It has been an eventful and fruitful week as I’ve traveled to India and France, training pastors and supporting missionaries. As I go, and as I return, I am struck once again with several profound truths. I am struck anew by the authority and profound relevance of God’s Word. I’m struck anew by the power of and necessity for prayer. And finally, I am gripped by the grace of God in my own life, and in the world at large.
After traveling to these two wildly different cultures, I find myself reflecting on their similarities. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote Romans 1 in the first century, yet his words have been timely this week.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.... Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:18-20, 24-25)
God’s timeless Word articulates some of these similarities. In those similarities, as well as in their differences, I find prayer focus, both for them, and for us.
Romans 1 speaks to the spiritual realities of India in particular ways. Christianity is growing in the country, thanks to a mighty movement of the Holy Spirit and His work through pastors and evangelists who proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ amidst growing persecution. Yet they are fighting against a deeply embedded worldview which denies the Creator. The Hindu belief sees no Creator-creature distinction, which leads Hindus to worship a multitude of idols...and to at the very least venerate some animals. The religion also sanctions a rigid social caste system which continues to affect most areas of life, oppressing those found in the lower rungs.
Despite the folly of unbelief in the culture at large, and maybe because of it, the gospel is taking root, particularly among the lowest in the caste system. They are hearing of the Savior, who loves without class distinction, who in fact died to set them free...and they are coming to faith. So we must pray. Pray for their continued ability to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. Pray for the continued movement of the Holy Spirit in this revival culture. Pray for the pastors, that they would be protected from persecution, and that they would remain steadfast when it comes. Pray for the glory of God in a dark place.
Romans 1 likewise speaks to the cultural realities in France. France is a place of beauty, which as Romans 1 reminds us, points to the reality of the Creator who is the Author of beauty. Yet for centuries, the French culture has been one of secularist humanism. Man, and man’s desire, reigns supreme. France, as a culture, lives for pleasure and leisure. By and large, the concept of need is a distant one. There is little despair over circumstances, and virtually no despair over sin. And, as Romans 1 warns, God will ultimately give the people over to the lusts of their heart.
But there is always a remnant. God will not leave himself without a seed, and though it is small, there is a remnant of the faithful Church, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, loving others as they have been loved. These pastors and fellow believers need our prayers as well. While living conditions may be easier in France than in India, the soil that is the hearts of men, women, and children is far harder. Our missionaries in France live by prayer, praying for the Lord to move in the hearts of unbelievers, opening them to the reality of their need, and to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray with and for our missionaries in Toulouse. Pray for the Holy Spirit to establish His Church. Pray for the glory of God in a dark place.
Every time I have been given the opportunity to be with our missionaries abroad, whether training them, supporting them, or encouraging them, the Lord presses upon my heart our continued need for the gospel in Trussville. This past week has been the same. As I’ve ministered in vastly different cultures, I’ve been reminded of the need for continuous gospel renewal in my own heart, and in our own community. So I urge you to join me in prayer. But as we pray, I want to put before you another passage of Scripture. With the descriptions of India and France (particularly as I’ve tried to apply Romans 1 to their cultures), it is awfully tempting for our prayers to take on a Pharisaical tendency. Something in our heart wants to pray, “Thank you Lord that I am not like them!”
I urge you to, along with me, recognize this tendency and pray against it. Like the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14, let our prayer simply be, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” After all, the gospel is about personal salvation from personal sin. This is a gospel we all need. So please join me in this prayer. And join me in praying for a mighty movement of the Holy Spirit in our own community. Pray for the Holy Spirit to continue establishing His Church. Pray that we would be a place of light, where the glory of God shines for all to see...clear across the world.