The Global God Who Gives the Great Commission

Desiring God 2011 National Conference

Finish the Mission: For the Joy of All Peoples

While in Kigali, Rwanda, I visited a Catholic church on the outskirts of the city that serves as one of the many genocide memorials. I knew the story of Rwanda, but stepping into that place was more significant than I could have guessed. It wrecked me emotionally, and I don’t think I’m going to get put back together for a while.


Perhaps you’ve read the story, whether the account by the Bishop of Rwanda or any of the various historical accounts. This happened in our lifetime, by the way, when we were all busy doing something else. In this particular church I visited, ten thousand men, women, and children had come for refuge thinking that the church would be a safe haven, only to be sold out by the leadership there, locked in by the militia, and systematically slaughtered over a two-day period.

When you walk into this empty genocide memorial, you see victims’ clothing piled on pew benches, and in a memorial grave behind the building, many of their bones are still on display. They want the bones to be seen and not forgotten.

As I walked away and processed so many things, on many levels, what I had to face at the bottom of it all is that this world is messed up at an astounding magnitude. But that’s not the end of the story. At the bottom of all the mess, there is a God. There is a God, one God.

One glorious God. An amazing, beautiful God beyond our wildest dreams and our wildest imagination. And that God has chosen to invite us close to him. In the midst of the mess, he has invited us into life with him through his gospel. Then he has chosen — crazy as it may seem — to link arms with us, in some sense, and give us all marching orders, if you will.


Christians are not at their leisure — that’s the heartbeat of what I sense God wants me to bring in this chapter. We are not at our leisure. Rather, we are under the mandate of the grace of God — grace that found us, restored us, redeemed us, breathed life back into our dormant lungs, and brought us back from the grave for a purpose. And that purpose is that we would, with everything in us, become an amplifier of the beauty of Jesus among all the peoples on this planet. This mission is crystal clear.

Amidst the rubble, an intoxicating God has chosen us to be close to him and join him on mission.

There is no room for negotiating with God in taking up a book like the one you have in your hands. There should be no, Oh, I’m just going to read this and ask the Lord to speak to my heart and see if he might want to nudge me toward his mission endeavor. That’s not an option here. There is not going to be one category for those called to the nations and then a second category for those who don’t feel this is their particular thing.

If we’re in Jesus, all of us are in one camp, and it’s the camp called “the gospel of grace.” And when you receive it, you become a participator in God’s global purpose. When you truly embrace the gospel, you immediately become a participator in the beautiful plan of God, whether you realize it right away or later on (maybe while reading a chapter like this).


The psalmist says it like this in Psalm 40:1–2: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” He heard my cry. He heard me. And what did he do? He acted. He came down into the pit I was in. He reached out and he lifted me up. And he set my feet on a rock.

Far too many Christians put a period right there and say, Isn’t that awesome? I was in such bad shape, and Jesus reached down and brought me out. And look what he did. He put my feet on a rock, and that’s awesome. But there’s more to it than that.

The gospel in Psalm 40 is the full gospel. It goes all the way out. It produces proclaimers of the story of redemption. Psalm 40:3: “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”

“He put a new song in my mouth.” So if you’re not singing, you may not be saved. Psalm 40 says that he put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to my God, so that many — not merely one person in the course of my lifetime, but many — many would hear and believe, putting their trust in the Lord.

There is a ripple effect to the gospel that’s inevitable. There’s a ripple effect to true grace. It doesn’t lead us to only sit and contemplate what happened to us. It leads us to proclaim what’s happened to us — and what can happen to anybody and everybody on the planet.


The speaking assignment given to me originally was “The Global God Who Gives the Great Commission.” I love that title, and I carried it in my head for a while. But toward the end of the journey, I modified it a little. I thought we could take a step back from “the global God” and think more about the galactic God. Global is way too small for the God we worship. God is bigger than we think he is. No matter how big you think he is, he’s bigger. We barely have a clue as to the magnitude of whom we’re dealing with.

And even galactic is too small, because galaxies are an idea that God had. I love the saying, “The universe is one of God’s thoughts.” True, and amazing. And I’ve tweaked the title to be “The Galactic God Who Invites Us into His Glorious Plan.”


So let’s begin this book on finishing the mission by focusing on the God who is inviting us into it. Isaiah 6 has been in my heart as I’ve prayed about what to say here. Isaiah 6 seems to say it all. When you have a vision, as Isaiah had, about who God is, that’s all you really need. If you see what Isaiah saw, that should do it. There doesn’t need to be any application at the end of a pure vision of the glory of God.

The gospel leads, not only to contemplation, but to proclamation.

When you get a vision of who God is, of his magnificence and splendor, you don’t need somebody to come along and give you three steps to take. When we have a true vision, even a fleeting glimpse of the glory of God, it absolutely wrecks us but in a good way. The Spirit of God then leads us through a process of reclaiming the wreckage and putting us back together again and on a new track, the track of his glorious plan.

It seems that it all happened in a very small window of time for Isaiah. He saw the Lord. He saw him high and lifted up, not low and watered down. He saw that just the hem of the Lord’s robe filled the temple. That’s glory. And Isaiah saw worship happening there as these marvelous angelic beings, crying out one to the other, back and forth antiphonally, echoed the praises of God.

It’s not recorded here, but perhaps in the moment, Isaiah realized that worship was happening with or without him. Worship didn’t begin when Isaiah showed up. It was already going on. And worship doesn’t begin when you and I decide to sing a song of praise. Worship happens wherever God is present.


Here Isaiah saw something that wrecked him to the point that he said, “Woe is me!” (Isaiah 6:5). He knew he was a sinner. He didn’t need anybody to tell him what kind of trouble he was in. He knew that he was done. He was finished, he thought. Carry that as you read verse 6. Isaiah thinks he is on the brink of being finished when one of those beings comes flying from the altar toward him. But to his surprise, instantly transformation came — by the mercy of God.

Then he hears the voice of the Lord: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (verse 8a). Who would ever have expected that such a powerful and majestic God would ask such a question? Who knew that he would see fit to give Isaiah such a vision, wreck him in his own sinful condition, have the searing grace of God burn into his life, and then immediately have him overhear such a shocking question? Just talking among ourselves in a triune conversation here: “Who will go for us?” Isaiah hears the question. What? What do you mean? You’re sending somebody? Somebody’s going somewhere? “Here am I! Send me” (verse 8b).

I love the immediacy of Isaiah’s response. There was no whiff of “Well, let me go home and pray about what God has for me.” Let me save you the time. Let me ask you three questions: (1) Have you seen this God? I’m not asking if you’ve heard about him. Have you seen this God? (2) Have you ever felt that desperate and been touched with that kind of grace? (3) Did you hear God when he said, “Whom shall I send?” Did you hear that? Because you can’t be near the cross and not hear God say it.

This world is messed up on a magnitude that is staggering. People are lost, and God cares. And he’s asking you, right now, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”


Let’s back up a few steps and just think about God for a minute. Think about who’s asking the question. I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone say, “Can you move your car?” and you say, “Well, who’s asking?” What an arrogant kind of me-centered world we live in. “I might move the car. Who’s asking?”

So here’s what I want to do in this chapter: look behind the question “Whom shall I send?” at who’s asking. The question is being asked by a galactic God, who will absolutely blow your mind — a God who is being worshiped right now, I’d like for you to know, by the whole universe in the arresting fashion of the vision of Isaiah 6.

“No matter how big you think God is, he’s bigger.”

I just want you to know that the worship of God didn’t start with you or with your church and its weekend gatherings. God isn’t banking on our worship. He isn’t saying, “I hope they sing me some songs, because I really need some worship.” Seraphim are calling out, back and forth, to each other. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (verse 3). God is being worshiped because he is God, and the whole created universe — in some way, shape, or form — is echoing praise to him. He is a galactic God, and the whole universe is his unrivaled symphony, and that universe is praising him like nobody’s business.


Because I want to help us grasp just a little bit of the staggering magnificence of this God whom we’re dealing with (and who’s asking the question “Whom shall I send?”), let me point you to a few of the amazing discoveries we’re making in astronomy. The Hubble Telescope’s “Ultra-Deep Field” is able to snap for us a photograph of ten thousand galaxies.

You may not be used to doing this while you’re reading, but pause for a moment and check this out online. Google “Hubble” and “ten thousand galaxies” and take a good look. Those are galaxies, each one of those little dots that you see on there. And if the resolution were high enough, and your eyes were good enough, you could see an innumerable number of these galaxies — each one the size of our Milky Way galaxy or bigger — all different shapes and sizes. Some of them look like a toothpick. Some of them look like a piece of jewelry. Some of them are spiral in shape, like our own galaxy.

Here’s what blows my mind: Scripture says that God spoke and the universe came into being. Psalm 33:6: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” Psalm 33:9: “He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” So God, merely by the use of his voice (so to speak), made a universe, and this particular image given to us by Hubble, orbiting almost 350 miles above the earth, would be like you or me looking through an eight-foot-long straw up into the sky. That’s how small a portion of the night sky is represented in this photograph. And we’re looking at ten thousand galaxies — just that little portion. The God whom we worship is the creator and sovereign over such mind-boggling stretches of space and astronomical beauty.

He is the one who is asking, in case anybody wanted to know, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” If you say, “Well, who wants to know?” — the Creator of all this is the one who wants to know. The galaxy-breathing God is asking.


I could point you to another image. It’s from the constellation we call Virgo. This one is called the Sombrero Galaxy. Google “Hubble” and “Sombrero Galaxy” and get a look. This galaxy is relatively new to us because only recently has Hubble brought the universe so close to us. The Sombrero Galaxy is staggering. It’s 29,000,000 (twenty-nine million) light-years away. Pause and try to process this for a moment. A light-year is how far light travels in one year. And light is super fast. It’s moving 186,000 miles a second.

The galaxy-breathing God is the one who invites you on mission.

By the way, we once thought that light was the fastest thing in the universe, but now we’re not so sure about that. Science isn’t as buttoned down as everybody wants to think it is. Don’t think I am anti-science. I love science and scientists, but we shouldn’t act like science is a sure bet, because nobody has yet figured out everything God did when he spoke a word and the whole universe came into existence.

So light travels 186,000 miles a second. If you do that for a year, you travel 5.88 trillion miles. A trillion is almost pointless for us to even talk about. It’s beyond our ability to fully grasp. But that’s a light-year, and get this: if you go twenty-nine million light-years (in the right direction!), you come to the Sombrero Galaxy. Do the math in the margin if you’d like. That’s twenty-nine million (29,000,000) times 5.88 trillion miles (5,880,000,000,000).

And if you’ve already gone online to see the Sombrero Galaxy, you’ve seen how it looks so innocuous — like a Frisbee coming right at you. Some call it the flying tortilla. From our vantage point, it sits on a six-degree plain. So we get a beautiful view of it from Hubble. But don’t be fooled; this galaxy is enormous in scope, and it contains an estimated two hundred billion to three hundred billion stars. And you may never even have seen it before now.

So what’s it doing out there if we didn’t know about it until recently? It’s doing what it was made to do. It’s praising God in its immensity and beauty. What a tribute to someone so amazing — even the word amazing seems so hollow in this case — as this God that we worship. He has a whole galaxy that is just a tiny part of the symphony of the universe that brings him praise.


A lot of astronomers are perplexed, honestly perplexed, as to why the universe is so big. It’s so big that now we’re spending gobs of money looking for other life forms in the universe. There is a big push right now to assume that there must be some other life forms in this mind-bogglingly massive universe. There must be more habitable planets in such vast reaches of space, they say. It’s way too big, if it’s just a place for you and me. To which I respond, I totally agree.

If the universe was created simply to house humanity, it sure seems oversized. But if these perplexed astronomers knew the right reason for the existence of the universe, they wouldn’t struggle. If they knew the universe’s primary function wasn’t to house humanity but to magnify its Creator, then they would dis-cover it’s not too big at all. It’s just about the right size to give praise to God. And that’s what the heavens are doing, along with the angels, while you’re reading this chapter.

Let’s go to Psalm 148, and then come back to the question we’re posing, Whom shall I send?


Psalm 148 begins with three powerful words — “Praise the Lord!” Now you’d think, after 147 psalms, you’d have your head around that idea (granted the Psalms are not chronologically sequential, but you get the point). But the psalmist is still making the point. It seems right to have the exclamation point there. There’s some horsepower in this statement. And look at what the psalmist says next:

Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! (verses 1–2)

This is the way it works with God. He likes to first remind us of things that are bigger than us (heaven, heights, angels, hosts) and then bring it down to our humble estate. Look at verses 3–6:

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

But he doesn’t want you and me to be left out of the praise. So he says, “Praise the Lord from the earth . . .” (verse 7), inviting us into his chorus — a chorus already being sung. By whom? The psalmist is not just waxing poetic when he mentions the sun and moon and stars. It’s not just a literary maneuver; it’s really happening. In God’s universe, stars don’t just shine; they sing.


Let me mention another star called Vela Pulsar. It’s magnificent. It’s a thousand light-years away. It’s a highly magnetized neutron star, which simply means this star exploded into a supernova. And when it exploded, the Vela Pulsar collapsed back on itself in a magnetic entity and began oscillating on its axis. It oscillates eleven times a second on its axis. And as it oscillates, it shoots out a radio frequency.

Not only do we have amazing photographs, but also, because we’re determined to hear somebody out there speaking to us, we have SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and other highly advanced electromagnetic telescope programs that listen to the universe day and night and pick up sounds like those from the Vela Pulsar. (When I say we, I mean we as in our tax dollars are paying large sums of money to build radio telescopes that circle the earth to continually listen to see if anybody out there is speaking to us!)

“The universe’s primary function wasn’t to house humanity but to magnify its Creator.”

So far we haven’t heard any intelligent life speaking back to us, but we do have something for our money. When we aim the radio telescopes at the Vela Pulsar, we hear an incredible rhythmic sound you can find online here. by Googling “hear Vela Pulsar.”

What does it mean? I don’t know. Is that some kind of Morse Code for something? I don’t know what it means, and I don’t want to go too crazy here, but maybe the Vela Pulsar is acting out Psalm 148:3. “Praise him, all you shining stars!” We’re a shining star, says Vela Pulsar. We should praise him. Let’s oscillate eleven times a second on our axis and see if we can send a radio signal into the universe that would join the rhythm section in the symphony of God’s praise from all creation. The stars are singing to him.

47 TUC

Recently, I stumbled onto a beautiful cluster of stars called “47 Tuc.” This cluster is 16,700 light-years from earth. It looks brilliant, as if God shoved thousands of diamonds together into a pile. There are a massive number of stars there. Within 47 Tuc are twenty-three millisecond pulsars, and we’ve recorded sixteen of them. It sounds like the string section in God’s orchestra—listen in. Google “47 Tuc” and “pulsars” to listen in.


When you hear the Vela Pulsar and the 47 Tuc millisecond pulsars, you hear Psalm 148 coming to life. But look at verses 7–10:

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!

So now he’s bringing us in. We’ve got the heavens. We have the hosts. We have the stars, the sun, the moon. And now he turns to the earth, and he names everything on the earth in some form or fashion. And then he brings in humanity.

Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven. (verses 11–13)


I love that he starts verse 7 with the great sea creatures. I was in Hawaii recently, during whale season. I was captivated by these giant beasts. They seemed like they were putting on a show for us. They would splash up and roll over and spout and blow. It was beautiful. We asked the natives, how do they get here every year? And how do they know to come to the same place to have their offspring? And how do they know how to journey?

They said that the whales get around through the songs they sing. And with Psalm 148 inside of me, I said, “No kidding! I’m sure they do.” So I wanted to figure out what whales sing. I did a little research and went online to find the whale songs. You can too. Take a listen for yourself. It is Psalm 148 coming to life right in front of us. That’s what’s happening in all creation.

Try for a moment to think what it would be like to be God, hearing praises from the stars and the whales. We tend to elevate our songs. We assume we’re the only ones in the universe singing praise. I’m a songwriter, and I believe in artists, and I believe in what we do in corporate worship through song. Music is one of the expressions of our worship.

But I don’t think we have a clue about the other praise out there in the universe, because we don’t know the expanse of the worship that is continually surrounding the throne of God. Our songs are fine, but God isn’t banking on them. He is surrounded by a universe-wide symphony that’s bigger than we know. Stars play, whales sing, birds flap their wings.


Imagine what it might sound like if just for a second you could be God and hear what he hears. First, bring in PSR BO329-54, another pulsar that sounds a little bit like a clock ticking.

It’s only rotating one-and-a-half times per second, which is not all that much, but we need it to keep time. Then we add the Vela Pulsar and slow it down to be in sync. So far, just two pulsars. Then we put the millisecond guys in there as the string section. Now bring in the whales. We have just two pulsars, and then sixteen others, and some whales, and we have something going. This is something you could sing along to.

The point is simply this: the God who created rhythmic stars and pulsars that sound like stringed instruments is a God who doesn’t need anything. He honestly doesn’t need any of us. He doesn’t need a band. He doesn’t need a song. He has a universe singing to him!


God has a symphony of praise going on. Every time a rose blooms. Every time a bud pops open. Every bird’s wings that flap through the sky. Every ocean wave that crashes on a rocky shore. Every snowflake that flitters its way down and lands softly, even imperceptibly to you and me, on the snowy ground. Lightning and the wind that blows through the trees. When a baby cries. When a child laughs. All of God’s creation is praising him.

He is big, and he is powerful and beautiful and amazing and expansive in every way. And he is the one who is asking the question. How amazing that we have the chance to be involved in his work of redemption. He didn’t ask anybody to help him make the universe. He didn’t need Albert Einstein or Carl Sagan or anybody else. He said, I know how to make the universe. Watch this. And he didn’t ask for your input or mine or anybody else’s. He made it just the way he wanted it.


Scripture says that he fashioned a man out of the dust of the ground, and he breathed into him the very breath of life. And he took from him a rib and fashioned that into a woman while the man was asleep, and he awakened to a whole new life, and the whole new life was the man and the woman and God in harmony, in partnership together.

And a God who didn’t need anybody, who’s never needed anybody — or anything, for that matter, who created everything that is in time and space from a place outside of time and space, now is in a garden with a man and a woman, and he says, “Hey, here’s the new plan. I’m going to partner with you. You will be my caretakers of earth.” Does that strike anybody else as crazy? Adam could have said, “Who’s asking? You want us to take care of the place? Who’s asking?” I Am Who I Am is asking.

But it went wrong, and a redemption story, which was already set in motion before the ages with the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, continued, as an animal was slain as a token of God’s coming sacrifice. And even in that, God partnered with us. You might say, “No, God accomplished our salvation all by himself.” Yes, it’s true, Jesus died alone. And he didn’t get any help from any of us to be raised from the dead.

God is not in need of our songs. He has an entire universe singing to him.

Yet God included people in the process of redemption. Prophets proclaimed the way. A baby needed a parent. Even soldiers, in God’s time, carried out the execution. Certainly, Jesus was born to die alone — because he was sinless and the only one who could die for our sins. None of us could be a part of that. But in his resurrection, he said partnership is still very much alive, and we are to be those proclaiming life and grace and the possibility of peace with God to all the people on the planet. I’m choosing you, he says, to help finish the job in the strength I supply.


I love the way Paul writes about this in the opening lines in the book of Romans. He unfolds the beauty of this partnership. He doesn’t say it’s an equal partnership, but Paul clearly has a part to play:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and who was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1–4)

There has been an amazing work. Christ has come to us. Grace has come to us, and with grace came a calling of apostleship on Paul’s life that is fulfilled in bringing about the obedience of faith for the sake of God’s name among all the nations. So there is no dividing line — no separation of mission and redemption. Inherent in our being redeemed is that we are now a part of God’s redemption plan.


The Great Commission shouldn’t land on us as if Jesus is merely saying, “I want you to go do this.” The Commission is an almost unthinkable invitation. It truly is a Great Commission. We have marching orders. It is clear what we Christians are to be about on this planet. There is no gray area. No haze. No mist. No need to debate or think or pray or fast for God to make himself clear on this.

It is already crystal clear what the church is to be about — namely, taking the gospel of Jesus to every distinct grouping of people on planet earth at all costs for the sake of his name. But it’s not as if God is throwing a manual in our laps, saying, “Go do it.” Rather, it’s God, who doesn’t need to, choosing to invite us into his glorious plan.

God is on the move. He’s going to do it. What does he promise in Psalm 46 after that memorable line, “Be still, and know that I am God”? He promises, “I will be exalted among the nations” (verse 10). The mission will not abort. Jesus promises in Matthew 24:14, “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

You or I can bail, but the mission is still going to go forward. So it’s not God throwing a blueprint in our laps and saying, “Go do it.” It’s God saying, “This is what I’m doing. I don’t know what you’re doing, but this is what I’m doing. It’s spectacular, and you’re invited to come along and be a part of what I’m doing.” He’s inviting us. He’s not pushing us out the door and saying, “Go do that.” He’s saying, “This is what I’m doing. This is where I’m going. This is what’s on my heart. Join me.”


If you want to be close to Jesus — and maybe you haven’t felt very close to him lately — if you want to dwell intimately with the Son of God and feel the breath of heaven on your life, then you need to be where Jesus is. Perhaps you have spent way too long trying to get Jesus where you are. What you need to do is start getting onboard with the idea of getting where he is. And I’m telling you where he is: going to all the unreached peoples of the earth.

That’s where Jesus is. If you haven’t felt a real intimacy with Christ and closeness with the Holy Spirit, it may be because you’re off doing your thing, and God is elsewhere doing his thing. He’s not responding to all your invitations to come over and join up with your thing. Now it’s finally time for you to respond to his invitation to join up with his thing.

“Inherent in our being redeemed is that we are now a part of God's redemption plan.”

A couple of things happen when we join his thing. First, the nations are glad because they’re waiting. People, knowingly or not, are waiting to be released from hopeless and empty lives by the grace of a universe-breathing God. Second, we are happy because we’re walking with Jesus, and we’re experiencing the one thing that most of us want to experience more than anything else — his closeness and presence in our lives.

Maybe you’re reading all the right books, attending all the right things, and coming to all the right seminars. Maybe you’re honing all the right theology, but it’s been a long time since you tasted a dynamic, living, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that turns you inside out on a daily basis, where you really “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Perhaps where the road divided was with reference to the unreached people of the world and the task of finishing the mission. He walked on to the completion of his glorious plan, surrounded by the whole creation singing his praise, while you stayed where you were and sang another worship song, the one you liked the most. Over time your heart has shriveled and you feel like your faith is waning, and God is saying to you right now, “Look, there are people who are waiting for me, and you are dying and shriveling up in trivial nothings, because you’ve chosen to do your thing and I’m committed to doing mine.”

So who’s asking? The one asking is a God who doesn’t need us but who’s inviting us, out of kindness and generosity and love, to get onboard with the thing he’s doing in the world right now, and until the end of time. He’s inviting us to walk with him as we share a role in his glorious plan.

is the pastor of Passion City Church, located in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also a public speaker, author, and the founder of the Passion Movement.