God, Psychology, and Christian Care of the Soul — Greg Livingstone

Desiring God 2001 Conference for Pastors

God, Psychology, and Christian Care of the Soul

Don’t you hate it when people give an incomplete introduction? That one was really incomplete. I’d like to finish it if I may. Greg Livingstone is miserable, blind, naked, and a first-class jerk, and God still loves him and uses him despite himself.

God’s Sovereign and Surprising Choice

I want to make a connection between what we’ve been reflecting on. When God wanted a missionary, he looked down on Boston in 1939, he saw a Jewish Harvard student who got a nightclub singer pregnant and neither one of them, of course, wanted the baby, but abortion was not so available in those days. And they didn’t know that God said, “Before you were conceived, I knew you. Before you came out of your mother’s womb, I set you apart as a prophet to the nations.” There’s no such thing as an unwanted baby by the Father who counts. You think about that if you have any complexes about your birth and circumstance.

I grew up in five foster homes back and forth with my mother who I can never remember hugging me. According to the psychobabble of today, I should be such a mess that I couldn’t do a thing for anybody. But I’m so glad, Pastor John, that I didn’t know you couldn’t serve the Lord if you were from a dysfunctional family, child of an alcoholic, and all that thing. I thought you were supposed to just get on and do what the Lord tells you.

But we don’t recover immediately on the day of redemption, do we? And therefore, I’ve learned what it means to mourn, to mourn how I failed in many ways, to live with my precious wife, Sally, in an understanding way. How I got deceived and turned my face away from Scripture for a few years, just enough to get conned by the world’s psychobabble. I’m so glad that God’s bringing us back to what Brother Powlison is saying. We’ve really been conned. Don’t let it happen to you.

I mourn how I failed to draw out from my first two sons who were born in India and Germany. Our third son was born in Lebanon. I didn’t draw out what they were struggling with. Because they were obedient and they were compliant. You would’ve said they were perfect. Watch out for that with your children. I didn’t disciple them well, but I thank God the story is not over. I’m very, very thankful that our faithful father has enabled me to keep my hand on the plow all these years. And I want to tell you about his secret on how he does that. He puts Nathans in your life who tell you that you stink when you stink.

If you want the secret of getting to the finish line besides being in love with the Lord and having the fear of God deep in your heart because you’re going to meet him one of these days face to face, the rest of the secret is be sure you invite some Nathans into your life who tell you when you’re a jerk and when you’re not scriptural and when you’ve gone over the line and when you need to repent. I still thank God that he’s surrounded me with such Nathans and therefore, I’m still able to run the race. Hallelujah.

Now, I’m also a man under authority and I have these instructions, so don’t blame me for what you’re going to get. I got these instructions from Bishop Piper. He said, “My idea is that the missions speaker, you, would close out the conference with a radical, crazy, in-your-face call for all of us mentally unstable, emotionally vulnerable Americans, to leave home and go to the unreached or spend our wavering energies to get others to go. That is, I would hope that we will all be left at the end of the conference with a sense that the reason to get our people emotionally healthy is so that they go out and do something radical and worthwhile with their lives for the sake of the nations. Do your juices start to flow with what God might do for 900 pastors as you take them by the collar and say, ‘All authority in heaven belongs to King Jesus, so, go.’” That’s the instructions. So, don’t blame me.

The Legacy of Francis Xavier

My title is “Give Up Your Small Ambitions.” We better give credit to where credit is due. It comes from the appeal of a pioneer missionary to India, Japan, and China, about 200 years before John Newton. Francis Xavier was born in 1506 into a Spanish noble home and grew up living in a castle in the Basque countryside. As a youth, he attended university and while there became a Jesuit. This decision meant taking the vow of poverty and celibacy and dedicating himself wholly to spreading the Christian faith. In the Jesuit order, he would serve later as the director of missions in India, China, and Japan. And these places were just totally closed. During his missionary career, which only lasted 10 years till he died, he declared, “I want to be where there are out-and-out pagans.” It seemed to him that any aspiration for a Christian that did not include an intensity for declaring the faith to those beyond the fold of the church was a very small ambition indeed.

So this university graduate and scholar himself wrote from Asia. When he was frustrated over the lack of qualified workers, he said, “Often I have a mind to go to your universities back in Europe and shout aloud like a man who’s lost his senses. Above all, I want to go to the University of Paris and tell them in the Sorbonne that they have more learning than will and they need to make use of it. How many souls through their negligence, he wasn’t very reformed, failed to go to glory and are going to hell?”

He lamented the fact that many theology students were wrapped up in dreams of a cozy parish, a stable salary, and a secure life. This is the 1500s. H’s speaking about those back home:

They fear that God’s will may not be their will and they refuse to leave their calling to him.

If Xavier wanted to go shouting up and down the streets of Paris to tell the students, “Give up your small ambitions and come and preach where Christ is not named,” how much more should we today?

A Great Ambition

Let’s open our Bibles to Romans 15. Some of the modern trendy ideas flying around sound like, “Why don’t you go where the Lord’s working?” Saying it a little more lofty and spiritually, they say, “We want to be doing what the Father is doing.” Boy, how can you be against that? And the implication is you find out where the Lord is working and you go there. Seems a bit strange when compared to Jesus’s commands, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” and, “I am with you always.” Paul seemed to be saying here in Romans 15 that the preaching preceded the harvest, not the other way around. Romans 15:18–24 says:

For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”

This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.

Normally, missionaries love to echo the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Lift up your eyes” (John 4:35). Do you know why the Lord Jesus said lift up your eyes? Because most of the time, we have our eyes where our feet are. Now, I understand that, I had to get three kids through college and pay a mortgage. That’s normal.

But we’re supposed to be supernatural, not normal. I think it’s a terrible thing, Pastor John, that we call the liberals, liberals, they’re not liberal. Let’s call them anti-supernaturalists. That’s what they are. I hope you’re a supernaturalist in practice. I hope you’re still believing that God is so big he can even use the likes of you exceedingly, abundantly beyond all that you could ask or think. Is that the God you’re going home to in your parish? Lift up your eyes. Look on the fields.

I think it was John Mott who said, “Every mature Christian should know everything there is to know about some place or people group and something about every place or people group.” How are you doing? Do you know where Timbuktu is? We’ve got a missionary here from Timbuktu. If you find him, he’ll tell you where it is, and about the work of the Evangelical Baptist there, which is just thrilling.

The Last Words of Paul

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). But I want to focus this morning not on the last words of the Lord Jesus that he left ringing in the ears of his disciples but on the last words of the Apostle Paul, you’ll turn with me to 2 Timothy. Now, you all know that Paul was always getting himself arrested. Prison was normal Christian life. I don’t know why people are afraid of prison. If he hadn’t gone to prison, you wouldn’t have the prison epistles. Everywhere the church was started in history, there was suffering. There was suffering. That’s why John is trying to get us to have a theology of suffering.

Do you know that 200 men were executed in getting this Bible into English? You are going to meet those 200 men someday who gave their lives so that you could have the Bible in English? Not to mention all the other places. There has never been a church started in the beginning anywhere without tremendous suffering. So, what is your theology of suffering? There’s pastors that say, “Well, I don’t know if I want to send anybody to the Muslim world from our church because they might be destroyed.” Oh dear, the hyperbole in this country. A Toyota is awesome? Give me a break. Only God is awesome. I’m losing this battle with the kids by the way. I’m trying to convert them but it isn’t working.

But people say, “Oh, brother so-and-so went out to Kazakhstan and they were destroyed.” What? You mean they were disappointed? There’s a lot of difference between destroyed and disappointed. I was so encouraged by Brother John because in Frontiers, we had two of his couples, if not three, who were having a bit of a difficult time and they were having a little bit of a difficult time with Frontiers. And so, having lunch with him, I thought, “Oh, boy, I think I’m going to get it.” I said, “John, how do you really feel about the fact that the so-and-so and the so-and-so are not really happy with us? He really ministered to me. Do you know what he said? You might not remember this, John. He said, “Kids need to grow up.” Wow. So true. So true. And so do we. We need to grow up.

Brother Andrew said, “I don’t believe the Muslims are going to believe that we believe what we say we believe until we’re ready to fill up the prisons.” Why do you think the church is growing in China? You’ve seen those pictures of these pastors with no teeth. They’ve been 22 years in prison and the young people see this and they’ve got models, and they go for it. Why are there so few churches in the Middle East? Because the pastors come to America, not to prison. You better have a biblical theology of suffering if you want to accomplish God’s purposes.

The Great Commission and the Next Generation

But Paul here is in prison and this time, he knows he’s not going to get out. He was in prison, remember in Acts 28 and I think he got out and I think he got to Spain. I know he got to Spain because I was on the beaches in Tarragona and there’s a big sign there that said, “The apostle Paul landed here,” so he must have got there. And I visualized that after Spain, he came back into what’s now Turkey. And in every post office was a sign that said, “Remember what Nero did? Nero burned down Rome.” The people didn’t like it and so he needed to find a scapegoat. So, he said, “The Christians did it. The Christians did it.”

And guess who the leader of the Christians was? That guy named Paul. And so his pictures are in every post office and so he’s arrested and this time he’s in prison and he knows he’s not getting out and he’s worried. He’s not worried about dying. Come on. He said, “To be with Christ is far better.” I do not understand you when you say, “Oh brother so-and-so, he was only 60 and he died. What a tragedy.” Are you kidding me? If your boss normally wanted you to work until 6:00 p.m. and he lets you off at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon, would you be angry with him? Some of you are masochists. You want to stay around. You must not be working hard enough.

But Paul is worried because he knows he’s going to be leaving and he’s got to turn over the great commission to the guys he’s been equipping, guys like Timothy. Now, you know a little bit about Timothy. Remember what he had to say to Timothy: “Timothy, Timothy, don’t be ashamed of the gospel,” implication, he was. Implication, the Romans and the Greeks are saying, “Hey, what? You believe in some God that gets himself killed? What religion is this? Believe the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. That is really so simplistic. Give me a break. We have these sophisticated Roman and Greek religions and it’s much deeper. We also have the Gnostics and everything.”

He said, “Timothy, don’t be ashamed of the gospel.” I was ashamed of the gospel for years as a missionary until Francis Schaffer took me in and I went in like a lamb and came out like a lion. I’m so thankful that he was used by the Spirit of God to convince me that it’s the non-Christians that have their heads in the sand, folks, not us. But Timothy was ashamed of the gospel. Timothy was ashamed of the Lord Jesus Christ. What God is this who gets himself killed? Paul said, “Timothy, don’t be ashamed of me.” He didn’t want to hang around the missionaries like some of you pastors.

Ready for the Last Day

The biggest insult I’ve ever had and many of the other missionaries have had is when the pastor invites you to come in and speak and decides that’s the Sunday he’ll go out fishing. He doesn’t need to hear you. Wow, we won’t get on that one. Here’s Paul thinking, “What can I tell Timothy? What can I really drive home to Timothy that will keep him going, that will keep him running the race to the end?” And here it is, 2 Timothy, 2:15:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved . . .

Normally, the New International Version is a pretty good version, but it’s terrible here. It says, “Do your best.” Doesn’t that sound like your mother? “Do your best.” I’m no Greek scholar. My wife was my tutor. I always say I never got the Greek but I got the tutor. But the Greek here says, “Timothy, be diligent. Timothy, strive.” It’s the same thing a coach would say to a guy running the 440 that’s coming in on the last bit. He’s saying, “Kick it on. Timothy, focus. This is it. This is it.” What, Paul, what are you so hyper about? He says, “Timothy, you’re going to present yourself to the king of kings one of these days.” That’s what we’ve been singing about. It’s wonderful the way the Lord orchestrated that music. Thank you, Brother Chuck. He is saying, “One of these days, Timothy, you’re going to see Jesus face to face.” One of these days, you are going to see Jesus face-to-face.

Do you think about that? The Bible called it that day. Do you think about that? I think about it all the time. What do you want the Lord Jesus to say to you when you see him face to face? I pray you just take some time before the Lord to think about that. I know what I want to hear him say. I eat it, I drink it, and I sleep it. I want to hear him say, “Greg, well done. Greg, I was able to accomplish everything I wanted to do through your life. You didn’t hinder me by your unbelief.” Remember, it says about the Lord Jesus when he was on earth that the only thing that hindered him was unbelief. Do you know the Bible says, “Without faith (expectancy), it’s impossible to please God.”

Some of you are trying to please God by substitution. The Burger King way, have it your way. Well, God doesn’t say have it your way. He says, “Have it my way,” and “my way” is that you’ve got to treat me like God. Here’s a story about Moody and it’s one you’ve probably heard is when he first went to England and the guy that was leading the prayer before he spoke was going on and on and on about all God’s attributes and the celestial heavens and so forth and Moody, getting a little bit anxious, got up and tapped him on the shoulder, and he said, “Call him Father and ask him for something.”

Approved Unto God

What are you asking God to do? What are you believing God’s going to do through your life? What do you want to hear the Lord Jesus Christ say? Some of you would die, some of you would fight for the truth of the Bible, but you’re just as liberal as the liberals because you’re taking pieces out of it that you’re not owning, like, “Say unto this mountain, get up and jump into the sea.” When’s the last time you applied that one to your life, or is that a devotional? Jesus didn’t do devotionals. He just gave instructions. What are you believing God for? He says, “Timothy, present yourself.” Everything should be aimed at that finish line when you’re going to present yourself to God and you want to be approved unto God.

That’s what the King James says: “Approved unto God.” And Jim Elliot who probably read that version who you remember was speared, I hope you still know that story by the Auca Indians when they tried to plant the very first church among the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Before he died, he said, “When we meet Jesus, he’s not going to be impressed with our MDiv, our MA, our PhD, or whatever you have behind your name. The letters I want after my name when I meet Jesus are AUG — Jim Elliot, AUG (approved unto God).” That’s the only degree that’s going to count folks for eternity.

Are you going after your AUG? Did anybody ever get their AUG? Well, turn with me really quickly to Acts 13 because we have a contrast here between two men. And this ought to frighten you a little bit. I think it’s meant to. This is Acts 13:21. It talks about a course when Israel wanted a king, you remember, and God gave them Saul. Now, Saul of the tribe of Benjamin was voted by his class most likely to succeed. He was tall and handsome. He had great scores on his GREs. He had it all, leadership ability and so on. This guy should have done it well. And look at Acts 13:22. Mark it in your Bibles. Let it terrify you:

After God removed him . . .

Ater God put him on the shelf, he had to find somebody else. God is going to make disciples of all nations. And as near as I can tell, you just have to decide whether you’re going to get in on it or not. He is going to use somebody. He is going to accomplish his purposes. But he couldn’t accomplish what he wanted to do through Saul, so he raised David to be their king. Now, he says this about David. Now wouldn’t you want him to say this? You preach on this, but are you applying it to yourself? It says:

I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will (Acts 13:22).

God is saying, “A man who thinks like I think, a man who has my agenda as his agenda. A man who is not satisfied with a status quo. A man who’s hungry to see God, loved and worshiped and adored more by more people and more people.” What can a man like that accomplish? Look what it says. I didn’t write it: “Who will do all my will . . .” Is this incredible? It’s possible, brethren, to do all God’s will. Now wait a minute. We’re not talking about sin. This isn’t talking about sin here. It’s not possible to be sinless I don’t think for an hour, but maybe. But it is possible to accomplish, to be used by God, to do everything he wants to do through your life if you’re hungry and thirsty enough. What do you want God to do through your life?

Serving the Purpose of God

Look what it says in Acts 13:36. I love this. Some of you, I know you’re thinking, “Oh boy, I don’t know why Piper gets this missions guy to bang on our heads. Why can’t we go back to the important things and so forth where I really live and I’m not called to missions and that’s somebody else’s slice of the pie.” That is a scheme of Satan. The Bible talks about how we are not unaware of Satan’s schemes. And I’m going to give you a few today, but one of them is that missions is a slice of the pie. So, I am quitting right now as the mission speaker right now. Sorry, John, I’m quitting right now. I am now going to be a new speaker. I am going to be Acts 13:36 speaker. It says:

For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption . . .

Okay, forget missions. How many here are not into serving the purpose of God in your generation? Don’t raise your hands. I don’t want to see it. That’s what we’re talking about, serving the purpose of God in our own generation, accomplishing God’s purposes in our own generation. If that doesn’t get you excited, you’re dead. You need to repent. God is giving us an opportunity to get in on what he’s doing. Do you remember David and Goliath? Do you remember the story? I don’t have time to tell it, but I think you all know the story. I happen to believe it’s a true story. I happen to believe everything in this book that they said happened, happened. There really was a giant. He was about nine feet three inches. Think of the basketball contract he could have gotten. And he said, “Baal is God. Jehovah is . . .” I can’t say what he said here. Jehovah is blank and blank. That’s what I think of your Jehovah and your bloody religion. And the people of God like you and me just went out and killed him.” They wouldn’t let anybody talk about their God that way. Is that what happened? Anybody read the story?

By the way, this is not a story for children. If it was in a movie, it would be rated R for violence and cursing. Well, they did the only thing that good evangelicals do, they formed a committee. What are we going to do? Oh, let’s start a “kill Goliath committee.” I don’t think I want to be on it. You want to be on it? No. And yeah, well, let the committee work on that one. But to make the story short, you remember that David actually did go and face the giant. This is not a prayer meeting. Some people are really tough in prayer meetings: “Devil, we just knock you out. Get out of Afghanistan.” But this is no prayer meeting. This is a real giant.

He says, “Mr. Goliath, I’m going to take your head off today and I’m going to feed your body to the birds of the air and the beast of the field.” Why? What was the motivation? It’s so that all the world may know that there’s a God in Israel that all the world may know that Jehovah God is the one through God and Baal is nothing. I’m living for the reputation of my God on this earth. That’s the will of God for all of us, brethren. Does that move you?

Moved with Compassion for the Lost

Does it bother you that today across two-third of the unreached peoples of the world, 1.3 billion Muslims are saying, “Jesus is not God, Jesus did not die on the cross. Wicked Jews changed the Old Testament and wicked Christians changed the New Testament. So, the Bible’s unusable, it’s rubbish. And God had to send Muhammad with a Quran as the way, the truth, and the life.” And one out of every five people in the world is going to go to bed tonight having been conned, deceived that that is the message. Does that bother you? Does that bother you? Or do you say, “All those Muslims, who cares really?” Jesus said, “Look on the fields.”

When he looked at the multitudes, you remember he was moved with compassion to move you that there’s people in the year 2001 who still don’t know the Christmas story, who still don’t know the Easter story? Who have never met somebody who knows their language who can make it make sense? It’s not that they don’t hear Jesus’s words. It’s not true that people haven’t heard the name of Jesus. Everybody has heard the name of Jesus one way or the other. When somebody drops a stone on their foot, they hear the name of Jesus. But they never had someone in their life who was a trusted person, who could make the good news sound like good news, which takes some effort.

It takes something more than a two-week prayer walking. Let me say something about prayer walking, because I know your churches are sending out people. You’re feeling so great about your missions program because you’ve got people going for a week here and a week there and a week the other place. That’s good, as long as you don’t think that’s going to do the job. There’s some people, bless them, who actually have been deceived to think that if they can find the special demon and name it and find out some historical events and unite in Jesus name that boom, all the territorial spirits will be broken and the Muslims and whatever will come by the gazillions to Christ.

Typical American instant gratification. Let’s find a way to do it real quick. I’m sure Brother Bob Hall back there who works in the South Bronx has tried it. Try that if you think your parish is tough. He would love to have a magic formula that would just bring them all to their knees overnight. Wouldn’t we all? I was thinking about a woman in our church when I pastored for three years at First Baptist Church in Aspen, Colorado. She was the classic, the awfulest case. She was what you read in the worst cases. She’d been sexually abused by her father. She’d been locked up in a room as a kid. She had a cleft palate and father wouldn’t let it be operated on. And she was cutting herself with knives.

This is when I arrived at the church: “Hello, here’s your parishioner,” who happened to go to high school with me when I was growing up there. So, I knew her. I decided, “Well, James 5 is still in the Book. Hallelujah. Let’s get the elders together.” We didn’t have any elders, but we made some elders after a while. Let’s get anybody that can pray together and let’s pray, and let’s see her healed because I got to get on with it just like we were talking, right? I got to get on with it. In Aspen, Colorado, the church had 40 people. We needed to get some people saved, so we were just going to really get this done.

So, we prayed. Man, I think we fasted that day. We prayed for her and right in the middle of our prayer, she barfed all over the place. The good news is that she’s a lot, lot better. But you know what? It’s taken 30 years and not of one pastor, but thank God he showed me that she is not my problem. She is the church’s problem. Remember that, pastors. Don’t be the lifeguard that drowns over one person. Share the burden. That’s what Powlison is trying to say.

And so, we got a whole routine. Who’s going to sit with her on Mondays? Who’s going to sit with her on Tuesdays, who’s going to sit with her on Wednesdays and who’s going to take care of this and make sure the landlord doesn’t throw her out? We’d spread out. We must have had a team of 30 people involved with this one person, but we made it that way. And she loves the Lord Jesus to this day, and she’s going to be healed, completely healed one of these days in his presence. Hallelujah.

The Mysterious Guidance of God

Now, what did that have to do with what I was saying? I’m trying to integrate. I know statistically that many of you are not into the missions. You’re just tipping your hat. You’re not into missions that much. I want you to know that I understand. Believe it or not, I was once a normal person. When I grew up in Aspen, Colorado, and after I got converted, I didn’t know what a missionary was, but I knew I didn’t want to be one. Who wants to marry a lady with her hair up in a bun with a doily on the top, right? By the way, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t want to be a pastor either. I thought this is a ridiculous job standing in the back of the door and shaking people’s hands with a big smile when you think they’re a real jerk: “Oh, it’s so nice to see you,” when you think, “Take them away, Lord.”

And why not get a real job? So, I went off to college. I was going to go to Princeton, but I heard that there were 1,000 Christian girls at Wheaton and felt strangely led. Princeton didn’t have any girls at all at the time, and besides I had a better chance of playing football, being a little guy. So, there, I was walking across the campus and a guy came up to me and said, “Hey Greg, would you like to go to an all-night prayer meeting?” I said, “Excuse me? What have you got to pray about that takes all night?”

Now, in our Little Baptist church, we had prayer meetings every Wednesday night, which was really a Bible study with 10 minutes of the weekly health report at the end. The pastor comes out and says, “Any prayer requests? Yes, Joe. Oh, your grandfather fell down and hurt his hip, okay. Yes? Oh, you got an exam coming up, nausea? Okay.” We put our prayer requests up like the Buddhists do. The Buddhists have a prayer wheel. They stick prayer requests in this prayer wheel and it flies around and they hope something happens. If Joe’s grandfather stood up after we prayed and said, “I’m healed,” we would have kicked him out of the church, right?

I said, “What do you have to pray about that takes all night?” He said, “The Muslim world.” Right. Muslim, Muslim. I know that’s a white cheesecloth. I had no idea that one out of every five people in the world was a Muslim. The religion of Islam, which I happened to believe after 38 years of looking at it closely, is Satan’s masterpiece. And you think, “Well, communism fell,” but communism was 70 years old, folks. Islam has dug in for 1,400 years and has defeated the church again and again and again, and that ought to bother you. But I didn’t know any of that.

All I know is he would invite me to an all-night prayer meeting and I wanted to appear as spiritual as he was, and if he can pray that long, I can pray that long. And besides there might be some nice girls and coffee and donuts down there at Moody Bible Institute where they’re having the prayer meeting. So, I went down there, walked in the room. There were no girls, no coffee, no donuts, just a skinny little 20-year-old George Verwer who stuck his finger in my face and said, “What country are you claiming, brother?”

I wasn’t even claiming my tuition. I didn’t know what “claiming” meant. But I didn’t want him to know. So, I said, “Well, what’s left?” He said, “Libya, you have Libya.” I went, “Right. Give me a minute here. I know it’s one of those islands off Florida.” We spent six hours over maps, praying and obeying the Lord, who instructed us to pray for laborers to go to Libya, to go to Brunei, to go to Kuwait, and to go to all these Muslim countries where there was no church yet, where the Lord Jesus Christ isn’t being worshiped by the Muslim majority.

You know what happens when you start crying out for laborers. It’s the old tap on the shoulder, “How about you, Greg?” I thought, “Me? I’m not the missionary type Lord.” But God that night opened my eyes and showed me that my ambitions had been too small, that I had limited God in thinking what he could do and not do through my life, and he filled me with his greatness and that he could even use this kid with all his — we call him complexes in those days — messed-upness.

I said, “Yes, Lord, if you’d be pleased, you do something for your peoples out there through this little guy.” And he was pleased. He was pleased. God will use you if you want to be used badly enough, but watch out for the myths.

Myths of Service to God

I just want to take a few more minutes and talk about the myths. I’m thankful for this lot because you are learning to love God with all your mind as well as with your heart. In fact, maybe some of us have had to catch up on the heart side. There’s a lot of brethren out there who are loving God with their hearts. There’s no question about it, but I wonder if they’re still loving God with their minds. You need to find out the facts.

My friend George Otis Jr. wrote a book called Last of the Giants about the Muslim world. He said there that one night in a village of 5,000 in Algeria, all the people in the whole village, all Muslims got the same dream on the same night and they woke up in the morning and discovered they were converted. Now, there’s a theological issue. How do you discover you’re converted? And I went, “What?” I happen to know a few people that work in Algeria. Let’s check this out. Well, some brethren from Arab World Ministries went out and checked it out, and the truth was wonderful enough.

It wasn’t one night, it was 10 years. It wasn’t 5,000 converted, it was 300. It wasn’t a village of 5,000, it was a city of 100,000 but the truth was wonderful enough. But one of Satan’s schemes is all this propaganda — all this celebration that’s going on everywhere, saying, “The Lord is working mightily.” The Lord is working mightily, but I don’t like the twist. And one-third of the world’s population, it’s too soon to celebrate, folks, one-third of the world’s population is still outside the reach of all missionaries of all nationals. I know what some of you are thinking, “Man, missionaries from North America are really expensive.”

I don’t know how Bethlehem is supporting 109 adults just outside the United States, not counting what they’re doing in the United States. That should inspire you to see that they put their lives where their message is. But there’s a lot of people out there who are still beyond all the radio, all the TV, all the Jesus films that you get the impression that, it’s done. The Great Commission is done. Well, I’ve got news for you. We’ve got promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep, miles to go.

The Remaining Task

If you haven’t educated yourself with your mind, find out how many peoples there are and how many huge cities there are, where there still is no church among the majority people. Let me just name some. One is Casablanca, Morocco. There are two little groups of seven people. Constantine, Algeria, I don’t think there’s any church there at all. It’s the same size as Minneapolis. What about Tripoli, Libya? There are three known believers. In Alexandria, Egypt, there are three or four believers among the majority people. In Damascus there is no church whatsoever in the place where the Apostle Paul was baptized. No church among the 90 percent that are Muslims.

I’m not talking about any particular group, okay? To any church. In Baghdad, there is no church among the Muslims that are 90%. Are you moved about Baghdad? Do you realize that children are dying there and it’s just a mess? Are you praying that God would send a team in, maybe from your church of humble, broken Americans who can separate themselves from our foreign policy? I’m so thankful that Mr. Powell thinks that maybe sanctions aren’t the way to win people. Kuwait is the world’s second-richest people who don’t have a church. In the UAE, there is not one known believer among the Emiratis, not one known believer. I have to say “known” because what God’s doing that isn’t reporting it on, I can’t tell you.

In Yemen, three or four are meeting in one place. There were five meeting in the capitol, but they got mad at each other and dissipated. In Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, all the missionaries were kicked out. In Iran, all the missionaries were kicked out. Some of the Assemblies of God people are very noble there. Seven pastors have been killed and they’re still inviting Muslims to know the Lord. They are beautiful people. I’ll tell you in Iran, these Armenian Armenians are risking their lives to bring Muslims into their churches. They’ve been told again and again, “Don’t baptize Muslims,” and the pastors smile and say, “We never baptized Muslims.” What about Kabul, Afghanistan? Oh, Afghanistan. By the way, this is what the well-dressed Taliban is wearing in case you’d like one. Afghanistan is suffering. What about Somalia? I’m so thankful the team here is doing something among the Somalis because I don’t think there’s any team in Somalia.

Chad has some. I think Patrick Johnson says they have maybe 25 large Muslim tribes and none of them have a church in them yet. The Caucasus in Russia have two, three, or four workers in the whole place and there’s the Baloch. There were three male speakers among the Baloch. There are 8 million people in Pakistan called Baloch. Three male speakers. The Lord just took one of them home through cerebral malaria that leaves two. I’m so thankful there’s somebody in this church that’s praying about going out to the Baloch. And then there’s the Sindhi and the Batons in India.

The Needs in the World

Now here’s the deal. I started to say some of you really like this idea of supporting the nationals. Oh yeah. Oh, that’s great. None of our people have to go and they’re cheap. You’ve heard 50 dollars. By the way, that is a total myth. The Indian that works for you gets 50 dollars, he gets 50 dollars from you, he gets 50 dollars from this one, and he gets 50 dollars from that one. He’s just not telling you all the money that is coming because they can’t live anywhere outside the desert on anything less than 350 or 500 dollars. So, that’s a myth. But even so, you can’t support the nationals where the nationals don’t want to make disciples among the people.

I’m going to give you a statistic, see if you can work this one out. I work very closely with the Indian Missions Association. That’s 104 Indian agencies. I’m helping them develop Muslim departments. And they tell me after their research — and they’re good at research — “Out of the 20,000 full-time evangelists in India, not counting pastors, they can count 40 that are in residence learning the language and trying to plant a church among the 130 million Muslims of India, the second largest Muslim population in the world.” You think of India, you think of Hindus. There are not that many planting churches among educated Hindus either. So, we’ve got a long ways to go. That’s why my wife and I are going to Kuala Lumpur. It’s not a difficult post. It’s a modern city. We figure we can be happy there in the Spirit and the flesh, and some of my evangelism will be on the golf course to upper-middle-class Muslims.

But think about the fact that there is no church among the majority people of the country of Malaysia, no fellowship. That’s not God’s will. So we’re going there to help about six agencies pull together and find God’s answers and believe God for the breakthrough. I could go on and on about six or eight people groups over 3 million each in Indonesia or the Wei in China. Would you love to go to the Wei and say, “We’re from the way, the truth in life. We’ll tell you Wei about the way?”

Responsibility in Missions Support

But it’s not going to happen until you pastors get serious about not just throwing a token to missions and about not just matching the other guys or just supporting a few people that go through. I go to churches all the time and say, “Well, how’s your missions program?” They say, “Oh, we have a great missions program.” I say, “Oh, really? Where are your missionaries?” They say, “Oh, they’re all over the place.” I say, “Well, where specifically?” They say, “Well, I think there’s some in Africa.” I say, “Africa? They say, “Oh yeah. Well, who are they working with in Africa?” They say, “Africans.” I say, “Well, what are their prayer needs right now?” They say, “Oh, well, we have a committee that takes care of those things.”

I hope none of your elders are that ignorant of the people that supposedly you’re standing behind. What kind of sending church are you? To what degree do you take responsibility for your missionaries? One of the myths, I don’t know who invented it, God forgive Hudson Taylor, is that it’s God’s direction for all missionaries to go out and raise their own salary and all their ministry expenses. Now, if that’s God’s best plan, why don’t you pastors do it? Wouldn’t that be great? You can come to this church and be the pastor after you raise your salary and your ministry expenses. How many of you would be in the pastorate? I would guess quite a few less than there are. Then why is it so wonderfully spiritual to have the guys who already got to do everything you’ve got to do plus do it in another culture, in another language, and they got to spend a year and a half getting their salary? Shame on you. You need to appoint a committee for anybody going out of your church and say, “Our job is to get this person’s salary.”

You say, “You go get prepared, you go get your systematic theology, we’ll get your money and start calling and start hitting the bushes. Do whatever you can.” But we ought to be raising our own missionary support. They might really feel like they were staffed out from your church then. There are people in your church. Maybe this lady is tremendously talented. She could talk an Eskimo into buying a refrigerator and she wants to do something for missions, but she’s just a public relations person. She doesn’t really relate to the prayer meeting much, but she could head up the committee to raise so-and-so’s support. Use your imagination, say, “Lord, raise up labors for the home team that’s really going to be committed to this. We want our missionaries to feel like they are so cared for that this really is a sending church.”

Where to Plant Churches

And then, you pastors, can I give you a challenge? What’s so great about starting another daughter church 15 miles away in a place that’s already got 10 other Baptist churches? That’s good. But what’s so great about it? Why not at least once in your career say, “I’m going to believe God that our church is going to start a daughter church 15,000 miles away, that we can nurture, that we can encourage, that we can visit, and that’s going to get to the place where they’ve appointed elders. We’re going to just keep encouraging them until they reproduce and start another church.” Wouldn’t it be tremendous if you said part of my ministry in my church has been that we’ve started a daughter church in Baghdad, or in Brunei, or among Madaris of Indonesia that still don’t have a church?

Give up your small ambitions. Ask God for something that’s just so far behind you. Some of you had faith like this at one time and you don’t anymore. Some of you are now experienced. The Bible says, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” Do you know what I understand that to mean? It means that reality is not the sum total of your experience, and all of us have to keep dying to our experience and go back to the promises that God can do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we could ask or think.

I’m so thankful that I’ve been graced to be as crazy at 60 as I was at 20 that I still believe that God is going to bring 5 percent of the Muslim world to himself before he returns. That’s the dream he’s put on my heart. And you say, “Five percent would be about 60 or 65 million Muslims redeemed.” Well, that’s what happened among the Chinese. I think God loves the Muslims as much as he loves the Chinese, and I think the Lord Jesus Christ’s honor is at stake. Can any of you imagine the Lord Jesus Christ that we’ve just been praising, at the right hand of the Father this morning, scratching his head going, “Wow, we’ve done so well in Latin America and in Korea and in Philippines.” It’s like Bill Bright says, “You witness to 10 Filipinos and13 come to Christ. There’s harvest in so many places. In Sub-Saharan Africa, we’ve got so many brothers and sisters.

And China, I’ve just told you about China. If you’re looking forward to a white heaven, this is not representative, folks. This isn’t it. I got bad news for you. You’re going to be a minority group there among that multitude that no man can number.

Having a World Ministry

But what about those who aren’t worshiping him, who aren’t loving him? I just want to close with Luke 16:9. The most exciting event that’s ahead for all of us who love the Lord Jesus — I think that’s everybody here — is meeting the Lord Jesus Christ face-to-face and hearing him say, “Well done. All right. I accomplished everything I wanted to do through your life. You lifted up your eyes. You were a World Christian. You understood the Scriptures rightly.” By the way, some of you exegete Acts 1:8 terribly. It does not say, “You shall be my witnesses, first, in your hometown Jerusalem. And then, maybe you could have a little outreach in the city and we’ll call that Judea.”

Then, of course, you can send a team down to Mexico and build a church, and that’s our Samaria. And then, of course, there’s these people, I don’t know how it happens to them. They’re walking along and they hear, “Go to the Muslim world.” And so, they come and you have to find some more money. That’s not what it says. It says, “You (my disciples) shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and the other most parts of the world.” That’s God’s will for you. Aren’t you glad these missionaries come to tell you God’s will for your life?

God’s will for your life is to be both a and Christian to have a world ministry. He loves you so much. He wants to give you a world ministry as he has Brother Tom and Brother John, that you really know. You’ve been instrumental, you’ve been part of his plan to actually place and get people where Jesus isn’t worshiped. This is just wonderful, but you have to want it. You have to make it a priority like anything else in life. Things happen when we give it a priority. But in Luke 16:9, one of the strangest verses in the Bible, but I love it, after talking about stewardship, the Lord Jesus gives a command. This has to be the strangest command, to make friends. We’re commanded to make friends for ourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness that when it fails — and who knows, the world could crash — they may welcome you into eternal dwellings. The most exciting thing that’s yet to happen to us is seeing the Lord, seeing that smile, knowing that we ran the race to win, that we didn’t settle for less than what God wanted to do through our lives, and those we discipled.

But the second most exciting event yet to occur to those of us who are involved with God, going after his will is this, alluded to right here. You’re in this multitude that we’ve been singing about, this multitude from all these nations. And you know when a man comes into a big room and a lot of people don’t know too well and he sticks his hands in his pockets and checks his shoe shine and so forth. Imagine yourself, you’ve got to move out of the way, somebody else is going to see the Lord face-to-face. And you’re in this multitude and you’re looking around.

Suddenly, this Tatar comes running up and throws his arms around you and says, “Thank you. I am here in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ forever, partly because you lifted up your eyes, because you got involved with what God was doing. You pushed your church to get that couple out to the Tatars, and they talked to my uncle, and my uncle talked to me, and I’m here forever with the Lord Jesus praising him.” You think you’re going to feel good about that? And then, boom, here comes an Arba, and here comes a Turk, and here is a Japanese man. I don’t know about you, but I want a lot of hugs. I want a lot of hugs from a lot of people to just know I’ve got friends for eternity that I never met till I got there. Let God give you a vision of what he could do through your life.

Questions and Answers

I was very touched by the many things that you said, especially that God can use anybody. I want to be careful that we do not limit the very worst of God that he said that if we lay hands and we are righteous before God — that’s the key — that anybody can be healed. We have put ourselves in a room full of books and full of good theology. But how do we in love bring them in and say, “Perhaps, God may not heal them. Perhaps it might be a process of 32 years to do it, but guess what? Let’s do it together.”

Amen. First of all, I think you heard me say we are supernaturalists and we read in Romans here that Paul saw the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed in the power of signs and wonders. We are not against signs and wonders, we’re against faking it. We’re against self-deception and we’re against giving man the last word. But let’s not ever give the impression to people who have a high view of God’s power that we have a lesser view that we don’t think God can heal today. I’ve been supernaturally healed instantly twice in my own lifetime, and missionaries to Muslims have to pray. The Muslims ask us to pray for them all the time.

We’re talking about maturity, we’re talking about letting God be God. And many people get in trouble. I’ll just give you one story. There were six couples out in Morocco. This is why I have a little bit of the attitude I do. There were six couples out in Morocco, missionary couples, one with our mission and five with another mission. And one woman had a dream that a woman was marrying another woman, and this was unnatural, of course. She woke up and she wanted to know the interpretation. So, she decided that it meant that all the missionaries were laboring in the flesh and they needed to go back to America to Anaheim and get spiritually equipped to work in power. Well, in fact, only one of those couples ever got back to the field. Guess who’s laughing? And they didn’t take counsel with their shepherds and they didn’t realize that God isn’t gifting everybody the same.

Now, I believe in exorcism of the demonic, but I don’t do it. I pray that God will raise up people who can minister in that area because there really are demons and there really are people who need to be delivered from demons. But we’re crying out for maturity. And the answer to your question is, let’s go out there together. The Muslim world is a great evener. The people who are going to do signs and wonders see very little happen. And the dead Presbyterians like us are pushed to pray for the sick for the first time in our life and so forth. And so, it’s happening, brother.

You spoke of the support of the native missionaries, particularly in India, and I’m sure you’re familiar with KP Yohannan and “Gospel for Asia.” I’m a firm believer in the mandate to go, and I don’t believe that the native missionary is a substitute for our job. But do you think that it’s a misuse of funds to support only native missionaries in that way?

It’s a misuse of funds to support native missionaries if you’re not tracking with them because they are human beings who have all the temptations we have, and whether a person is an American, an Indian, a Chinese, or whatever, if he doesn’t have accountability, he often ends up not doing what he says he is doing. And money is a tremendous temptation. What we do is we don’t support native missionaries. We support native missions so that they’re still accountable to their own Indian boss. And I spoke with KP Yohannan. I said, “What about the Muslims of India?” And KP said, “Yeah, we need you to help us because we only had one team of all our teams with Muslims. One guy got stabbed by a fanatic, so that team disintegrated and he’s been the first one to admit that their people are afraid of Muslims as everybody else.” In history, we said the answer is the missionary. Then we thought, “Oh, we thought, boy, that’s terribly arrogant.” The answer is the national, the national, the national. Well, neither of those are biblical. The answer is God’s anointed chosen people and international teams, a mixture of gifts and so forth seem to be what God’s using a lot.

I have a question concerning the use of people going, not to find jobs, but going and starting factories or businesses in some of these countries that are not open to missions, but which are interested in economic development. What experience have you had working with those strategies and is it a practical strategy for a church to try to help somebody transplant their business overseas and do mission work by employing people and working within a business context? Is that a distraction or is that a strategy?

Yes, Michael Griffith, one of my heroes at OMF says, “There’s very few men who can do two jobs well.” What we’ve found over the years is that some people are very good at business and some people are very good at disciple-making. If you’re going to use that strategy, then you have to have a team, and we suggest that the team leader is focused on church planting. You raise up what we call a facilitator to run the business, and we don’t care if he makes any disciples or not. He runs the business. If it provides job entry for missionaries and jobs for converts, it’s a great thing.

It’s amazing how Muslim and Buddhist and Hindu governments are willing to look the other way if you’re providing jobs. They really like that. So far there’s not a lot of good case studies of people who pulled it off because they’ve had too few people. So the person who went back and forth from his ministry to his business and they both turned out mediocre. So, the thing is to do it right, do it with an agency that can tell you about all the mistakes that have been made so that you build on other people’s mistakes. But yes, one of the biggest problems in the world is people having jobs. So, anything that’s job creation is a fabulous idea, but it takes some real work to make it happen. Yes.

I’m a church planter with the Southern Baptist Convention in Platteville, Wisconsin. We launched in September, and I’ve been trying to give these people a vision for the nations from day one. What are some practical things I can do to keep the nations before my people from the beginning?

Well, the first thing you do is you put the biggest map you can find in the most obvious place and demonstrate it like Brother Piper does. You talk about it and you let that church know we’re a failure if we don’t have some apostolic ministry where the church isn’t. Start supporting the missionary before you have enough money to pay you. That’ll startle them. Don’t say, “Well, after we get the building and after we get this, then we might get around missions.” What are you saying? You’re saying what the priorities are. So expose them to missionaries. You have to watch out for one that can articulate what he’s doing. And even in the Southern Baptist system, you can personalize their relationship to that missionary even though they’re getting a salary out from Richmond. And then, have them tracking what’s happening to the Smiths this week if you don’t have an update and let it be just like it was their kid, then they’ll begin to grip them. It’s just doing it.

I’ve heard two theologies of calls to missions that seem to be in opposition to one another. The first one is in the book of Acts, when Paul and Barnabas were sent out by the Holy Spirit. John Mark went with them also, but he later fell out of that mission and then Paul didn’t want to take him. So I’ve heard that you need a specific, it seems like an experience of a call to go on mission. I even heard one guy who discouraged people from going unless they had that. And then, I’ve heard the other dichotomy, which is the call is in the Great Commission. That is the call. And those two seem to be at odds with each other.

Well, I wouldn’t make the call different from what you pastors have to have. I don’t like the word “call” because it gets so messed up. I just say you have to really know God wants you in Waukesha. You got to really know that God wants you in Timbuktu. You just got to really know, and you get that confirmed by the dream he puts in your heart, by confirmation, and by the shepherds in your life. The shepherds say, “Yeah, we think after you do a little bit more here, get some systematic theology and a couple of things. We think this would be great.” Now, one of the problems is that we are leaving missions up to volunteers.

The army has volunteers and draftspeople, and I think what we see there in Acts 13 is that there was a real consensus, “We’re supposed to start a daughter church and let’s see who could go.” “Well, it’s interesting you mentioned that,” says Paul, “Because Barnabas and I were talking about maybe we got to go to his island. What would you think about that?” And there was some consensus, in fact, there was such a oneness of mine as they were wrestling with it together that they could say the Holy Spirit said, send forth Paul and Barnabas. I think the big mistake is that you sit around and wait for some kids to say, “God wants me to go to Somalia.” First of all, why are you just thinking about kids? How about the people that are 50? They can die in Somalia just as easily as in America. We need mature people who’ve lived life longer on these teams, even if they never get Somali very well. So, don’t just think about waiting for kids to volunteer and then go on with whatever comes into their heads. Be shepherds and help them to get there and to stay there.

is senior associate for missions advancement of World Outreach for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.