Want to see God at work? Start by praying the Lord’s Prayer today

praySince 2015 I’ve been on a quest to discover how God is at work. You see, I serve with a mission organization, One Challenge. In 2015, we adopted a new strategy statement, which says: “We ask how God is at work, then assist the Body of Christ to bring God’s transformation to individuals, communities and nations.” It seemed logical, then, to ask how is God at work? So the Global Research Team, on which I serve, then spent the better part of a year and a half searching the scriptures to discover how God is at work in the world and applying those insights to our work.

When it was time for us to organize a gathering for all the mission information workers in our organization back in September 2016, we came to the consensus that “Asking how God is at work” should be our conference theme. There I shared a brief presentation on the biblical basis of how God is at work in the world.

Upon returning home from the conference, our pastor asked me to share a twenty minute message on Mission Sunday.  It seemed fitting to share something about God at work.  But my great challenge was to identify one passage that touched upon the many ways that God is at work in the world. After some reflection I was surprised to conclude that the Lord’s Prayer touched on many of these themes. Thus the Lord’s Prayer became the text of my sermon.

A few weeks later I was visiting with a friend at church who is a Bible professor at Taylor University. He remarked:  “I teach a class on the Lord’s Prayer, and  I’ve read a lot of books on the Lord’s Prayer.  So when you said you were speaking on the Lord’s Prayer, I was attent to see if you had any new insights into the Lord’s Prayer. My friend, you did not disappoint.”

I thought I might write a blog series about the Lord’s Prayer, coming at it from the angle of what we discover about how God is at work in the world and how he invites us to join him in what he is doing.  Writing a series is a lot of work, beyond what I have time to do. So here is a summary of seven ways God is at work in the world based on the Lord’s Prayer.

Seven ways we discover God at work in the Lord’s Prayer

  1. “Our Father in Heaven” – God is at work building his Family here on earth
  2. “Hallowed by Your Name” – God is at work bringing glory to his name on earth
  3. “Your Kingdom Come” – God is at work establishing his kingdom on earth
  4. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – God is at work bringing the perfections of heaven to earth
  5. “Give us today our daily bread” – God provides us with all we need for living & so much more
  6. “Forgive us our debts” – God is at work restoring relationships
  7. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” – God is at work delivering us from temptation and the wile s of the Devil, aka Satan, the Evil One.

The breadth God’s work described in the Lord’s Prayer is quite mind boggling!

I’ve come to view each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer as an iceberg. As we know, the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” points to a huge mass of ice below the water’s surface. So it is with the Lord’s Prayer.  Each phrase points to a greater reality found in the biblical narrative.  This point really struck me back in 2012. As I was reading through the Bible, I started to jot down passages that were related to the seven parts of the Lord’s Prayer in a section in my journal. To date, my list covers 56 hand written pages! Each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer points us to a greater reality of how God is at work in the world. There is much more going on “below the surface” than is immediately apparent.

So what does all this mean for us?

Do you see that God invites us to join him in what he is doing in the world? Simply put, there are many things that God calls us to do, but the first and greatest thing God invites us to do is to pray. That is the whole intent of the Lord’s Prayer, to pray, isn’t it? We pray. God works. So if you want to see God at work, start by praying the Lord’s Prayer today.

Here is a great book on the Lord’s Prayer

I’ve just finished reading  Darrell W. Johnson’s book on the Lord’s Prayer,  Fifty-Seven Words that Change the World: A Journey Through the Lord’s Prayer.   This short book (119 pages) is full of insights into the Lord’s Prayer. I heartily recommend it.

Click here to go to Amazon to take a look inside.

Seven Habits of People who Accomplish Great Things for God

Who does not want to be successful? My tenth grade Bible class is beginning to study the Old Testament book of Joshua. In the first nine verses, we were surprised to discover seven habits that lead to prosperity and success. Considering that these may interest a broader audience, I will outline seven habits, which enable anyone who practices them to be successful. But first, an important perspective on what constitutes success.

A Biblical Perspective on Success

A biblical perspective on success differs significantly from the popular understanding of success, which seems to be associated with fame, fortune and a large social media following. In contrast, let us consider Jesus, the New Testament Joshua. In John 17:4 Jesus prays to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” Having this in mind, Jesus may have defined success as accomplishing the work that God has given a person to do. This perspective certainly contrasted with how people in Jesus’ day viewed success. In eyes of his generation, Jesus had no fortune; he was infamous – a liar or worse, and most of his followers abandoned him. They would have given Jesus a big “F” for failure. But this is not what God thought. God exalted him and gave him a name above every other name (Philippians 2:9). Why? Because Jesus accomplished the work God gave him to do.  This understanding of success, defined as accomplishing the work God has given a person to do, frames the practice of the seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God.

With this biblical understanding of success in mind, let’s return to Joshua 1:1-9 and look at the first habit of people who accomplish great things for God.

1. Hear what God says. The Book of Joshua begins, “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant…”, and the next eight verses continue God’s message to Joshua. So we will start our seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God with the observation that anyone who accomplishes great things for God must first hear what God says.

2. Go where God sends you. Verses 2-5 record God’s first instruction to Joshua.

 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.  Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.” (ESV)

God’s command to Joshua was “arise, go….”  Reading on we see that God was sending Joshua and the people into the Promised Land, which God was giving to them.  God promised Abraham that he would give this land to his descendants (Genesis 12:7). The time had now come. God was at work fulfilling his promise. We too can accomplish great things for God when we go where God is at work and join Him in what he is doing.

3. Be strong and courageous. Three times in this passage God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous. However this command was preceded by a great promise (v. 5) “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.“ God’s presence was secret of Joshua’s success and it continues to be the secret of the Church’s success (Matthew 28:18-19). Today we might say that God had Joshua’s back. And he continues to be with those who follow his call to make disciples of all nations. We might think of courage as “holy boldness”, inspired by God’s presence and commission. Courage is the choice to act boldly in the face of great risk. Without a doubt, courage is needed to accomplish great things for God.

4. Be careful to obey all God’s Word. Habit Nr. 4 is at the heart of our list and is probably the most essential of them all: “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you” (v.7a NIV). This same phrase is repeated in verse 8, and I also hear an echo of this verse in the Great Commission. “Make disciples of all nations….teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). People who accomplish great things for God must be careful to obey all of God’s word.

5. Do not turn to the right or left. “Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (v. 7b NIV).  Joshua was to have a singular focus on his mission. Tuning to the right or the left would simply involve pursuing other things outside his calling. Jesus shares a similar comment in the parable of the sower. He notes that some “hear the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:18b,19 NASB). Reflecting on both examples, we learn that maintaining a singular focus leads to success.

6. Memorize God’s word. 8 “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips.” The only way to keep God’s word on your lips is to first memorize it. This sets the stage for the final habit, which is…

7. Meditate on God’s word. Joshua 1:8 is considered the golden verse of the entire book and highlights the final key to success: Meditating on God’s word.

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (v. 8 NIV)

People who accomplish great things for God memorize and meditate on God’s Word.  This is not an end in itself as the intended outcome is to “be careful to do everything written in it.” This leads to success.

Success follows practicing these seven habits

William Carey, the Father of the Modern Missions Movement (1761-1834), exhorted his generation to “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God!” Joshua was certainly a person who not only attempted great things for God but accomplished great things for God. The remainder of the book of Joshua tells how he led the people into the Promised Land and possessed it, fulfilling a promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob centuries prior. Throughout his life Joshua practiced the seven habits outlined here, and the people of Israel served the Lord too (cf. Joshua 24:31).  It seems reasonable that those who faithfully practice all seven habits outlined here will accomplish great things for God too. What about you?

Questions for Further Reflection:

  1. How do you view success?
  2. What surprises you about these seven habits?
  3. What challenges you about these habits?
  4. What will you do to practice all seven of these habits?

Dayenu, It Would Have Been Enough!

DayenuA part of our family Easter tradition is to celebrate a Passover Seder on the Thursday evening of Holy Week. The part I like the most is reciting together the Dayenu poem or song,  that recounts the events of the Exodus. After recounting each event, the refrain dayenu – “it would have been enough” – is repeated.

It so happens that right now I am teaching Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to junior and senior high school students. It struck me as appropriate to sum up the key points of Ephesians 1-2 by imitating the style of the Dayenu song.

To the Praise of His Glorious Grace

  1. If he had forgiven our transgressions and had not loved us, it would have been enough!
  2. If he had loved us and had not adopted us as sons, it would have been enough!
  3. If he had adopted us as sons and had not given us an inheritance, it would have been enough!
  4. If he had given us an inheritance and had not given us the Holy Spirit, it would have been enough!
  5. If he had given us the Holy Spirit and not blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, it would have been enough!

Life in Christ

  1. If he had made known to us the mystery of his will and had not made us alive with Christ, it would have been enough!
  2. If he had made us alive in Christ and had not raised us with Christ, it would have been enough!
  3. If he had raised us with Christ and had not seated us with Christ, it would have been enough!
  4. If he had seated us with Christ and had not created us for good works in Christ Jesus, it would have been enough!
  5. If he had created us for good works and had not purposed to show the surpassing riches of His grace toward us in Christ Jesus in the age to come, it would have been enough!

Gentiles Included in God’s People

  1. If he had brought us, who were far off, near by the blood of Christ and had not established peace, it would have been enough!
  2. If he had established peace and had not made us fellow citizens, members of God’s household, it would have been enough!
  3. If he had made us fellow citizens and had not broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, it would have been enough!
  4. If he had broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile and had not given us both access to the Father in the Spirit – who is able to do more than we can ask for or think, it would have been enough!
  5. If he had given us both access to the Father and had not made us a Holy Temple, a dwelling of God in the Spirit, it would have been enough!

My! How God has lavished his grace upon us!

What does all this have to do with discipling all nations? In a word: Everything!

Since all peoples can become a part of God’s household, in which there are no second class citizens, then all peoples need (1) to hear the Gospel of peace (Ephesians 1:13) and (2) to learn” to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1), which Paul succinctly outlines in Ephesians chapters 4-6. Ephesians provides us with an agenda to disciple all the nations.

References to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for each strophe

  1. Forgiven our Transgressions (Ephesians 1:7)
  2. God loves us (Ephesians 1:4; 2:4)
  3. Adoption (Ephesians 1:5)
  4. Inheritance (Ephesians 1:11, 14, 18)
  5. Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13); every spiritual blessing (1:3)
  6. The mystery of his will (Ephesians 1:9, cf. 3:3-10)
  7. Made alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5)
  8. Raised with Christ (Ephesians 2:6)
  9. Seated with Christ (Ephesians 2:7)
  10. Created for good works (Ephesians 2:10); the surpassing riches of grace (Ephesians 2:7)
  11. Gentiles brought near (Ephesians 2:13)
  12. Peace (Ephesians 2:14-15,17)
  13. Fellow citizens and members of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19)
  14. Broke down the dividing wall – having in view the wall separating the court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Jews in the Temple in Jerusalem (Ephesians 2:14)
  15. Access to the Father (2:18; cf. 3:20) A holy Temple, a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:21-22). Interestingly enough, the Dayenu culminates with God giving the Jews the Temple; Paul culminates Ephesians chapter 2 with the Jews and the Gentiles being a Temple of God.

 

How is God at Work in the World Today?

How is God at work in the world today? This is a question that several of us on the Global Research Team of One Challenge are working together to answer.  During the first quarter of 2016 we will gather information about what the 40 plus teams in the OC Global Alliance accomplished in 2015.  In addition to determining what they accomplished, we also want to discover how God is at work in and through these ministries. Indeed this is a more difficult task that requires divine insight.  This has motivated me to “search the scriptures” to discover how God was at work in the New Testament, presupposing that he continues to work in the same ways today.

A few months ago I started a series about how God is at work in the world today which is very much related. (These are the previous blog posts: On The Study of God’s Great Works Discerning How God is at Work God Opens Doors for Effective Ministry.)

I began with the thesis that scripture provide us with a useful framework to discern how God is at work in the world today.  I will mention, by way of review, two key ideas already developed previously, namely that God is at work in conversions and growing churches, and develop two additional points.

Conversions. Acts 2:47 says, “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” What a good reminder that every person who comes to faith in Christ did so because God’s work!  So when we number those who were saved through the ministries of OCGA workers in 2015, we have in mind that God too was at work.

Churches. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promised: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” When we see the Church growing, either in number or fruitfulness or geographical extension, these are a good indication that Jesus is involved.  So we will tally the new churches that OCGA workers helped start in 2015.

This installment will develop two additional areas: God sends workers and open doors for ministry.

Workers Sent. Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2 NIV).  Here we find two complementary truths: first, it is God’s business to send out workers; on the other hand, we see that is our responsibility to pray.

A case study of how the Lord of the Harvest sends out workers is found in Acts 13 at the beginning of the first missionary journey of Barnabas and Saul (aka Paul).

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.  The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4 NIV)

Here we observe that the leaders of the church at Antioch were praying; they were doing their part according to Luke 10:2. We also see two ways that God the Holy Spirit was a work. First the Holy Spirit “said” or spoke to the praying leaders at Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Saul for mission work.  Second the text says that the Holy Spirit “sent” Paul and Barnabas on their way. We might say that the “sending” of Barnabas and Saul was more accurately “redirecting” since both were leaders ministering outside of their homelands; God had other fields for them to open.

Thus, if this case study contains universally applicable principles, when workers are mobilized and sent into the harvest, this is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.

Over the last five years within the OC Global Alliance we’ve been amazed to see God answer this prayer by raising up new workers from outside of the United States. Those countries that have received workers are now sending mission workers, and these now make up the majority of OCGA workers around the world. This trend within the OC Global Alliance is also manifesting itself on a worldwide scale. This is an exciting way that God is at work sending workers into his harvest field in our time!

Opportunities for ministry. Six passages in the New Testament indicate that God opens doors for effective ministry; two passages point out that God does so in response to prayer.

Let’s start by examining the two passages that highlight the importance of prayer.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 NIV

In Colossians 4:2,3 (NIV) Paul writes: Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

Both passages speak to our responsibility to pray for open doors for gospel ministry, and just like the previous section, workers sent, we find complementary truths: God opens doors for ministry – that is his business; it is our responsibility to pray for open doors for gospel ministry.

The next four passages highlight the fact that God opened a door for ministry.  The first passage comes at the conclusion of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas.

From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:26,27  NIV

Paul and Barnabas perceived that God had been at work opening doors during their first missionary journey to the Gentiles.

The next passage comes in the context of Paul’s third missionary journey where he writes the Corinthian church about his ministry at Ephesus. “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Cor. 16:8,9).

Luke provides an account of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in Acts 19:1-20. The entire passage merits a close reading for it gives us further insight into how God was at work there. Here are several highlights.  “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10), and “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19:20).  Luke also points out that “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:11).

Following his ministry in Ephesus, Paul moved on to Troas and perceived God at work opening a door for ministry there. Again writing to the church at Corinth, Paul says “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me” (2 Cor. 2:12).

The final passage from Revelation gives us Jesus’ words.

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:7,8 NIV

This final passage emphasizes that Jesus opens doors for ministry. It is interesting that we started this section with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 and concluded with Jesus’ words in Revelation.

How does this apply?

First, we need to pray. Our brief survey noted that it is God’s business bring people to faith in Christ, build the church, send out workers and open doors for effective ministry; it is our responsibility to pray earnestly for workers and open doors for ministry.

Second, we need to keep our eyes open and ask, How is God at work? Previously we noted the need to count conversions and number the churches. These are the more obvious fruits or results of God’s work. This particular study leads us to look for and quantify other ways that God is at work, which precede conversions and churches (or results).  We also need to look at who God is raising up workers for the harvest.  We need to look to where God is sending these workers.  We also need to look at how God is opening doors for gospel ministry.

Here’s how we keep our eyes open to discern God-at-work within the OC Global Alliance.

  1. We track the number of people who come to faith in Jesus Christ through the ministry of our workers.
  2. We also track the number of new churches started.
  3. We track workers associated with the OC Global Alliance. As previously mentioned, in the last five years we’ve seen a large increase of non-American workers within the Alliance.
  4. We track the countries where out teams have ministry. In 2014 OC workers were active in 102 countries – the highest number of countries in the history of the organization! Many of these countries have amazing “God stories” of how God opened the door for ministry. We might call the “open country doors”.
  5. We also track how teams are responding to pressing needs. In 2015 we also saw how God open doors for several of our teams to assist victims of natural disasters or women with crisis pregnancies, the poor, prisoners, children, refugees, immigrants and those who are sick. We might call these “opportunities to minister to needy people doors.” As Titus 3:14 says, ”Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.”

So we look forward to collecting and telling each team’s “God stories” of how He has been at work in 2015.

I have not yet fully answered the question, “How is God at work in the world today?”  as I still have in mind several  points related to this theme that I hope to develop in the future.  Can you think of other ways God is at work in the world today? Feel free to share your insights as they may be helpful to others who are seeking to discern how God is at work in the world today.

Persecution: The New Norm for Christians in the USA Today?

The International Days of Prayer for the Persecuted Church are on Sundays, November 1 and 8, this year.   Often Western Christians think of persecution happening “over there” in North Africa, the Middle East, India or Asia. However this year, persecution –and even martyrdom — seems much closer to home.

The “2015 Role of Martyrs” now includes persons from the United States, having in view the shootings in Oregon and South Carolina – interestingly nine persons were shot/martyred in each case and the shooter chose a “lucky one” to tell the world why he did what he did.

The news source I regularly follow draws attention to the persecution of Christians in the United States: hate speech, lawsuits, jail, ridicule, pressure to not publically practice one’s faith. Thinking about this rise of persecution in the USA Today, I came across these words of Jesus.

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7)

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”( John 15:20)

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when {people} insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

I guess we should not take it personally when we are “persecuted for righteousness sake.” This is just a manifestation of people’s hatred of Jesus. They hate us because they first hated Him.

So the International Days of Prayer for the Persecuted Church are not only for our brothers and sisters “over there,” but for us too. Perhaps this will add a bit more passion to our praying. Check out the website for the International Day of Prayer for specific ways to pray.

God Opens Doors for Effective Ministry

Last weekend I was sharing at a missions conference in Kansas about the work of One Challenge. I pointed out that in 2014, OC workers were active in 102 countries –  the highest number of countries in the history of the organization. Since I’ve started writing this blog series about the ways that God is at work in the world, it occurred to me to look at the broadening of OC’s ministry from the God-at-work perspective.

New Testament Teaching

Turning to the New Testament, we find five passages that state God opens doors for effective ministry. The majority of these are about Paul’s ministry.

When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27

But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective {service} has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. 1 Corinthians 16:8-9

Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord. 2 Corinthians 2:12

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned. Colossians 4:2,3

In Revelation we have the words of Jesus Himself.

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:  He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.’” (Revelation 3:7-8)

While all these passages point out that God opens doors for effective ministry, the Colossians 4 passage adds the additional point that God opens doors for effective ministry in response to prayer.

Modern Examples of How God Opens Doors through Prayer

As I reflect on how God opens doors for effective ministry through prayer, one striking example comes to mind. In 1982 God led Brother Andrew, the founder of the organization “Open Doors,” to launch a seven-year prayer campaign for the opening of the Communist Bloc. The campaign began in 1983. Seven years later on November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and rest of Eastern European countries soon came out from under the Communist yoke. As a result, the 1990s witnessed the beginning of religious freedom first in Eastern Europe, then in the former Soviet Union.

I well remember reading Charles Colson’s accounts of the role that people of faith played in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in “The Body”. Little did I realize that God would open a door for me and my family to serve in Romania for 15 years, strengthening the churches there.

Paul reminds us that God “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). In the case of Brother Andrew’s seven year prayer campaign, not only did God “open doors” in Eastern Europe, but God also opened up Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time Central Asia was an even tougher “no access zone” than Eastern Europe.

God gave me an “open door” to have a short term ministry trip to Mongolia 2013 – where I learned how God opened this closed country with just four believers in 1990, built his church, which numbered at least 41,000 in 2014, and was using Mongolian believers to enter even more difficult “no access zones”.

Yes, God is able to do way more than we can ask or think.

Oh God, now open the 10/40 Window!

As Eastern Europe and Central Asia were breaking free from the Communist yoke, Christian leaders began to focus prayer attention on the world’s toughest “no access zone”, the 10/40 Window. For over two decades now, the month of October has been chosen to “pray through the window.” Although we have yet see an opening of North Africa, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Asia similar to the Communist Bloc, there are signs that God is at work in the region in an unprecedented way. What wonderful testimonies we hear of how God is drawing peoples in this region to himself and how encouraging to see the growing number of church or disciple making movements!   These “first fruits” should encourage us to continually intercede for the opening of the 10/40 Window.

So in response to prayer, God opens doors to for effective and fruitful ministry. This is another way that God is at work in our world today. Since this is the case, how are you praying for God to open doors? And when God opens a door for ministry, he has in mind someone to walk through that door, and you just might be the person! Are you ready to go with God through that open door?

Discerning Where God is at Work

How do we recognize where God is at work? This is a pertinent question for mission work. Henry Blackabee first turned me on to this line of inquiry in his book Experiencing God, when he identified the key to experiencing God as “Watch to see where God is working and join Him” (p. 15). Hey, I want to experience God. But how do I figure out where He is at work?  That seems easier said than done.

Earlier this year the mission organization I serve with, One Challenge International, adopted a new strategy statement that says, “We ask how God is at work, then assist the body of Christ to bring God’s transformation to lives, communities and nations.” This comes at our question from another angle and adds the “how” element to our question. So what guidelines might we use to recognize how and where God is at work?

I believe that Scripture provides with a framework that enables us to discern how and where God is at work. To start off, let’s look at Matthew 16:13-18 (NIV)

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

In this passage, Jesus reveals two indicators of God’s work.

First, Jesus declares that God the Father reveals to people that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (see verse 17).  In the church where I grew up, this passage was often referred to as “Peter’s Great Confession,” and I was taught that confession leads to conversion or salvation (as per Romans 10:9-10 NASB: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”) Much later I observed that God the Father is directly involved in bring about people’s confession or conversion. You might guess that I did not grow up in a church in the Reformed tradition!

Other passages in the Gospels also reveal that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are involved in the conversion process.  For example Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:44 NIV).  Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ words where he claims “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”  (Matt. 11:27 and Luke 10:22, NIV translation).  In John 16:7-11 Jesus speaks about the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  (NIV)

As we turn to the Book of Acts, we find that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are active in conversion process. For example, Acts 2:47 says, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  The account of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9, which Saul, aka Paul, retells in Acts 22 and 26, highlights Jesus’ direct involvement. Acts 10 highlights divine intervention in the conversion of Cornelius and his household, specifically an angel, visions and voices from the Lord and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Lydia’s conversion, mentioned in Acts 16:14, indicates “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (NIV). So we find continuity between what is promised in the Gospels and what happened in the history of the early Church as recorded in Acts. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all involved in the conversion process.

I’ve digressed a bit, wanting to broaden our understanding of the divine work involved in conversion. So let’s turn to Matthew 16:18 where Jesus reveals a second indicator of God’s work.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Emphasis added)

Here, Jesus states that he will build his Church. Tom Julien, in his excellent book, Antioch Revisited, calls this passage Jesus’ “Great Prediction” (p. 91). I usually refer to this as Jesus’ Great Promise.  Either way, it describes Jesus’s ongoing work: He is building his Church.  Note that Jesus did not say, “Peter, you will build my church” or “my disciples will build the Church”. Jesus said He himself would build his Church. So practically speaking, when we see the Church growing, either in number or holiness or by geographical dispersion, these are a good indication that Jesus is involved.

Conversions and Churches – Signs of God’s Work

We have made two discoveries from Matthew 16:13-18 that help us discern how and where God is at work. Conversions: when we see people confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, this is a sign that God is at work. Churches: new churches and healthy, growing congregations are signs that God is at work.

Since the early 1980s, I’ve tracked the numbers of baptisms and new church starts, first for a local church, later for a whole nation, and now for the mission agency I serve. I started to track these numbers because are the clearest measures for the growth and health of the Church. Much later I realized that these measures not only track the growth of the Church, but also point to God’s modern day work. Every conversion, every new church has divine fingerprints upon it.

So in order to “see” where and how God is at work today, there are two items to keep our eyes open for: conversions and new churches.  With that in mind, where do you see God at work today?

Granted other “unspiritual” factors can be involved in conversions or church growth, but that may be a topic for another day. But I do have in mind several other indicators that point to God’s modern day work. And if the Lord grants me opportunity, I intend to write about these in the future.