Last January, as I’ve written about, I took a trip to Zambia to teach at a Bible College, and I hope to do it again this January. The college is operated by an organization called Gospelink (which is a good organization, not to be confused with another gospelink website—the LDS on-line library). And this past Sunday I had a gentleman on the board of directors come and speak my church.
You see, Gospelink’s primary mission focus is not a Bible college in Zambia, though that is now an important focus. Rather, as their main task they raise support from a country that has in order to fund the work of native pastors in countries that have not. They help train, equip, and hold accountable men in third world countries throughout Africa and Asia, and then seek to supply them the means to focus on sharing the Gospel and shepherding God’s flock.
But this post doesn’t really concern the work of Gospelink.
As this gentleman shared, he told several stories about some of the men pastoring in dangerous places. One planted a church in a town which has a 75% Muslim population. He preached the Gospel, people started coming to Christ, and some of the Muslims became unhappy. They burned the church’s first meeting house to the ground. They confiscated the second and refused to allow the church to meet in any other building. The church now meets outside the city, yet the Gospel is still proclaimed and people are still saved.
Another man lives in a region of the Congo (DRC) near the border with Rwanda and Uganda—a region filled with much war and strife. Almost every woman in his church has been raped by men from rebel armies. Most of the men are given a choice: join the fighting or die. Many people have fled, this pastor remains. The Gospel is preached and people are saved.
There are many more stories. Many are much less dramatic, yet the pastors and churches still face times of difficulty in regions, cities, and villages where resources are scarce. I agreed to be a co-sponsor of a pastor who lives in a house with no plumbing or electricity.
But regardless of the situations…the Gospel is spread and people are saved.
As this gentleman shared these stories, I thought about my church and my town. We claim to be Christians, we claim to be disciples, to have this transformation of life within us, this hope of eternal joy that transcends all other things, because there is nothing greater than the thought of beholding the glory of God filling the earth and resting eternally in his presence…
And yet we don’t even talk about Jesus to our neighbors or our friends. We spend more time concerned in prayer for Aunt Bertha’s trick knee then we do for the growing lostness in the homes surrounding us.
If the Gospel is proclaimed outside of the four walls where the saints gather, it’s not very often; and if people are saved, it’s few and far between. Given that somewhere around 75% of churches in America have plateaued or are in decline, I’d say the same is true in other towns.
Yet God is still working in his world. He still has a purpose to fill the earth with his glory as the waters cover the seas.
But is he nearly done in America? Only he knows that, but as long as there is still the gasping remnant of church, we still hold out hope that God can bring life to the dry bones as spectacularly as he did before Ezekiel’s eyes.
But what’s it gonna take?
Prayer. I mentioned Aunt Bertha’s trick knee. It’s almost cliché to make fun of prayer lists for being filled with health concerns, but it tends to also be true. I just pulled out a copy of ours…cancer, kidney, cancer, cancer, salvation, cancer, health issues, faith, cancer, heart issues, kidney transplant, health issues, missions work, hip replacement, Crohn’s, tumor, irregular heartbeat, headaches, eyes, and hip. I’m not trying to belittle or ignore these health concerns. Many are life changing and potentially life ending. Jesus healed all sorts of people. Jesus will one day heal all his people. We should pray for health concerns. But of the 21 items listed there, 18 have to do with physical health and 3 have to do with salvation and the spread of the gospel.
We have this completely backwards. Physical health might be important, but eternal destinies matter more. In Matthew 6, Jesus said to pray for our daily bread, our daily needs, and I believe that includes our physical ailments. But before he said that, we read, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Before we pray about our needs, we are to begin praying praise to the Father and asking for his Kingdom to come and his will to be done. What is his Kingdom? His people filling the earth, reigning with and under Christ forever, in the joy of his presence. What is his will? That his name be exalted and his glory be known. How do these become realities today? People being saved and lives being forever transformed.
Prayer for salvation precedes prayer for health. We have neighbors, friends, family members, school mates, and co-workers who either are not followers of Jesus or who think they are but are sorely blinded by the false gospels they love. If we have 18 concerns for physical health, surely we can think of 36 who need true salvation.
Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, the workers are few. Pray for the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” From prison, Paul wrote the Colossian church and said, “Continue steadfastly in prayer…pray also for us that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” Paul also wrote to the Ephesians, “[Pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Do we pray for workers? Do we pray for doors opened wide for the word? Do we pray for opportunity and boldness?
And surely as we pray for these things, God will also make us workers.
Which leads to… Boldly declaring the word. Paul said of himself, “This is the way I ought to speak.” After all, he was an ambassador for Christ. Are we not also? Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” Is that not our commission? Jesus also said, “You will be witnesses to the ends of the earth, when the Spirit comes upon you.” Do we not have the same Spirit?
Second Corinthians 2:14-17 is a beautiful passage. “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” Our great and awesome God leads us always in victory. But where do we see this triumph of which Paul spoke?
“…and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere…for we are not like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”
These quips bookend the part where Paul says we are the aroma of Christ to God among those being saved and those perishing. As we speak the Gospel it falls upon the ears of people. Some hear it and are brought to life, others hear it and keep marching towards death. Our words are words of life and they are words of death. As a result, Paul even asked, “Who is sufficient for these things?” And he gave the answer in 3:5-6—we aren’t sufficient, but God makes us sufficient.
It is his word, his message, and his power. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me…and behold I am with you always.” What reason do we ever have not to boldly declare the word?
And finally…Living differently. Romans 12:1-2 speaks of our spiritual worship. What is worship? The renewal of our minds. Not being conformed. Being transformed. Worship is life—a life truly changed by the grace of God. As Paul progressed with the rest of Romans 12, we see such a life of worship leads us to use our spiritual gifts, love genuinely, abhor evil and hold fast to what is good, rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, contribute to the needs of the saints, show hospitality, bless those who persecute us, weep with those who weep, associate with the lowly, seek to live at peace with all, and overcome evil with good (among other things).
This is life radically transformed by grace. This is a life that puts actions with our words. This is a life that causes others to stand up, take notice, and ask about the hope within us. This is life that opens opportunities to speak the Gospel to others.
Can we see the gospel spread and people saved? Until Jesus returns, God remains in the business of saving the lost. But do we pray as if we believe that, do we share as if we believe that, and do we live as if we believe that?