The Strange Chap and his Need for Prayer
James Fraser was once described as “a strange chap who lives up in the mountains doing a kind of lone missionary work. No one seems to know much about him.” (p73)
James Fraser – as described in “Mountain Rain: A biography of James O. Fraser, pioneer missionary to China” – was many things, but in order to know him one thing you must come to terms with was his utter dependence upon prayer. One thing Fraser came to realise in his life was that prayer is the most essential need. In all of his missional work, the one great note he struck over and over again is that prayer is the most fundamental need.
“I am feeling more and more that it is, after all, the prayers of God’s people that call down blessing upon the work, whether they are directly engaged in or not. Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God who gives the increase; and this increase can be brought down from Heaven by believing prayer, whether offered in China or England. We are, as it were, God’s agents – used by Him to do His work, not ours. We do our part, and then can only look to Him, with others, for His blessing. If this is so, then Christians at home can do as much for foreign missions as those on the field. I believe it will only be known on the Last Day how much has been accomplished in mission work by the prayers of earnest believers at home. And this, surely, is the heart of the problem. Such work does not consist in curio exhibitions, showing slides, interesting reports and so on. Good as they may be, these are only the fringe, not the root of the matter. Solid, lasting missionary work is done on our knees. What I covet more than anything else is earnest believing prayer for me and the work here in Tengyueh.” (35-36)
Fraser's great realisation that prayer was the essential missionary work was the defining mark of his ministry. His ministry lasted for some three decades and the fruit was immense. An entire area of China experienced a great outpouring of God’s salvation because of his tireless work, but most importantly because of his commitment to pray.
This commitment expressed itself in a variety of ways.
Firstly, he committed himself to pray. Throughout his life, his standard response was to pray. In the face of despair, spiritual attack, depression, suicidal thoughts, exhaustion, defeat, he would withdraw by himself for long periods of sustained prayer. He saw his master Jesus withdrawing to pray in the wilderness, so he patterned himself in the same way. When the Devil tempted him to give up he would, at times, withdraw for anywhere from three hours to three days to be alone with his God.
Secondly, he sought to establish prayer support at home. His one request to his mother, over and over again, was to raise prayer support for the blessing of God upon himself and the work he was doing. He believed that China would only be conquered through prayer. As quoted earlier, real missionary work was accomplished on one's knees. Eventually, his mother had gathered a dozen or so faithful believers who would gather together every week to cry out to God with all their might for the blessing of God.
Thirdly, he sought to establish prayer everywhere he went. He believed that it was fundamental to get the new believers to pray. He converted the people and then sort to get them praying. Not because prayer is what Christians do, but because prayer was essential if
the gospel was to succeed.
Often in our Grace churches, we talk about the need for prayer, we speak about its importance. But do we honestly believe that it is the most fundamental task that is needed for our success? We often hear the difficulties facing our churches, we lack resources, we lack man and woman power, we aren’t outward focusing, we don’t have discipleship programs, etc., etc. Yet many times we have failed to pray. Can we really expect the outpouring of God’s blessing upon a prayerless church and people? James O. Fraser would say no.
“Just as a plant may die for lack of watering, so may a genuine work of God die and rot from lack of prayer. One might compare heathenism with a great mountain threatening to crush the infant church, or a great pool of stagnant water always threatening to quench the flames of the Holy Ghost’s life and power in the native churches, and only kept dammed up by the power of God. God is able to do this and much more, but He will not do it, if all we out here and you at home sit in our easy chairs with our arms folded. Why prayer is so indispensable we cannot just say, but we had better recognise the fact even if we cannot explain it. Do you believe that the Church of God would be alive today but for the high-priestly intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ on the throne? I do not: I believe it would have been dead and buried long ago. Viewing the Bible as a record of God’s work on this earth, I believe that it gives a clear, ringing message to His people - from Genesis to Revelation - YOU DO YOUR PART.” (p167)
Excerpts from Eileen Crossman, “Mountain Rain: a biography of James O. Fraser, pioneer missionary to China.”