The following thoughts come after the 56th Annual World Missions Conference of First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. The speakers for this conference were Dr. Hans Beyer, Professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Dr. Sandy Willson, Senior Minister, Second Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tennessee.
“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, Ephesians 1.11 NIV
Last night after Dr. Sandy Willson preached, I told our gathering that I was speechless. I really meant it. The message was so powerful, I was and still am seeking to apply it. Maybe “digest it” is a better way of putting it. And in a real way I am thinking through a lot of what I heard in this great conference. But my mind is drawn back, this morning, to Saturday afternoon when it all started for me. I gathered with our World Missions leaders for a welcoming time and overview of the conference with our missionary guests. We were in the chapel. Our Director of World Missions, Sandy, had given an overview and sought to answer practical questions about housing and food and displays and so forth. Our Women in the Church leader for missions, Lynn, welcomed the women and gave them an overview of special ministries planned for them. One of our elders, John, gave a moving presentation about the vision for world missions at First Presbyterian, Chattanooga. And I gave our partners a welcome and an open door to my office and to our pastors. We love spending time with them and being available to help in any way we can. But here is what I am thinking of.
During a time of prayer, our World Missions chairman asked us all to pray. He said, “I want us to do something a bit different today as we pray. Just pray by speaking forth one word.” And so we did. He led us and then the one word prayers began to go up to the Lord. One missionary prayed, “Thanksgiving.” Another prayed a prayer of petition by saying, “Faith.” Yet another prayed, “Praise.” Someone spoke quietly the word, “Vision.” And on it went until our Chairman closed the time with a full-orbed petition to Christ for His blessing on the conference and for the Lord to get all of the glory. The time, with the speaking forth of prayers in one word, along with the passionate prayer offered at the end of the time was truly moving. My son, who was with me, told me on the way home, “Dad, if I would have lifted up my one word prayer in that meeting, do you know what I would have prayed?” “No, son, what would you have said?” “Predestination.” Now that sounded like a good one word prayer from a Presbyterian minister’s son! But I wondered why he would have prayed that one word prayer and I inquired. “Well,” he answered, “God had clearly brought us all there to pray. We were all predestined to be together for this time.” And that is the word of the conference for me. God ordained, decreed, “predestined” that we should hear, receive, and now respond to the powerful Bible messages from Hans Beyer and Sandy Willson.
It has been said that the assurance of victory in missions is the doctrine of election. “God will win.” He will redeem this fallen race. There will be people from every tribe and tongue and nation sitting at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb as King Jesus Himself breaks the bread and shares the Cup. He will bring in a new heaven and a new earth. But God predestines not only the “end,” but the “means.” And the call is for each and every one of us to go, to give, to pray. Read Ephesians 1.4-12 for a marvelous reflection on how God brings His love to bear on this world and guarantees victory in His mission. Consider the passage from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message:
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Ephesians 1.3 Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. 4 Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) 5 He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. 6
Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! Ephesians 1.7 He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, 8 letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, 9 a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth. 10
It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, Ephesians 1.11 part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. 12
What mystery! What love! What glory! God will bring victory. But He works it out through human beings. He works it out through us.
The great English missionary to India, Lesslie Newbigin, put it like this:
“Whenever it is forgotten that we are chosen in order to be sent; . . wherever men think that the purpose of election is their own salvation rather than the salvation of the world; then God’s people have betrayed their trust.”
We are predestined to love, to give, to go, to pray. So that through us God’s plan for His world finds fulfillment. “Predestination.” It is a good missionary prayer that is a great call on our lives to be God’s instruments in the world today.
We are predestined in love to be His people in the world today. Let us make Jesus known. Let us be the “means” by which God brings His beautiful plan for redemption in Christ Jesus to pass.