have the first place and teaching the second. I now feel it would be truer to give prayer the first, second and third place, and teaching the fourth.
For these people out here are not only ignorant and superstitious. They have a heathen atmosphere all about them. One can actually feel it. We are not dealing with an enemy that fires at the head only-i.e., keeps the mind only in ignorance. This enemy uses GAS ATTACKS which wrap the people round with deadly effect, and yet are impalpable, elusive. What would you think of the folly of the soldier who fired a gun into the gas, to kill it or drive it back? Nor would it be any more avail to teach or preach to the Lisu here, while they are held back by these invisible forces. Poisonous gas cannot be dispersed, I suppose, in any other way than the wind springing up and dispersing it. MAN is powerless.
For the breath of God can blow away all those miasmic vapors from the atmosphere of 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 this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies” (Ephesians 6:12).
I believe that a work of God sometimes goes on behind a particular man or family, village or district, before the knowledge of the truth ever reaches them. It is a silent, unsuspected work, not in mind or heart, but in the unseen realm behind these. Then, when the light of the gospel is brought, there is no difficulty, no conflict. It is, then, simply a case of “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.”
This should give us confidence [he urged] in praying intelligently for those who are far from the gospel light. The longer the preparation, the deeper the work. The deeper the root, the firmer the plant when once it springs above ground. I do not believe that any deep work of God takes root without long preparation somewhere.
On the human side, evangelistic work on the mission field is like a man going about in a dark, damp valley with a lighted match in his hand, seeking to ignite anything ignitable. But things are damp through and through, and will not burn however much he tries. In other cases, God’s wind and sunshine have prepared beforehand. The valley is dry in places, and when the lighted match is applied – here a shrub, there a tree, here a few sticks, there a heap of leaves take fire and give light and warmth long after the kindling match and its bearer have passed on. This is what God wants to see: little patches of fire burning all over the world.