– A Plea to This Generation
Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
God is closing in on some of you. He is like the “Hound of Heaven” who means to make you far happier in some dangerous and dirty work. Missionaries and ministers of mercy don’t come from nowhere. They come from people like you, stunned by the glory of God and stopped in your tracks. Sometimes it happens when you are going in exactly the opposite direction.
HOW GOD CAUGHT ADONIRAM JUDSON FOR BURMA
That’s the way it was with Adoniram Judson, the first overseas missionary from America, who sailed with his wife at age twenty-three on February 17, 1812. They had been married twelve days. He spent the rest of his life, until 1850, “suffering yet always rejoicing” to bring Burma under the sway of Christ and make the people glad in God forever. But first God had to turn him around, and he did it in a way that so stunned Judson, he never forgot the providence of God in his conversion.
The son of a pastor, he was a brilliant boy. His mother taught him to read in one week when he was three to surprise his father when he came home from a trip.1 When he was sixteen he entered Rhode Island College (later Brown University) as a sophomore and graduated at the top of his class three years later in 1807.
THE DETOUR FROM GOD
What his godly parents did not know was that Adoniram was being lured away from the faith by a fellow student named Jacob Eames who was a Deist.2 By the time Judson’s college career was finished, he had no Christian faith. He kept this concealed from his parents until his twentieth birthday, August 9, 1808, when he broke their hearts with his announcement that he had no faith and that he wanted to write for the theater and intended to go to New York, which he did six days later on a horse his father gave him as part of his inheritance.
It did not prove to be the life of his dreams. He attached himself to some strolling players and, as he said later, lived “a reckless, vagabond life, finding lodgings where he could, and bilking the landlord where he found opportunity.”3 The disgust with what he found there was the beginning of several remarkable providences. God was closing in on Adoniram Judson.
He went to visit his Uncle Ephraim in Sheffield but found there instead “a pious young man” who amazed him by being firm in his Christian convictions without being “austere and dictatorial.”4 Strange that he should find this young man there instead of the uncle he sought.
THE UNFORGETTABLE NIGHT
The next night he stayed in a small village inn where he had never been before. The innkeeper apologized that his sleep might
be interrupted because there was a man critically ill in the next room. Through the night Judson heard comings and goings and low voices and groans and gasps. It bothered him to think that the man next to him may not be prepared to die. He wondered about himself and had terrible thoughts of his own dying. He felt foolish because good Deists weren’t supposed to have these struggles.
When he was leaving in the morning he asked if the man next door was better. “He is dead,” said the innkeeper. Judson was struck with the finality of it all. On his way out he asked, “Do you know who he was?” “Oh yes. Young man from the college in Providence. Name was Eames, Jacob Eames.”5
Judson could hardly move. He stayed there for hours pondering death and eternity. If his friend Eames were right, then this was a meaningless event. But Judson could not believe it: “That hell should open in that country inn and snatch Jacob Eames, his dearest friend and guide, from the next bed—this could not, simply could not, be pure coincidence.”6 God was real. And he was pursuing Adoniram Judson. God knew the man he wanted to reach the Burmese people.
ALIVE TO CHRIST AND DEAD TO AMERICA
Judson’s conversion was not immediate. But now it was sure. God was on his trail, like the apostle Paul on the Damascus road, and there was no escape. There were months of struggle. He entered Andover Seminary in October 1808 and in December made solemn dedication of himself to God. On June 28, 1809, Judson presented himself to the Congregationalists for missionary service in the East.
He met Ann that same day and fell in love. After knowing Ann Hasseltine for one month he declared his intention to become a suitor. He knew that the life he was about to embrace would not only be dangerous and dirty, but also distant. He
never expected to return to America. He did only once, thirty-three years later, then never again. Ann went with him and died in Burma. Here is the letter Judson wrote to her father asking for her partnership in missions:
I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?7
Her father let her decide. She said yes.
God does not call us to ease, but to faithful joy. He is closing in on some of you, smiling and with tears in his eyes, knowing how much of himself he is going to show you—and how much it will cost. As I write, I pray that you will not turn away.
PITY FOR PEOPLE AND A PASSION FOR CHRIST ARE ONE
If you have pity for perishing people and a passion for the reputation of Christ, you must care about world missions. One of the burdens of this book is to show what life looks like when you believe that you dare not choose between the motives to love people and glorify Christ. They are not separate motives. Acting
on one includes acting on the other. Thus, if your aim is to love people, you will lay down your life to make them eternally glad in God. And if your aim is to glorify Christ, who is God incarnate, you will also lay down your life to make people eternally happy in God.
The reason for this is that any good-hearted goal, without the desire to give people eternal joy in God, is condemnation with a kind face. Love always wants what is best for the needy, and what’s best is enjoying God fully and forever. Similarly, any effort to honor Christ that does not aim to make him the all-satisfying Treasure of God’s treasonous subjects is complicity in the revolt. God is only praised where he is prized. We pay our tribute to him when he is a Treasure to us. You cannot love man or honor God without doing both. This single passion—to see that Christ be glorified as perishing people become eternally satisfied in him—drives the great global enterprise we call world missions.
IF YOU COME WITH NO INTEREST OR KNOWLEDGE
Not everybody comes to this chapter with a clear and driving passion for the glory of Christ among the unreached peoples of the world. Most of us are pretty parochial and ethnocentric and narrow, and even sometimes self-centered and racist, in our way of life. We hardly ever even think about the global, multinational, multiethnic, multi-linguistic cause of God, and what God’s passion and purposes are for Guinea and Indonesia and Tanzania and Thailand and Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Turkey and Czechoslovakia and China and Siberia and Japan and Cameroon and Myanmar and the Somali or the Hmong or the Dakota or the Ojibwa of Minnesota.
So I don’t assume that you come to this chapter with a clear and resounding interest in the really great news of the world—
which the media never report—namely, the spread of Christian truth and faith among the peoples of the world on the way to a God-wrought consummation that will make all of world
history look like what it really is—a brief prelude to the everlasting, all-glorious kingdom of Christ. I don’t assume you come with your heart enthralled with God’s great global purpose. So I simply want to let God tell you, in his own words, about his priorities.
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28)
Then there are Old Testament prayers:
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy. (Psalm 67:3-4)
Then there are Old Testament commands:
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! . . . Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” (Psalm 96:3, 10)
Then there is the great New Testament Commission from the risen Christ:
Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Then there is the apostle Paul’s great life of utter dedication to this mission:
I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” (Romans 15:20-21)
Then there is the magnificent picture of the final outcome of God’s purposes in history:
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you [O Christ] to take the scroll and to open its seals, for 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 5:9-10)
A SUMMARY STATEMENT OF FAITH ON MISSIONS
From these and many other Scriptures, I have been impelled over the years to think and preach and write about Christ’s great global purpose called missions. Several years ago the elders of our church drafted a statement of faith to guide us in the education of our apprentices and in the selection of new elders. Paragraph 13 of that document summarizes our sense of what missions is:
We believe that the commission given by the Lord Jesus to make disciples of all nations is binding on His Church to the end of the age. This task is to proclaim the Gospel to every tribe and tongue and people and nation, baptizing them, teaching them the words and ways of the Lord, and gathering them into churches able to fulfill their Christian calling among their own people. The ultimate aim of world missions is that God would create, by His Word, worshippers who glorify His name through glad-hearted faith and obedience. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and the goal of missions.8
EVEN CIVILIANS LOVE TO FOLLOW THE TRIUMPHS ON THE FRONT LINES
This is the big picture. Christ came and died and rose again in order to gather a joyful, countless company for his name from all the peoples of the world. This is what every Christian should dream about. I say this carefully, in view of what I wrote in Chapter 8 about secular vocations. It is crucial that millions of Christians fulfill their life calling in secular jobs, just as it is crucial that during wartime the entire fabric of life and culture not unravel. But during wartime, even the millions of civilians love to get news from the front lines. They love to hear of the triumphs of the troops. They dream about the day when war will be no more. So it is with Christians. All of us should dream about this. We should love to hear how the advance of King Jesus is faring. We should love to hear of gospel triumphs as Christ plants his church among peoples held for centuries by alien powers of darkness.
This is God’s design in world history—that people from all nations and tribes and languages come to worship and treasure Christ above all things. Or as Paul put it in Romans 15:9, “that the Gentiles [all the peoples] might glorify God for his mercy.” There can be no weary resignation, no cowardly retreat, and no merciless contentment among Christ’s people while he is disowned among thousands of unreached peoples. Every Christian (who loves people and honors Christ) must care about this.
THE INADEQUACY OF THE BATBOY’S PERSPECTIVE
Someone might say, “But isn’t the Gospel about finding forgiveness of my sins and getting the hope of eternal life and being filled with the Spirit of holiness and being changed into the image of Jesus so that I am a better mom or dad or son or daughter or friend or employer or citizen?” The answer, of course, is yes. But if that is all we focus on in our walk with God, we miss the big picture. We miss the bigger point of it all. We are like batboys at Yankee Stadium who think the great point of the World Series is to hand the players a bat.
So I urge you in the name of Jesus to wake up, and enlarge your heart, and stretch your mind, and spread your wings. Mount up above your limited life—yes, a very important life, which God does not diminish—and see the great and thrilling big picture of God’s global purposes for the history of the world that cannot fail. “My counsel shall stand,” says the Lord, “and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10). “At the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
DON’T TAKE OFFENSE—JOIN THE JOYFUL PARTNERSHIP
And as God gives you wings to rise up and see the world the way he sees it, many of you, I pray, will be loosened from your pres-ent situation—job, neighborhood, state, nation, plan—and be called to a direct engagement in this great historic, global
purpose of God as a goer and not only a sender. Let no one who is devoted to local ministry or to crucial secular engagement take offense at this plea. Rather rejoice. You are free to stay or free to go. Many of you must stay. Your staying is crucial for God’s purposes where you are, and it is crucial for his purposes where you are not, but where others may go. There is no need for guilt or resentment. There is great need for joyful partnership.
Those of you who stay—the senders—should keep this remarkable fact in mind: Foreign missions is a validation of all ministries of mercy at home because it exports them abroad. Planting the church in an unreached people means planting the base of operations for all the mercy Jesus commanded for the poor. If we don’t let our light shine before the people at home “so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16), what kind of obedience will we export to the nations? The Great Commission includes the words, “teaching them to observe all that I [Jesus] have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). And what did he command? He told the story of the desperate wounded man and the good Samaritan who “showed him mercy,” and then said to all of us, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
MERCY AT HOME MAKES MISSIONS CREDIBLE
The people who stay in the homeland are surrounded by need. We only need eyes to see and hearts that can’t walk by on the other side. This challenge is not separate from the challenge of missions. Showing practical mercy to the poor displays the beauty of Christ at home and makes the exportation of the Christian faith credible. We are hypocrites to pretend enthusiasm for overseas ministry while neglecting the miseries at home. There was something wrong with the priest and the Levite in the story of the good Samaritan, who had their distant religious aims but were not moved by suffering close at hand where they
would have to get their own hands dirty. Ministries of mercy close at hand validate the authenticity of our distant concerns.
Foreign missions and hometown mercy are linked in the very nature of the Gospel that we are to send to the nations. The heart of the Gospel is this: “Though [Christ] was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The salvation we savor for ourselves and send to others is a ministry of God’s mercy to the poor, which includes all of us. We owe our lives to God’s commitment to missions and mercy. He came a long way to help us, and his help includes every kind of help we need. And he got dirty doing it. In fact he got killed. This merciful suffering is the purchase and the path of our salvation. “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Missions and mercy are inextricable because the very Gospel we take to the nations models and mandates mercy to the poor at home.
WARFIELD’S DEVASTATING COMPARISON
I have never read a better statement of this connection than the following quote from B. B. Warfield, a teacher at Princeton Seminary who died in 1921. He answers some of the niggling questions about ministry to the poor by comparing it to Christ’s ministry to us.
Now dear Christians, some of you pray night and day to be branches of the true Vine; you pray to be made all over in the image of Christ. If so, you must be like him in giving . . . “though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor” . . . Objection 1. “My money is my own.” Answer: Christ might have said, “My blood is my own, my life is my own” . . . then where should we have been? Objection 2. “The poor are undeserving.” Answer: Christ might have said, “They
are wicked rebels . . . shall I lay down my life for these? I will give to the good angels.” But no, he left the ninety-nine, and came after the lost. He gave his blood for the undeserving. Objection 3. “The poor may abuse it.” Answer: Christ might have said the same; yea, with far greater truth. Christ knew that thousands would trample his blood under their feet; that most would despise it; that many would make it an excuse for sinning more; yet he gave his own blood. Oh, my dear Christians! If you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and poor, the thankless and the undeserving. Christ is glorious and happy and so will you be. It is not your money I want, but your happiness. Remember his own word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”9
Just as there is a partnership between the Gospel itself and mercy to the nearby poor, so there is a wonderful partnership between Christians being the merciful church at home and Christians planting the merciful church abroad. Neither is a wasted life. Indeed the authenticity of each depends much on the authenticity of the other. It is inauthentic to presume to send what we don’t have. And it is inauthentic to have a treasure and not send it.
THE ROOTS OF THE STUDENT VOLUNTEER MOVEMENT
The joyful partnership between ministering laypeople at home and missionaries abroad has happened before, and it can happen again. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the Student Volunteer Movement exploded on the American scene with immense missionary impact. It was remarkable for the number of missionaries sent and for the depth and breadth of the laymen who supported it. It was a magnificent partnership.
The roots of the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM) went back as far as the famous Haystack Prayer Meeting in 1806 in Massachusetts. A spiritual awakening stirred the students of
Williams College and prompted a small band of young men to devote themselves to prayer twice a week by the Hoosack River. They focused on the spiritual welfare of the other students. In August 1806, they were caught in a thunderstorm on their way home and took refuge under the edges of a chewed-out haystack. They used the time to continue praying. This time they pleaded for the awakening of foreign missionary interest among the students.
One of them, Samuel Mills, urged the little group to consider their own willingness to be missionaries. To feel the weight of this moment, we have to remember that at this time in American history not one foreign missionary had left the shores of America. There were no missionary societies. Churches, by and large, had no vision for the unreached peoples across the dangerous oceans. There was, as many say today, plenty to do at home. Which was true! But this little band of praying students could no longer be content with an American church whose heart did not burn with love for unreached peoples and with zeal for the glory of God among the nations. They could no longer be satisfied with a church that sent no foreign missionaries. Against all this spiritual, historical, and structural inertia, God enabled them to break through.
“THE BRETHREN” WERE BORN
Praying under the haystack they dedicated themselves to missionary service. “It was from this haystack meeting that the foreign missionary movement of the churches of the United States had an initial impulse.”10 That September, the group formed the “Society of the Brethren” to strengthen their resolve to give themselves to missionary service. Samuel Mills spread “The Brethren” vision as he studied at Yale and then at Andover Seminary. He had transferred to Andover to be a part of what God was doing there under the student leadership of Adoniram
Judson. This group of “Brethren” at Andover gave the impetus to the first American mission agency (the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions); and from this group were sent the first overseas American missionaries in 1812.
THE STUDENT VOLUNTEER MOVEMENT IS BORN
In 1846, Royal Wilder went to India under this first American Board of Commissioners. He returned in 1877 for health reasons and settled in Princeton. There his son, Robert, formed the “Princeton Foreign Missionary Society.” The prayers of this group gave rise to a crucial gathering called by D. L. Moody at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1886. Two hundred and fifty-one students gathered for a month-long Bible conference. After a compelling address by pastor A. T. Pierson on behalf of world missions, a hundred of these students volunteered for overseas service. The spirit of this event gripped the student world. During the school year 1886-1887, Robert Wilder and John Forman traveled to 167 campuses to spread the vision. The formal organization of the Student Volunteer Movement happened two years later with John R. Mott as its chairman.
The purpose, as Mott expressed it, had five parts:
The fivefold purpose of the Student Volunteer Movement is to lead students to a thorough consideration of the claims of foreign missions upon them personally as a lifework; to foster this purpose by guiding students who become volunteers in their study and activity for missions until they come under the immediate direction of the Mission Boards; to unite all volunteers in a common, organized, aggressive movement; to secure a sufficient number of well-qualified volunteers to meet the demands of the various Mission Boards; and to create and maintain an intelligent, sympathetic and active interest in foreign missions on the part of students who are to remain at home in order to ensure the strong backing of
the missionary enterprise by their advocacy, their gifts and their prayers.11
“The growth of the SVM in the following three decades was nothing short of phenomenal.”12 The rallying cry was, “Evangelization of the world in this generation.” By 1891 there were 6,200 student volunteers who had signed a statement that read, “It is my purpose, if God permit, to become a foreign missionary.” Of these, 321 had already sailed for overseas service. The peak year of the SVM was 1920, when 2,738 students signed the pledge card and 6,890 attended the quadrennial convention. “By 1945, at the most conservative estimate, 20,500 students . . . who had signed the declaration, reached the field.”13
THE STUDENT FLAME IGNITED BUSINESSES AND CHURCHES
Many things are remarkable about this movement, and full of instruction and inspiration for our generation a hundred years later. For example, the Student Volunteer Movement ignited not just students but the laymen of the churches. J. Campbell White, the first secretary of the Layman’s Missionary Movement, wrote in 1909, “During the last twenty years the missionary spirit has had a marvelous development among the colleges of the United States and Canada . . . leading thousands of strong men and women to live with a dominating missionary life purpose.”14 Attracted by this zeal, a young businessman attended the 1906 SVM convention in Nashville. He thought to himself, If the laymen of North America could see the world as these students are seeing it, they would rise up in their strength and provide all the funds needed for the enterprise.15 At a prayer meeting of businessmen on November 15, 1906, in New York, the Layman’s Missionary Movement was born.
Its stated aim was “investigation, agitation and organization; the investigation by laymen of missionary conditions, the agitation of laymen of an adequate missionary policy, and the organization of laymen to co-operate with the ministers and Missionary Boards in enlisting the whole Church in its supreme work of saving the world.”16
THE GIFT OF PASSIONATE LEADERS
Just as God had prepared extraordinary leadership for the SVM in Robert Wilder, Robert Speer, and John R. Mott, so he raised up leaders for the Layman’s Missionary Movement who spoke with such prophetic power that thousands of laymen caught the vision for God’s global purposes. The leader of the movement was not a missionary and not a pastor. He was a businessman. The partnership that emerged between students, who were going, and businessmen, who were sending, was profound, because there were God-centered visionary leaders in both groups. Both were moved by the same passion not to waste their lives. You can hear it in almost every sentence that J. Campbell White wrote:
Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the adoption of Christ’s purpose toward the world he came to redeem. Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ’s undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards.17
SENDERS ARE UNASHAMED TO EMBRACE THE CAUSE OF GOING
Again, this is not a contradiction of what I wrote about the value of secular work in Chapter 8. The point is that, in a war, no
matter how valuable the civilian work is in itself, everyone longs for his life to count also for the distant war effort, where enemy lines are being breached. Laypeople, pastors, churches—all of us who stay behind—will find the “sweetest and most priceless rewards” as we enlarge our hearts to embrace not only the needs close to home, but also the hard and unreached places of the world.
These businessmen from a hundred years ago saw their secular calling and their missionary vision as an integrated whole. The way J. Campbell White articulated the vision of the movement gave the businessmen categories for understanding the unity of life under the lordship of Christ. He said:
This movement makes the largest possible demands upon men. It strives simply to voice to them God’s call for a life whose dominant purpose is to establish the reign of Christ in human relationships. . . . It reminds them . . . that selfishness is suicidal while service of others brings to the soul the supremest possible satisfaction.18
THE STARTLING EFFECT ON THE CHURCH THEN, BUT WHAT ABOUT TODAY?
White showed his generation that a passion for missions was not only the way to save the world, but also to save the church:
The effort to evangelize the world presents the speediest and surest methods of saving the Church. Our material resources are so stupendous that we are in danger of coming to trust in riches rather than in God. “If a man is growing large in wealth, nothing but constant giving can keep him from growing small in soul.” The evangelization of the world is the only enterprise large enough and important enough to provide an adequate outlet for the Church’s wealth.19
This is still true. Missions is not only crucial for the life of the world. It is crucial for the life of the church. We will perish with our wealth if we do not pour ourselves out in ministries of mercy at home and missions among the unreached peoples. We are very wealthy in America. All the money needed to send and support an army of self-sacrificing, joy-spreading ambassadors is already in the church. But we are not giving it.
In 1916, Protestants were giving 2.9% of their incomes to their churches. In 1933, the depth of the Great Depression, it was 3.2%. In 1955, just after affluence began spreading through our culture, it was still 3.2%. By 2000, when Americans were over 450% richer, after taxes and inflation, than in the Great Depression, Protestants were giving 2.6% of their incomes to their churches. 20
Moreover, “If members of historically Christian churches in the United States were giving an average of 10% in 2000, there would have been an additional $139 billion a year going through church channels.”21 Now add to that the really shocking fact that of the money given to the church, less than 6% goes to foreign missions, and of that amount, about 1% goes to fund breakthroughs to unreached peoples.22 This is not to say we should pull back on any front. The point is, there is plenty for all the breakthroughs if we live to show that Christ is our Treasure.
WE WILL NOT KNOW HIM FULLY OUTSIDE HIS MISSION
For its own soul the church needs to be involved in missions. We will not know God in his full majesty until we know him moving triumphantly among the nations. We will not admire and praise him as we ought until we see him gathering a company of worshipers for himself from every people group on earth—including all the Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist peoples. Nothing
enlarges our vision of God’s triumphant grace like the scope of his saving work in history. What a story it is! “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:11-12). “Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” (Psalm 150:2). “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him” (Romans 15:11, quoting Psalm 117:1).
WHAT IS OUR SITUATION IN THE WORLD TODAY?
The challenges of world evangelization are still very great. We are in a better position to know the scope and nature of the task than ever before. Patrick Johnstone writes, “For the first time in history we have a reasonably complete listing of the world’s peoples and the extent to which they have been evangelized.”23 There are various groups that do research to help the church know what people groups around the world have been embraced by a Christian church or mission agency.24 Johnstone’s book gives a good summary of the situation at the turn of our century.25
One way to describe the situation is to say that about 1.2–1.4
billion people have never had a chance to hear the Gospel;26 that is, they live in cultures where the preaching of the Gospel in understandable ways is not accessible. Other analysts estimate the number of unevangelized somewhat higher. For
example, the “Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission 2002” by David Barrett and Todd Johnson reports that there are 1,645,685,000 unevangelized people in the world. That means 26.5 percent of the world’s population live in people groups that do not have indigenous evangelizing churches.27 About 95 percent of these live in what has been called the 10/40 window (between latitudes 10 and 40 degrees north of
the equator and between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans). This is the great challenge of our day.
Johnstone puts it in hopeful historical perspective:
Stepping back we see a remarkable pattern emerging of the 200 years growth [of the church] as it gathered momentum—1700s the North Atlantic, 1800s the Pacific, 1960s Africa, 1970s Latin America, 1980s East Asia, 1990s Eurasia. This one and a half times encirclement of the globe now leaves us with the challenge of the 10/40 Window area. Central and South Asia and the Middle East are the remaining major areas of challenge. Where will the breakthroughs of the . . . first decade of the . . . [new] millennium come? Will it be among Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists? These are the final unpenetrated bastions of the enemy’s hold on the souls of men. The rising tide of the gospel is lapping ever higher round this area, and we are even having foretastes of what that breakthrough might mean. Would that I had the space and the freedom to tell of amazing things going on in these seemingly impene-
trable ideological fortresses.28
GOD ISSUES A CALL TO THIS GENERATION: LISTEN!
There is a call on this generation to obey the risen Christ and make disciples of all the unreached peoples of the world. I am praying that God will raise up hundreds of thousands of young people and “finishers” (people finishing one career and ready to pursue a second in Christian ministry). I pray that this divine call will rise in your heart with joy and not guilt. I pray that it will be confirmed with the necessary gifts, and a compelling desire, and the confirmation of your church, and the tokens of providence. Fan into flame every flicker of desire by reading biographies, and meditating on Scripture, and studying the unreached peoples, and praying for passion, and conversing with mission veterans. Don’t run from the call. Pursue it.
Let your mind dwell on the lostness of perishing individuals, but also on whole people groups that do not have any access to the Gospel. This was Paul’s great ambition: “to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Romans 15:20). There will always be unconverted people to win where the church is already established. That is not the unique task of frontier missions. Frontier missions does what Paul aimed to do: Plant the church where there is now no possibility of ministry. This is the great need of the hour, not only for missionaries who go to serve the established church in other countries (which is a great need, especially in leadership development), but also for missionaries who go to peoples and places where there is no church to serve.
THE DAY OF MISSIONS IS NOT OVER
Don’t think the days of foreign missionaries are over, as if nationals can finish the work. There are hundreds of peoples and millions of people where there are no Christian nationals to do same-culture evangelism. A culture must be crossed. To be sure, it may be crossed by a non-Westerner, since God is growing his church faster in the non-Western world.29 That would be wonderful. I have no desire to limit the joy of love. Besides, it may be that highly trained but tentative Western specialists will not be as fruitful as simpler, bold missionaries. Regarding missions to Muslims Patrick Johnstone says, “Often the best missionaries are the ones who have studied little more than the basics of Islamics but have a passion for sharing Christ. In their boldness for Jesus, they plunge into witnessing to Muslims, where an Islamist would fear to go.”30 But make no mistake. A culture will have to be crossed, and that’s what missions is. Missions, not same-culture evangelism by nationals, will finish the Great Commission.
So “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38), and ask him if you should be one. Expect this prayer to change you. When Jesus
told his disciples to pray it, the next thing that happened was that he appointed twelve to be his apostles and sent them out. Pray for harvesters, and you may become one. God often wakens desire, and gives gifts, and opens doors when we are praying and pondering real possibilities and real needs. Get a copy of the amazing world prayer guide called Operation World, and pray and read and ponder your way through the nations day by day.31 Think about the people in places like
• Libya with its six million people and perhaps ten indigenous believers.
• Bhutan, a hermit Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, cut off from Christian witness for millennia with only a handful of indigenous believers among its two and a half million people.
• The Maldives, off the southwest coast of India, and one of the most closed countries on earth.
• North Korea, “a pariah nation gradually starving to death under its crazed Communist leadership,”32 with no open witness or church life for fifty years.
• Saudi Arabia, the headquarters of Islam where Saudi believers, if found, are executed.
• India, perhaps the greatest challenge of all, with its vast Ganges plains that contain “the greatest concentration of unevangelized people in the world. For instance, the number of people in Uttar Pradesh in North India is about 180,000,000 and the Christian percentage is 0.1% and falling.”33
• Turkey, the secular, mainly Muslim state with an ongoing Christian witness in only fifteen of its 100 provinces.
PONDER THE AMNESTY OFFERED TO THE NATIONS. TAKE A RETREAT
The point of that fragmentary list is to simply illustrate whole populations living in rebellion against the true God and cut
off from the only One who can reconcile them to their Maker. This means destruction for the unbelieving and dishonor to Christ. He owns this world, and the allegiance of every person is his right. Every soul and every state is his. Abraham Kuyper put it memorably: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”34 Christ has come into this mutinous world, which he made for his own glory, and paid for an amnesty with his own blood. Everyone who lays down the weaponry of unbelief will be absolved from all crimes against the Sovereign of the universe. By faith alone enemies will become happy subjects of an everlasting kingdom of justice and joy. Advancing this cause with Christ is worth your life.
No, you don’t have to be a missionary to admire and advance the great purposes of God to be known and praised and enjoyed among all peoples. But if you want to be most fully satisfied with God as he triumphs in the history of redemption, you can’t go on with business as usual—doing your work, making your money, giving your tithe, eating, sleeping, playing, and going to church. Instead you need to stop and go away for a few days with a Bible and notepad; and pray and think about how your particular time and place in life fits into the great purpose of God to make the nations glad in him. How will you join the great global purpose of God expressed in Psalm 67:4, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy”?
THE MEANING OF YOUR DISCONTENT
Many of you should stay where you are in your present job, and simply ponder how you can fit your particular skills and relationships and resources more strategically into the global purpose of your heavenly Father. But for others reading this book, it is going to be different. Many of you are simply not satisfied
with what you are doing. As J. Campbell White said, the output of your lives is not satisfying your deepest spiritual ambitions. We must be careful here. Every job has its discouragements and its seasons of darkness. We must not interpret such experiences automatically as a call to leave our post.
But if the discontent with your present situation is deep, recurrent, and lasting, and if that discontent grows in Bible-saturated soil, God may be calling you to a new work. If, in your discontent, you long to be holy, to walk pleasing to the Lord, and to magnify Christ with your one, brief life, then God may indeed be loosening your roots in order to transplant you to a place and a ministry where the deep spiritual ambitions of your soul can be satisfied. It is true that God can be known and enjoyed in every legitimate vocation; but when he deploys you from one place to the next, he offers fresh and deeper drinking at the fountain of his fellowship. God seldom calls us to an easier life, but always calls us to know more of him and drink more deeply of his sustaining grace.
SHOULD I GO ON BEING A PASTOR?
I try to take stock of my own ministry in this way. Every year at our church we have a “Missions Week.” I preach on missions; we have guest speakers. The challenge is given. People move toward missions, make commitments, and join the pre-missions nurture program. And every year I reexamine my life as a pastor at this church. I look at what I am doing in the light of God’s global purpose, and in view of the incredible spiritual darkness and misery of the unreached peoples of this earth. I ask myself, Is this the most strategic investment of my life for the sake of God’s purpose to make the nations glad in him? I ask my wife, “Noël, are you sensing any tugs to move closer to the front lines of the unreached peoples?”
Our church mission statement puts the world “spread” in
the dominant position: “We exist to spread a passion for God’s supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” So I ask, Am I fulfilling this mission best in the role I now have? When the Lord calls me to give an account of my ministry in the last day, will I be able to say, “Lord, I stayed at Bethlehem because I believed I could be most instrumental there in accomplishing your purpose to make a name for yourself among the nations, and to gather your sheep from all the peoples of the earth”? When I can no longer say yes to that question, then my leadership here will be finished.
And so it is with many of you. Big issues are in the offing. May God help you. May God free you. May God give you a fresh, Christ-exalting vision for your life—whether you go to an unreached people or stay firmly and fruitfully at your present post. May your vision get its meaning from God’s great purpose to make the nations glad in him. May the cross of Christ be your only boast, and may you say, with sweet confidence, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
1 Courtney Anderson, To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1956), 14.
2 Deism was “the belief, based solely on reason, in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation,” The American Heritage Dictionary (http://www.bartleby.com/61/44/D0104400.html, accessed 4-3-03).
3 Anderson, To the Golden Shore, 41.
4 Ibid., 42.
5 Ibid., 44. The source of this story is oral reports from family members recorded in Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D. D., Vol. 1 (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Co., 1854), 24-25.
6 Anderson, To the Golden Shore, 45.
7 Ibid., 83.
8 The Bethlehem Institute Affirmation of Faith can be read in its entirety at http://desiringgod.org/library/what_we_believe/tbi_affirmation.html.
9 B. B. Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1950), 574. I found this quoted in Timothy J. Keller’s book, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road (Phillipsburg, N. J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1997), 65. I wish every one of my readers would read this book.
10 Kenneth Scott Latourette, These Sought a Country (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950), 46.
11 John R. Mott, Five Decades and a Forward View (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1939), 8.
12 David Howard, “Student Power in Missions,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 2nd edition, eds. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, Ca.: William Carey Library, 1999), 283. Most of the facts I have recorded here about the SVM come from this article.
13 Ruth Rouse and Stephen C. Neill, A History of the Ecumenical Movement, 1517-1948 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967), 328.
14 J. Campbell White, “The Layman’s Missionary Movement,” in Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 1st edition (Pasadena, Ca.: William Carey Library, 1981), 222.
15 Ibid., 223.
16 Ibid., 224.
17 Ibid., 225.
18 Ibid., 224.
19 Ibid., 225.
20 http://www.emptytomb.org/research.html [accessed 3-28-03].
21 http://www.emptytomb.org/Chapter6hlites.html [accessed 3-28-03].
22 http://www.missionfrontiers.org/newslinks/statewe.htm [accessed 3-28-03].
23 Patrick Johnstone, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think (Ross-shire, England: Christian Focus, 1998), 229.
24 See, for example, http://www.ad2000.org/peoples/jpllist.pdf; http://www.joshuaproject.net/; http://www.calebproject.org/maps.htm
25 Johnstone, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think, 225-230.
26 Ibid., 215. Johnstone is more optimistic than Barrett in his numbers: About 20% of the world’s population are unevangelized; 47% are non-Christians living where they are likely to be evangelized; and 33% are professing Christians.
27 David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, “Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission 2002,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 26 (January 2002): 22-23.
28 Johnstone, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think, 115-116.
29. This growth in the twentieth century is documented by Philip Jenkins, The New Christendom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Over the past century . . . the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably southward to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Already today the largest Christian communities on the planet are to be found in Africa and Latin America. If we want to visualize a ‘typical’ contemporary Christian, we should think of a woman living in a village in Nigeria or in a Brazilian favela. As Kenyan scholar John Mbiti has observed, “the centers of the church’s universality [are] no longer in Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, New York, but in Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa and Manila. Whatever Europeans or North Americans may believe, Christianity is doing very well indeed in the global South—not just surviving, but expanding.” (p. 2)
30 Johnstone, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think, 273.
31 Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World: When We Pray God Works (Waynesboro, Ga.: Paternoster USA, 2001). See the online version at http://www.gmi.org/ow/.
32 Ibid., 222.
33 Ibid., 223.
34 Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper, A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.