I just want to give a word of public thanks to Tyler and the team for inviting me and to you for hanging in there to the bitter end. I know there’s no place in your brain for any more. It’s been so packed. I’m honored that you would stay and listen one more time. Let’s ask God to give me his guidance and help, and to give you some openness of mind and heart and wakefulness so that we can connect. Let’s pray.
The Task of Missions
The last time, we defined the task of missions as joining Paul in doing the kind of missions that he did when he said that from Jerusalem all the way up to Albania, he had no more room for work. He had fulfilled the gospel and was heading, God willing, for Spain even though tens of thousands of people were unconverted in that territory from Jerusalem to Albania. He had no room for work, which means there is a certain calling upon a person’s life that cannot stay where the church has been planted and have the wherewithal to evangelize the tens of thousands of people that need Christ in that area.
Those are missionaries. This is missions, with an “S” on the end. It cannot stay in a city like this. It cannot stay in a city like mine. It must go to people groups that don’t have any church within their own culture, in their own language. I am aware of the complicating factor that so many of those unreached peoples have come among us. Therefore, we don’t think in terms of fields anymore. The Somalis in Minneapolis are 50,000, and there may be, as we make every effort, six believers gathered in little fellowship with Paul and some of the others. We have ministries to them, and it is not easy work. That is missions, though it’s 150 feet away, and zero feet away when they come for language learning in our church building. This is an amazing people group.
I am aware that when I speak this, it’s not so much geography we’re talking about as much as culture, and language, and laying down your life efforts to do the hard thing of planting a church among a people that don’t have it. That was yesterday’s definition of missions. My point was that in order to be biblically, authentically missional, we must simply give ourselves in some measure in our churches and in our lives to missions. Now the questions remaining for me are the questions of motive and the question of how — the how of preaching, the how of prayer, and the how of suffering. That’s what we’re going to talk about in the minutes that we have.
The Motivation of Missions
Let’s go to motive first. Let me quote a couple of heroes. John Stott wrote a very good commentary on Romans. Of course, he was involved in missions big-time in his heyday with the Lausanne Movement. Now he’s an old man in a nursing home in Brighton and has been a great servant, one of my heroes. Here’s his quote:
The highest of missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission, important as that is, nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing, strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God; but rather, zeal, burning and passionate zeal for the glory of Jesus Christ. Only one imperialism is Christian — that is, concern for his imperial majesty, Jesus Christ, and for the glory of his empire.
Don’t you love Stott? That’s written in his Romans commentary on Romans 1:5, where Paul says that he’s going out and gathering obedience from the Gentiles for the sake of the name. Then Stott adds this:
We should be jealous for the honor of his name, troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed, and all the time, anxious and determined that it shall be given the honor and the glory which it is due.
Now that, he says, is the pinnacle motive of doing missions among the nations. I just say with him, Oh, for the day when there is passion lik that in our churches. Wouldn’t it be glorious if your people all said, “My supreme zeal, passion, and love in life is the imperial majesty of my king, Jesus”? That’s the way we want our people to feel and to talk. That sets agendas for us in preaching and in praying.
Here’s the other hero. I brought his book along because it’s such one of a kind. It’s Operation World. I hope that you know this book. It’s due for an update, and I think one is underway. This is, I think, the third edition, but it’s several years old.
It’s called Operation World, and was started by Patrick Johnstone. This is the man I’m talking about. This guides you through praying for the political nations of the world, and under those pages are descriptions of all kinds of situations in the church, and non-church, and the people groups that are in them. God bless Patrick Johnstone for this labor of love. We will know in heaven what fruit has come from the hundreds of thousands of prayers that have ascended for people groups because they were seen in this book.
Years ago when I got the copy, I asked the question, “What kind of mindset produces a book like this? What kind of mindset causes this kind of incredible labor?” I mean, the detail of this book for all the countries, all the thousands of the peoples, and the condition of the church in all the countries is a massive undertaking with a large team that he works with. What’s driving this? I want to know. I’ll quote you the key paragraph from this book:
All the earth-shaking, awesome forces unleashed on the world are released by the Lord Jesus Christ. He reigns today. He is in the control room of the universe. He is the only ultimate cause. All the sins of man and machinations of Satan ultimately have to enhance the glory and the kingdom of our Savior (that’s an amazing statement).
This is true of our world today in wars, famines, earthquakes, or the evil that apparently has the ascendancy. All God’s actions are just and loving. We have become too enemy-conscious and can overdo the spiritual warfare aspect of intercession. We need to be more God-conscious so that we can laugh the laugh of faith, knowing that we have power over all the power of the enemy. He has already lost control because of Calvary where the Lamb was slain. What confidence and rest of heart this gives us as we face a world of turmoil and such spiritual need.
In other words, what’s driving this book, the mindset and the heart from which it comes, is a heart swelling with confidence in the imperial majesty of Jesus Christ over everything in the world, including the tragedies, the sins, and the evil of our day. Now, this mindset is what has historically driven the great history of missions.
Missisons Is a Means
When you read biographies, what you read are people who are gripped with a global sense of God’s authority — a global sense that he is Lord of all the lords in all the tribes and King of all the little petty kings of the nations. They go because they have ringing in their ears, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, so go. Make disciples of everybody. Of course, they’ll accuse you of being proud and arrogant to require of everybody that they bow to your religion. Of course, they’re going to criticize you that way, but you know that’s not what you’re doing.”
They knew, “You’ve seen the King. The King is offering amnesty to the world in rebellion. They don’t have to perish. You have news of the payment that was made for the amnesty and the deliverance of anybody who would have it. You’re willing to die that they have it. This is not pride. This is love for the King and the knowledge that he reigns, and he’s going to clean house on this globe someday. He’s giving us these windows of centuries to gather a great bride for him.” These are the kinds of large things that have been inside the missionary movement and have driven it for so long.
The way I have come to put it in the book that I wrote and in sermons that I have preached at my church is that missions is not the ultimate goal of the world, of history, or of God. Worship is the ultimate goal of God and of history. Missions exist because worship doesn’t. It’s just a temporary stopgap measure. When this age is over, and all evil has been cast out, the new heavens and the new earth are in place, and it is filled with the glory of the Lord like the waters cover the sea, missions will be no more, ever again. It’s just a temporary means to that glorious, white-hot worship from a worldwide people gathered under the authority of Jesus. That’s what the goal is. The goal is not missions. Missions is a means to the goal of bringing people to worship him.
So we talk this way: We say that worship is the fuel and the goal of missions. It’s the goal because we’re gathering a people into gladness in God and that makes much of him. And you can’t assemble a people to be glad in God if you’re not glad in God, which means that worship is the fuel. It gets started with my gladness in God, and it aims at their gladness in God. That in-between is called missions.
God’s Cause Will Triumph
William Carey is another hero. There are so many great missionaries. I’m tempted to say each is the greatest. He went in 1793. He was a shoemaker who learned 29 languages and never went home.
At 11:00 p.m. last night, I lost two hours of work on this sermon because my faultless Mac faulted. It tested my faith. I thought, “God, it’s 11:00 p.m. Please, it’s got to be in there somewhere.” Carey lost 11 years of work in a fire, and knelt down, and said, “The success was probably going to my head. I submit, and bow, and will start again.” I had to deal with two hours, and it tried my faith. He just bowed. I’m sure he wept. I’m sure he said, “No, no, no. I had brought some dictionaries to completion.” They had no backups anywhere. Well, anyway, I mention him because of this quote to show that his heart and mind were driven similarly. He said:
When I left England, my hope of India’s conversion was very strong, but amongst so many obstacles, it would die, unless upheld by God. Well, I have God, and his word is true. Though the superstitions of the heathen were a thousand times stronger than they are, and the example of the Europeans was a thousand times worse than it is, though I were deserted by all and persecuted by all, yet my faith fixed on the sure word would rise above all obstructions and overcome every trial. God’s cause will triumph.
That was the mindset of those missionaries at the beginning of the modern missionary era. They savored God, his authority, his glory, his beauty, his power, his wisdom, his justice, his goodness, and his truth. They savored him. They loved him. They exulted in him. Then flowing out from that was, “I will seek that gladness and that worship in those others too.” Worship is the fuel and the goal of missions.
God’s Passion for His Glory
Now the implication there is very controversial, namely that this is God’s fuel — that is, there’s worship in the Godhead as they delight in each other. It is God’s goal that that worship of the Godhead is extended to others. God is radically, passionately committed to the worship of his name. He’s been doing it forever, as the Father and the Son delight infinitely in each other, and he means for everybody else to join him or perish.
Now, this is really controversial. I have collected over the years people who have found great difficulty with it. Before I show you their quotes, let me make it worse, as far as they see it being worse. When I say that God’s fuel is worship, and God’s goal is worship, and thus, God is radically God-centered, I’m not trying to be cute. I’m just trying to say in words that will somehow go home on the basis of dozens of texts. Let me read you just a few. These are texts about God’s pursuit of God’s glory. He chose us for his glory:
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace . . . (Ephesians 1:6).
You are predestined so that you will praise him. He predestined you that you might be adopted and praise him. He created you.
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, whom I formed and made (Isaiah 43:6–7).
He said to Israel:
You are my servant, Israel,
in whom I will be glorified (Isaiah 49:3).
He rescued Israel from Egypt:
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power (Psalm 106:8).
He didn’t cast them away when they said, “We want a king like all the other nations.” Why? Why didn’t he cast them away?
For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake (1 Samuel 12:22).
He restored Israel from Babylon. Why?
Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name . . . And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name . . . And the nations will know that I am the Lord . . . (Ezekiel 36:22–23).
The Goal of All Things
Jesus came to the apex of his ministry for this purpose sent by God:
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27–28).
God knew what he was doing in bringing Jesus to the cross. He was making a name for himself and his grace. He forgives our sins. Why?
I, I am he
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins (Isaiah 43:25).
For your name’s sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great (Psalm 25:11).
Then it starts to spread. Do you remember the story of Herod? It was one of my son’s favorite stories. They liked violence. They liked it when braggy kings were brought down. Herod, remember, gave an oration. I’ll read it to you.
Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last (Acts 12:23).
Why is Jesus coming again?
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).
What is Jesus’s ultimate goal for you? I’ll read it to you from John 17:24. This is Jesus praying for you to God the Father:
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory . . .
The Claims of an Egomaniac?
Now, stop there. That’s a partial list of the texts. Do you know how that sounds to some people? Here’s Jesus saying, “I have a gift for you: me.” If I came here and said that, Raleigh-Durham, you, I hope, would walk out indignant and think I’m sick, and I would be. Why isn’t Jesus? This is not a make-believe problem.
Three weeks ago, on April 13th, NPR had an interview where Terry Gross interviewed Erik Reese, who wrote [An American Gospel]. He teaches at the University of Kentucky. Terry Gross said to him, “I read a part of your book. May I read it, or have you read it, and then you respond?” In that part of his book, he quoted Matthew 10:37. Erik Reese is a man who had a fundamentalist grandfather and a fundamentalist father, and he has thrown it all away. He abandoned it, like Bart Ehrman and others who grew up in fundamentalist homes, and then something horrible happens, and they throw it all away.
Erik Reese read these verses in the Bible that Jesus said:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:37).
Terry Gross said this, “Your reaction in the book is, ‘Who is the egomaniac speaking these words?’ And she asked him, “Would you comment on that?” Now listen to this. You can go and listen to it right now. Just go to April 13, NPR, and click on the interview with Terry Gross. You can listen to everything he said. He said:
Well, it just struck me as, who is this speaking 2,000 years ago, a complete historical stranger, saying that we should love him, who we really are incapable of emotionally loving, more so than we should love our fathers and sons? It just seemed like an incredibly egomaniacal kind of claim to make.
A Company of Critics
C.S. Lewis in his early days said the same thing. Michael Prowse in the London Times, a few years ago, wrote exactly the same thing. He said, “What are all these people bowing down in worship for? God doesn’t need worship if he’s God.” The fact that I stand up here and say the main motive for finishing the Great Commission is God’s passion for God, is very offensive to people. I’m saying it because it’s all over the Bible, and I’m saying it because missionaries have been driven by it. God’s zeal for his name among the nations is not a small theme in the Bible. It’s pervasive. What do we make of this trouble? I’m going to give three responses, quickly, as to why.
By the way, C.S. Lewis is dead. I can’t do anything about that. He got converted, but I could do something about Michael Prowse and Erik Reese. I wrote both of them very long letters, okay? I’m still waiting. This was about a week ago that I wrote the letter to Erik Reese. If you have contact with him, say, “Why don’t you respond to John’s letter?” Basically, I said this kind of thing. It wasn’t a critical letter at all. I said, “I grew up in the same family you did, and I know where you’re coming from. I’ve tasted what you don’t like, though I didn’t take the turn you took. You don’t have to go there. This is not a big insurmountable obstacle. There’s a way over this. In fact, this becomes glory. This becomes love, if you understand it.” And that’s why I want to try to help you over that obstacle right now.
There are three responses that say Christ’s passion for Christ in your life and God’s zeal for his name in the world is not egomania or megalomania; it is love. How so?
To the Praise of His Glorious Grace
Number one: The apex of his passion to display his glory was the cross, according to Ephesians 1:6, that in him — his death and resurrection — we are to praise the glory of his grace. It was infinitely costly in order to magnify the greatness of grace towards sinners like us. He wants us to see the act, see the grace, and make much of the grace, not make much of ourselves. That’s the first observation. The peak, the pinnacle, the apex of the demonstration of the glory of God is the demonstration of grace in an infinitely costly act for God. He did not spare his own Son.
That does not solve the problem by itself, but it helps a lot. It gets us in the right direction. The reason it doesn’t solve the problem is that if I came to you right now, and you had a threat in your life, and somebody had a gun to your head, and in the wrestling, I got shot and you got saved, and as I was dying, I said, “My goal in this is that you admire my sacrifice,” you would say, “Oh, that ruined it.” That’s exactly what Jesus says, and that’s what the Father says.
Number two: Now here’s the difference. It says in 1 Peter 3:18 that “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” What is your joy? What is your goal? When I get shot and you have life, I don’t care how selfless I was, for you to contemplate me and make me the satisfaction of your soul would be ridiculous. I don’t care how admirable it was. It wouldn’t satisfy your soul. You were made for something bigger. You were made for God. You will find your completion, your joy, and your satisfaction forever with growing happiness in an infinite God.
For God to say, “I’m sending my Son to die for your sins and to remove every obstacle so that you can see and know him and me,” is to bring you home to joy. It’s to bring you home to infinite happiness. That completes the sacrifice argument. The reason it’s love for God to exalt himself and Christ to exalt himself is that they are exalting the one thing for which we were made and can satisfy our souls. You can help unbelievers get this. You really can. There are analogies in their life, like the Grand Canyon, where they go to see it, and it does something good for them even though it makes them feel small.
The world doesn’t usually like to feel small, but they go to mountains and they go to canyons because something is touched. They don’t know what it is. They don’t have a clue what’s going on. They just know it’s good. They think, “I’m standing on the edge. I feel very threatened. I feel very small, very vulnerable. That’s very big, and I’m happy.” And it’s because they’re tasting what they were made for with a little emblem of God in the canyon or the mountain. You can communicate this to people.
The Nature of Love
I said there were three responses I had. The first is that the pinnacle of his glory is the death of his Son and the sacrifice to cover our sin and display his glory by suffering. There was a sacrifice for God in it. The second response was that he’s bringing us to our delight. That’s loving of him to do. Jesus said:
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35).
All your thirst goes away, and all your hunger goes away because it’s satisfied in your treasure, Jesus Christ. This is love. It’s love for him to exalt himself that way. Anybody else that tries to do that is cruel. Jesus is loving because he is the goal of life, and he is the source of all satisfaction.
The third response has to do with the story of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. I’ll just read you this quickly. This could go for a whole sermon. It has been so helpful to me. I want you to hear it. Let me read John 11:1–6. It says:
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love (mark that word) is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God (you have love and glory, but how do they relate?), so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now it’s the connection between John 11:5 and John 11:6 that is so mind-boggling. It says:
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So (therefore), when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Explain love in that verse. Explain love. What is love? It’s explicitly given to explain the nature of love. It says that he loved him therefore he didn’t save him from dying. Why? The reason is given in John 11:4:
This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God . . .
None Like Him
Evidently, it is more loving to see the glory of the Son of God than to live. So I don’t buy what Erik Reese, Michael Prowse, and early C.S. Lewis say. I don’t buy it that when Jesus says, “Whoever would come after me, let him deny himself. You must love me more than your mother and father,” that it’s egomania. I say that’s love.
Jesus is offering himself to us as glorious, satisfying, and triumphant. God, forgive these words if they’re not honoring to you — God and Christ are stuck with being God. They have no choice about being glorious. Do they? I don’t think so. I mean, the most amazing thing in the universe is the existence of God as he is. He didn’t become anything. He had no daddy. He has no genes.
He’s stuck with being all-satisfying. He’s stuck with being wonderful. He can’t help it. He just is that way. Then he is so much that way that he spills over so that his enjoyment in his fullness can become ours. This is missions. This is what we’re trying to do. Let the nations be glad. Did you know that’s a quote from the Bible? “Let the nations be glad” is a quote from Psalm 67:4. The point is that missionaries go to nations with a message of gladness. God Almighty is the gladdest person in the universe. He sent his Son to make it possible for wicked, rebellious traitors like you to get right by faith alone and have gladness in him forever. That’s infinitely wonderful because it’s going to be his gladness for God in you by the Spirit. This is our message, and so it’s the fuel and the goal of missions. That’s the motive.
The Method of Missions
Now, if that’s what’s driving us, what do we do? What’s the how? We care about the nations. We want them to be glad in God. What should we do?
In 1988, there was an organization called ACMC. In those days, it stood for the Association of Church Mission Committees. Man, there was a lot of energy in those days. Ralph Winter was right at the heart of it. The U.S. Center for World Mission was right at the heart of it. Churches were all thinking about how to be mission mobilized for the unreached peoples because it was being so clear since 1974 when Ralph Winter rang the bell for unreached peoples. Everything started to shift around in the missions community about not just foreign fields but rather, unreached peoples.
I was asked to come to speak in Denver at an ACMC conference, and it involved 600–700 folks. They gave me the title of the sermon — Prayer: The Work of Missions. They gave it to me. I took it. I was so excited to be a part of this. I studied it. My first sentence as I stood before them was, “Prayer, The Work of Missions — it’s not.” I don’t think I made too many enemies because I brought it around in the end, which I will do here, but that is where I want to start.
Prayer movements are glorious. Amen. Be a part of them. But when you’re in a movement, whether my little movement, or your little movement, or whatever movement you’re in, you just start to overstate stuff because you want your movement to sound like the movement. Well, it isn’t. It’s way too overstated to say that prayer is the work of missions. Why do I stumble over that? Because as I read the New Testament, preaching is the work of missions.
Don’t turn me off here because you’re like, “Oh, you’re a preacher, of course you’ve got to say that. If you were a layman, you would like prayer.” No, no. Listen. The seed is the word of God, in the Parable of the Seeds. The seed is the word of God. That’s where the fruit comes from (Luke 8:11). Or listen to Romans 1:16, which says:
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation . . .
When you go to the nations, you go with the gospel. It’s the power of God unto salvation. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing.” You don’t hear prayer. You hear preaching. Or James 1:18 says:
Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth . . .
Or 1 Peter 1:23 says:
You have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God . . .
Or Acts 19:20, summing up how the church was growing so mightily in those days, says:
So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
In other words, the point of the spear into an unreached heart or people group is the word of God preached. The gospel is the frontline work of missions.
The Place of Prayer
Now prayer is awesome in its significance, but you don’t help it be more awesome by making it what it’s not. Just let it be what it gloriously is. It is the summons of almighty power from heaven into the word, on the word, and behind the word. It’s the power that wields the weapon of the word. For example, here are a few passages. Let me start with Jesus. John 17, says:
I do not ask for these only (he’s going to pray for us who live 2,000 years later), but also for those who will believe in me through their word . . .
Here, he’s praying that. Or listen to Acts 4:29–30. This is the early church gathered:
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
How does the word relate to prayer? They pray, “God, grant us to open our mouths and be bold. Don’t replace the open mouth and the boldness with prayer, but empower the open mouth and the boldness with prayer.”
Or listen to 2 Thessalonians 3:1, which says:
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you . . .
There’s the word, doing the work of missions. Grant that prayer would come in by the Spirit and glorify it, speed it on, cause it to run, and be glorified. Or listen to Colossians 4:3:
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ . . .
Here’s one more, Ephesians 6:18. We’ll make a little transition here:
Keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel . . .
You hear from all those passages the relationship between the word and prayer. In fact, in the panel that was here for just a few minutes yesterday evening, somebody asked, “What could we do to advance the revival that might be coming sovereignly?” Mark said, “Lift the sails. You can’t make the wind blow, but you can raise the sails.” I just put a twist on that and said, “Preach the gospel because the Holy Spirit exists to magnify Christ through the gospel.”
Now all I’m adding is that the Holy Spirit comes in answer to prayer. I pray, “Holy Spirit, come now in this moment. Help me to get out of the way. Just help me. I must speak. Words must happen. Words are crucial. You’ve appointed words to change lives, save sinners, and advance the cause, but by themselves they are nothing.” Prayer says, “God, make them powerful. God, send your Holy Spirit.” Prayer is the tapping into the power that wields the sword of the word.
Life Is War
Right here in Ephesians, the last text I quoted, it’s all about warfare, right? I’m going to put prayer now into the context of warfare. Life is war. Here’s my statement. Maybe you’ll remember this because it’s a little couplet:
You cannot know what prayer is for
until you know that life is war.
What I mean by life being war is verses like this:
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called . . .
Or listen to Paul at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:7:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
He’s looking at his whole life when he says that. It’s like a fight. It’s like a race. It’s keeping the faith. If you finish, you will have been a good warrior. If you think life is not war, you probably won’t finish. Now how does prayer fit into that? Ephesians 6 explains it. We all know this passage. Have you ever made the connection between the armor and prayer? Let me just give you a few snippets from Ephesians 6. Start at Ephesians 6:12:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (Do you think people are your problem? They’re not), but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
You don’t have, I want to say, a prayer of a chance against the devil unless you tap into God by prayer. Ephesians 6:14–18 says:
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (the one offensive weapon), which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints . . .
Take the sword of the Spirit praying. A preacher who doesn’t pray is powerless with his sword. He may as well leave it in the scabbard. And a preacher who only prays and never pulls his sword out is powerless. Prayer is not the work of missions — the sword is the means by which you slay the enemies and penetrate the heart of man. It only has power because Ephesians 6:17–18 says:
Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
You cannot know what prayer is for until you know that life is war. I’ll give you one other verse on that particular angle. What is prayer for? It’s for war. Oh, really? Is that why you use it? Listen to John 15:16. I was so stumped by this logic until I just let it be. In John 15:16, Jesus says:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
Does that make sense to you? It didn’t to me at first. He is saying, “I chose you. I’m commissioning you to go, like a commission to get on a mission to bear fruit so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give it to you.” See, it’s backward. Shouldn’t he say, “I’m giving you prayer so that you can go and bear fruit”? That’s the way I would write it, but he didn’t say that. He said, “I’m giving a mission so that your prayers will be answered.” What does that mean? It means prayer is for the mission. You cannot know what prayer is for unless you know that life is war.
It’s as though the field commander, Jesus Christ, has gone out. He has taken his men. They have an enemy. They’re going to take a land. There are a lot of captives back there that are going to take for the general and his allegiance, and he says to the soldiers, “Look, a here’s walkie-talkie for every one of you. I have authority. I have been authorized by the general to give you this. There is a special code. I’m giving it to you. You always, as long as you are in this battle, have access to him. He’s got firepower. If you need him, he’s there.” That’s prayer.
Trading Reinforcements for Refreshments
Do you know what American churches have done? I mean, if you wonder why prayer is powerless in your church, my church, it’s because most Americans have taken a wartime walkie-talkie and turned it into a domestic intercom. They have hung it up in the den connected with the kitchen. If you’ve got a butler, and that’s where he stays, and you’re down there watching videos and you got a little upset stomach, you buzz the intercom, saying, “You can bring me some 7-Up.” Prayer loses. When you take a wartime walkie-talkie and turn it into a domestic intercom, it malfunctions. It’s not made that way. It’s really rugged. But you hang it on your belt like a policeman. They walk into the store and they look like they’re going to topple over because they got so many gizmos hanging on them.
Well, we have one gizmo and a sword in the battle. You pull that out, and say, “I need you. I need you right now.” That’s what prayer is for. “My kid needs you. He’s walking away from Jesus. He’s going to kill himself.” That’s war. Teach your people the magnificence of prayer. It’s meant to empower the word of God. I know you run into all kinds of problems. People ask me, “You’re a Calvinist, right?” And I say, “Well, yes.” And they say, “Well, why do you pray? Why do you pray? God’s already decided everything’s going to happen, so why do you pray?” I say, “Well, if I want a nail in a board, and I get it set up, I don’t say, ‘I wonder why that nail is not in that board.’ I hit it.” Do you want the nail in the board? Hit it with the hammer.
God has ordained that nails go into boards through hammers. He’s ordained that people get saved through praying. Paul prayed in Romans 10:1, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they might be saved.” These were his kinsmen according to the flesh, his Jewish people. You have people you care about. Take hold of God, and don’t let him go. That’s what prayer’s for. It’s for war. It’s to get captives freed and tackle all kinds of pain in the world.
The Sovereingty of God and Prayer
Let me give you a few textual illustrations. This might orient you in this whole issue of prayer and God’s big, sovereign work. Here’s just a few illustrations. Matthew 24:14 promises:
This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
It’s coming. There will be triumph.
I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16).
It’s going to happen. The mission will not fail. The word doesn’t come back empty. Yet he commissions us to pray. Listen to these prayers:
Your kingdom come (Matthew 6:10).
Do you think that’s in doubt? No, you don’t. You don’t think it’s in doubt that the kingdom of God is going to come. Jesus says that we should pray that every day. I say that because he says, “Give us this day our daily bread,” in the prayer, so I presume the prayer is to be prayed every day. Pray every day, “Thy kingdom come.” Why? It’s coming through prayer. That’s why.
It says in Revelation 8 that there’s a bowl in front of God full of incense mixed with the prayers of the saints. One day, he’s going to take this up and throw it on the earth. Do you know how many billions of times the prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” has ascended to heaven? I have the conviction not one of them has been wasted. When it gets to 10 trillion or whatever number the Lord has appointed, the bowl will be full. Every one of those prayers prayed for the last 2,000 years will be answered when he throws his triumph on the earth. God has made prayer a means of his kingdom coming. The kingdom is surely going to come.
The Blessing of Causality
Here’s another example. What about salvation? I’ve already illustrated that, but I’ll give it anyway. Acts 13:48 says:
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
Clearly, God has chosen who’s going to believe. So people say, “Why pray? I mean, if there’s predestination, if God has chosen who’s going to believe, why pray?” The answer is that’s the way he gets the nails in the board.
Why would you drop out? Why would you not want to be used? Why would you not want to be a part of the causality of salvation? Why wouldn’t you want the significance of someday being thanked by a saved person that your prayer was the 1,080th prayer of Mom, Dad, and you that broke through? Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that? It’s so — I want to say evil — but I’ll just say thoughtless of people to say that because he ordains what comes to pass, he doesn’t use means as essential. If you don’t use the hammer, the nail won’t go in. That’s not a compromise of the sovereignty of God.
Here’s just one last verse on prayer before we say a few concluding things on suffering. A lot of verses boggle my mind. I get boggled a lot. Here’s another Piper boggler. I mean, I assume you’re boggled too. Matthew 9:37–38 says:
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
I think, “Father, give me a break. You own the farm. You are an absolute expert in farming. You know exactly how many hands on the farm it takes to get the harvest in. I live on the edge in the servant quarters, and I don’t know anything. I’m so stupid when it comes to global realities, the nature of the church, and the doing of missions. Why are you telling me to ask you for workers? You know how many workers it’s going to take.” Isn’t that weird? That’s weird. An infinite, omniscient, sovereign God turns to his servants on the edge of the farm and says, “Would you want to ask me to provide more laborers here?”
I mean, the only sense I can make out of that is that God really wants you involved. I mean, really. He is thinking, “Help me run this universe. Tell me what you want me to do.” He knows what needs to be done. He’s not stupid. He’s not waiting around, thinking, “I don’t know what to do. I need people.” He doesn’t need people. He blesses people with causality. He draws them in to wield hammers and swords. For whatever theological or personal reasons, we shouldn’t say, “Well, I find that to be a problem. I don’t think I want to be a part of that because it seems inconsistent, logically.”
You can go there if you want. I’m not going there. I’m saying, “Really? Really? Bhutan might be reached if I get on my knees and ask for Shane to go there with his wife? Really? I can have a hand in that? Oh, yes.” Well, don’t let your theology get in the way of the Bible, okay?
Why Is Suffering Necessary?
Here’s the connection with this participation. If you say, “Yes, I want to participate,” it’s going to cost you your life. That’s where we’re closing. We’re on the suffering piece right now. We’re talking about word, prayer, and motive. Now, here we are ending on just a few minutes of what it will cost us.
We’re soft. Believe me, we’re soft. I want you to toughen up a little bit. God gives you toughness when you need it, and it’s good to get ready. I only say it because Jesus said so many things about getting ready. If we’re in a war, if you kind of know what prayer is for because you know that life is war, we’re not playing war games. Eternity is at stake. Our enemy hates us. He is 10,000 times stronger than we are. Eternity hangs in the balance. The war lasts a long time. There are no breathers. Are you going to go on vacation this summer? We are. We’re going in the month of July. Guess who doesn’t go on vacation — the devil. He can kill a pastor on vacation and undo him. He never stops. You can’t let up. There is no vacation from war. There’s only relief at the end.
Here we are in war big-time, and war has casualties. It just so happens that in the kingdom, all the casualties are wounds and not ends. You die, but you live. Here are a few statements as to why the suffering is so necessary in the finishing of the Great Commission, okay? I’ve got 10, but I’m only going to give you whatever I have time for. I’m looking at the seven minutes on that little doohickey there.
Following the Suffering Savior
Number one Because Jesus suffered and said we would. John 15:20 says:
Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
We are not greater than Jesus. Jesus came into the world to suffer. He said, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21). It is built in. If you come to Jesus, you come to suffer. There’s no escape.
Number two: Because Paul said there’s no other way home. This was discipleship 101 as he returned to the little baby churches:
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:21–22).
This is the only thing we’re told about what discipleship involves in those churches. Have you ever led anybody to Jesus? You should tell them about three minutes later that there are many tribulations on the way.
Number three: Because Peter said it’s the normal path of blessing. 1 Peter 4:12–14 says:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed . . .
Number four: Because Paul said it’s the normal cost of godliness. You can’t do missions if you’re not pursuing godliness. Second Timothy 3:12 says:
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . . .
These are not ifs; these are givens.
Number five: Because in suffering, he is refining our faith. Listen to how he treated Paul. Listen to how the Lord treated his beloved Paul. Second Corinthians 1:8–9, says:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
Whose purpose was that? It wasn’t the devil’s. That was God’s design. God brought him to the brink of death to strip him of all self-reliance, and Paul didn’t get mad at him. In fact, Paul rejoiced.
Christ’s Power Displayed Through Weakness
I’m going to skip some. This is just a continuation of that last one. Listen to 2 Corinthians 12:9. Paul had a thorn in the flesh, right? Jesus gave it to him to keep him from being too conceited. Three times, he says, “God, please take it away. God, please take it away. God, in the name of your Son, Jesus, it hurts. Please take it away.” This is what he then says:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
We can imagine Erik Reese responding to this, or Michael Prowse, or early C.S. Lewis, or maybe you, saying, “It hurts. You’re going to make your power look perfect in my pain. What kind of God are you?” Paul didn’t respond like that. Listen to how he responded:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
That’s a Copernican Revolution of emotions. His joy has moved so profoundly from his own private comforts into the glory of Jesus that when Jesus says, “The reason you’re going through this is that my power will be perfected in you, and people will make more of me when they see how you are satisfied in me in spite of your pain that I am bringing you. I will be lifted up,” Paul says, “Yes, yes. That’s why I’m on the planet. I want others to see.”
True Salt and Light
Maybe I’ll close with this one. Jesus said:
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:13–16).
Now here’s my question. Jesus speaks of salt and light, and people see you and give glory to God, not you. Why are they giving glory to God, not you, when you did the good work? That’s a huge question. How do you do good works according to that verse without getting attention mainly for yourself and instead for God? That’s a huge issue in missions, in cities, in churches, and in families. My answer is to just back up a few verses and start at Matthew 5:11, not Matthew 5:14. Here we go:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth . . . (Matthew 5:11–13).
Do you think there’s any connection there? I do. What’s salty about you? What is salty about you that people would go, “Where did that come from? That’s good. That’s really unusual. That’s strange and wonderful.” I think it’s joy in the midst of suffering.
The Savor of Joyful Suffering
He says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven (namely, Jesus) . . . You are the salt of the earth.” People taste that. People taste that, don’t they? If you go lay your life down in Afghanistan and endure all kinds of disease and privation and maintain hope and joy in God, people are going to say, “I’ve never tasted anything quite like that.” Mom and Dad might finally come around if they watch you do that long enough. Granddad and Grandmamma, who said, “Why are you taking my grandbaby there?” might come around if they see the light and taste the salt.
I think good deeds are the form this takes, this light, but what makes it tangy is that it’s costing you something, and you’re not losing your joy in him. That’s why people glorify him. They can’t explain why your heart is content in the midst of this mess of missions.
Let me see if I can sum it up. The task of missions is that we be like Paul and penetrate more and more unreached peoples. The foundation of all that work is Jesus came into the world to die for sinners and rise again so that the gospel could spread, so that whoever believes might have eternal life and not perish. The motive is the glory of God in the gladness of the nations. It begins with the gladness in our own hearts in the glory of God and the gladness going out there to the nations. The cost . . . it will cost you everything. It will cost you your life.
Therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33).
I’m saying it costs you your life. Everything is his, and it may cost you your literal life. The reward is everlasting joy in Jesus forever. Be biblically missional — meaning, pursue the gladness of the nations, especially the ones that are not yet reached.