Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Joshua from Fort Collins, Colorado asks, “Pastor John, where did you get your foundations for such a global vision of ministry and missions?”

Edwards’ Theology and a Father’s Prayers

My father’s prayers when I was a little boy were laden with the glory of God. And I give thanks to my dad to this day, or thanks to God for him to this day. His life was a witness to the nature of the universe as the fallen creation of God in desperate need of rescue by the gospel. In other words, I grew up in a home with big things going on. You know, the home was not about the latest TV show. It wasn’t about the latest political shenanigans. It was about the latest rescue from hell for heaven for a glorious God who made the universe, who exists for his glory, and so I absorbed these things when I was little.

“Edwards just blew up my view of God to its proportions where it belongs and ironically brought the world to its appropriate tiny size.”

And then Jonathan Edwards’ book comes in my twenties: The End for Which God Created the World. Oh, man, that book just simply blew me away with the God-centeredness of God’s purpose in this universe. So from creation on, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:6–7). And then I began to see it everywhere from eternity to the second coming:

  • Ephesians 1:6 — We are predestined to the praise of his glory.

  • And the incarnation in John 12:27–28 — “For this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

  • Or the propitiation on the cross in Romans 3:25 — “This was to show God’s righteousness.”

  • Or the giving of the Holy Spirit — Jesus said, “He will glorify me” (John 15:26).

  • Or the living of the Christian life — “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father” (Matthew 5:16).

  • Or dying in this world in Philippians 1:21 — I want my Christ to be magnified in my body when I die.

  • Or the second coming of Christ — “When he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10).

So, all over the Bible I just began to see it after reading Edwards that God is God-centered. God does everything for the glory of God from eternity to eternity. In the new heavens and the new earth, God himself is going to be the Sun, and the Lamb will be the lamp.

Edwards just blew up my view of God to its proportions where it belongs and ironically brought the world to its appropriate tiny size: “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15). So the key to a global vision of Christianity is not to think much about Christianity, but to think much about God.

All the Ends of the Earth

And then came the connection between God’s passion for his glory and the nations and my Christian hedonism. Back in 1983, I was preaching the series of messages that became Desiring God, and the church asked me to preach the message on missions for the first time. I had been there three years. I had never preached on missions. Shame on me. I took the challenge. I called the message, “Missions: The Battle Cry of Christian Hedonism.” And everything came together at that moment between God’s pursuit of his own glory and my pursuit of my joy — God’s pursuit of the nations and how that would be the capstone to have all the nations worshipping him and all the nations satisfied in him.

And for the next ten years then, from 1983 to 1993, I just threw myself into working out the global dimensions of this. And finally, in 1993, we published the book Let the Nations be Glad. And what I saw in that process was that there was a primal aim in choosing Israel that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). And then there were promises all over the Psalms and all over the Prophets: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before [the Lord]” (Psalm 22:27).

And then there was the accomplishment of that on the cross where Jesus ransoms people for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). And then we get our marching orders after the cross: Go with all authority. Make disciples of all the nations (see Matthew 28:18–19). And then we get a rock-solid promise from Jesus that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

God’s Global Purpose

So it seems to me that unless or until your life is grafted into this global purpose of God to be glorified through the worship of all the peoples, you are missing one great, joyful reason for your existence. This is not just for an elite group of frontline missionaries. This is for every Christian to be linked into in one way or another and to be drawing strength from and pouring prayers and money and time and effort and love into. So very practically, Tony, I would say to those folks who care about this or need to care about this: Get a copy of Patrick Johnstone’s The Church is Bigger Than You Think, and let your vision just be blown wide open. That book just blew me away a few years ago when I read it, and I think it is still in print. And get a copy of Jason Mandrick’s Operation World, and begin to pray through all the nations of the world.

I prayed for Nepal this morning as I worked my way through this and saw the stunning work of God that he did. I think there were about twenty Christians in Nepal back in the early sixties and today there are over 800,000 Christians in Nepal under this Maoist kind of government. God is doing stunning things in the world, so add that to all the theological foundations.

Battle Cry of Christian Hedonism

You can listen to that original sermon recorded on November 13, 1983, under the title “Missions: The Battle Cry of Christian Hedonism.” To close out this episode, here’s a short clip from that message:

“I appeal to you to give up all your tattered, store-bought clothes in order to clothe yourself with the royal robes of the ambassador of the King.”

Missionaries are not heroes who can boast in great sacrifices for God. They are the true Christian hedonists. They are the ones who know that the battle cry of Christian hedonism is missions! They are the ones who have discovered the simple truth that there is one hundred times more joy, one hundred times more satisfaction in leaving home for Christ and the gospel than a life devoted to security, comfort, and worldly advancements. I do not appeal to you this morning to screw up your courage and make any sacrifice for Jesus Christ. I had enough of that preaching when I was young that constantly said, “Do God’s will, not your will,” and never told me that my will might be thrilled to obey God, which it is today.

I appeal to you to renounce everything in order to have the Pearl of pearls. I appeal to you to count everything as rubbish for the surpassing value of standing in the service of the King of kings. I appeal to you to give up all your tattered, store-bought clothes in order to clothe yourself with the royal robes of the ambassador of the King.