God’s Call to Leave This American Mess

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

What does the present political climate in America have to do with world evangelization?

Recently I preached a message on the Great Commission as part of the annual missions focus at Bethlehem Baptist Church. During the first service Sunday morning, I said something in particular that I had not said in the other two services. I regularly pray, when I preach, that the Holy Spirit will bring things to my mind that may not be in the sermon notes, but may be powerfully appointed for someone in the audience. This is one way I think about the gift of prophecy.

“God has used messes and stresses before to move his people out of their comforts into missions.”

I was acknowledging that leaving America, with all its comforts and securities, may be hard for some of you who are being called by God to be part of the thousands who will teach the nations to observe “all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Then, quite outside my notes, I said, “But then again, some of you may be looking for a reason to leave America, the mess is so great.” I smiled. People laughed.

At that point, instead of returning to my notes, I felt impelled to press in on that, and what came to my mind was that God has used messes and stresses before to move his people out of their comforts into missions. I mentioned the situation in Acts 8.

Really Bad at Home

Jesus had told the apostles in Acts 1:8, just before he ascended to heaven, that he was going to send the Holy Spirit to empower them to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

But so far as we see in the book of Acts, no one had budged out of Jerusalem by the beginning of chapter 8 — let alone made their way to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

What was God’s way of getting his people moving out of their homeland into world missions? Answer: It got really bad at home.

Stephen was one of the greatest spokesmen for the Christian faith in Jerusalem. The leaders “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). So, they killed him.

The result?

There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. . . . Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 8:1, 4)

Thus the global mission of the Christian church was launched. It had to get so dangerous at home that Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth finally looked feasible.

That’s what I said in the first service at Bethlehem and then returned to my notes.

Disillusioned About America

Whether that was a word of “prophecy” for a particular person in that service, I am not sure. But I write about it here because I believe it is so relevant to this moment in our history, as thousands of young people wonder about the future of America. Many voting-age young people are disillusioned and perplexed about this country’s political climate. There are no heroes. No great statesmen. No champions of a vision worth living and dying for.

“God has a great calling for his people in this very messy, muddy, demoralizing moment of American history.”

What God showed me in that moment is that he has a great calling for his people in this very moment of American history — this very messy, muddy, demoralizing moment. His calling is that we lift up our eyes.

First, lift them up to his triumphant, all-commanding smile as he says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

Then, lift them up far beyond the little scope of American politics to all the nations and all the peoples of the world, and look with joy at the all-authoritative promise:

      All the ends of the earth shall remember  
            and turn to the Lord,   
      and all the families of the nations  
            shall worship before you.   
      For kingship belongs to the Lord,  
            and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27–28)

Then, lift them up above the pathetic inability of political figures to answer straightforward questions. Lift them up against the incapacity of politicians who will not let their “Yes” be “Yes” and their “No” be “No.”

Let your eyes land on the crystal clear, uncompromising, unchanging command: “Go, in my complete authority, to make disciples of all the peoples of the world. Bring them to faith. Baptize them. Teach them to live in accord with everything I taught you. I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Moment for Missions

Every moment is a moment for world missions. Because Jesus reigns at every moment. And his commission stands at every moment. But some moments are like a thunderclap of awakening to reality. America is not our home. Political power is not our strategy. Privilege and political freedom in this age is not the birthright of the new birth. “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

If God must wake us up by means of disillusioning developments at “home,” it may or may not mean that there is a bright future for America. But it certainly means this: God has far greater purposes for the worship of his Son, Jesus Christ, among the nations of this world than can be hindered by anything that happens in America.

Indeed. Not only will our mess not hinder his mission. I am calling thousands of Jesus’s followers to hear in it a call to the nations, just like the believers in Acts 8 saw God’s hand in the catastrophe in Jerusalem. They didn’t just leave. They left on mission. “Those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

Lift Up Your Eyes

If this sounds like a call to abandon a sinking ship, consider this:

1. There are thousands of other ships (peoples) whose sinking condition is a thousand times more dire than America’s. Many of them have no access to the truth that millions in America hear and squander.

2. God knows exactly who should stay and who should go. All the inertia is for staying. I am lifting my voice for going. There is not one chance in a million that too many will go. I hope you will be one of them.

3. God’s method of making America well may be utterly different from the calculations which prioritize staying over going. Giving, losing, dying, and leaving are his way of getting, gaining, living, and arriving home. My own guess would be that if America gave 100,000 twenty-somethings and seventy-somethings (and a few in between) to the unreached peoples, God would rise up and clean this house.

“If America gave 100,000 twenty-somethings to the unreached peoples, God would rise up and clean this house.”

For my own part, there are few moments when I feel more alive than when I am working for the cause of world missions. Preaching during Bethlehem’s missions focus was a huge privilege. Being a part of founding the CROSS student missions conference is one of the greatest privileges of my life. Writing this article makes my spine tingle with expectation and hope.

If you are discouraged, personally or politically, join me in lifting up your eyes. Christ has all authority over the world. His mission will be finished. Join him in it. Light will dawn in your heart.