I preached this sermon when we were in the States last year. Today I’m posting the transcription and pictures for those who would like to read it.
‘REND THE HEAVENS AND COME DOWN’: Prayer for God’s Glory in World Missions
A sermon preached October 11, 2015, at Master’s Community Church, Kansas City, KS.
Well it’s a great privilege to be with you all again. Thank you so much for this missions weekend. Thank you for letting Pam and me come and share with you. MCC is a very special church, and it’s a real privilege to be here with you. Let me just give you a quick run down of our family. We have seven children – our oldest is Timothy and he is 24, and he lives at home and works at what is called ‘Help at Home’ where he helps the mentally handicapped in the Kansas City area. Our second son is Jonathan and he is 23, and is a senior at Kirksville, Truman State University, in Computer Science. Elizabeth – this was the picture taken at her wedding a little over a year ago – just finished up at Calvary Bible College, and her husband has another year to go, then they’ll be coming over to serve with us in Hungary – we’re very excited about that. Matthew is 17 – he is doing early college classes at Calvary as well while we are here on furlough. After that is Kirsten, and she is 11 going on 30, I think, and then with us this morning and this weekend have been Daniel who is 7, and Ariela who is 4.We serve as missionaries in Eastern Europe in the country of Hungary. Many of you know that for years we lived in Croatia during the war, then in Bosnia, but now we are living north of that – about a ten hour drive – but still in Eastern Europe, in this city of Budapest. We do Bible translation for Gypsies, or Roma. The Roma are very much a misunderstood people; a people who are outcast;…a people who originally came from India and migrated about 1000 years ago through Persia, through the middle-east, and then eventually up into Europe. So today the situation is that Europe is full of Roma – there are 12 million Roma living in Europe and Western Eurasia, and they are scattered throughout every country of that continent, well over 25 countries. And, they speak 85 different dialects, and only about a dozen of them have the Bible in their language. So, the task before us is really huge, to see God’s word in the heart language, in the mother tongue, of every Roma in Europe and Western Eurasia, and we would love to see it happen sooner rather than later.
The Roma tend to be marginalised. There are those who are looked down upon, the lepers of the day. There are those who tend to live off to themselves. In this example, this picture of a Roma village. Many of them tend to be illiterate and poorly educated. There are many, many issues, and we’ll talk about that a little bit as we go along.
But the challenge before us is how we can get God’s word into the heart language of every Roma in Europe and Western Eurasia – hopefully in the next decade – to see those translations begin.
I want to show a video clip that will kind of give you an idea of the ministry but first I want to ask you to do two things as you watch it.
- You’ll see the pictures, some of the poverty, some of the situations that are there in the Roma villages, some of the outreach that our team has done, sometimes going into a village and cooking soup or making a meal of meat and potatoes or something like that. Sometimes it is singing, teaching them songs, working with them on literacy, helping them take the first steps and learning to read. There is a picture of a little girl, and Bob Hitching, our founder, is literally washing her feet and putting new socks and shoes on so that she will have socks and shoes to go to school.
- Then as the video goes on, you’ll see some of the translation training that we do and some of the literature, and the Gospel of Mark in one of the dialects. The second thing I want you to do is to listen to the lyrics. I am really challenged by this song which is by Josh Wilson called ‘I Refuse’ and it says:
Sometimes I, I just wanna close my eyes
And act like everyone’s alright
well no they’re not
This world needs God, but it’s easier to stand and watch
I could say a prayer and just move on
like nothin’s wrong
But I refuse
cause I don’t wanna live like I don’t care
I don’t wanna say another empty prayer
Oh I refuse, to sit around and wait for someone else
To do what God has called me to do myself
Oh I could choose not to move
but I refuse.
Let’s turn to Isaiah 64 and read it together:
Isaiah 64 (NIV)
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.
8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.
10 Your sacred cities have become a wasteland;
even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned with fire,
and all that we treasured lies in ruins.
12 After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back?
Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?
This morning I want to ask you a series of questions:
- Do you want to see God?
- Do you want to see God in all His holiness?
- Do you want to see God in His beauty and all his glory?
- Do you want to see God as He truly is in His great majesty?
- Do you want to see God in His hatred of sin?
- Do you want to see God in His powerful judgment and wrath?
- Do you want to see God in His tender mercy and gentle kindness?
- Do you want to see God?
Today there is a crisis in the church and in world missions. There is a crisis because we do not see God.
- We do not feel the weight of His glory and His holiness of His power and of His beauty
- We do not sense His breathtaking power and beauty. and judgment,
- Isaiah said “Lord, you reside with those who tremble at your Word”
- We do not feel our need of Him
- We do not sense His magnitude and His glory
- We do not understand and feel His magnificent grace and mercy.
- We do not see Him as He truly is.
So, without this; without a proper view of who God is, and without God himself showing His glory to us, basically world missions, and all that we do, is worthless; it is impotent unless God Himself is the one who shows us His glory, shows us Himself and glorifies Himself in the work.
So let’s pause this morning, back up, and get our bearings and focus on what, I believe, truly matters.
1. First, let’s look at the world from God’s perspective.
- What does God see when He looks at the church?
- What does God see when He looks at the world?
- At the nations of the world?
- What does God see when He looks at the Roma Gypsies in Europe?
2 Tim 3:2-4 gives us a very accurate description of the world today. It is not a pretty picture. It is not flattering to modern man. That is the final indictment: we do not love God. The problem is that we have gotten used to it. We have gotten used to sin so that we are no longer shocked by it. We are no longer appalled by it. I love this poem by Alexander Pope:Sin truly is a monster. If we saw it as it really is, we would run from it in horror. But the problem is that we see it often and we get used to it. Sin puts on a pretty face. For example, the beer commercials during the football games show the scantily clad women, and the music playing and all the fun, but they don’t show people throwing up in the morning, or the broken marriages, or the kids that are abandoned, or people losing jobs. Sin has a way of showing a pretty face. We get used to it and see it over and over again.
But I ask you –
Is your heart broken over sin? Over sin in the church? Over sin in missions?
The lack of interest in the Gospel? The lukewarmness?
The lack of hatred of things that God hates? The lack of love for the things that God loves?
So I ask you again …
- Are you concerned about the state of the world?
For me, and our family, it is the Gypsies, the Roma. For you and your situation, whether it be those in Kansas City or those in other places.
- Are you burdened that God is not honored among the peoples of the world?
Is your heart broken that He is not glorified, that His Name is not worshiped and glorified among the nations?
But let me bring it a bit closer to home:
- What about your own heart?
Are we sobered when we look at our selves and our own hearts?
Lamentations 3:40 says:I have been convicted by some reading that I’ve done of Martin Lloyd-Jones, and I love this quote:
‘The Scriptures exhort us to examine ourselves, to test ourselves, to prove our own selves. And, I must say that once more, the literature of the past [referring to the writings of the Reformers and the Puritans] brings this out so clearly. Read the life of any man who has ever been used of God in a signal manner in connection with revival, and you will always find that he was a man who had examined himself, and had become alarmed about himself. It has always been the thing that has led him to God and to prayer—his astonishment at himself. But if we do not examine ourselves we will never truly pray, and our lives will be lived entirely on the surface.’
I have entitled this message “Rend the Heavens and Come Down, Lord“, a plea for prayer for revival and world missions. If we see the darkness of the human heart and we see the monster that sin is, but we also see the power and glory of God, that will drive us to prayer. I truly believe that the way we think affects what we do, and the way we think affects how we pray.
Listen to Daniel as he says this in Daniel 9:3-5. This is an amazing prayer. Daniel himself was a righteous man. He stood before the Lord as one who is mentioned as one of the most godly ever. But he was willing to identify with his people and confess their sins and seek the Lord’s mercy, because he knew his own heart, and he also knew that he had lived a life among people who were guilty before God.When God is not glorified, are we grieved?
Daniel was grieved at the sin of his people. Are we grieved when we realise the state of the world without Christ? Or do we look at ministry more of going through the motions? Do we measure ministry perhaps in how successful we are by our busyness, or by our numbers, or by our activities, or things like that? Or do we feel that true success in world missions has happened when God is glorified; when His glory has been seen and felt and when when man bows in wonder to that?
I also ask –
- What is our motive in world missions?
- What drives us to pray?
- What drives us to have a heart for missions?
Daniel reminds us again and again in this prayer. His prayer reminds us that we pray, not for ourselves, not because of our own abilities, but for His glory and for His name’s sake. Daniel 9:17-19:
As we pray, it is for God’s glory. Look at this refrain again:
‘For your own sake, O Lord’
‘For your own sake, O my God’
‘because … (we are) called by your name’.
That is the ultimate motive and purpose behind for world missions, that God be glorified, among the nations, that His glory will be seen for His sake, and for His honor.Psalm 96 – We read Psalm 67 this morning which fits in perfectly with this, but we see the same theme in Psalm 96. A wonderful, beautiful picture of what missions is all about.
That’s what missions is all about – that’s why we do what we do. Missions, in a nutshell, is God being glorfied among the nations. So I ask myself, and I ask you this morning …
Test yourself – Examine yourself
- What are your motives?
- What are the things that drive you?
- What is your passion?
- Is it to see God glorified among the nations?
- Second – Do we feel our complete need for God? Do we understand that, without his Spirit, working in the church and in the world is all futile?
I think there is a great tendency in missions today to pin our hopes on anything other than God Himself. We think that if we have our apologetics all in line and we can answer every objection; or perhaps if we make our Bible translations easier so that the unregenerate can understand it; maybe if we somehow make our churches more modern or more appealing; maybe if we make our church services more fun and attractive; maybe we just need to advertise more and talk about our programs and all of our attractions, etc. Don’t get me wrong – none of those things are necessarily in of themselves bad. I am not opposed to them, but none of them will bring spiritual life. None of them will raise one sinner from death. None of them will renew the church or bring revival to the mission field.
Are we a vertical church? In other words, not just looking horizontally but is our number one goal God’s glory? Would we come to church if the only attraction was God Himself? If there was no other reason to come. Is that what we look for – the glory of God, His greatness, His power and trusting in Him to bring spiritual renewal and spiritual life.Sometimes I look at the odds on the mission field and think, This is insane, there’s no way we can ever reach these people with the Gospel. It’s impossible! But I have to remind myself again, and again, and again that only God gives life. Titus 3:4-5 remind us of this – we know this truth but we need to tell ourselves again and again.
It is the Holy Spirit who renews; It’s the Holy Spirit who brings life. Again, whether that is in Zambia, or in Desoto, or in Budapest, we must never put confidence in ourselves, in our own methods and our own slickness and activities. Don’t think for a moment that God doesn’t know our hearts. He knows. He knows what we’re trusting in. He knows if we’re slipping into that tendency where we are trusting in our methods, our own abilities, education, plans.
Let me remind you this morning to humble yourself before God and trust in Him and Him alone. He is the only one who can give eternal life. He is the only one who can give regeration and renewal.
- Third – Do you see that we are wholly dependent on Him for any lasting good? This is not a game that we are playing. This is serious. Do you think that the arm of flesh can really change souls?
Imagine with me for a minute, what it is like to live in a Roma village such as this one in NW Croatia.Imagine the excruciating poverty, the lack that the people live in, the fact that they are hated by the people of the next town.
Imagine the fact that they are, like this woman is, totally destitute. Living in a wheelchair, she has children that will be taken away by the government because she can’t provide for them. These children for whom there isn’t even money for diapers.
Imagine the girls who, unless something miraculous happens, are going to get pregnant at 11 and 12, they’ll drop out of school, there will be incest and adultery, there’ll be abuse …
There is immorality and drunkness. Many of the men are alcoholics; many adults and children are illiterate; many are unemployed and beg for a living.
… and it will all go on, and on, and on, and on.
It’s gone on for a thousand years and will continue to unless the Spirit of God steps in and changes things.
So, I remind you, and I remind myself this morning, that these are obstacles that we can not overcome. These are not things that money and personnel and abilities that we have are going to overcome. Only God can do it. And I say that because if we realise that only God can bring renewal, revival, resurrection life, then that will drive us to prayer. If we truly believe that, we will go to God like Daniel did, and say Oh God, hear! show up! so to speak. As Isaiah said Rend the heavens and come down! God we need you; we are totally dependent upon You, because this is a war – it is a spiritual war. The Roma are not our enemies. Even the government is not our enemy. The police who shut down Bible Clubs or deny visas, or the loan shark who comes in and beats up the people who haven’t paid and steals their welfare card, are not our enemies. They are victims of our enemy. We have an enemy who will not rest until he seeks to destroy the people of the world, and we have a war in front of us.
Prayer – again quoting John Piper – is not an intercom asking someone to bring you something from another room in your house. Prayer is actually a walkie-talkie for warfare where you are using it to call in air support from your Commander.
Prayer is spiritual warfare, and I think that sometimes we forget that. We live in America and have our struggles and our challenges. I have never lived through a war like some of you have, where even those back in the States had to go without. You couldn’t get new tires because of rubber being rationed, you couldn’t get coffee or sugar. When the body of Christ realises that it is a spiritual war that affects everybody, that’s the proper mentality. It is a warfare mentality where we sacrifice. Not just the soldiers on the front line, so to speak, but the supply lines as well. Such as when they had to take the Queen Mary, which was a luxury liner with lots and lots of room for parties, etc, and they converted it into a troop carrier so they could take more soldiers to the front line. That’s what the Christian life is, in the spiritual realm. It is a spiritual war where we sacrifice, where we realise our complete need for God, and we express that through prayer for world missions.
So, I am convinced that for spiritual life to take place, whether it be here in Kansas City or whether it be on the mission field among the Roma, we are wholly and completely dependent on the Spirit of God.
Ephesians 2 tells us again:We’re not dealing here with something in the natural realm which we can affect or bring about. Man without God is not just bad off, he is not sick … he is dead. He is completely dead in trespasses and sin. So, it is something that we can not resolve. We can not give a dead man life. Someone without Christ is dead in transgressions and sin, and he or she are in need of something that we can not give – only God can give it. The next verses in Ephesians 2 tell us But God! :Then the next verse says …Do you see it? We, without Christ, were completely dead, and a dead man can not help himself. Only God can intervene. But God made us alive; But God raised us up. Do you see how vital it is that we cry out to Him in prayer, that He would do that. That He would reach down; that He would rend the heavens and come down; that He would open people’s hearts like He did Lydia, for example, by the riverside in Philippi. As he has done in our own lives. Yes, we must give money, we must go, we must do the activities, but all of it is without effect if the Spirit of God is not doing the work and glorifying God in the lives of the people we were sent to serve.
Again let me quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, because I think that he has really hit the nail on the head here. He says:That’s why we pray. That’s why we go to the Lord in prayer. We humble ourselves in prayer and realize that we are completely impotent to bring spiritual life to other people. Only God can do that. But for God it is effortless – it’s easy. He is the author of life, He gives life, He created the world just with the spoken word and He creates new life through His word as well. When He does that, the chains of darkness do fall off.
I showed on Friday night a picture of a little lady – I say ‘little’, but she’s the mother of four children, but she’s not very tall. I like her because she’s the only one that I’m taller than, but … anyway, her name is Biljana, and she used to beg on the street. That was the type of life she had as a Roma. She would stand on the street corner and beg. How would you like to do that for a living? But now! – God has just moved in such powerful ways in her life. She has four children of her own, a beautiful Christian family. Her husband is pastor of the Roma church. She is tireless in going and starting Bible clubs and writing Christian books to show other Roma what it’s like to live the Christian life as a Roma. Her children just released a CD of Christian worship in the Roma style.
God can do that. He can reach down.
A story of another man … We had a conference in Budapest, and as I was noticing these different people. They were Roma from about twelve different countries of Europe and they were together. One of the guys was a huge, 6’6″ tall, probably 300 pounds, a big ol’ guy. But I noticed that there were scars all the way up and down both of his arms. He was wearing short sleeves. I wondered what that was all about. When it came time for him to give his testimony, he stood up there and he said that he used to get so drunk – which is a big problem among the Roma – he would just take a knife and begin cutting himself, carving. You can still see the scars to this day. One night it got so bad that it seemed like Satan whispered in his ear Just cut out your own heart, Armin. So he took a knife and actually began to carve on himself. Today, Armin is a pastor of a Roma church in Serbia.
God reaches down. God changes lives.
I couldn’t have done that. I couldn’t give Armin life. I couldn’t give Biljana life. Only God can do that. That’s what I want to leave you with today, that your role in missions is crucial. It is vital because you are praying to a God Who can answer prayer, Who can do things, Who can bring redemption and revival and renewal.
So that’s my challenge to you today as we bring it to a close. It is very direct, and very simple.
I want to ask you to make it your aim, and your ambition, to pray.
To pray that the Lord will intervene;
To pray that the Lord will move in powerful ways;
To pray that the Lord will show His glory among the Roma, among other peoples, among your neighbors,
To pray that God would show His glory both here in this church and in Europe among the Roma.
That we would go to Him with an attitude of humility and true dependence, acknowledging that without Him all that we do is in vain, and that it won’t bring any lasting good.
To realize that only God can bring reformation and resurrection life. So I want to just challenge you in the area of prayer and leave you with two very specific application points.
To think about the Roma; to think about the needs that they have; to think about those who still need God’s word in their language.
When we go to the Lord in prayer it should be realising our complete dependence on Him, but it should also be a joyful prayer of confidence because we know the end of the story.
We have the Book of Revelation which tells us what it’s going to be like one day, and I love Revelation 7:9 – it’s one of my favorite verses:From every nation, from every tribe – so from every Roma language, every dialect, every people group – someone will be representing them there on that great day. So when we pray, it’s not a hopelessness of Help us Lord, we’re so bad off, we can’t do anything. It’s true! We are bad off, and we can’t do anything without Him, but we pray with the promise that He will answer. He will redeem. He has a bride that He has purchased, and from every tribe and from every language, and from every people, one day will be standing around His throne. So that gives us boldness. As the writer to the Hebrews says We go to the throne of grace with boldness. So it’s a prayer of humility because of our need for Him, but it’s a prayer of boldness because of His promises and because of what He’s told us that He will do in the end.
So in closing, let me give you two very practical ways to pray. There’s probably no better way to pray for world missions than to pray Scripture, especially Paul’s prayers. As you read Paul’s epistles he, time and again, tells the believers what he is praying for them. There are the two that come to mind that I want to mention and challenge you to pray for your missionaries, pray for the Roma,
2 Thessalonians 3:1 says:I ask you to pray this for the Roma. They need God’s word in their language. They need to be able to read it; they need to be able to understand it; they need the Spirit of God to teach them and to give them life.
So pray this practically – 2 Thessalonians 3:1 – that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly, that it may reach all of these countries, these Roma villages, and that it would be honored or glorified just as it was with you. Just like the Thessalonians – they were pagans, they were sacrificing to idols, they were without God and without hope in the world, but God’s word ran, spread, to them and they received it. Pray that, among the mission fields of the world.
and in Colossians 4:2-3, Paul tells us:That’s what I want to leave with you – to devote yourselves to prayer. I’m preaching this to myself! I need to hear this as well. I need to be reminded of this, that we are to be on our guard, to be watchful and thankful. And pray for us – and he tells us specifically – that God may open the door for the word, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly as I should.
So in closing, let me just challenge you in the area of prayer. Prayer for renewal, for revival on the mission field, and pray that God will do these things that He’s laid out for us in 2 Thessalonians 3:1 – that the Word of the Lord may run, may spread rapidly and be glorified; and in Colossians 4:2-3 – that God would open a door for His word, and that His message would be proclaimed clearly.
Lord, I thank you that we can come to Your word and see our great need of You; see that we are very much in need of Your mercy and grace. As we look around perhaps at our neighbors, perhaps those in school, our workmates, family members, as we think of those in the church plant among the Hispanics, as think of the Desoto Youth Mission, as we think of the International Students’ ministries, as we think of what’s going on in Zambia, and as we think of the Roma all over Europe – Lord we come to You and we confess that You, and only You, can give life. Only You can bring renewal, only You can bring lasting change.
So we come to You and we ask You and we claim with boldness, not because of our merit or our worth or the fact that we have any claim, but because Jesus, You stand and intercede for us. We plead the wounds and the blood of the Lord Jesus, and we ask that You would answer these prayers from 2 Thessalonians and in Colossians, that Your word would spread rapidly and be glorified, and that You would open a door for Your word, that Your message would be proclaimed clearly.
Lord, we love You, and we do this all for Your honor, for Your glory. I thank you for MCC, for their heart for missions, and ask that You would deepen our heart to pray, to humble ourselves before you and to pray with expectation, that You will do great things. As William Carey said: Expect great things from God, Attempt great things for God. We want to do that for Your honor and Your glory. So as we wrap up this time of missions emphasis we pray that You will glorify Yourself, that You would be honored, that You would be praised. And it is in the name of Jesus that we pray, with thanksgiving. Amen.
 David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1987), 82.