Prayer

Pursuing Peoples When Life Is War and God Is Sovereign

First Presbyterian Church Missions Conference | Augusta, Georgia


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

I said last night that in order to mobilize the church or a denomination or a city or a movement in missions, you need to talk about other things bigger and greater than missions. And among those other things, I am including this week, worship, prayer, and suffering. And now tonight I say the same thing about prayer. If you want to mobilize people for prayer, if you want to inspire people to pray, if you want to become radical in prayer with people, then you have to talk about something greater than prayer also.

And the two things that I want to talk about that undergird prayer are (1) life as war and (2) God as sovereign. So pursuing peoples through prayer when life is war and God is sovereign is our theme for tonight. And then as a third heading after life is war and God is sovereign comes the awesome place of prayer in a worldview with God as sovereign in life is war.

1. Life Is War

I’m still worried about what I mean by life is war and God is sovereign. We have to talk first about life being war. It’s utterly impossible for people to get a handle on what prayer is for until they know that life is war. You cannot know what prayer is for until you know that life is war. The stakes are infinitely higher than any nuclear disaster of what’s happening in the world today. The stakes that are in play today in this city and among the unreached peoples of the world are far worse than anything in World War II — far worse.

“You cannot know what prayer is for until you know that life is war.”

And the reason we have to talk about God being sovereign is because we wouldn’t have any confidence that he would win the war if he weren’t. If God doesn’t rule, we weren’t absolutely confident that he could triumph over all his foes, including all his human foes and his supernatural foes, then our prayers would be weak and without confidence. And then comes the place of prayer.

Biblical Foundations

So, first, life is war. Let’s look at some textual foundations in the Bible. Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). So he’s at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight.” His life has been a fight. Life is a fight. Nobody makes it to the end of their lives as a Christian without a fight because you are surrounded by so many enemies inside and outside of your soul that don’t want you to finish well.

Jesus said in Mark 13:13, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” Endurance is the name of the game in the Christian life. Paul also said, “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26).

So Paul saw his whole ministry as pummeling his body, beating it down when it would tend to rise up in rebellion against the kind of stresses that he had to live under in order to be a missionary for God. He kept saying no to his body. “I bear in my body the marks Jesus.” He said, “I die daily.” Paul said, “Though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3). His whole ministry, his whole life was conceived in terms of a war, tremendous obstacles, tremendous enemies, and tremendous strong towers of opposition were in his way. And the only way he would make any headway in the world, in ministry and in the Christian life, is to be a successful warrior.

Wartime Lifestyle

Let’s look at one more text. This is perhaps the most familiar New Testament text on spiritual war. Ephesians 6:12–13:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God.

You are to clothe yourselves with the armor of God and every day wear a helmet, a breastplate, a big belt, fitting shoes, have a shield, and have a sword. And that’s life. And yet almost nobody lives that way today.

This is why we make such a little impact in our country and why we are not finished with the Great Commission. Almost nobody lives as if life is war. Almost all of you live as if it’s peacetime. In peacetime, this life goes on. You’re concerned about your own comforts and your securities. In wartime, everything changes. Some of you are old enough to live through World War II. Everything changes for everybody in wartime. Newspapers carry the headlines about how the troops are doing on the front lines. In wartime, families talk about the family members that are there and may never be there again. In wartime, we are armed, we are vigilant, and we are watchful. In wartime, we don’t spend our money the way we used to spend our money during peacetime. In wartime, there’s austerity, there are strategic ways of using everything. Everybody’s cutting back. In wartime, it touches everybody. In wartime, luxury liners become troop carriers.

Nobody lives like it’s wartime in America — almost nobody. The old Queen Mary that was once a luxury liner and then it was co-opted in World War II and became a troop carrier. And parts of it are divided up so that you can see the way it was designed when it was a luxury liner with the ten-piece settings of silverware, and one nice berth to each room. And then across the hall, the way it was set with ten pans and bunks ten high in the rooms, and how it carried 10,000 soldiers instead of 1,000 people on luxury vacations. That’s the way things change in wartime.

A Far Worse Enemy

Very few people think we’re in war today, but we are in a war vastly more serious than World War II. Vastly more horrible things are happening today in the warfare we’re in. Satan is a much worse enemy than Hitler or Mussolini or anybody else ever was. The conflict isn’t restricted to the theater of Europe or America or anywhere else. It’s global — every town, every city, every neighborhood. And the casualties don’t just lose an arm, or an eye, or an earthly life. They lose everything, and they lose it forever in hell.

And until people believe that life is war and that the stakes are higher and everything is more urgent, then we will go on living as though things were peaceful and life will not be seen as war. And we won’t pray. You don’t pray like it’s wartime. Hardly any of you do. If it were wartime and your kid were on the front lines and every day they posted about 80,000 casualties, you’d pray. But your kids, they’re in no danger. You’re not in any danger as far as you can imagine. So you don’t pray.

Prayer and Wartime

Here’s the connection between prayer and wartime. Let me just read those verses toward the end of Ephesians 6 again.

Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, 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.

To pray is a fight. One of the last pitiful things Jesus ever said, “Could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” But do you even try? No, because it’s not wartime. Life is easy. Life is comfortable. Life is rosy. We’re padded on every side with comforts and securities. What’s to pray?

There’s another connection between mission and prayer found in John 15:16: “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.” Now here comes one of the most stunning, logical connections to prayer that I’ve ever seen in the New Testament. Start over and watch for this now. “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.” Now here’s the purpose that I have appointed you and sent you to bear fruit. Here’s the purpose, he says, “so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

That’s odd logic. I chose you. I sent you. Go bear fruit for me in order that your prayers might be answered. What is that? When I read that years ago trying to put those pieces together, I realized my whole concept of prayer and needed an adjustment. Prayer is for war. He gives us a role in warfare. He puts us on the front lines to defeat the enemies and to win back prisoners from the enemy so that we will have something to pray about. That’s what it says. “You didn’t choose me, I chose you. I recruited you. I send you to go and bear fruit so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, it will be done for you. The Father will answer your prayers when you’re obedient to my commission.”

Not an Intercom, but a Walkie-Talkie

You know, I never tire of thinking and often say to our people back home, the main reason prayer malfunctions in the mouth of God’s people is because they are AWOL and they are trying to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom to call up the butler for another pillow, instead of to call the general for fire cover while they go to the city.

If all prayer is for you is to buzz the intercom for a few more comforts or you got a little ache in your tummy and you want the butler to bring in aspirin, the heavenly butler, it will malfunction. It will malfunction in your life. And you’ll stop doing it except maybe a minute or two a day because what’s the point? It’s just no big deal. I can get along frankly, I got doctors, and I’ve got insurance policies, and I’ve got grocery stores, and I’ve got a car, and I’ve got everything I need thank you. So then what is the point of prayer? It’s just an unnecessary add-on. And the reason it is an unnecessary add-on is that we don’t know that life is war and that’s what prayer is for.

“If you want to mobilize your life for prayer, you’ve got to know that life is war.”

Prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie. It is not a domestic intercom to ring up the butler to bring another comfort to the den where we are already more secure than we should be. So my picture of the Christian life is that when you get saved, you get recruited. God doesn’t recruit Christians for ministry. He recruits unbelievers for war. If you’re saved, you’re a soldier or you’re AWOL. And he recruits us and he gives us a walkie-talkie called prayer.

He says, “There is a frequency to this walkie-talkie. It’s got one frequency, only one. It’s wired to the general. The general has the perfect oversight, the lay of the battlefield. He has a place for you to fight. It’s very dangerous. The wartime walkie-talkie is to help you locate yourself in there. It’s to help you have resources and strength and courage to be there. It’s to call in wisdom for what words to say. It’s to help you call in firepower when the danger comes. If you get wounded, it’s to call in for healing so that you can keep on fighting, not get more comfortable.” And if you try to change it to an FM station so you can call your favorite disc jockey and say play your favorite tune while you go over and cross your legs under a palm tree, it won’t work.

Mobilize Your Life for Prayer

So my first point is that if you want to mobilize your life for prayer, you’ve got to know that life is war. So if you’re not praying right now, I wouldn’t say go home and try to pray. I would not. I wouldn’t say that. That’s not what you need to do. You need to go home and get on your knees and open your Bible and discover what the Christian life is about. It’s about a dangerous life-threatening engagement in overcoming evil in the world.

Augusta is full of evil. Minneapolis is full of evil. It’s in people’s hearts. It’s in people’s marriages, it’s in kids’ minds, it’s in racism, and it’s in unjust structures. It’s in business practices that are subtle and selfish, profit-driven only with no sense of integrity. Evil is rife in the world, and it’s especially in the devil and the hearts of unbelief and all the bondage that is holding people in this city and throughout the south. It’s in cultural Christianity in churches that are do-nothing churches. Just comfortable go and feel good and dress nice, and say nice things, and everybody feels good. That’s evil. It’s penetrating life — southern life, northern life, American life.

To be called to Christ is to be called to something so radically different that it is dangerous. It’s dangerous socially, it’s dangerous personally, it’s dangerous physically, it’s dangerous emotionally. It’s trying. It’s hard. And God is adequate. He’ll be with you. All authority in heaven and on earth is his. Go make disciples. Even if it costs you your life, go and make disciples. he’ll be with you to the close of the age (Matthew 28:18–20).

When you know that life is war, you’ll know what prayer is for. There will be an urgency in prayer, a vigilance in prayer, a watching in prayer, perseverance in prayer. And we will abandon ourselves to prayer. That’s the first thing we need to talk about before we talk about prayer. Life is war.

2. God Is Sovereign

Here’s the second one. God is sovereign. He’s going to win the war. Now, why is it that embracing God’s sovereignty is so important? Well, I’ve mentioned one. I think if you don’t have confidence that the war’s going to be won by the sovereign God of the universe, you won’t feel the ongoing commitment to lay hold of him, to enable you to be a part of the triumph in prayer. But here’s the second reason. You won’t really feel as though you have any right to ask him to save anybody if he doesn’t have the right to save anybody. And he won’t have the right to save anybody unless he has the right to be sovereign over their lives. And he is sovereign over their lives, and he does have a right to save them.

A Sovereign Right to Save

Until we embrace that God is sovereign, we can’t pray consistently that he would actually save lost sinners like Paul does: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). What’s he praying? When you pray, you’re talking to God. And when you pray, you’re asking God to do things. What’s he asking him to do? Answer: save them. Do you ask God to save people, or do you believe he has the right to save people? It’s a big question. It’s very hard to pray consistently that God would save people if you don’t believe he has the right and authority to save people.

I believe he does have that right, but many people don’t. They don’t believe that God has the right and the authority to save people, to actually move into their lives, open blind eyes, open deaf ears, incline wicked hearts toward Jesus so that they close with Christ in receiving. They believe that God doesn’t have the right to do that. So you can’t ask him to do it. I pray for my son that God would save him. Not play with him, not toy with him. Save him. Do whatever you have to do. Save him. That’s the way I pray for my son.

What do you do with the New Covenant texts like Ezekiel 11:19? In the New Covenant, God will take out the heart of stone and put in the heart of flesh. I turn those into prayers. That’s would God says he’s going to do. I ask him to do it. I say, “Take out the heart of stone. Put in the heart of flesh. Would you do that, Father? Do it for people in this room right now who walked in here with hearts of stone towards you? Would you take out the heart of stone, put in the heart of flesh like you promised in Ezekiel 11:19 you’re going to do in the New Covenant?”

Or Deuteronomy 30:6: “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” I say, “Lord, circumcise his heart so that he loves you.” That’s the way I pray. “Do what you promised you weren’t going to do. Circumcise his heart so that he’ll love you.”

I just turned all these texts of God’s wonderful New Covenant promises and grace into prayers. Ezekiel 36:27: “Father, put your spirit within them and cause them to walk in your statutes.” Second Timothy 2:25: “Lord, grant them repentance that they may come to a knowledge of the truth.” Acts 16:14: “Lord open their eyes so that they give heed to the gospel just like you did for Lydia.”

There are folks who believe that you just can’t pray like that because God doesn’t have the final say in who becomes a Christian. We have the final say. I have the ultimate self-determination, not God. I decide who’s in heaven, not God. Human beings govern who is in the bride of Christ. Human beings govern the population of heaven. Human beings decide who will be among the family of God. God doesn’t decide any of that. Only human beings decide. That is a whole theology out there that teaches that. It’s very hard to pray if you believe that.

How do they pray? Here are a couple of examples. I take these out of a book from that side of the church. They pray things like, “Ask God to cause a specific person to begin questioning whom they can really trust in life.” Well, that’s a perfectly legitimate prayer. But my question is, why is it right for God to cause a person to think a question they would not have thought had he not influenced them to think it and wrong for God to cause them to think and answer that they wouldn’t have thought if he’d not have taught them to think it.”

“Until we embrace that God is sovereign, we can’t pray consistently that he would actually save lost sinners.”

Here’s another prayer that they pray who don’t believe that God has the right to decisively save anybody. “Pray that God will plant in the hearts of these people an inner unrest together with a longing to know the truth.” Here’s my question. How strong of a longing do you pray for him to plant? Do you ask God to plant a longing in your wayward child that’s strong enough to lead him to Christ, or a weak longing that would only get him maybe a fourth of the way there, or three-fourths of the way there? What kind of a longing do you ask God to put in your child? A decisive, sin, overpowering longing, or just a little longing that doesn’t jeopardize his own self-determination?

You cannot pray consistently that God would save people if you don’t believe he has the right to save people. And there are so many people who are taught that God doesn’t have the right to save anybody, and therefore, they lame the prayers of God’s people so that they don’t take hold of God and say, “Save my family. Save the Muslims, save the Hindu, save the people in Guinea. O God, triumph over the devil. Shatter the bondage of their wills, O God, to their own flesh and corruption and blindness and deafness. Shatter, break in, do whatever you have to do. Almighty God, break in and save the people.”

You can’t pray like that. You have to pray about nudges and suggestions. And even then, I’m a little bit self-conscious about that because should the nudges be strong or should they be weak? Should they be compelling ideas that God plants in their minds or non-compelling ideas that he plants in their minds? Prayer founders on a failure to love the sovereignty of God.

If you pray for a divine influence in a sinner’s life, you’re either going to pray for a successful influence or not. If you pray for a successful influence from God in their lives, you’ve taken away their ultimate self-determination. If you don’t pray for a successful influence, you’re not praying for their salvation. Paul leaves no doubt where he stands on this issue in Romans 9:16: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

I remember at Urbana ’67 where God set me on fire for missions. John Alexander was there, he was the president of InterVarsity in those days and he had come back from years of service in Pakistan where it was very hard. And some student asked him about this theology of God’s sovereignty. And he said, “Twenty years ago, I don’t think I would have become a missionary if I had believed that God was sovereign and had the decisive, final, ultimate right and authority to save sinners. And men didn’t call that final ultimate shot themselves. But today, having labored for all these years in a place where I have seen the bondage and the impossibility of saving men, I would not become a missionary unless I did believe in the sovereignty of God and his right to triumph over all obstacles and save sinners.”

If you work in a hard place, say in a Muslim place where there’s not been a convert for seven years, and you’re pouring out your life, you’re sharing the gospel, and you’re risking your children’s health, you’ve got to believe God has the right to do miracles here, to open people to himself and draw them effectually to himself and save them so that you pray these prayers. “God take out of their flesh the hearts of stone and put in hearts of flesh. Circumcise their heart that they may love you. Put your Spirit within them, cause them to walk in your statutes. Grant them repentance that they may come to a knowledge of the truth. Open their eyes that they may see and believe the gospel.”

So the first point under God is sovereign is that in order for prayer to flourish in missions, and for missions, and for evangelism the way it ought to flourish, we need to believe that God is sovereign and has the right and authority to save sinners.

God Will Win

And the second point under this is that we need to realize that God’s going to win. And it’s the triumph that he is assured of that has driven the modern missionary movement from the earliest days in the life of William Carey and others.

The modern missionary movement was born in the late 1700s among people who shared this tremendous confidence that God is sovereign over the world — sovereign over Nigeria, sovereign over India, sovereign over America, sovereign over Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Chad. Sovereign over North Korea and Cuba, and Vietnam. Sovereign over the places that seem so hard, so close, sovereign over China. And we’ll try it out there. And because they read texts like these: Psalm 86:8–10:

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
   nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
   and worship before you, O Lord,
   and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
   you alone are God.

Or Genesis 12:3: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Or Psalm 2:8: “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” Or Psalm 22:27: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.” Or Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” That’s the most authoritative word Jesus ever spoke. “This gospel of the kingdom will spread under the sovereign hand of my Father. It will become an intelligible, culturally relevant testimony to all the peoples.” And they have not all been reached yet. And then, the end will come. In other words, “My purpose will triumph. All Authority is mine. I’ll get it done. I’ll involve you in it. If you don’t participate, I leave you. I go to another. You don’t decide whether this mission gets finished. I decide I will build my church. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. Join me, you participate in victory. Leave me, you lose. I will win. I’m God.” Now that drove the modern missionary movement, that kind of tremendous sense of God’s right and authority over nations and peoples.

There was a man named John Eliot. He crossed the Atlantic, came to America in 1631. He was 27 years old. And he became a pastor in Roxbury, Massachusetts about a mile from Boston in those days, it’s in Boston today. Cotton Mather in those days wrote that in that area, there were twenty tribes of Native Americans — peoples. Native Americans are not a people. They are peoples. They’re Cherokee, and Ojibwe, and lots of different tribes. There were twenty peoples unreached, untouched, absolutely never touched before within walking distance of Boston in 1631 while these Puritans were holed up in the city.

And good old John Eliot burned in his soul as a pastor with this kind of confidence. And little by little as he became more and more aware of what surrounded him out there in the woods, his theology of the sovereignty of God and the triumph of God gripped him. And he thought: If it’s true, if what I believe is true that God is sovereign and he means for all the peoples of the world to be touched, and that “you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth “(Revelation 5:9), if that’s true, then if somebody were to dare to learn the Algonquin language, one of them, the Algonquin language and go and preach among them, though he may lose his life, the gospel is going to triumph there. Somebody’s going to get saved, a church will be planted. And he took it on himself. And you know how old he was when you decided to do that? He was forty. Not a lot of people lived beyond forty in those days. That’s old in 1631.

So he’s forty, he’s beyond middle age. So all you people beyond middle age, this is for you. You’re called finishers today. There’s a whole movement among you. Praise God for it. I’m one of you. You’re called finishers. The people who’ve made their bucks and it doesn’t satisfy. The house doesn’t satisfy, the boats don’t satisfy, the golf course doesn’t satisfy, the policies don’t satisfy, the portfolio doesn’t satisfy, you’ve got twenty to thirty good, healthy years left. Give it. You don’t have to keep doing what you’ve always done. Dream a radical new dream.

So at forty, he decides he’s going to learn this language. Some of the words in the Algonquin language were as long as our alphabet. And he learned it, and he poured out his life for 44 more years. He planted churches and a little Bible college. There were Indian churches with Indian pastors who had been prepared in Indian little Bible institutes that he had done starting at forty because he believed, this is his famous sentence, that “Prayers and pains through faith in Christ Jesus will do anything.” I love that sentence. Prayers and pains through faith in Christ Jesus will do anything.

“Prayers and pains through faith in Christ Jesus will do anything.”

So my point is a second thing that will drive confident, engaged prayer for missions is the confidence that he’s going to win. He’s going to triumph among the peoples. You can pray daring prayers for yourself and your families. There’s just so much fear in American church. So much sold out slavery to security. The poorest neighborhood in Minneapolis is across the highway where I live and a lot of staff live. And when staff interview at our church, they look around this neighborhood and they wonder, “You expect people to live near the church?” We say, “Well, all of us do. Yes.” And then come the questions, “Is it safe? How about the kids?” And I take a read pretty quick whether they belong among us. If that’s your number one concern, see you later. You’re not our kind of person. And that’s the way most people are. Will it be safe for my kids in Guinea, and will they get malaria and die? Well yeah, they might. If that’s the way you think, you just haven’t got it yet.

The Apostle Paul would find the concept of closed countries unintelligible. If you say, “Explain it to me. I’ve never heard that term before. What’s a closed country?” It’s a country where if you try to preach the gospel, you might be put in jail. “So how’s that closed? I don’t understand.”

3. The Place of Prayer

So we need to talk about life is war and God is sovereign. And I close with the third point. If you start to understand that life is war and the stakes are high, and that God is sovereign and he has a right to save, and he’s going to win this war. Then what’s the awesome place of prayer? Well, it is amazing that God has made the advancement of his purposes and the triumph of his warfare contingent upon the word of God spreading.

Nobody believes unless a preacher is sent. Paul said in Romans 10:14–15, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” Answer is: they won’t. And so the gospel and the warfare will be lost without the preaching of the gospel. We are an essential piece in God’s way of getting it done. He’s not going to create any other gospel out there through dreams or any other means by which people can be saved. It will come through the mouth of Christians coming from places where the church has been planted to the places where the church hasn’t been planted. That’s his program, it won’t spread or happen any other way. There have to be people who go and make and disciple people.

So the gospel is dependent or the warfare is dependent upon the spread of the gospel. And here’s the amazing part. He has guaranteed that that’s going to happen.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
   and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
   it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
   and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10–11)

Contingent upon Prayer

His purpose is going to triumph because his word, which he sends through people is going to grip people and create a church. That’s going to happen. This gospel will be preached. Now, here’s the amazing role of prayer. He has made that assured success of the gospel contingent upon prayer.

Ephesians 6:19: “[Pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” He wouldn’t have asked for that kind of prayer as the apostle if prayer weren’t important for it to happen.

Colossians 4:3: “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” Second Thessalonians 3:1: “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored.” The word running and triumphing is contingent upon prayers of God’s people for the word bearers, which means that the ultimate triumph of God in the world will be guaranteed by God’s guarantee of our prayers.

God will see to it that people pray. He has made the triumph of his cause dependent on the preaching of the gospel. He has made the triumph of the preaching of the gospel dependent on prayers. And therefore, since all of that is sure, he must make sure that the prayers happen. And they will. The only question for you tonight is are you going to be among the number who are not left behind in utter American insignificance and security, comfortable, happy, and meaningless, golfing your way into the presence of the Judge?

Pray to the Lord Night and Day

You know, one of the most striking prayers or texts on prayer is Matthew 9:38: “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” My wife and I took that in hand about seventeen years ago. We looked at each other and said, “What can we do? What can we do with this church to make it a seedbed of missions, firepower for missions in the world?” We said, “Let’s do what Jesus said. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into the harvest.” So we began to pray.

When you start to do that, the Lord starts to work in your own heart and give you ideas. So we felt led to create a thing called missions in the manse. “Manse” is a fancy old word for my house. And missions in the manse means twice a year on a Friday night, I’ll wave a little banner on Sunday morning and say, “Everybody who’s given to missions and wants to dream about missions in your life, come to my house. I’ll take all the furniture out of the living room and the dining room, and you’ll sit on the floor, and we’ll be there for three hours to dream together and pray together, and sing together, and challenge each other.” We did that for the first time in March 1984, and 60 people showed up. And we’ve done it 36 times since then on and off through those years. And what a difference it has made.

“The ultimate triumph of God in the world will be guaranteed by God’s guarantee of our prayers.”

My dining room table miraculously still holds together. I unscrew all the legs off of it, take it all apart, roll it into the den, take all the furniture up to the bedrooms, clear everything out, and 140 people now pack our living room and dining room. I had to call up the fire marshal one time, said, “This house was built in 1919 or something. Will it fall into the basement if this many people are on here?” And they said, “Probably shouldn’t.” Probably shouldn’t, that’s not very reassuring. But you take risks, right?

Let’s close with Luke 18:7–8: “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” That’s a puzzling text. But here’s the challenge. It holds out to us. Do you join this text in crying out, “O God, O God, how long until you vindicate your martyrs, and vindicate your suffering saints, and vindicate those who are the nobodies who are going around encased, people whom the world is not worthy? How long until you vindicate all those who have laid down their lives for the centuries and show in this world of indifference that you indeed are God and triumphant? How long, O Lord, do you remain hidden behind the skies? When will you split it open and come back and show that you are real, and establish your kingdom, and make your son visibly triumphant and not just quietly triumphant?”

You know what the answer to this text might be in our lives? When you cry to me day and night, how are you doing? Will not God vindicate his elect who cry to him day and night? That’s the way you pray in wartime, not in peacetime. In peacetime, you go to bed at ten, and you go to work, and you watch TV in the evening. In wartime, you wake up and you pray because you just had a dream about your son. You stop during the day. You think about the bombs dropping. You think about the devil. You think about the power of unbelief that’s holding my twenty-one-year-old in bondage right now. And you come to terms with the absolute incredible power of sin, and the supernatural force of darkness in the world that can send him to hell if he doesn’t turn.

And then you pray day and night — day and night. And if your heart is big enough to grasp somebody besides your own kids, like all the kids in your church, or all the kids in a city, or all the kids in Bombay, or all the little prostitute girls in Bangkok, if your heart gets big enough, you just might pray around the clock.

We’re going to sing a song in a minute about the triumph of God. Let it call you to be a person who believes that life is war, that God is sovereign, that prayer is central, and that the victory is assured.