Personal Involvement in World Missions
The heathen are to be given to Christ for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. But for all these things God will be inquired of; there must be faith, and prayer, and preaching, and tears, and toil. Without these things men cannot be saved, no more than Paul and his companions in the weather beaten ship could be saved, except the seamen remained in it. But as God has fixed upon definite results, and has prescribed the means which will infallibly conduct to the certain issue, with what joy may the spiritual husbandman thrust in his ploughshare and sow his seed. With what immovable confidence may the missionary of the cross, in obedience to his ascended Saviour, fly to distant lands, and proclaim in every valley and on every hill, “O ye dry bones hear ye the word of the Lord.” Victory he knows will sooner or later come; and the assurance of victory nerves his arm and gladdens his heart amidst all the terrors of the battle field.
So declared Charles D. Mallary in his sermon entitled “The Doctrine of Election.” Holding the matters of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in biblical balance, Mallary underscored the fact that God, when he determines to save an individual or a number of persons, utilizes means. In other words, God employs the faith, prayers, preaching, and toil of his servants in the accomplishment of his will.
Let us affirm, then, that salvation is “through faith . . . the gift of God . . . not a result of works” (Eph. 2:8,9). Let us agree unequivocally that “the new birth is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus.” If at any point we allow that man’s salvation hangs on some work of his own, regardless how small, then we have lost the Gospel of salvation by grace alone. Let us declare without hesitancy, “Salvation is of the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9).
These facts any honest student of the Bible will affirm. They are not deliberated here, only stated. However, as Mallary declares, God “has prescribed the means which will infallibly conduct to the certain issue.” That is, though his decrees stand and his purposes shall come to pass without exception, “God will be inquired of; there must faith, and prayer, and preaching, and tears, and toil.”
Acknowledging the absolute sovereignty of God, let us examine the other side of the coin in regard to world missions; specifically, our responsibilities in the matter. This we will do under two heads: Direct Involvement and Support.
In the great world enterprise of preaching the Gospel, the prayers of God’s people back home are just as important as the sermons of those on the field. The encouragement and support of those “holding the ropes” are vital to the world missionary work, which cannot be accomplished otherwise. By the phrase “direct involvement,” however, reference is made to those who have gone to foreign lands to live and to serve. These cannot go unless they are supported by those who stay.
The emphasis, then, in this first section, is upon the question: Without a preacher, how will the world’s masses hear the Gospel, believe and be saved? The issue is settled by Paul (Romans 10:14,15): there must be those who are sent to preach the gospel. But who will go?
Without attempting to examine all the issues involved in this question, the reader will be addressed directly. Have you ever considered serving as a foreign missionary? If not, why not? The necessity of a divine call to this work should not be overlooked, but perhaps it would be good to reconsider what constitutes such a call.
Baker James Cauthen, executive secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1954 to 1977, often encouraged believers to consider foreign missionary service with these words: “Unless God closes the door or redirects your path, you will follow him to the mission field and serve there in his strength.” Cauthen kept the following statement taped inside his Bible: “While vast continents are shrouded in almost utter darkness and hundreds of millions suffer in horrors of heathenism and Islam, the burden of proof lies upon you to show that the circumstances in which God has placed you were meant by him to keep you out of the mission field.”
Such sentiments do not seem entirely inappropriate. Is God’s work not a world-wide work? Are not God’s people called to advance the Gospel into the whole world? To whom are texts such as Matthew 28:19-20 and Act: 1:8 directed? Can the servant of God be satisfied with anything les than a world-wide vision? In light of the many biblical directives to go into the world with the Gospel, perhaps the following question is legitimate: “Why do you stay at home, when there is so much to be done, knowing that God’s will is for the Gospel to be preached throughout the world?”
Traditionally, churches have supported foreign mission work in two primary ways: prayer and finances. Today, such support remains as important as ever. Consider, first, the matter of prayer.
Support Through Prayer
Various approaches exist for encouraging members of the sending churches to pray for missionaries and their work: 1) the appeal to human need: “There are so many millions who do not know Jesus. Pray that they will be saved.” 2) the appeal to human weakness: “Our missionaries are only human like ourselves and, the task being so formidable, how can they succeed without being undergirded by prayer.” 3) the appeal to human responsibility: “We are commanded in Scripture to pray for one another. We have a responsibility as Christians to pray for the world-wide work of the Gospel.”
All the above appeals are both appropriate and biblical, and thus, ought to be used. However, a more theologically oriented approach may also be suggested. Meditation upon certain divine attributes should motivate every child of God to pray for world missions.
The Divine Attributes As Motivation To Pray
God is omniscient
When we pray for world missions it is encouraging to know that God is all knowing. Our God is not like the false gods formed in men’s imaginations. In his confrontation with Baal and his followers Elijah mocked the false prophets: “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27). The Lord Omniscient, however, is neither too busy, nor gone away, nor slumbers nor sleeps. “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry” (Psalm 34:15; James 3:12).
The Psalmist could pray “from the end of the earth” (Psalm 61:2) and be confident that his God would hear. Though he goes into his closet and prays in secret so that no one else knows what he is doing, the Christian knows that his heavenly Father “sees in secret” (Matthew 6:6).
The meaning of these texts is clear. When we pray we know that our God hears us. This does not, however, mean that we may pray presumptuously. When Jesus encouraged his disciples to pray, He also warned them: “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7). We must remember that “all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13). That is, the One with whom we have to do knows when we pray with an indifferent spirit.
We are warned, then, against praying halfheartedly and with apathy. If with indifference we pray for world missions, though our God knows that we pray and what we pray, we have little assurance that our prayers will avail. That is the meaning of Thomas Brooks when he reminds us, “Cold prayers do always freeze before they reach to heaven.”
Why, then, should we pray for world missions? Because regardless where we are, or what our outward circumstances, or what language we employ, God hears our prayers.
God is omnipotent
The importance of this divine attribute for prayer will be obvious to any Christian. Because God is all powerful He can answer our prayers.
He is able to raise up a vast multitude of missionaries to go to foreign lands. He is able to turn masses away from the darkness of their paganism and bring them into the light of his dear Son. If a child of God prays that an unreached people group with more than 30 million members (like the Sundanese of West Java) be reached with the Gospel, he knows that his God is able to accomplish that.
Presently, approximately 70 countries in the world will not allow the entrance of resident missionaries. One estimate is that by the year 2000 eighty three percent of the lost people in the world will live in countries that are closed to resident missionaries. However, the child of God knows when he prays for open doors, that his Lord is able to tear down those barriers.
Southern Baptists, as part of Bold Mission Thrust, have made plans and projections to have 5,000 missionary personnel overseas by the year 2000. Year by year the number of new appointees fluctuates, and one wonders if even that modest goal shall be reached. The Christian knows, however, that the One who rules in heaven and earth and moves men by his Spirit can, in answer to his children’s prayers, raise up a missionary force that would dwarf even the 5,000 goal that Southern Baptists have set.
Why pray for foreign missions? Because the One to whom we pray is all powerful and is able to do great and mighty works, of which we cannot even conceive.
God is benevolent
This means that God is good. A variety of words are used in the Scriptures to describe God’s goodness: love, grace, mercy, kindness, etc. The Psalmist wrote: “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Psalm 145:9). Tom Wells rightly observes that “God desires to benefit His creation, and He does so.” That is, he is not only able, he is also willing to do good.
Particularly in relation to the lost of the world, we realize that God delights in the salvation of men, not their destruction. Thus, we know that when we pray for the salvation of men all over the world that such a prayer is compatible with his nature and will.
Do you long for the salvation of the lost multitudes around the world? Rest assured that your God is even more concerned about his creation than are you. Do you rejoice when you witness someone, long dead in sin, given new life in Jesus Christ? Then you can know with a certainty that the hosts of heaven rejoice with a heavenly rapture.
While thinking about God’s goodness, James Packer’s observation is helpful: “To assume that God’s character . . . is really one of indulgent benevolence without any severity, is the rule rather than the exception among ordinary folk today.” This assumption is the basis for the often heard statement, “God hates sin, but loves the sinner.”
Nowhere in the Bible is God’s anger found to be directed against some obscure and intangible concept of wrong doing. Rather, the Scriptures teach that God hates sin and is angry with those committing sin. “Thou dost hate all who do iniquity” (Psalm 5:5). In the opening chapters of the epistle to the Romans Paul specifies in unmistakable terms that the sinner himself, because of his offences, abides under the wrath of a holy God.
To emphasize God’s goodness to the exclusion of his holy anger leaves the missionary without any real motivation to flee to distant lands with the Gospel. The astute mind must reason: “If God loves everyone without exception, if God is a friend to all those who remain steadfast in their rebellion, if God has no problem with these folks and loves them no matter what, then why should I worry about them? It seems that everything is going to turn out OK in the end. After all, doesn’t God love them?”
If men are to be motivated to pray for the world-wide dissemination of the Gospel, there must be no mistake: the destinies of vast multitudes hang in the balance. Millions and millions of men, women and children face a terrible judgment. Along with this, however, the one who has experienced God’s grace in Jesus Christ will also remember that God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6,7).
Why pray for world missions? Because I know that the One to whom I pray is not only able, but also willing to save.
In addition to these divine attributes, one other matter will be presented for the encouragement of prayers for world missions.
The Priestly Office of Jesus Christ As Motivation to Pray
When prayers are made to the Lord, we are confident of his hearing and considering our requests because of our great High Priest. We do not approach the Father alone, but through his Son, who has prepared the way into the heavenly holy of holies by his blood. Because Jesus Christ is there, because we come in his name, because we come clothed in his righteousness, we have perfect assurance of gaining a hearing with our heavenly Father.
Thus, the Christian has every encouragement imaginable to hearten him in praying for world missions. Though he has never met or spoken to an Indonesian, the Christian can pray and know that his Father is aware of the needs of Indonesia. Though he himself can do little or nothing to expend the kingdom of God in far away Zimbabwe, the Christian knows that his God rules over that country and over all nations of the earth. When his heart breaks at the thought of so many millions in “enlightened Europe” who remain in darkness, he is heartened to know that his Savior cares about people in that land, too. And when he senses that he is unworthy to approach a holy God with his petitions, the Christian remembers that there is One who goes before him and opens the way into the Father’s presence and hearing.
Support Through Financial Giving
In an article designed to encourage support from among the sending churches, how can the missionary inspire the people back home to provide financial assistance? Obviously, such support is necessary. Perhaps a recitation of statistics could be given regarding the enormous costs of sending and supporting foreign missionaries and their work. Interesting would be a look at how each of us spends our income, and the realization of how small a portion is used for the promotion of the world’s greatest cause. However, those statistics vary from person to person and place to place.
Instead, remember that the use of our money and resources sheds much light on the true condition of our hearts. No matter how esteemed you are in the eyes of your fellow man, no matter how well you get along in your church, no matter what your own self-evaluation, if your God-given resources are utilized disproportionately for your own comforts and pleasures, you should be concerned about the present condition of your heart and your standing before God.
All things are gifts of God and should be used to his glory. This includes money. The Christian cannot profess the lordship of Christ in his life and then love and serve another. Do you, dear reader, think that you are immune from such danger? Could you, who so strongly yearn for reformation and renewal among God’s people, serve the idol of mammon? Look at your home, your car, your recreations, and see if few resources are used for world missions in comparison to these things. And examine your attitude when you give. Do you give grudgingly? Haltingly? Or do you give cheerfully?
Here are the questions: “How much am I really concerned about the lost people of this world? Do I truly long to see Christ’s name glorified among the nations?” E. Calvin Beisner nails it down: “‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Matthew 6:21) is not a proof text for fund-raising, but a measure of our devotion to God.”
Do you sense that our world-wide efforts have borne little fruit? Then recall the assurances of our heavenly Father. To those who had held back their resources from God, the prophet Malachi exhorted: ‘”Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until there is no more need.”‘ (Malachi 3:10) Paul wrote: “he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)
Give generously to the cause of world missions. And as you give, watch and see what our Lord will do!
No wonder that Mallary could declare, “With what joy may the spiritual husbandman thrust in his ploughshare and sow his seed.” He serves an all knowing, all powerful, benevolent Lord. He has direct access to his Father through Jesus Christ, and can be confident that the prayers of many are being directed to the Father through Jesus Christ on his behalf.
Likewise, those who support the missionaries from their home base have the same assurances. They can enter into the missionary’s work full of confidence that they are a vital and contributing part of that work, and knowing that their toil is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).