GO!

Mark 16:15 New International Version (NIV)

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

The Great Commission (above and also in Matthew 28:18-20) is not a suggestion.  It is a command.  In the nearly two millenia since Jesus gave this command, the world has grown smaller in many ways– it no longer takes months to sail across oceans or travel over hazardous mountain passes; it no longer takes weeks for letters to arrive.   The Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages, and can be downloaded onto phones and other hand-held devices.  We don’t even have to physically travel somewhere in order to talk “face-to-face”– we can Skype!

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We live in a global society that was unthinkable even one hundred years ago– but there is no less urgency about the Great Commission.  God is still sending people out of their comfort zones, away from home and family, to spread His word, to awaken revival, and to bring news of peace and salvation.  Not everyone is called to travel, but all are called to go–how can that be?

Prayer is, of course, one element– we can pray for nations, people groups, mission organizations, and individuals around the world.  We can also give– money, time, materials–we can commit to being partners and team members “on the home front” or volunteer to visit or do short-term mission work.

I highly recommend both– but I want to issue a challenge to a greater involvement.

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Several years ago, I stumbled across a used book (it was already out-of-date when I found it) called Operation World: a day-to-day guide to praying for the world, by Patrick Johnstone.  For each day of the year, there was a specific part of the world/people group/nation to pray for, with maps, statistics, the names of national leaders, information or estimates about literacy rates and religious affiliation.  Later, I found a yearly calendar/prayer diary that did much the same thing– I assume it is no longer being published as I haven’t been able to find one for many years, and it was a great loss.

In the years since, I have tried to use almanacs, online sources (including the CIA Factbook), “Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It…” Proactive Prayer Points  and lists in my prayer journal to broaden my outlook.  Even more than that, I have found it useful to “GO” to other countries by bringing them into our home– international cookbooks, maps, newsletters from missionaries and mission groups, music, photos, foreign language Bibles or testaments, “adopting” a child through Kids Alive (https://www.kidsalive.org/)  or World Vision ( https://www.worldvision.org/)or Compassion International ( https://www.compassion.com/)(either through financial support or prayer support or both).

God so loved the WORLD–He is a global God, who wants so very much for us to love one another, understand one another better, and learn from one another.  But He also wants the world to love HIM– not a pantheistic, watered down, homogenized version of a god, but the God of Creation; the God of Salvation and Reconciliation; the Messiah; the Ruler of All.

This doesn’t mean ignoring people close to home– pray for your neighbors, your family and friends, your community, and home nation…but often, we get so involved in our own burdens, our own drama, and our own concerns, that we get cut off and isolated from other children of God– and those who are longing to hear some Good News.

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Go–whether on a plane or on your knees; at your church or at your kitchen table– GO!

Passport Prayers

I get to travel every day.  I journal my prayers in a daily notebook.  Prayer Journal  (click here to get ideas or learn more)  Each day has a heading and four sections– one for birthdays or other “memory days”; one for thematic prayers (generalized themes like “family”, “community”, “global concerns”, “culture”, etc.); one for urgent requests, and one for a region of the world–nations, major cities, local communities.  On busy days, I send a short prayer and try to remember what I know, or imagine what I’d like to know, about that area.  Some days, I have the luxury of time to look up information or history about that area– what is the language, capital city, literacy rate, average age, major religion, geography, economy, etc.

Our world is full of wonder, variety, crisis, and opportunity–I want to add all of this to my pursuit of prayer. It reminds me of several things:

  • I am not the center of the universe– my issues and problems are not unique or exceptional.
  • God has placed me here to interact with others–I can’t reach out and connect with 6 billion others, but I can become more aware of their needs and way of life.
  • The world is a big place–seeing it on the screen via the internet sometimes causes me to forget that.  And as I see how big the world is, I also need to remember that God is even bigger!
  • The world is full of variety.  Not everyone lives or thinks or worships as I do.  Not everyone faces the same circumstances, the same temptations, the same struggles.  Yet God sees and hears each one who calls on him.  He doesn’t have trouble understanding languages and dialects– he doesn’t get culture shock.  He is not an American Jesus, or a Brazilian Jesus, or a Korean Jesus.  He’s not an urban Jesus or a remote mountain village Jesus, or a gated community Jesus.  When we enter eternity, we will share it with amazing brothers and sisters from every corner of creation.  He’s got the whole world in his hands!

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  • Many millions of people around the globe have never heard the Gospel– or they’ve heard lies and misrepresentations.  Millions of other believers are being persecuted for believing in Jesus or for sharing the good news of Salvation in His Name. People in every nation, every community, are suffering.
  • We are commanded, as Christians, to “go into all the world” and preach the gospel.  I may not be able to travel to “all the world”, but I can “go” in prayer, sharing on-line, and  learning about needs, as well as in sending out and praying for those who can travel.
  • I am grateful for the opportunities God has given me– to learn about him and worship him in freedom; to travel and participate on short-term mission opportunities; to meet and share with missionaries, travelers, students, foreign workers, and others who share their culture and knowledge and perspectives; and for the global work of the Savior, and my privilege to share in it.

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Time to pack my bags– I’m heading to Germany tomorrow!

Praying for Peace

A few years ago, I was introduced to a man from South Sudan, who had come to the U.S. for a missions conference.  Earlier in the evening, he had shared a report on conditions in his region– all the horrible details you dread hearing–displaced families, homeless refugees, orphaned children, shortages of food, clothing, shelter, blankets, and medicine, constant fear of being attacked by one side or another in the ongoing conflict.  Throughout his report, he emphasized the sovereignty of God, and his hope that he and his team could continue to help those most in need.  As I got a chance to speak directly to “Robert” *, I told him that I would pray for peace to come to his region.  I was shocked when he stopped me.  “Please don’t pray for peace,” he told me.  “Pray instead that God would give us the resources and the strength to be faithful and to keep helping.”

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Then he explained.  It wasn’t that he didn’t want peace to come, but he wanted me to pray for whatever God willed for his region.  The Kingdom of God, not earthly peace, was his highest priority and his greatest urgency.  Because of the circumstances of war, people were desperate.  Their world had been turned upside-down, and they were in great need.  But war had also opened up opportunities– not only opportunities to help those in need, but opportunities to show the Love of Christ as it had never been known to the people there.  The people who were coming to refugee camps were meeting, sometimes for the very first time, people from other villages, other cultures, and other faiths– people they had considered enemies.  Suddenly, they were seeing these enemies as fellow sufferers, fellow human beings with the same injuries and losses, needs and longings as themselves.  They were also “seeing through” some of the lies they had believed about “the others” in their midst.  Their circumstances were desperate, but their biggest need was for hope and help.  Help was coming from around the world– United Nations’ agencies, The Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and several Christian relief and medical organizations.  These groups had been kept out during peacetime and even in the early stages of fighting.  Not only were they able to help with immediate relief; they were able to provide medical care for victims of AIDS, and childhood diseases, care that had long been denied.  Along with practical help, though, these groups were providing hope– hope to rebuild, hope in the midst of despair and chaos, hope of eternal life and a relationship with God.

“Robert” was not saying that he didn’t long for peace, or that peace would be a bad thing for the people of South Sudan.  Of course not.  But the greatest need was not for an immediate end to fighting– it was for the kind of peace that only God can bring.  As far as I know “Robert” is still working with refugees and displaced families in South Sudan.  The work is difficult and often heartbreaking.  Resources are stretched, and chaos still haunts the land.  But progress is coming– slowly, but surely.  Lives are being changed, reclaimed, and renewed.   And I pray that he and his team are being strengthened and encouraged even as their circumstances continue to be desperate.

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I share this story because I am still learning that Prayer isn’t about what I want or think is best; it isn’t about getting my way, or asking for the easy “fix” or the happy ending.  It’s about seeking God’s will, His way, His answer, His timing, and His grace.  Suffering, whether we are experiencing it or hearing about it, reminds us that we live in a fallen and dying world.  We long for peace.  We long for healing.   We long for rest and comfort and happiness.  But in this world, there will be trouble and injustice, death and disease, pain, suffering, betrayal, and unanswered questions.  We don’t understand God’s timing, his plan in allowing innocent people to suffer the cruelties of war or poverty.  And if we are living in peace and comfort, it makes us feel guilty and even fearful– why them and not us?  When might we face unexpected hardship?  So we ask God to remove all the discomforts, the struggles, the pain.  It is not wrong to want healing and peace and all the other good things– we should seek justice and mercy and peace and joy.  But we also need to recognize that God may choose to bless us in unexpected ways through our hardships and agonies.  And he may be calling some of us to take action– to be His hands and feet– to reach out with the resources he has given us to help others.  He doesn’t love those others less; he doesn’t love us more– he loves to see us love each other in His name!

God’s ways are not my ways; his timing isn’t the same as mine– it is better.  It is perfect. In the end, there will be peace in South Sudan.  There will be Peace on Earth. There will be healing and justice, and peace and joy.  There will be answers for all the questions, and happy endings.   But in the meantime, may God give all of us the strength and resources to help those in need, the faith and discipline to keep going in the midst of chaos, and the wisdom to make peace and spread love wherever and whenever we can.

 

*Because “Robert” is a Christian worker in an area of intense persecution, his true identity is being protected.  Please pray for all those who are risking their lives and livelihoods to live, work, and worship as Christians throughout the world.  And be thankful if you live in an area where you risk little or nothing to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ.

“Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It…”

Anyone old enough to remember the old TV show, or anyone who has seen the movies with Tom Cruise, will recognize the title quote from Mission Impossible.  A message, containing details of a top secret mission, would be sent to an agent of the CIA.  After the message had been delivered, it would self-destruct, and the agent would set out to save the world from terrorists or other worldwide threats.  It made for exciting entertainment– speeding trains, double agents, close calls with assassins, death-defying stunts, and lots of explosions– all happening in exotic locations around the world.

Prayer doesn’t usually involve death-defying stunts or explosions, but in can involve a mission, and exotic locations.  As I started keeping a prayer journal, I wanted to pray for people around the world– except I’m not a world traveler.  I’ve never been to Fiji or Burundi, Greenland or the Gobi Desert.  I know some missionaries who have lived or are living overseas, and their newsletters are helpful and personal– I can pray for them, for their fellow workers, and for their neighbors and friends and circumstances across the globe.  But I wondered, couldn’t I do more?  What if I set aside one day for every country on earth– to pray for that country and its people even once a year?  That might seem like an impossible mission.  How can I pray effectively for a country if I don’t even know where it is or how to pronounce its name?  Thankfully, I have a lot of help.  The internet is a great resource for finding out about countries, especially those in the news.  But one of my favorite resources is the CIA!pexels-photo-319968.jpeg

The Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America is not just in the spy business.  They collect “intelligence”– facts about our world and every country in it–maps, statistics, flags, forms of government, populations, literacy and mortality rates, and so much more.  /https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/
By visiting their site, you can find out more about any country in the world, and use that information to pray for very specific needs–countries that have been ravaged by war, disease, faltering economies; those countries facing turmoil from burgeoning immigration or sectarian violence.  You can find out the official language(s) of any country, the approximate breakdown of religious affiliation, the percentage of the population that suffers from obesity, illiteracy, or poverty– even some of the history and social structure. Are there major rivers or mountain ranges in that country?  What natural resources do they have (or not have).

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I don’t spend hours poring over each country each day– sometimes, I just lift up that country by name, knowing that God already knows the needs and situations in each place better than I ever could (even with the help of drones and spies).  But when I have the time, I like to learn more about the amazing diversity of peoples, languages, cultures, and circumstances around the world.  It reminds me that God has all of them in his hand, on his mind, and in his heart at all times.  It’s a big world out there, though it often seems to be shrinking.   God is Bigger!  There are a lot of tragic circumstances and heartbreaking issues around the world.  God is still Sovereign!  There are millions of people in remote and forgotten corners of the world– God sees and cherishes all of them!

I still have my “first world” problems, and personal issues to bring to the throne of Grace, but what a privilege to be able to lift up others– people I have never met in places I will never be able to visit–knowing that I can have a tiny part in the work God wants to do in their lives, as well as in mine.

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