It Will Be Worth It: Overcoming Obstacles to World Missions

Lord of the harvest, I pray earnestly that, as obstacles are removed, you would send laborers from this gathering into the harvest that you are preparing among the unreached peoples of the world. (Matthew 9:38)

This morning Andrew Scott sought to overcome four obstacles to involvement in God’s global purpose of putting his glory on display for the salvation of the nations. Those obstacles were:

  1. “I’m not worthy.” Christ has made you worthy.
  2. “I’m not called.” You were made for this.
  3. “I’m not able.” You have Spiritual gifts, Heart passions, Abilities, Personalities, and Experiences.
  4. “It’s not on my job description.” Yes, it is.

I have three more obstacles I want to help you overcome, through positive incentives.

Obstacle 1: Many emphasize civic reform over against soul-saving.

The present emphasis in America is for many on culture warfare and nation-building as the most urgent form of neighbor love. So, missions can lose its urgency before the political spectacle of fighting for the outward forms of American civic virtue.

In 2012 Robert Woodberry published the astonishing fruit of a decade of research into the effect of missionaries on the health of nations. Titled “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy,” Woodberry’s article in the American Political Science Review defends this thesis: “The work of missionaries . . . turns out to be the single largest factor in insuring the health of nations” (36). This was a discovery that he says landed on him like an “atomic bomb” (38).

To be more specific, Woodberry’s research supported this sweeping claim:

Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations. (39)

There is one important nuance (or bombshell) to all this: “The positive effect of missionaries on democracy applies only to ‘conversionary protestants.’ Protestant clergy financed by the state, as well as Catholic missionaries prior to the 1960s, had no comparable effect in areas where they worked” (40). And “conversionary Protestant” missionaries are those who believe that to be saved from sin and judgment one must convert from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ.

Thus Woodberry points out that, even though missionaries have often opposed unjust and destructive practices like opium addiction, and slavery, and land confiscation, nevertheless “most missionaries didn’t set out to be political activists . . . [but] came to colonial reform through the back door.” That is, “all these positive outcomes were somewhat unintended” (41).

The implication is that the way to achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation through missions is not to focus on social and cultural transformation, but on the “conversion” of individuals from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. Or to put it another way: missionaries (and pastors and churches) will lose their culturally transforming power if they make cultural transformation their energizing focus.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:6–9)

Incentive: This means that the missionaries that will do the most good for eternity and for time — for eternal salvation and temporal transformation — are the missionaries who focus on converting the nations to faith in Christ, forming healthy, faith-maturing churches, and then from that root, teaching them to bear the fruit of all that Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:20).

Obstacle 2: Missions seem hopeless as countless hearts grow cold.

The end of the age is near when the love of many will grow cold and lawlessness is multiplied and wars and natural disasters will increase, so there is little hope for missions to advance with any significant triumphs.

And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:4–14)

“It is not ‘cold’ Christians who will take the gospel to all the nations in the last and darkest days.”

It is not “cold” Christians who will take the gospel to all the nations in the last and darkest days. It will be white-hot lovers of Jesus who are ready to be killed for the name. Where will they come from? Your churches. Do not surrender to the notion that the love of many growing cold means your love or your church must grow cold.

Incentive: We have biblical assurances that in the darkest final hours, Christ will lead his faithful, martyr-like witnesses to triumph in finishing the Great Commission.

Obstacle 3: Leaving comfort for hardship appears foolish.

If I leave all that is familiar, giving my whole life to an unreached people, I will lose so many enjoyments of secure, healthy, comfortable life in America, and meet so many hardships, that I’m not sure it will be worth it.

“Whatever is lost for the sake of Christ and his gospel will come back to you a hundredfold.”

Incentive: That is not true. Consider these nine biblical responses.

First, whatever is lost for the sake of Christ and his gospel will come back to you a hundredfold. No matter what — or how much — you sacrifice, you cannot wind up with less.

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:28–30)

Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39)

Second, this life of earthly enjoyments is as short as a mist breathed out on a winter morning, but pleasures at God’s right hand are forevermore.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:14)

Moses chose to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. (Hebrews 11:25)

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.” (James 1:9–10)

All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. (1 Peter 1:24–25)

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Night will be no more. [The servants of the Lamb] will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:5)

Third, though all forget you or even turn against you, if God is for you, what can man do to you? He who did not spare his Son will give you everything you need.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)

Fourth, if you lose your audience, and there is no one to rejoice with you over small successes, know that millions of angels are rejoicing in the presence of God.

I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:10)

Fifth, if you feel alone, with no one even aware of you (let alone praising all the good that you do), remember your Father sees and will reward you.

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. . . . But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1–4)

Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord. (Ephesians 6:8)

Sixth, if you feel that what you accomplish is small and that you are wasting your life, remember that absolutely nothing done “in the Lord” is wasted.

My beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Seventh, if you feel that it is simply too hard to keep on giving and giving while you get so little return in this life, while people back home are recognized and blessed for the good that they do, remember: you will be repaid at the resurrection.

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:13–14)

Eighth, if you think, “Yes, I get rewards in the life to come, but the folks back home get rewards in the life to come and get pleasures in this life that I miss out on, and I’d like both,” remember: there is greater reward for greater sacrifice.

This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17–18)

“A life devoted to rescuing people from the wrath of God through faith in Christ is precious in eternity.”

Ninth, when the thought of loneliness threatens to overwhelm you, go deep through the promise of Jesus and experience this reality: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:4–6)

Overcome Obstacles with Incentives

  1. A life devoted to rescuing people from the wrath of God through faith in Christ, and building their faith through healthy churches, is precious in eternity and powerful in time.

  2. In the darkest last days, Christ will have a white-hot people for himself and will lead them in triumph to finish the Great Commission, even at the cost of their lives.

  3. Whatever you lose by leaving the familiarity and security and comforts of your own people for the sake of Christ, it will be worth it, and in the eternal day you will never regret it.

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