Only rarely do I share on my blog a sermon or pastoral prayer from our church. This week I wanted to share my pastoral prayer from last Sunday. You can also watch it here.
Our church leaders, and me in particular, were recently gently rebuked for not seeing and preaching often enough what appears often enough in the Bible, especially the book of Acts, which we’re currently studying. And we were right to be rebuked.
What had we failed to see? That God loves the nations of the world, and we should too.
Depending on which way you enter and leave the building, whether by the front doors or the office doors, you will walk through a hallway that has on one wall pictures of our church outreach partners and a map of the world, and on the other wall a Bible passage. The passage comes from Psalm 67. I’ll read you verse 3–4:
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.
There’s a rather famous book about world missions written nearly thirty years ago that draws its title from a line in that passage: Let the Nations be Glad. The opening three paragraphs go like this:
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. 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 goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. . . . “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps. 67:3-4).
But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!” who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in the LORD. . . . I will be glad and exult in you, I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High” (Ps. 104:34; 9:2). Missions begins and ends in worship. (John Piper, Let the Nation’s be Glad, second edition, 17, emphasis original)
We’ve been preaching through the book of Acts on and off for the last 18 months. This morning is the fortieth sermon on our way to a total of forty-nine sermons throughout the book. We’ve talked lately about each week looking for the biggest, most clear, most significant aspects of the book and preaching about them.
While our preaching pastors have repeatedly called our attention to the good news of the sovereignty of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ who extends grace and mercy to his people and builds his church through preaching and sacrificial deeds of mercy, and while we have repeatedly spoken of the joy and urgency to share this good-news message with others in our lives—friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and so on—we have missed singing a note that the book of Acts sings: this God who lives and loves and reigns, is God of the nations.
Just in our passage from last week, Acts 20:1–16, we read of 20 different cities and regions from several nations: Macedonia, Greece, Syria, Macedonia (again), Berea, Thessalonica, Derbe, Asia, Troas, Philippi, Troas (again), Assos, Assos (again), Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Miletus, Ephesus, Asia (again), and Jerusalem.
In forty sermons we have not directly addressed the cross-cultural missionary zeal and pattern that seeks to take the gospel across the borders of nations for the joy of the nations. This has been an oversight on my part. And I’m sorry. I’d like to highlight this theme now in a short prayer.
Would you bow your heads and pray with me?
Heavenly Father, we believe, as Paul preached in Acts 17 that you are the God who made the world and everything in it. We believe that, being Lord of heaven and earth, you do not live in temples made by man. We believe that you are not served by human hands, as though you needed anything since you yourself give to all mankind life and breath and everything. And we believe that from one man you made every nation to live on all the face of the earth and that you determined allotted periods and the boundaries of our dwelling place with the purpose that we—the nations of the earth, the people of your creation—should seek you, our God and Creator, that we should feel our way toward you by observing your power and might and majesty and find you because you are not far from each one of us (cf. Acts 17:24–27).
Heavenly Father, we praise you that you are the type of God whose mercy triumphs over your wrath (James 2:13). We thank you that when Adam and Eve sinned against you, you went looking for them. “Adam, where are you?” you said (Gen. 3:9).
We thank you that this missionary zeal climaxed in your messiah, our messiah, the person of Jesus Christ, who went looking for lost sheep and tells us he came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
We thank you that this rescue mission includes anyone and everyone who would want to find joy and gladness in you.
And we ask that you would make us, your people, to embody your missionary zeal, your passion to reach not only our friends, our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and our enemies but the nations of the world. Fill us with white-hot worship for the sake of your name among the nations.
We pray for our speaker today, a long-time missionary and member of our church. That you would fill him with your Holy Spirit and our hearts with a readiness to receive from you.
We pray all of this in the name and power and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.