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Incense and Unreached Peoples

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 in missions.” 

These celebrated words from John Piper powerfully communicate the truth that above all else the Great Commission was given to remedy the crisis of creation’s failure to glorify its Maker. The act of adoration is not the sum of glorification but it does stand at the center of it. If missions is indeed a means and not the end, then it follows that training missionaries for the work of global evangelism without training them for ministry to the Lord is to actually preparing them to fall short of God’s aim and reproduce converts who do the same. If the essential character of missionary work is the proliferation of worship in the nations, then preparation for “going” must be inundated with a theology of worship robust enough to thoroughly penetrate every corner of methodology. If this truth remains an abstract platitude that we applaud from a distance, then it will never yield singing servants who make praising proselytes and disciples of devotion. Yet this alone is not enough, for there is another facet of incense integral to missions.

As we cast our eyes upon the nations, we behold thousands of unreached people groups and billions of souls who have never heard the gospel. Then, if we consider the astonishingly small percentage of the missionary work force working in the regions of the earth where a witness of Jesus is most needed, we find ourselves in caught in the grip of the words of Jesus - the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. We must brace ourselves for what follows next. Jesus does not fall silent after identifying this grim crisis. If the Maker of all things were to take on flesh and utter a remedy to the grave, treasonous plight of the unregenerate nations, would we not be wise to give it the utmost attention? Should we not direct all of our energies toward obedience to this great "answer" to this problem of global and eternal consequences? Would not our chief concern be to make sure that no matter what the cost we would not neglect the prescription offered from heaven to the pernicious malady of blasphemy and idolatry that fills the nations? Pray! The sole response to the dearth of laborers that was commanded by Jesus was prayer. There it stands, in its simplicity and singularity, challenging all of the complicated apparatus of the modern missions world.

Prayer is the Work

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (James 5:16b-18 [NIV])

Only By Prayer

And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able”…And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:17-18; 28-29 [ESV])

Praying Disciples

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." Acts 2:42 As we labor toward reaching the final unreached and unengaged people groups of the earth, we must consider how we will train and disciple those we reach. While heaven rejoices when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7), Jesus commanded us to not simply make converts, but to make disciples and to teach them all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19-20).

Singing Kings

The Bible says that the aim of song is to "raise sounds of joy" (1 Chronicles 15:16).  It's easy for us to picture our church's choir or worship band singing on a Sunday morning.  But can you picture the earth's presidents, prime ministers, and kings singing for joy?  Well, they will.  The Psalms anticipate this and tell us why: “All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.” (Psalm 138:4-5)

Worship as the Goal of Missions

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. John 4:23 How incredible to think that the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the heavens and the earth would need to seek anything at all? Yet in John 4 Jesus reveals the heart of God by declaring that the Father is seeking worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.