When it comes to global missions, we Christian Hedonists camp on a couple of incredible texts in the Psalms. There we find a couple of texts that have deeply shaped Pastor John and how he thinks of the church’s mission to the nations. The first one is, of course, an Old Testament prayer for the nations. “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (Psalm 67:3–4). “Let the nations be glad” — that’s our prayer. But we don’t just pray to this end, because the psalmist also delivers a command to the people of God in relationship to the nations. It’s this: “Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Psalm 96:2–3).
So, let the nations be glad as they see our gladness in God. That’s a powerful tandem of texts. The first text became the title of Pastor John’s classic book on missions: Let the Nations Be Glad. And the second text, the command, was Pastor John’s choice text he preached recently at the 2021 Getty Sing conference in Nashville. Here he is explaining the connection between our joy, our singing, and our reach to the nations. He begins with an illustration from his marriage. Have a listen.
When we traveled together, which we did yesterday, coming down here on the plane, and which we’ve done for 52 years together, I have said to her countless times in airports, on elevators, “I’m so glad that you can go with me. It makes me happy that we can do this together.” And do you know that never once, in five decades, has she said, “You are so selfish. It makes you glad that I’m along — makes you happy that we can do this together. You are so selfish. Makes you glad — makes you happy.” Never once has she said that. The reason that this conference exists is found in the answer to the question, Why would she never think to say that? Why would it never enter her mind to say that?
Giving Voice to Gladness
The worth and the glory that we see in others is measured by the gladness that we have in their presence. My pleasure in her presence is a tribute. It’s not selfishness; it’s celebration. My pleasure is a measure of her treasure to me. And so it is with God and worship. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him and his presence as our dearest friend. God has given singing to his people as one of the most precious and powerful expressions of our gladness in his glory.
“God has given singing to his people as one of the most powerful expressions of our gladness in his glory.”
It’s the gladness of Godward singing — especially through suffering, as Joni said last night. We say it again. It’s the gladness of Godward singing, especially through obedient suffering, that makes God’s glory shine most brightly. So, for those two reasons, I’m thankful to be here and that this conference exists.
Now my task, in these last few minutes, is to draw out some of the connections between the gladness of Godward singing and the finishing of the great task, of the Great Commission, to gather God’s elect from all the peoples of the world, or as Isaiah 35:10 says, to see all “the ransomed of the Lord . . . come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon on their heads.” So, I have five connections to draw your attention to. I’ll just point to them, and you can trace them out later, and I’ll give you a scripture for each one.
First, the gladness of Godward singing sends the lovers of Christ to the nations. Psalm 96:2–4: “Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations” — while you’re singing, do that — “his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” How many thousands of missionaries have heard their call in Psalm 96? “Declare his glory among the nations.” Do you hear that? “Declare his glory among the nations.” Sing to the Lord a new song — there, to them.
“The gladness of Godward singing sends the lovers of Christ to the nations.”
Every year at Bethlehem, when I was a pastor there for 33 years, we would have a missions conference, and at the close of the missions conference we gave an invitation to all those who in the conference for the last two Sundays had heard or felt what they sensed to be a compelling leading of the Lord to cross a culture, to take the gospel, spending the rest of their lives to do it. That’s a pretty high standard for an invitation. We would sing. We would stop. There would be no music, and no head bowed, and no eye closed, and I would wait. And Chuck, who helped me with that for so many years, was sitting over there as a precious partner in it, our worship leader.
And they’d come. They’d just get up out of their seats and come — twenty, fifty, one time two hundred. And then we’d get them connected with the nurture program. Then we’d close with a song:
We rest on thee, our Shield and our Defender!
Thine is the battle, thine shall be the praise;
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with thee, through endless days.
That’s the hymn that the five Ecuador martyrs were singing when they were speared to death in 1956. And I believe with all my heart that as they walked to the front, uncertain and struggling, but sensing God’s leading to give their lives to world missions, that call was sealed with that song. Singing sends lovers of Christ to the nations.