Prayer, Silence, and the Silence of God

June 19, 2016  The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost   1 Kings 19:9-15

When Elijah asked to see God, he was shown the force of wind, earthquake, and fire. The presence of God, however, came not in them but in silence, “the still small voice.”

Motivation for service before the God of the spectacular–wind, earthquake, and fire–is easy to find. For task oriented servants, stepping into the scene of the dramatic is simply finding one’s comfort zone. Rather than pause before the majesty of God, we like to get about the business of the kingdom.

But for the mission of the church, it is the revelation of the God of “gentle stillness” that must always illumine the mind and grasp the heart of the mission of the church. Only through the nurture of spiritual awe before God’s silence does does the servant approach the full blessing of the Master. Baptisms, new churches, healings, and other spectacular manifestations come as results of the saints of God on their knees. Samuel Zwemer, the great missionary to the Muslims, wrote, “The history of missions is the history of answered prayer.”

I will let the witness of some of these saints illustrate this truth. Great stories accompany these people, but only because of their deep union with the Lord:

St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland, wrote: “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in heart of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

Jacob of Nisibis, an early leader of the Persian Church, had led an ascetic life, serving as a model for the monastic life of Persia.  Only reluctantly did he accept the call to become the Bishop of Nisibis. For his missionary leadership, this holy monk was called “the Moses of Mesopotamia.”

Mother Teresa of India was asked what her secret was. She answered, “I pray, I listen.”

Charles Wesley gave spiritual expression to the Wesley mission in this country and England. He closes one of his most famous hymns, “Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

Jonathan Edwards led a mission to the Indians of Massachusetts. His sermons and writings are filled with honor to the majesty of God, rooted in adoration of God. “What is there that you can desire should be in a Savior that is not in Christ? Or, wherein should you desire a Savior should be otherwise than Christ is?”

William Carey helped establish the church in India. He was horticulturist, linguist, librarian, administrator and more.  His chief contribution was his translation of the Scriptures. When I visited his college in Serampore, I saw on display the 34 versions of the Bible which he had helped translate.

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, sent missionaries to Brazil, Ethiopia, Germany, India, and the Congo. He wrote, “God our Lord would have us look to the Giver and love Him more than His gift, keeping Him always before our eyes, in our hearts, and in our thoughts.”

Patrick Johnstone, a friend and collaborator of the team who did the World Christian Trends, recently published The Future of the Global Church, At one point he shows a two-sided timeline. On one side are the revivals of the church. On the other side he lists major prayer movements. Almost without exception the prayer movements coincide with or precede revivals.

Ramadan is the 30 days when Muslims seek a deeper knowledge of God. This presents us with sacred times to bring them before God’s very throne.  I again recommend a prayer link such as Pray30days.com.

Fasting and intercessory prayer, adoration of the Godhead, cultivating the interior love of God—these are the marks of servants of God through whom, like Elijah, God has been pleased to reveal His glory.

WORLD CHRISTIAN TRENDS

Each of the servants of the living God mentioned above had responsibility for funding mammoth enterprises. With hearts on fire with love for their Savior, they also needed to show integrity and skill in the  management of the funds God brought to their use.

When Paul asked the Corinthian church for donations for the Jerusalem offering, he did two things: he declared that they have overflowed in “a wealth of generosity,” and he described the responsibility of the delivery of the contribution. We should expect nothing less today.

The texts that follow as well as the figures are from WCT.

The wealth of Global Christianity:

The annual income of the 2 billion Christians is $15.2 trillion, clearly enough for the wildest dreams of world-wide ministry and global evangelization. But the distribution of this startling sum reveals the uneven wealth of churches.

The Church of the Poor: Some 100 million Christians live in the world’s 26 poorest countries. That is 24% of all the world’s poor, and 13% of all Christians. The Church of the Poor, however, is poor only in material goods. They are far from being spiritually paupers. Spiritually, it is the Church of the Rich. 50 million of them participate in the charismatic movements found in many poor countries. By their poverty and simplicity, these are the only Christians whose lifestyle is similar to that of Jesus on earth.

Giving: With the tithe as the standard for Christians, the actual percentage of giving is closer to a third of that. Annual donations of affiliated Christians is $298 billion. 46% comes from Europe, 37% from North America, 3.9% from Asia, and 1.3% from Africa.

Parachurch agencies, Over the past five decades there have been 40,000 new agencies. This has resulted in a reduced amount of giving to denominations, with 60% going to these agencies. An example is Christian broadcasting, which barely existed 100 years ago but now costs over $6 billion annually.

Responsible delivery of the church’s wealth:

Mission support: Only 5.6% of global Christian giving goes to foreign mission. In this department the church seems less sure of itself and its mission. Of the average weekly donation of $2.75, only $0.15 goes to support foreign mission. In this respect the entire church is a Church of the Poor—poor in spiritual dynamic and in missionary vision and obedience.

Embezzlement: Each year the average amount of money embezzled from the church is $16 billion, or $1 billion more than is spent on foreign mission. Additionally, an undetermined amount goes unreported or swept under the rug.

Before taking up the latest tasks, prior to plunging into the ministries we develop, we do well to stand with Elijah outside his tent and fathom the silence of God. Only then can we hear every word He speaks in His still small voice.

About Tad

After 25 years in parish ministry and 15 years with Anglican Frontier Missions, I have had enough reflection time to sort out responses from churches to the Lord's call to the least evangelized. This series addresses the nine most frequent rationales for leaving fields that are white for harvest without harvesters.
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