How the Missions Movement is Growing at Bethlehem and a Challenge to Western

Western Seminary Missions Conference | Portland, Oregon

(Note: the following is a slightly modified copy of John Piper's speaking notes, not a full manuscript of the message.)

Mustering Missions with Christian Hedonism

1. I preach to show that God wills the pursuit of our deepest joy, and that in delighting fully in him we bring him glory.

If I say to my wife that the reason I want to come home tonight is because seeing her and being with her makes me happy, she does not say, “Well, now that is the most selfish thing I’ve heard! You and your Christian hedonism can go jump in the lake—or on the ice.“ No, she is honored! You glorify a person by delighting in their presence. Hedonism is essential to glorifying God. The pursuit of your pleasure in God is not even optional. It is commanded. “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) because we were created to glorify him.

This frees people to know that there is no ultimate sacrifice—that if they follow God to the mission field, what they find there, even if they are tortured and die, is the deepest satisfaction possible.

Let me illustrate with Peter’s statement of self-denial in Mark 10:28-31:

Peter began to say to him, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

2. On the other side I try to stir up discontent with ordinary patterns of meaningless American life—get up, go to work, come home, putz, eat, watch TV, go to bed, etc. I try to convince people that the reason most of them are bored is that their lives are devoted to things too small and trivial to satisfy what they were created to be. I illustrate from mission history alternatives.

J. Campbell White was not a missionary. He was the leader of an organization called the Laymen’s Missionary Movement founded in 1906 by businessmen who could not resist getting involved in what they saw God doing in the rise of the Student Volunteer Movement. One young businessman in Washington thought to himself, “If the laymen of North America could see the world as these students are seeing it, they would rise up in their strength and provide all the funds needed for the enterprise.” So he wrote an essay, a kind of call-to-arms of the American evangelical business community:

Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the adoption of Christ’s purpose toward the world he came to redeem. Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ’s undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards (Perspectives, p. 225).

And so a movement was formed, and the goals were described in three words,

investigation, agitation and organization—the investigation by laymen of missionary conditions; the agitation of laymen for an adequate missionary policy; and the organization of laymen to cooperate with the ministers and missionary boards in enlisting the whole Church in its supreme work of saving the world (Perspectives, p. 224).

3. I try to use biography again and again to hold up inspiring models of what God has done with people who are sold out to him, and how virtually all of them—no matter how much they have suffered—bear witness at the end of their lives something to this affect: “I never made a sacrifice.”

That means reading regularly from such books, like fifteen minutes a day. After a Bible, nothing will sustain your vision for missions like missionary biography, i.e. Tucker: From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya; Mary Drewery: William Carey; To the Golden Shore on Adoniram Judson; Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret; Henry Martyn’s journals; Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards; Mary Slessor of Calabar; Amy Carmichael’s life story, A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot; the story of Jim Elliot, etc.

What a rallying cry Jim Elliot’s life and death have been! “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

4. And I press again and again for a wartime lifestyle, for people to wake up to the reality that the greatest battle of the universe is raging today and people are perishing under the attacks of the deadliest enemy there is. We do not live in peacetime, but in wartime.

Wartime calls for a measure of strategic austerity. Luxury liners become troop carriers during wartime. We strip down to the necessities and funnel as many resources into the war effort as possible. So I call into question lake homes and two cars and fashion clothes and overeating and television and expensive vacations and elitist neighborhoods—in general, a life devoted to comfort and security.

Why? Because I am a Christian hedonist, and Paul says with crystal clarity that those who desire to be rich plunge themselves into ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:9). And because it is more blessed to give than to receive. It is more blessed—more deeply and lastingly satisfying—to pour your life out for the sake of others than to live for luxury.

So along these lines of Christian hedonism I try to create an atmosphere in which people are primed to do something radical with their lives, an atmosphere of risk taking and mobility and sojourning.

Mustering Missions with Prayer

In this atmosphere that is nurtured mainly by preaching and example, and writing, we began to pray more fervently and pointedly for the movement of God in awakening missionary vision and commitment.

Prayer week:

  • Early morning meetings
  • Noon meetings – fasting
  • Round-the-clock prayer chain in 15-minute slots
  • All-night prayer meetings

This has been aided by the insight that prayer is not a domestic intercom to call the maid to bring another pillow or to fix the lighting, but it's a wartime walkie-talkie. (2 Thessalonians 3:1 – “Pray for us that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified.”)

Other Missions Musterings

1. Gripped by Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into this harvest.”

2. Tom Steller’s and my turnaround in November 1983, awakening us to the great missionary task of the church.

3. Redefining Tom’s job description and title to Missions Pastor in December 1983.

4. The introduction of long-distant phoning to our missionaries during the all-night prayer meeting.

5. The introduction of a weekly corner in our church newsletter called “The Missions Corner.”

6. Noel and I propose Missions in the Manse, March 9, 1984, a 2 1/2 hour meeting for worship, update on the movement, and inspiration from the Word and biography. Prayed for 60 people; 90 came. Incentive: We committed to pray every day for those who came. We just had our 13th Missions in the Manse in January; 100 there. We have prayed for them every day, with few exceptions.

7. Birth of "90 by ‘90" (a missionary sending campaign) and funding of it in the 1985 budget. We are at 81.

8. Sixty of our people went to Urbana ’84 and about 65 to Urbana ’87. We showed the film both times to give more of our people the hope and spirit.

9. Tom developed a nurture program linking all the potential missionaries with others in the church to hold them accountable and pray for them—accountable to read, memorize, take classes, get ministry experience, etc.

10. Tom develops the necessity of support teams.

11. Tom leads the missions board in the development of a missions policy statement for the guidance and funding of the growing pool of missions recruits.

12. He holds retreats for inspiration and prayer and recently provided an all-day seminar on Meyers-Briggs assessment for the fifty who are planning to enter missions in the next five years or so.

13. Noel and I went to Africa in 1985 and then to the Philippines and Singapore in 1987. We sent our associate Steve Roy to Cameroon to teach for one year.

So much for Bethlehem and the local church.

Mustering Missions at Western Seminary

I close with a concern that you wield the weapon of prayer here at Western Seminary; that you not be content with seminary as usual; that you dream of what a seminary under the power of prayer might look like; that you ponder what this place might be if everyone woke up to the wartime reality of massive spiritual loss and danger, and the great power of concerted and persevering prayer in the emboldening and empowering of faculty and students.

In a recent issue of World Christian magazine, David Bryant tells about a young Hindu social worker who came to America and stayed at his house. He and his wife took her one evening to dinner at a friend’s home. On the way, the Hindu woman “witnessed” to David Bryant and his wife Robyne. She showed them a picture of a guru who had died 45 years ago. She and her family now worship him and pray to him.

When Bryant blurted out, “But he’s dead!” she disagreed, and that in response to her prayers he has given her a very good life and surrounded her with many blessings.

When they got to the home where they would eat dinner, David Bryant hoped that his Christian friend would help bear a credible witness to the Hindu woman, but he was dismayed when, at the dinner table, his host said, “Great house, isn’t it? I know I put a lot more into it than I can ever hope to get out of it, but I don’t mind. We plan to be here the next 45 years anyway, God willing. We’re so thankful. The Lord has blessed us in so many ways. I don’t know what we’d do without him.”

Bryant sat in his back yard the next morning asking himself, “Is that the point of prayer—to treat God like Coke?” Some say things go better with Coke. Some say things go better with Christ. Some say things go better with a guru.

A bird splashed into a nearby birdbath and sent Bryant’s mind to the words of Jesus: “Consider the ravens.” Yes, we are supposed to be as free and peaceful as the birds. But why? To seek first the Kingdom! and let the rest be added when and as the Lord of armies sees fit for his soldiers.

The power of prayer was not given to the church to win comforts but to wield a weapon. It is a wartime walkie-talkie, not an intercom for the increasing of domestic comforts.

David Howard, general director of The World Evangelical Fellowship, told recently in the Evangelical Missions Quarterly about a great movement of prayer that happened at Wheaton College when he and Jim Elliot were there in 1946. Why should this happen at Western?

Jim Elliot—the one killed by the Aucas—organized a campus-wide, round-the-clock prayer cycle so that a student was praying for a missions movement during every 15-minute slot. One of the students named Art Wiens was moved during that week to pray systematically through the college directory, praying for 10 students by name every day. He followed this faithfully through his college years.

David Howard says that he did not see Art Wiens again until 1974, about 25 years later, at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism in Switzerland. As they renewed their friendship, Art asked David Howard if he recalled the great times of prayer they used to have. Then he said, “You know, Dave, I am still praying for 500 of our college contemporaries who are now on the mission field.” David asked him how he knew that many are overseas. He said, “I kept in touch with the alumni office and found out who was going as a missionary and I still pray for them.”

Dave was so astounded he asked if he could see the prayer list. The next day he brought it to him—a battered old notebook he had started in their college days with the names of hundreds of their classmates and fellow students.

Have you ever tasted the desire to put your hand to a plow and not take it off for 25 years? Why not get alone with God today and make some radical commitment to prayer for the awakening of his church and the global advance of his great gospel?