DIFFICULTY AHEAD!! Go anyway
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Genesis 12:5b “. . .they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into
the land of Canaan they came.”
For Abram, going did not mean a call to his travel agent, a booked flight, a rental car, and two nights lodging at Hampton Inn. It entailed packing all he had of earth, telling family goodbye forever, walking, and riding donkeys and camels for 1,000 miles. The trail was fraught with difficulties. Abram had to go anyway.
In this matter of going, Jesus left His followers specific instructions. He gave the Great Commission five times, in each case adding a new nuance to the task before us, but also in each case repeating one old nuance. Each time He gave the Great Commission, Jesus told us we would need Divine power for this task.
Matthew 28:18-20 emphasizes going because all authority is given to Jesus (28:18-19a). Mark 16:15-18 emphasizes preaching which will be accompanied by signs only God could perform. In Luke 24:46-49 Christ said, “Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (24:49b). In John 20:21-23 Jesus said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (20:22b). In Acts 1:8 Christ said, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (1:8a).
Jesus was blunt honest. He told us the task would be tough. If going were easy, the missions enterprise would have been completed long ago. In our efforts to impact our unreached people group, the Bells of the big country, progress has been measured in inches, not yards. Just this year, six years into the process, did we finally succeed in finding a group of bells that speaks the dialect we have translated Gospel stories into. The task has been tough going. If it were simple, unreached people groups would not still be unreached. Be glad Jesus promised to be with us till the end of the age. We’ll need Him every moment till then.
Stephen Neill says missionary work is the most difficult task in the world. Missions has ever been discouraging. This should come as no surprise. Anytime we go, we clash head-on with evil cosmic spiritual forces. To go means to engage in Reclamation War. The enemy does not want to relinquish one square inch of the territory he stole. His fierce counterattacks cause setbacks to come in hordes.
Missions always has been difficult, and always will be. Our future is predicted by our past, but difficulty must never be allowed to stop us. To be true to our calling, we must press ahead, however turbulent the journey becomes.
I was reminded of this recently while discussing with John Edie our plan to start fifty in-home adult Bible fellowships next Spring. The goal is high, the challenge huge, the outcome iffy. Wanting John’s keen instinct on such a project, I asked what his gut was telling him. Did he really, honestly, deep down think we could pull this off? His answer caught me totally off guard. He would not predict success or failure. Instead, he said, “It doesn’t matter whether we succeed or fail. What we do away from our church buildings is our only hope to win this culture. We have to try it.” Amen. Difficulty does not matter. Striving for the objective counts. To try, and fail, is okay. To fail to try is cowardly, totally unacceptable.
The difficulty of the task is the reason we have to go. The lost are easy to neglect because they have gone astray. The reason we need to pursue them often becomes what turns us off and ends our pursuit. We must imitate our Master, who “seeks those whose backs are toward Him, who are going further and further away from the fold” (Spurgeon). Jesus most wants to find lambs being torn by thorns.
We must care for drinkers while they drink, for skeptics while they scoff, for the mean while they’re mean, for sinners while they sin. We are not afforded the luxury of waiting till they are better. The old Gospel song says to sinners, “If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all.” If we wait till sinners are better, we will never go at all. Only Jesus can make them better. Their sins are their claim on us. The more they are sinning, the more they need pursuing grace.
The Good Shepherd left the ninety-nine gathered in the fold. He went to find one lost sheep. Jesus left ones giving Him pleasure to find one causing Him pain. He leaves the happy and holy to find the hopeless and helpless.
We tend to think of the uttermost under “go,” but this duty begins at home. We have neighbors who need us to go to them with the message. Don’t forget the one nearby. It is easy to despise this one, because it is only one, and close at hand.
One is a valuable number to Jesus. To find one, the Shepherd went into the wilderness, facing difficulties. Hardship was not given a moment’s consideration.
Nearby is as valid a need as faraway. I urge us to zero in on one nearby, a family member, neighbor, friend, coworker, fellow student. Focus prayer on one nearby who seems farthest away from the possibility of being saved.
Once you pray, begin following up. Develop strategies, ways to open dialogue, to spend time with the one. Don’t wait for them to take the initiative.
To sit and wait for someone to come to us is a strange way to go. To sit idly by, doing nothing, is an odd notion of seeking lost sheep.
Few hunters sit in their kitchen and wait for ducks to fly by. Fishermen don’t sit on their back porch and hope a fish will flop down beside them.
Go after the one. The Good Shepherd did. He braved wilderness, and I’m confident He had no greater enjoyment for briars and thorns than we have.
Farmers don’t stand at the fence-row and summon a crop to come in. My dad, a cotton farmer, did not stand inside the barn and beckon, “Here, cotton, here cotton, come this way, cotton, and jump into my sack.” He had to go out among the cotton stalks. We too have to move, to overcome inertia, to draw near sinners.
Nearby, faraway–go sends us everywhere. Go is not first and foremost a matter of geography. Location is a vital part of go, as Acts 1:8 indicates, but not the main thing. Go must be a lifestyle, a matter of the heart, woven into the fiber of our existence. The first issue in go is lostness, whoever and wherever it be. If we allow God to break our hearts over lostness, geography will be an automatic.
Ponder a final thought. Jesus’ fivefold promise of divine help in the Great Commission not only predicts difficulty. It also inspires optimism. Knowing God will enable us makes it possible for us to go forward with optimism. God is not in the business of failure. Difficulties yes, setbacks yes, failure no.
In a Burmese dungeon, a fellow prisoner asked Judson with a sneer about the prospect for the conversion of the heathen. Judson, lying loaded with chains, calmly answered, “The prospects are as bright as the promises of God.”
The Gospel will conquer. It is utterly impossible that any nation, tribe, or ethnic group will be able to keep out the advances of love. By the end of time, every tongue will have voices in it who extol Jesus. Every soil will offer praise.
One of Satan’s most effective weapons against us is pessimism. We won’t go if we are defeated before we begin. USA Christians are drowning in a sea of despondency, when next door are prechristians readier to discuss the Gospel than we are. We need to rediscover optimism, a cardinal pillar of evangelism.
Sow seeds expecting increase. Beware the sin of defeatism. Many are highly qualified to go in every other way, but disqualify themselves by this one exception. Educated, eloquent, friendly, honest, and hardworking, they have every other trait needed to succeed in going, but falter on this one stumbling block. Believing their efforts won’t succeed, they don’t try. Do not let Satan rob you of this blessed gratification. Our God is great, and His cause will go from victory to victory. Enjoy your birthright. Be one of the joyful conquerors.