Praying the Goal

It’s kind of insulting. The book of James records Elijah was a person just like us. Poor Elijah. I like to think of God’s prophets as heroes. The truth is, he was just a man, like me. On the other side, if we’re that similar, and God used him so powerfully and specifically, how would He like to use me?

Over the past several months, I’ve been asking God to heal some people, while also asking Him to bring others to salvation. For the most part, all of these people are personal friends, so I have a deep interest in the outcome of my prayers.

I’m goal-oriented. In prayer, this means I understand and pray towards a specific end. If healing, I pray the person will be healed. That’s it. When I’m praying for my specific unsaved friends to come to depend on Christ for salvation, I pray only for that end.

I am also a planner and strategist. I love starting with a goal, then planning how to get from where I am to where I want to be. I do this goal-setting and strategizing with something as simple as entering and training for a marathon race. I follow the same pattern when planning the Sunday School class I teach, and in developing multi-year strategic plans for Mandate.

Praying for my friends, I began to see that I was drifting from goals to strategizing. Instead of just praying for salvation, I began praying a plan which would lead to salvation. Maybe my friends would meet someone, or hear a radio broadcast, or randomly pick up a Bible which would fall open to John 3:16. You get the picture.

I began doing the same thing in praying for healing. God, work through the doctors, or lead them to alternative healers, or just do a total mind-blowing miracle.

Then I realized Who I was talking to in prayer. I had gone from praying for specific goals to dictating methods. Who am I to be telling God how to work?! His mind is much better than mine.  He knows the end from the beginning. And, in the end, I don’t really care how my friends find Christ or how others are healed. I just want those results.

Back to Elijah, whose story you can find in 1 Kings. As James records, Elijah simply prayed for a drought on Israel, and it happened. He simply prayed for rain to end that drought, and it happened. He did not pray the means, he prayed for a specific end. His requests are similar to many others throughout the Bible, including the well-known Lord’s Prayer.

My morning prayer times have changed. When I ask God to do something, I realize I can pray for the result, but have to leave the process to Him. I have to trust that He knows what He’s doing. I do believe I should pray for one specific end to each request, and I have to continue praying in that direction until God answers in some way or tells me to stop.

This new insight is interesting. I now spend more time praying for specific needs and am able to include more people in my prayers because I’m not following the rabbit trails of how I think God might answer, but leaving that totally in His capable hands, and I’ve now seen Him answer in specific ways that I would not have imagined.

God is doing the work. I am just praying the goal.

What goals are you praying towards?

The Goal of World Evangelization

Two weeks ago, we started examining Ed Dayton’s expanded definition of world evangelization.

Because world evangelization is a task, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the goal of that particular task.

The nature of world evangelization is communication of the good news.

The purpose of world evangelization is to give individuals and groups a valid opportunity to accept Jesus Christ.

And the goal of world evangelization is the persuading of men and women to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and serve him in the fellowship of his church.

As I finished up last week on the topic of what constitutes a valid opportunity to accept Christ, I suggested:

. . . missionaries (and all evangelizing Christians) must take the time to understand their target audience as they present the good news. We must present the gospel in a language people understand; we must present the gospel with words whose meaning people understand (or, at least, don’t misunderstand); we must present the gospel in thought patterns people can follow; we must present the gospel in such a way that people understand they have a choice; we must be ready to present the gospel over and over again; we must be prepared to have people consciously reject the gospel, though we sincerely hope they choose the better way.

Having prepared ourselves and our message so that the receiving people and groups could fully understand what it means to accept or reject Christ, we can move on to the final point of Ed Dayton’s definition of world evangelization.

And the goal of world evangelization is the persuading of men and women to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and serve him in the fellowship of his church.

When Jesus gave what we call the great commission, he directed that, as a priority, we make disciples. They he spoke of baptizing and teaching the new disciples. As we learn later in Paul’s New Testament writings, baptism is something we do in tandem with salvation, an act of identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. In doing this, we proclaim our unity in the body of Christ, which is the church.

As I read the great commission, we are to help people make a valid decision to follow Christ, then baptize them as a sign of incorporation into the greater body of believers. Once people are identified with Christ and other Christians, they can be more easily taught as a body and we can all use our spiritual gifts to build up one another in Christ. As Paul taught the church at Ephesus:

. . . Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

My major hobby right now is working with bonsai trees. I am a member of several internet groups which share information about this hobby. Every so often someone new to the hobby gets into our groups asking, “how can I learn about bonsai?” Almost every time one of the long-standing group members will advise the newbie, “find a bonsai club near you and start attending their meetings. Working with them is the best way to learn.”

If you want to learn about bonsai, hook up with people who already know the hobby. If you want to run, join a local running club. If you want to grow in Christ, where else would you look than a local church, where you can find people directly gifted by God who will help you grow and find your own place within that local body?

Isn’t this what we see happening throughout the book of Acts? Paul, especially, goes somewhere, makes disciples, organizes a church, and then moves on to the next challenge.

Too often in the history of missions and evangelism, the goal has stopped with individuals making a profession of faith. Through our experience with mass evangelism, I dare say that most people in the United States think in terms of people raising their hands in a meeting, or signing a decision card, or just repeating the words of a prayer. People do this (and none of these is bad), and are usually urged to find and join a local church. But there is rarely any practical help or follow-up to match a new believer with a church.

Because of that, I’ve heard it reported that up to 90% of those people who make a decision outside the local church never settle into a church for themselves.

If we do not establish churches as needed and direct people into those churches, we end up having to repeat the evangelization process for every new generation.

On the other hand, if we “[persuade] . . . men and women to . . . serve him in the fellowship of his church,” we are doing our best to ensure they will learn and grow while serving in and through the church. The local church, then will be the best means of evangelizing their own society, allowing the cross-cultural workers to repeat the process in more spiritually needy places.

That’s a worthy goal. And that’s how we’ll get the job done.