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Prayer Changes Things

Prayer Changes Things

The book of Acts provides biblical source material for challenging congregations to use prayer as a primary ingredient to experience joy in their missions ministries. First, Acts 2:42 reveals that prayer was a vital part of the foundational lifestyle and relationships that were involved in the evangelistic mission of the early church.

The phrase “continued steadfastly” (Acts 2:42) paints the picture of believers who gave devoted constant attention and unrelenting care to prayer. Knowing that believers are still commissioned to be witnesses to the message of the gospel, church congregations must include prayer as a foundational element of their mission. Second, Acts 4:23-33 reveals that prayer paved the way for a bold and fruitful proclamation of the gospel. Peter and John had just received threatening commands “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (vs. 18). When they shared their experience with the church, the response of the believers was to pray. Many missionaries today receive similar threats. The local church must counter those threats with powerful, unified prayer.

Third, Acts 1:14 and 2:1-13 reveal that prayer provided the spiritual environment for the Holy Spirit to inspire and fill believers with power to be witnesses of the gospel. The ministry of sharing God’s Word with an unbelieving world always takes place in the context of spiritual warfare. One major way congregations can help their missionaries be victorious in this conflict is to pray that the presence of the Holy Spirit would fill His servants.

Fourth, Acts 10:1 through 11:18 reveals that prayer prepares both believers and unbelievers for providential encounters and effective evangelistic witness. In the early church, the idea of sharing the gospel message with the Gentiles was a source of contention. Prayer was a key element to overcoming this controversy. Today the controversy no longer exists. Still, missionaries need to be guided by God’s providence to redeem their time for eternal purposes. The local church can support their missionaries by praying that God would superintend their evangelistic relationships and encounters.

Finally, Acts 13:1-4 reveals that prayer played a vital role in the sending of witnesses for the gospel to the world. This Scripture passage is a partial fulfillment of Jesus’ command in Luke 10:2 that believers should pray for additional evangelistic workers to be sent into the world. Although the geography of the world remains basically constant, the world increasing population demands an ever-increasing pool of servant missionaries.

The foundational aspect of prayer in the evangelistic endeavor of the church has not changed. In fact, in a world that continues to exalt sin and self, prayer is needed more than ever. The local church must be held accountable for making prayer an evangelistic priority.

Liberty In Christ

Liberty In Christ

Paul rejoiced in the new liberty he had experienced in Christ. Freed from the restrictions Jewish leaders tried to impose on the faithful, he had no obligation except to love his brothers and sisters in Christ (Rom. 13:8). That love made him willing to surrender some of his newfound freedom.

In the case addressed in I Corinthians 8, some Christians believed they should not eat meat that had been offered to idols. The meat that remained from a pagan sacrifice might be eaten by the offerer and his friends as a feast in the temple, or the meat might be sold in the open market. Some believers felt meat used in pagan sacrifices was tainted and should not be eaten. Some may have even thought that in eating this meat they were participating in pagan worship. Paul and others believed otherwise. Paul knew that the idols had no real existence and that he could eat such meat without violating his conscience or compromising his convictions. The issue for Paul was larger. If he encouraged Christians to violate their consciences, he might do them spiritual harm. If they acted against their consciences on this question, they might do so on more important matters. That, he said, would be a sin against Christ. Paul’s debt of love to all men meant that he would surrender some of his freedom to safeguard the spiritual well-being of his brothers and sisters in Christ. Although we do not have the same specific problem today, Christians must face the challenge of giving up some practices that may not be harmful for them but that may cause problems for less mature Christians. Most of us face this when we consider how our actions influence our children and grandchildren.

People who work overseas often reflect on how their relative wealth affects their presentation of the gospel. In observing the way missionaries live, some unreached people have concluded that the gospel must be true because it has provided so many material benefits to those who proclaim it. Missionaries who do have vehicles for their travel and computers to do their work may give the impression that national Christian workers cannot serve the Lord effectively without this equipment.

One challenge to missionaries is to adopt a simple lifestyle to show people that the Lord’s work can be carried on without Western technology. In Ghana  our missionaries have sensed the importance of sometimes traveling without a van. Their are some who walk to neighboring villages and others who ride bicycles as a mode of transportation. As we do this, we become equal to most Christian workers that do not have these resources. This allows us to show that the gospel ministry can be carried on regardless of the mode of transportation and/or whether a computer is at their disposal. Knowing that we have a debt of love to all the people we know helps us decide how to use our freedom in Christ.

Heeding God’s Call

Heeding God’s Call

How does the call of God come to us? It usually comes through other people. God’s call to Mary came through an angel. In our lives, it usually comes through relatives, pastors, or friends. Because it reaches us in such a common and undramatic way, it may go unrecognized. To hear Him, we need to keep our souls sensitive by promptly obeying Him in those things we know very well are His will.

God’s call usually comes without everything being spelled out. Abraham was called to leave Ur of the Chaldees before knowing his destination (Gen. 12:1). Mary could not understand how she could conceive a child without a husband (Luke 1:34). Peter fell into a trance, saw a sheet with all kinds of animals and birds in it, and was commanded to kill and eat. With his orthodox Jewish background, however, the apostle could not understand how he could eat creatures considered unclean (Act 10:13-14). God’s call always comes as a call to sacrifice that leads to blessings for others. Missionaries cannot enter foreign lands to preach, help, and heal without first forsaking their own comfort zone or their own country and culture. God blessed the human race through the sacrifice He made of His only begotten Son. He requires sacrifice on our part too in order to make us a blessing.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). It is a peculiarity of sheep that they respond not to the shepherd’s clothing, body motion, or smell but His voice. We need to walk before the Lord quietly and attentively and study His words in the Bible. We need to be in church often and to pray much. If we love Him, whether we are missionaries, pastors, or laypeople, we will yearn to hear for ourselves the intensely personal call of God so that we can express our love for Him in every detail of our lives.

Blessed Assurance

Blessed Assurance

It is wonderful to know that we are God’s and to realize the blessedness that is ours because of it. God chooses us to be members of His kingdom not only so that He might bless us but also that we might know the joy of serving and praising Him. We can play a role in His great plan.

Is it reasonable to expect God to bless us if we do not share His concerns? How can we possibly bring praise to His name if we drift through life pursuing only our own interests? While we are quick enough to receive the benefits He bestows, we are often slow to demonstrate our appreciation. We should realize that God will be faithful and bless us in our efforts to serve Him, however inconsequential those efforts might seem to us. The fields are ripe. This should concern us not only because we have been called to work in the harvest but also because the ripened fields concern Him. Our world has many needs. Even in our high-tech age, there are still many who have never heard the name of Jesus. Many tribal groups lack even a scrap of Scripture. The challenge to get the job done is staggering. The completion of the task requires not only people whose lives are entirely devoted to missionary service but also a supportive home base. Everyone can and ought to have a part in world missions. How can we not? Those who venture into foreign fields deserve all the assistance we can give. Even words of encouragement through a letter can make a difference to a lonely missionary. Remember that missionaries are human.

The missionary must be spiritually minded, as opposed to material minded. That is because his chief aims are spiritual . . . The temptation to regard material things too highly is just as great on the field as it is at home, if not greater. So it is not easy, even for a missionary, to ‘seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.’ But it is quite essential to his ministry. Surely the same holds true for us all.

Move In His Time

Move In His Time

As the children of Israel journeyed to the Promised Land, God wanted them to know that He was always near. The cloud over the tabernacle revealed the Lord’s presence during the day. At night, a fire in the cloud showed the people that God never slept. In the Scriptures, clouds often signal the presence of God. A cloud appeared at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt. 17:5). When Christ comes again, He will appear in the clouds with great power and glory (mark 13:26).

When the cloud over the tabernacle moved, the people traveled. When the cloud remained, they waited. The delay in their journey could be a day or a year. It was important that they move when God gave the signal. As long as they traveled at the pace God set, they were safe. Christ demonstrated that He was moving through His ministry on God’s timetable. Jesus told His mother at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, “Mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). As Jesus drew near the time of His death, He told His disciples, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified” (12:23). Waiting for God’s time is the key to completing our work for the Lord. One temptation is to run ahead.

Proceeding too quickly, however, will lead to frustration and discouragement that may cause us to abandon a project. On the other hand, we may hesitate when God signals us to move ahead. We are too comfortable in our present situation to risk something new. Or we may feel timid about facing the dangers that we think are ahead.

If we want to live according to God’s timetable, He will reveal it to us. That revelation may come as God’s Spirit places a concern on our hearts. God may open opportunities that we realize are just right for us. God’s timing may appear through contacts with Christian friends. We have the assurance that God works in our minds to help us see what is important.

A Christian who prays and who knows God’s teaching in the Bible will understand when God is providing a new opportunity. He will step out in faith and find that God provides the needs for his ministry. As he takes the first steps of faith, he discovers that God provides guidance and fresh insights. God meets us at every corner.

A wonderful satisfaction comes as we work on God’s schedule. We have the sense that we have been in the right places at the right times. Although there may have been hardships, we would not have wanted to be in any other situation. Different types of people are needed to serve in the development of a new church. A pioneer missionary may make the first contacts and plant a church. Other missionaries come to establish a school to train national leaders. God uses each person in His time.

Light to the Nations

Light to the Nations

God’s commandments were a beautiful gift to His people. They showed them how to maintain a personal relationship with God and how to live in peace with their neighbors. God’s laws turned the people from polytheism and idolatry of their neighbors. The Lord did not want the Israelites to make images of Him, for that would lead them to worship a created thing rather than the Lord Himself.

The commands to keep the Sabbath and honor the name of the Lord helped the Israelites worship and reverence the Lord. The Lord’s commands to honor parents and to refrain from stealing, murder, adultery, and lying would protect the family and bring peace to the community. The command not to covet dealt with the heart attitude of the people. It was a command that Jesus would expand when He warned against committing adultery and murder in the heart. The commandments were given not to burden people but to make their lives easier. Instead of living in fear, the people who followed these commandments could anticipate peace and stability in their communities and the blessing of God on their lives. God’s commandments do not limit us but rather give us the greatest possible freedom. A young man in Ghana realized this when he attended a leadership conference. He said, “now I see that a godly way of life is not one that holds me back but one that adds to my freedom.” God made a wonderful promise to the people who received the commandments. He reminded them that He had carried them on eagles’ wings in the past. Now He was going to continue that blessing. God said that all of the world was His but that Israel would be a special treasure. The Hebrew nation would be a kingdom of priests. Israel had a mission to show the true God to the peoples of the world (Exodus. 19:5-6).

This was a continuation of the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that all the world would be blessed through his descendents. It was a promise that is repeated in Isaiah 49:6, where the Lord said, “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” That is a privilege for everyone who has entered God’s family. We are to bless the world by sharing the gospel. The early church took the Great Commission seriously, but in later centuries it was largely ignored. Every Christian who witnesses to the saving power of Christ is completing God’s purposes in the world. Every Christian who is in mission is one of the treasured people of God who bring light to the nations.

God’s Work Takes Time

God’s Work Takes Time

Noting the length of time it took Solomon to build a house for God, one is reminded that the work of missions is time-consuming. It takes time to build relationships; it takes time to build trust and acceptance; and it takes time to build the spiritual temple of God, the church. A study of missionary endeavors, both past and present, often reveals the fact that the work of the Lord requires endurance. Not every endeavor is the same, but the servant of the Lord, as well as his supporters back home, needs to realize that building for the Lord takes effort and time.

The missionary’s effort must also be dedicated to the Lord. Apart from His blessing, all labor is vain. It was said of the early missionaries of the church that they went out “for his name’s sake” (III John 1:7). What is done must be done for the Lord; therefore, it is only right and proper to dedicate one’s labor to Him. God was gracious to dwell in a material building and be with His people then; so it is now when believers gather to worship. As the church meets, whether in a cathedral, in a storefront mission, or under jungle foliage, the Lord is pleased to meet His people in worship.

The material Solomon used for the temple came from various places. The same holds true for God’s church. Missionaries are sent into all the world to collect material for the spiritual temple of God. As people come to faith, God fits them into the temple as living stones to offer worship acceptable to Him. We also would do well to remember that the body of a believer also becomes the temple of God. He puts His name upon the temple, hallows it with His presence, and is pleased to dwell with all who have faith.

Character Matters

Character Matters

We live in an age when candidates are chosen to lead a nation according to how they look on television rather than on their ideas. This shows that what God said to Samuel still holds true. Man tends to look on the outward appearance more than he should. Character is not given the prominence it should receive; and, sadly, people often get the kind of leader they deserve.

Not only leaders should be chosen on their character; there are other callings where the heart should rank higher than the physique. This is especially true in the Lord’s work. Whether it is the selection of a pastor by a congregation or the commissioning of missionaries by a sending body, those making the decisions should determine as best they can the spiritual qualities the person or couple brings to the position. Typically a pulpit committee or a missions board will ask each prospect to send a recent photo of himself along with his resume and call to ministry. There is nothing necessarily wrong with such a request, as long as the photo is not  the deciding factor one way or the other. A photo, even one’s appearance during a personal interview, should be at best secondary to what is determined about the heart of the individual.

Sometimes a pulpit committee never gets beyond a resume in evaluating a prospect. They meet him, but their impression of him is formed by the resume instead of the actual person. The one who will serve best in missions, at home or oversees, will be the one whose heart beats for God. By that is meant a heart that sincerely loves God and seeks to be obedient to the Lord’s commands. The best choice will be a person who is humble before God and man and sees himself as a servant rather than as a boss will all the answers. It will be a person who mourns the fate of those who die without Christ and seeks to be used by God to get the gospel to as many as possible regardless of personal sacrifice or danger.

The one chosen should have a heart that can get along with other missionaries and not contribute friction to relationships between God’s servants. It will be a true servant’s heart. It will be Christ’s heart. When missionaries come home and report to their supporting churches, it is sometimes noted that they are not polished preachers or necessarily good communicators with charisma. Most often, however, when one gets past their obvious inabilities and listens to what God is doing through them, one becomes greatly impressed that so many wonderful things are happening in their ministry.

The point to this is that God often chooses those whom man would never choose to bear His name before the nations. He does not often choose the polished speaker or the physically attractive or the individual who has a way with people. Instead, God looks inside a person to see what qualities are residing in the heart and whether or not that heart will live for Him and do His will in the place and among the people to which he will go. May these insights lead us to pray for pulpit committees and mission boards that they might be led by God and select more with their ears than with their eyes.

The Next Generation

The Next Generation

In the death of King David and the transferring of power to his son Solomon, one sees a principle that comes true with regularity. Each new generation must take up the work of missions for itself. There comes a time when those who were heavily involved in serving Christ die. If the work is to go on, it must be done by new people.

Another item worth noting for its significance for missions is the need for one generation to prepare and encourage the next to follow in its train. In today’s parlance, it is called discipleship. David charged his son regarding his responsibility before the Lord and his relationship to God. This is a fair reminder that that is precisely what the older generation needs to be doing to those who are younger. There are several pertinent observations from Solomon’s life that all believers – especially those who go out to serve on mission fields – need to apply. The first is the need for diligence when it comes to keeping one’s self free from sin. It is difficult to maintain consistently godly walk, but the difficulty is overshadowed by its importance. A second observation is the fact that Solomon thought of himself as a servant of the Lord.  He used that terminology several times in communicating with God. Such a mind-set is essential when it comes to the Lord’s work. It is found in those who recognize that the Lord is over all things and that they need His guidance and direction as well as power and ability to do what is required. Servant-hood and missions go hand in hand. A third observation from Solomon’s life that lends itself to evangelizing and discipleship is the need for godly wisdom. No one is more famous for his wisdom than Solomon, and his wonderful prayer is a gem of humility in seeking God’s help.

Surely as difficult as running a nation is Solomon also took on the spiritual struggle for the souls of men. It is a work that requires the pre-evangelization of the Holy Spirit. Man’s best efforts will be for naught unless the Lord has been working in the hearts of men; therefore, prayer is vital. It is indispensable. The need for the wisdom of an omniscient God is mandatory, for He alone knows who He has been working on and where the servant with the gospel message should go. May those of the current, older generation make every effort to encourage and prepare the younger set for service in Christ’s name. May the younger generation be willing to listen to and learn from those who have been there and have much godly wisdom to hand down. The Lord’s work is too important for us to think we can do it in our own wisdom and strength.