The Wells of Salvation and the Work of Missions

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: "Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name; make known his deeds among the nations, proclaim that his name is exalted. "Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.

This is the text about the perseverance and preaching of God-centered missionaries. Another way to put it is to say that the text is about how a missionary can survive and thrive when he or she is called upon to give and give and give; and it is about what a missionary is called by God to give and give and give.

Why should I focus on the perseverance and preaching of God-centered missionaries at a conference where most people are not missionaries? First, because one of the ways God calls people to be missionaries is by showing them a thrilling picture of what the missionary calling is all about-what is it to thrive as a missionary, and what is the great message that we have to tell? And I pray that some of you will hear the Lord's call in what I say tonight.

A second reason is that if I can give you a clear vision of missionary perseverance and missionary preaching from this text, it can have a profound impact on the way you pray for them.

Finally, I focus on HOW a missionary survives and thrives and WHAT a missionary is called to say, because with very few changes, it is the way YOU survive as a Christian in secular America and what YOU are called to say as well. So may the Lord give us all ears to hear what he is saying to ALL of us in this text.

First let's talk about persevering (surviving and thriving)

Verse 3 of Isaiah 12 says, "With joy you will drink water from the wells of salvation." This is the key to perseverance in the missionary life. One of the greatest enemies of missions is the drying up of the missionary. And if missionaries dry up, a lot of people go thirsty. Therefore, I regard it as the highest priority of missionary life that they not dry up, but that every day they drink water from the wells of salvation. An electric cord should stay plugged into the socket; and a hose pipe should stay fastened to the faucet and a tree should stay planted in the ground. And missionaries should drink water at the wells of salvation. Their life depends on it, and their ministry depends on it.

Let's meditate for a few minutes on "the wells of salvation." Sometimes we think of salvation only as that moment when we come to faith in Christ and he saves us once and for all from our sin and guilt. It's not wrong to think about it this way. Paul says, "By grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:8). It is past. It is once and for all.

But that is not all it is. Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, "To us who are being saved the cross is the power of God." We are being saved. Salvation is a present work of God in our lives. It is going on now, not just in the past.

And then Paul says in Romans 13:11, "Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed." In other words, salvation is still in the future. We don't have it all yet. So it is past (we have been saved) and it is a present process (we are being saved) and it is future (it is nearer now than when we first believed).

Many wells, not one well

This is important for understanding the wells of salvation. If we didn't understand this, we might stumble over the fact that the word is plural. Isaiah says, "You will draw water from the wells of salvation" (not the well). If you are crossing a desert or passing through a wilderness, it won't do to have a well at the beginning and a well at the end—a well in Egypt and a well in the Promised Land. There have to be wells along the way; otherwise, you will drop dead of thirst in the sand. The wells of salvation are plural. They are as many as your days, and they are located everywhere you go.

How can we say this? The reason for this is wonderfully simple and deep. God is your salvation. And your wells are the places and the times when you come to him. And there is no place and no time when he is not ready to meet you.

This is what Isaiah 12:2 says, "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation." God is your salvation, and the wells of salvation are the places and the times you draw near to God and drink from the springs of his truth and power and love and glory. So there are as many wells in the missionary wilderness as there are acts of willingness to seek God.

Salvation is not just past and not just future. Salvation is also God's appointed path of oases through the wilderness from the salvation of escape from Egypt to the salvation of entrance into the Promised Land. If you make it your first priority to drink from the wells of salvation every day, you will never lose your way in the wilderness. God guides us by the wells of salvation.

Wells, not bowls or buckets

And not only are there enough of them all along the way, but they will always have enough water to meet your need—indeed, way beyond your need. If Isaiah had said, "You will draw water from the bowls of salvation, or from the buckets of salvation, we might wonder if they would be drunk dry. Would there be enough? But wells aren't like that. A well is self-replenishing. You draw bucket after bucket and there is still more water.

That's the way the wells of salvation are, because that's the way God is. God is inexhaustible. And so the source of refreshment in missionary life, the source of persevering grace that enables you to give and give and give, will never run dry. The wells of salvation are deep enough and numerous enough to sustain you in ministry all the way through the wilderness.

The pathway of the wells may lead to Ethiopia or China or Argentina or Papua New Guinea or Tunisia, but we may be of good cheer because there are as many wells in Addis Ababa and Beijing and Buenos Aires and Port Morsbey and Tunis as there are in Fergus Falls or Minneapolis. So be encouraged, wherever God calls you, he digs wells for you. He is your salvation, and he will be with you to the end of the age.

Now let's turn to the preaching of the missionary

I should tell you that this text took hold of me last summer because it describes a wonderful experience that has come true again and again in my ministry.

What happens when you go to the wells of salvation tired and thirsty and even desperate at times? What happens when you draw up the cool water and put your face in it? My answer is that before I take my face out of the water I have begun to preach.

What I mean is this: When I bow down before the Word of God and seek to get myself encouraged and refreshed and strengthened, God often opens wonderful truth to me. He gives me some new insight or some fresh angle on his glory or some deeper grasp of an old truth, and without my even realizing it, I find myself packaging this treasure to share with someone else.

I don't come to the well seeking sermons and lessons. I come seeking life and hope and joy and strength and wisdom to solve my problems. But there is something about this living water that as soon as it begins to meet my need, I feel like it would probably meet lots of people's needs, and before I know it, I am putting a sermon together in my mind.

Now I used to think that was just me, but then I saw it in this text. Verses 3 and 4 say, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day ..." Do you see it? When you draw up the water and drink, YOU WILL SAY - you will begin to SPEAK! There is something about this water that makes you a minister of the Word. "You will draw water from the wells of salvation; and you will SAY ..."

One evidence of God's call in your life—his call to minister the Word—is that this happens when you meditate on the Bible. I don't mean that you should go to the wells of salvation for primarily sermons or lessons. We ought to go every day for refreshment and strength and hope and joy and sustaining grace—that is what I meant by the key to perseverance and surviving and thriving. But when God himself begins to turn personal refreshment into preaching, you need to understand what he is doing in your life.

Notice three things:

1) First, the preaching that springs up from drinking at the wells of salvation is missionary preaching.

Verse 3: "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in the day: "Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples."

There is something deeply wrong when a person drinks at the wells of salvation for himself day in and day out and never feels an impulse to make known the deeds of God among the peoples of the earth.

We can be more precise about the kind of missionary preaching caused by drinking deeply at the wells of salvation. We can say that it is mobilization preaching. That is, it is a preaching that calls us to make known the deeds of God to others. "Make known his deeds among the peoples," is not only what the missionary says, but what the missionary-mobilizer says. And that can be any of us-may it be more and more of us!

The second thing we can say about the kind of missionary preaching that comes from drinking deeply at the wells of salvation is that it focuses on peoples. "Make known his deeds among the peoples."

This has been a revolutionary discovery in my own missions thinking in recent years—learning that the goal of the great commission is to reach peoples, not every individual necessarily, but every people.

For example, Revelation 5:9-10 states, "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God."

Or Matthew 24:14, "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations [not states but peoples, like the Sioux and Cherokee nation]; and then the end will come."

So the Great Commission is finishable.

There are about 12,000 unreached peoples, according to Ralph Winter, or far fewer if you use the definitions of Patrick Johnstone or David Barrett. And one of the most remarkably encouraging statistics is the ratio between still unreached peoples and members of Christian congregations in the world that can team up to reach them.

Year A.D.

Non Christians per Believer

Unreached People Groups

Congregations per unreached people group

100

360 to 1

60,000

1 to 12

1000

220 to 1

50,000

1 to 5

1500

69 to 1

44,000

1 to 1

1900

27 to 1

40,000

10 to 1

1950

11 to 1

17,000

162 to 1

1980

7 to 1

12,000

583 to 1

Yet only 10 percent of the missionary force is focused on these unreached people groups. So we need to take heed to what Isaiah says here. When we drink from the wells of salvation we will say not simply, "Make known his deeds to individuals," but "Make known his deeds among the peoples." Finish the Great Commission. Reach every unreached people group.

2) Second, the preaching that springs up from drinking at the wells of salvation is God-exalting preaching.

Those who drink will say (according to verse 4) in that day: "Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted."

Remember you are drinking at the wells of salvation, and remember: God is our salvation. Therefore, what you are drinking in when you go to the wells of salvation is God. Whether we go to the well for strength of hope or peace or comfort or joy or cleansing, what we are really going for is God! If we know what we really need we talk like David in Psalm 42: "As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God."

And when we discover at the well of salvation that all we need and all we want is God, then something happens to our preaching—to our missionary message. We find a voice in our soul crying again and again, "Proclaim that his name is exalted. Proclaim that his name is exalted." If he is our vision and our portion and our treasure and our refuge and our truth and hope and joy when we drink at the well of salvation, then it is inevitable that when we open our mouths to preach we will say again and again, "Be exalted, O God! Be exalted, O God! Exalt the Lord, O you his people! Exalt the Lord, O you peoples of the earth!"

There is a very profound truth here. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Drinking at the wells of salvation in search of our own satisfaction in God produces God-exalting preaching. And that leads to the final point.

3) Third, the preaching that springs up from drinking at the wells of salvation is worship-producing preaching.

When you drink, Isaiah says (in verse 5) you will say, "Sing praises to the Lord." In other words, you will not be content to make God known. You will not be content to tell people about him. Your aim will be to fill people with a song. You will call on them not just to know him but to sing to him, to praise him. You will want people to feel something, not just know something.

Why? Because this is what you go to the well of salvation for again and again. Your heart for God is dying of thirst and you need a long drink from the well of salvation. The reason drinking at the well of salvation produces a passion to get others to praise God is because this is what we find at the well.

We don't come to the well merely to analyze the water or discuss the water or memorize the water. We come mainly to taste the water. We come not just because we know the water is good for us; we come because we love the water, we crave the water, we enjoy the water, we savor the water.

Therefore, the message we find welling up in us is not some impersonal, neutral, dispassionate lecture on a religious topic. The preaching is a passionate longing for others to taste and see that the Lord is good and then love him and crave him and delight in him and savor him-and then with utter reality praise with all their hearts.

Let me close with this point: Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church; worship is. Missions exist because somewhere true worship doesn't. Missions is a means to creating worship in the hearts of those who have never drunk from the wells of salvation. The father is seeking people to worship him in spirit and in truth. This is the ultimate meaning of missions—to bring about Christ-exalting worship in all the peoples of the world.

But the source of all our perseverance and all our preaching and all our worship is the wells of salvation. The wonder of this water is that it makes you a preacher, a messenger with a missionary passion to see God exalted and to hear the praises of his name from all the peoples. So I encourage every one of you to drink deep and to drink every day. Keep on drinking. Keep on drinking.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org