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    Oct 12, 2014

    Class 5: Supremacy of God in Missions Through Suffering and Prayer

    Series: Missions

    Category: Core Seminars, Persecution, Suffering, Prayer, Sovereignty of God, The Glory of God, Evangelism, International Missions


    Recap of first 3 lessons.

    Why is a Biblical understanding of suffering and prayer important to a Biblical understanding of missions?

    First, let’s consider suffering.

    Why Does the Gospel tend to go forward into new areas accompanied by suffering?

    Suffering for one’s faith is not exclusively associated with cross-cultural evangelism. We don’t want to imply that. However, a careful reading of the New Testament and of more recent missionary history does seems to indicate that suffering of an unusual sort has accompanied most bold advances of the Gospel. From the riot in Ephesus under the Apostle Paul’s preaching, to the persecution in Thessalonica in Acts 17, opposition and difficulty has been a strange companion to Christian missions. Consider the example of Adoniram Judson, whose biography is in our bookstall. When he was in Burma, he lost 2 wives and 7 out of 13 children, in addition to colleague after colleague. And then we have the Busses, who stayed with us before. About 15 years ago, when they were in Kazakhstan, Kevin was beaten up by some drunk locals and ended up having to have reconstructive surgery. They were expelled from a country because for preaching the gospel and Kevin was subsequently labeled as a terrorist in a few countries. And one of his daughters ended up falling from ledge in-country and split her head in a place with pretty bad health care. Add to that the stories of hundreds or even thousands of missionaries who have been beaten, starved, lost children, been imprisoned, lost their health, and even died as a result of going out with the Gospel. The history of the advance of the Gospel is, from one point of view, a long and consistent story of suffering servants.

    I’d like for us to explore God’s will regarding suffering in missions by asking 3 questions:
    • Who is the cause of this suffering?
    • Why does this suffering happen?
    • Who suffers?

    Based on the answer to these we will then look to apply them to ourselves.

    Who is the cause of suffering?

    Why is it that Christians suffer? Well, according to Scripture, part of the answer is that they suffer because God wills it. The Bible does not limit the picture of the saints suffering to God’s permission, but finally it is pictured as an outworking of his sovereign will.

    - Acts 4:27 – 28… “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

    Consider Peter’s reference to the agency behind the suffering of Jesus in Act 4:27-28.
    Here we are told that the greatest suffering in all of history, the suffering of Christ, was not something that God allowed to happen, rather it was something that he decided should happen. God is not a victim, passively allowing suffering, in this case at least he was the all powerful agent, even moving the plans of wicked men to accomplish his good and holy purpose.

    1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 (for us).

    Why Does God Appoint Suffering for His Servants?

    That brings us to the most difficult “Why” of the morning. Why would a good and loving God appoint, will, purpose and destine his children for suffering? Well, just looking through Scripture I found a number of reasons.

    - Deeper faith and greater holiness (2 Corinthians 1: 8-9)

    - To give us greater joy in our reward and the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4: 17-18):

    - To wake up other Christians and make them bold (Philippians 1:14)

    - Suffering moves Christians to the places He wants them to go (Acts 8:1, Acts 11:19)

    But there is one final reason that I think may be most important for us to consider and understand, given the bent of our culture and our hearts. Based on Scripture it seems plain that the reason that God ordains, wills, appoints and destines his people to suffer is because their suffering glorifies the worth of the Gospel of Christ.

    - Suffering magnifies the power and worth of Christ

    Matthew 13: 44-46: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
    The worth of a hidden treasure is measured by what you will sell to gain it. The worth of a pearl is measured by what you will sell to buy it. The worth of the kingdom of God is made plain, not by how thankful we are to get the stuff that we want in this life, but by what we will gladly lose in the course of our dedication to the kingdom.

    Other passages like 2 Corinthians 12: 9 – 10, where Paul says he delights in persecutions so that Christ’s power can be revealed.

    2 Corinthians 12:9-10: “But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

    Only when Christians continue to delight in God, even through great personal loss, does it become clear to unbelievers that they love God not for what he gives, but for who he is. That is perhaps the whole point of the book of Job. Satan accused Job of loving God only for the stuff God provided. Job’s persistence in obedience to God in the face of staggering loss proved Satan a liar once again.

    Let’s pause and consider God’s incredible plan for glorifying Himself – and how He does so in several different facets. The past few classes, we’ve discussed how God desires to glorify Himself. He is the source and the inspiration for missions. Not only that, the way that He has chosen to glorify Himself displays His grace and His justice. But this week, we add to that the fact that God is glorifying Himself even through the means that He has appointed to bring His gospel to the nations – that as His people declare His praises, and persist in suffering, He is glorified as His people show His worth and the worth of His gospel.

    So we’ve talked about who causes suffering and why God does so. Let’s consider now who suffers?

    Who suffers?

    - Is suffering normal for Christians?
    So that brings us to the inevitable question, “Is this sort of suffering “normal” for Christians?” Or is it for spiritual Christians, you know, those people who are missionaries and pastors?

    Suffering is normal for Christians.

    - John 15:20… “Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
    Jesus warns his disciples that just as evil men persecuted him, they will also persecute us.

    The basic fact is that we are told that the very association we have with Christ means that faithful Christians will be persecuted.

    - 1 Peter 4: 1 & 12… “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin… Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”

    Peter tells us that thinking about Christ’s suffering, and the likelihood of our own suffering, is something that we should do in order to “arm” ourselves for the Christian life…in order to prepare ourselves for suffering before hand.

    Let’s consider, then, what application this has for us. Let’s, as Peter writes, arm ourselves with the attitude of Christ.

    First, what reaction do God’s people have to suffering?

    Is it a resignation or despair? Actually, it seems from the Bible that His people rejoice.

    - Acts 5: 41… “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
    Because if they know it is bringing glory to God, they can rejoice in their suffering if they love the Lord’s glory more than their own comfort. That is why it is important for us to know these things…they will help us to rejoice as we think about the way our suffering glorifies the Lord.

    - Hebrews 10: 34… “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”
    And if they really hope in something better and more lasting in heaven, then the loss of things in this life will not seem like an ultimate loss at all. They can lose things in this life without losing anything at all.

    God’s people rejoice in their suffering.

    Should Christians Choose to Suffer?

    So it seems like the Bible talks so highly of suffering. Should we as Christians actually choose to suffer? It may be one thing to determine that Christians should be willing to accept suffering joyfully if it ultimately catches up with them, but should a Christian deliberately choose a life of suffering?

    No and Yes. No we should not be foolish and act stupidly at thus tempt God. Paul, we know, used many means to try to avoid suffering and death when he could…Roman citizenship, friends hiding him, etc. But at the same time, he did choose to live a life of suffering…deliberately. And we read elsewhere in the word that God’s people will love him more than the comforts of life.

    And this is where, I hope, we begin to see the heart of what it means to say that Christians will joyfully embrace suffering. Because it is in our suffering that the worth of the Gospel gift is made plain to a world that does not believe the message of Christ. But how will the world see that we value the Gospel more than life if we basically chase after the same things that they do. If the limit of our dedication to Christ is simply to thank him for the “stuff” he gives us, how are we really any different than the world? They want money and power and comfort and pleasure…and so do many who claim the name of Christ.

    Should Christians choose to do things that will result in other people suffering?

    Consider this scenario. You are overseas in country in which it is illegal to share the gospel—and certainly to convert. You develop a friendship with some locals there and they seem interested. But you know that if they believe, they might be rejected by their family and maybe even persecuted by the government.

    Would it be worth telling them about Jesus when it might mean difficulty for your friends? What if that meant they might even die? Think of how that might affect a family: a man, his wife, his children—if they believe?

    When persecution or suffering extends to other people, we might be more wary of sharing the gospel. And this is not an uncommon situation. But we should decide that yes, it is worth potential persecution, even of our friends. The reason is that the problem our friends face is greater than any persecution than they could face in this world—they face unending torment in hell if they does not believe. And so it is ultimately loving to share with them the gospel.

    How do we prepare for suffering?

    a) Know the worth of the gospel. Be clear on what it is that you hope in as a Christian?

    As a Christian, our hope is not in the same things that the world hopes in. Our hope is that a Holy God has made a way for his appropriate and infinite wrath for our sin to be poured out on Christ. So that we no longer stand under a sentence of Hell but now face an eternity of enjoyment of God. That is the gospel. And as a Christian one of the best ways we can prepare for suffering and difficulty in the pursuit of missions is to deliberately contrast our hardships against the value of the gospel message.

    People who don’t have hope in Christ often find suffering intolerable because it robs them of their only hope…pleasure and satisfaction in this life. But as a Christian we have a different hope. It is rooted in the joy of knowing that we will see and enjoy the glory of Christ.

    b) Consider whether your current lifestyle makes your hope visible. (1 Peter 3:15).

    So if we not like those who hope only in this world, if we genuinely value the worth of the Gospel above all things, is that visible to others? If other people were to look at your life, would it be clear to them that you hope in something different than they? Or would they just think that your Christianity was a tool you use to help you get all the same things that they want…comfort, success, safety, money and approval from others?

    What about considering going overseas? Has the possibility of suffering – whether it is the loss of your own comfort, that of your spouse, or that of children – precluded you from going? Let’s be clear about why we are not overseas. If it is because we are afraid to lose the things of this world, that is a bad reason.

    We are not to seek after simplicity for simplicity’s sake. But we are told in Luke 12:29 not to seek after the things of the world, like material possessions, because all the pagan nations seek after them. No we are to seek after the kingdom without being anxious for the temporal things that the world chases after. We are to do this for the sake of the kingdom.

    Is that true for you? Is your lifestyle so different than the people around you that it elicits questions about what YOU hope in, since you clearly don’t hope in the same things they do?

    c) Consciously counting the cost

    Suffering will happen. Serving overseas will cost you. If you are thinking of going overseas, it is good to be clear on what such costs might be. And if you are married and thinking of going, it would be helpful to think through together with your spouse exactly how such costs may look. We should count the cost, just like Jesus says we should do in all areas of our discipleship. (Luke 14:27-30, 33).

    Suffering might take different forms, particularly for us Westerners living in the 21st century. This might not be death, which Stephen or Paul faced. People who are Westerners will probably not be threatened on a physical level; by God’s providence, usually the worst thing that can happen is expulsion. But it might be, on one level, more trying. After all, martyrdom is a one-time event. Generally, the suffering that missionaries face is on a more mundane level: it happens day after day after day.

    Often, though, the issues relate not just to one’s self but instead to others. What if going to an unreached place meant seeing your family go through uncomfortable situations? Problems with children are one of the top reasons missionaries end up leaving the field. They may have difficulty acculturating or, on the other hand, acculturate so well that when they get back to the US, they seem displaced. Or children’s education may be an issue. The question may be: is it worth being in an unreached area if that meant that your children, when they got to be in high school, might have to go to a boarding school?

    Now, it isn’t necessary that all these situations will happen. But it is good to aware of and consider the types of suffering that may occur. Ultimately, however, having such a list shouldn’t make us despondent or scared. Instead, we should be cultivating a spirit of trust in God and of thankfulness for His grace.

    d) Cultivate a spirit of thankfulness, not entitlement

    I still remember something Zane said: “you are not entitled to anything. If we got what we were entitled to, we would each be in hell.” Therefore, everything that we have comes from God, by His grace through Christ. Zane was saying this to missionaries who would face suffering in many ways—from culture shock to substandard housing to opposition from the government and locals. Troubles will come. Suffering will come. But learning to be thankful and not focus on what we’re entitled to is helpful.

    God has given us these gifts so we can use them for His glory. He has not given us gifts because we deserve them or because He owes us. Therefore, we cannot hold on to anything. We have to be willing to let go, for His sake.

    2) Prayer.

    If God is Sovereign in Missions, Why Should We Pray?

    Prayer Proves the Supremacy of God in Missions

    How is it specifically that God seems to intend for his glory to be exalted in prayer for missions? To consider this we may be helped to look at a few specific passages of Scripture.

    - Psalm 50:15…Call on me in the day of trouble… (call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.) ESV

    God delivering His people as they pray glorifies Him.

    - John 14:13…that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son) ESV

    God answering His peoples’ prayers glorifies Him.

    - John 16:24…that your joy may be full. (Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.) ESV

    God answering His peoples’ prayers causes them to be joyful, and thus glorifies Him.

    God has a great plan to be glorified in the expanse of the knowledge of his gospel. It goes something like this…God will provide salvation in his Son, we will go out to take that message of salvation to the ends of the earth. God will ordain that we meet difficulty and seemingly insurmountable odds in that great work. Then, we will call on him in the day of trouble. He will respond as seems wisest to Him, and when he does open doors, overcome opposition, grant strength, rescue us from trouble, grant needed materials, etc. Then we will praise him for his provision and he will be publicly shown to be the power behind Christian missions. Put another way, we will get the help we need in the work of missions, but it will be done in such a way that God is shown to be the source…and then he will get the glory.

    God is also, often, glorified through prayer…as he responds to the prayers of his children, showing that he is the loving, all powerful, all sufficient benefactor of his people and the one who carries and sustains them in the work of missions.

    Suffering is a part of the work of missions because it glorifies the worth of God. Prayer also must be a part of missions because it glorifies the kindness and the unstoppable power of God. Both must be a part of God’s work because God must be glorified in every way.

    God Will Win the War – So Why Pray?

    And why is it that we have such hope in our prayers for missions. That is, simply put, that as we pray for the advance of God’s praise, the growth of his church, the obedience of the nations and the response of the unconverted…we can KNOW that we are praying according to God’s will and that he will do it. Certainly God hasn’t revealed this will for every individual person and circumstance, but he has revealed his will in general.

    - Matthew 16:18 … I will build my church… (And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.) ESV

    - Genesis 49:10…To him shall be the obedience… (The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.) ESV

    - John 10:16…they will heed my voice. (And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.) ESV

    In the midst of difficult and challenging situations, it’s encouraging knowing that God will accomplish His purposes. Talk about Afg.

    Isaiah 45:21-25… (Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.' "Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. In the LORD all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.") ESV

    Some might ask, why pray for missions if God is going to do it? Well for one thing, simply because our Lord has told us to do so. Jesus told us to “pray for God’s kingdom to come” and “to ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers” for the work of evangelism. Underscoring that, we should be encouraged and eager to pray for the work of missions because we good reason to be confident in the global sense, and good reason to be hopeful in even specific instances. This is what God is about in the world, and as that core goal becomes the core goal of our own prayers, then I think we will find the joy and confidence in our own prayers growing as well.

    [Why] Prayer Must be Central to God-honoring Missions

    - Because God will not give His glory to another.

    God has ordained that the work of the gospel will go forward with prayer so that he gets the glory. As humans go out with the Gospel, we must pray so that the world will know that it is God who sends, God who provides, God who sustains, who converts, rescues, carries and saves. We must pray so that he will be glorified. [not us, but Him!]

    - So that we get the help as He gets the glory!

    In God’s kindness and wisdom, he has instituted a plan where the gospel will go forward, we will be able to participate in that work, but through our prayers all the glory remains for him. We get help and he gets glory…what a great plan.

    - Because we want to bear fruit that will last…John 15:16.

    Finally, we need to make prayer central so that increasingly the lasting fruit of our labors will be tied up in the prayers that we pray.

    How Should Our Prayers for Missions Be?

    1. Offensive, knowing that God is concerned with the spread of His glory to the ends of the earth.
    2. Persevering, knowing that God asks us to pray. So we pray even if there is not much fruit – consider the example of China, where missionaries have labored for hundreds of years. Think of how disheartened missionaries were in 1949 after the Communists took over. They thought that the church in China would be lost. But people had been praying for China for hundreds of years before then and continued to pray. Look now at the fruit.
    3. Informed, knowing how we can pray for others. We should be diligent and know for whom we are praying.
    4. Confident, knowing that God is sovereign and will accomplish His purposes. Also that He is wise and is accomplishing them in the way that will bring Him the most glory.

    [So, if we are convinced that prayer for missions is important, how can we grow in this area?]

    Ways to Encourage Yourself in Prayer for Missions
    - Realize that prayer for missions is a duty for mature, balanced Christians

    Prayer for missions is not something to be reserved for special “prayer warriors” or for persons specially interested in other cultures or in missions. [Certainly there may be certain people who have an especially strong desire to glorify God in prayer for cross cultural evangelism.]

    - Use “Operation World” in your devotions.

    The book Operation World is a wonderful tool to use to guide your prayer times for missions. It contains some great information to help you learn more about other nations and people groups to encourage your prayer for them.

    - Pray for the “Supported Workers” in the CHBC Membership Directory.

    In the back of the CHBC directory there are photos and information about most of the workers that we support or have special relationships with. You can use that list as a spring-board to help you pray systematically for the workers who are closest to this local fellowship.

    - Pick up missionary letters from the Office or on CHBC email updates.

    Many of our workers send printed newsletters that you can pick up in the office, or they may send them out to members of the church who request them. Also, you can watch the weekly CHBC email update for periodic updates from our supported workers. These allow you to know something about what is going on with our workers to inform and encourage your prayers.

    - Set a specific schedule to pray for missions as a part of your regular times of prayer

    Part of your prayers each day, or on a specific day of the week. This discipline will help you grow regular and deep in your commitment to prayer for missions. [American myopia]

    - Get to know CHBC Supported Workers when they visit here.

    Pray flows from love for God, but it also tends to flow to a lesser degree out of our love for other people. If you make a special effort to get to know the workers that we support, I think you will find that your heart is simply more moved to pray for these workers that you increasingly know and love.