I love the lofty, big picture goal and future reality of Christ’s Great Commission telling us to “make disciples of all nations.” We’re not talking simply about our neighbors, we are talking whole nations with every last person on the planet one day bending the knee and confessing Jesus Christ as Lord, and this is no small comfort.
Such sublime thoughts said, however, there are times in my day-to-day where I just want to hate the Great Commission because it seems so stinkin’ impossible. The sheer size of it alone is staggering, and my sinful stubbornness as well as that of others makes this Commission dismaying, even maddening to attempt!
But this work is not meant to rest on just us; it’s for all the saints who’ve come before us and those who will come after. It used to be that churches had graveyards right outside the windows of their sanctuaries. This was a visual reminder during worship that we sing alongside the “great cloud of witnesses” and that the work of God in the world is supposed to bemultigenerational. Such has been the case even with great revivals of the past.
Much is said in the American Church about “revivals” but there’s actually little teaching on what they are, how they work, or what they looked like in the past. In our minds they can be anything from a strange tent meeting in the wilderness with snake-handling and loud preaching to throngs of people coming to know Christ in weepy repentance.
As I use the term here, “revivals” are actually long periods of time in church history where many repent and come to Christ (either for salvation or in much deeper devotion to Him) and where society changes as a result. They include, but are not limited to, intense religious services where God visits His people in special ways.
In American Church History, these revivals are often referred to as “Great Awakenings.” Not one of the Great Awakenings has lasted less that 30 years (by conservative estimates); instead they usually go on for about 50 years. All of them were multi-generational works of God and none of them transformed society overnight.
One generation passed on the momentum of change to the next generation, and God used faithful pastors, writers, worship leaders, evangelists, lay ministers, business people (the second Great Awakening was started with a prayer meeting held by businessman Jeremiah Lanphier in the late 1850’s), moms, dads, children, teachers, etc. All of these were all part of long-haul, not-instantly-gratifying, works of God.
And by counting on revivals to last 30-50 years did you know that if only the church-goers (not people who simply identified as “Christian”) from our small city of Chattanooga were to bring just one person to Christ every five years, then over the course of 50 years this would constitute the greatest revival (numerically) America has ever seen?
This is, of course, a silly statistic and an “out there” hypothetical, but the point still stands: if God’s people will go after revival with Him and be faithful to do so throughout their lifetimes, our entire nation could be changed.
Be encouraged brothers and sisters; this isn’t an accident. Christ intended for this Great Commission of His to take some time. This is why He told us, “I will be with you, even to the end of the age.”
What if we were just faithful to what we are called to do, consistent in prayer, lifestyle and witness? We do not need large numbers of people, huge ministries, millions of converts, etc.
If we look to Christ, His natural life didn’t look too spectacular. His ministry consisted of lots of ups and downs. There were times when people liked Him as well as moments where people left His ministry in droves. His main cohort was a group of 12 rather immature, unstable and unreliable men. Of these, one betrayed Him by helping lead the charge to have Him crucified, then shortly thereafter committed suicide; the rest simply abandoned or denied their even knowing Him. All this took place after His leaving all He ever knew vocationally (a mostly forgettable career as a carpenter) in order to serve the obstinate people He was called to. Some of us see failure, but this was precisely, with razor-sharp, GOD-given accuracy, what Christ was supposed to do with His life.
Look further to the apostles: most of them never wrote anything, at least not anything that survived antiquity for you and I to read today, and the history of their lives and ministries are forgotten to many in the Church. As qualifications for ministry, Paul cited how much he suffered and how often things went poorly for him! You and I have inherited this Faith that he and the other apostles passed down!
For a more recent example, think of Oswald Chambers, author of the most famous and well read devotional of all time, My Utmost for His Highest. Oswald had a painfully obscure ministry, first in the British Isles and then in the Middle East, dying unknown to all but a few people, but now he is alive with Christ in Heaven watching the fruit of his ministry unfold in our day. The value of our lives, and the faithfulness that we keep before God cannot, and should not, be measured or estimated in our lifetimes.
God asked Moses, “What is in your hand?” before leading Moses to transform multiple nations for His glory. Today, God still asks us that same question. If we will be faithful to USE what we have right now, who knows what God will do. Simply take action by faith (according to the hope that you have for the Kingdom to come), be patient when things don’t go right, and don’t stop praying.
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in affliction, be constant in prayer.” -Romans 12:12.