“One of the wisest uses of time—an investment that will yield eternal dividends— is bringing people to personal faith in Christ and challenging others to do the same.” evangelism vs. discipleship. The watchword of the historic Student Volunteer Movement—“the evangelization of the world in this generation”—drips with both grandeur and urgency. Today, we must recover a biblically based sense of urgency, and here’s why. Opportunities have a limited shelf life. Every day of freedom to declare the gospel in our volatile world is a great gift. With the potential of disruptive terrorism escalating rapidly, we should pray with the psalmist, “So teach us to number our days” (Ps. 90:12). Think of the massive open door for the gospel there was in Japan at the end of World War II. The door flung open wide, but the church stalled. Today that door is barely ajar. In more recent times, there was the surprise toppling of communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Yet, again, we were largely unprepared. What if suddenly China or Iran did stop their persecution of Christians and put out a welcome mat for missionaries? Are we thinking preemptively and preparing accordingly? Someone has wisely observed that “the opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.” There are thrilling windows of opportunity wide open for the gospel right now in many parts of the world, 62 MinistryToday May // June 2016
and they may not be open long. Life is short. James calls it “just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). Certainly there is an urgency for those who do not know Christ. But are we conveying this to them? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Nothing could be more ruthless than to make men think there is still plenty of time to mend their ways. To tell men that the cause is urgent and that the kingdom of God is at hand is the most charitable and merciful act we can perform, the most joyous news we can bring.” Missionary luminary Robert Moffat reminded us: “We have all eternity to celebrate our victories, but only one short hour before the sunset in which to win them.” Jim Elliot felt, prophetically, the brevity of time. He journaled this passionate prayer while a student at Wheaton College: “God, light these idle sticks of my life and let them burn for Thee. I do not desire a long life, but a full one—like You, Lord Jesus.” Seven years later, his life on this Earth would end at the tip of a poisoned spear as he attempted to get the gospel to the Waodoni. Yet the ramifications of his sacrifice continue to inspire us today. The season of harvest is brief. I was raised in the city and don’t know much about farming, but I do know this much: When it’s harvest time, there’s nothing
else on the agenda. It’s not a time to clean the equipment or strategize for next year’s harvest. Before daylight and well into the night, the one and only priority is to get the harvest in safely. By its very nature, harvest is not openended; it is a season. One of the saddest verses in the Bible is Jeremiah 8:20: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” Jesus warned us not to look for a more opportune time but to put the sickle in now. “Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). There is a vast, ripe spiritual harvest worldwide right now—and it is threatened because we aren’t reaping it! On the clock of a beautiful church spire in Dallas, two words are inscribed: “Night Cometh.” Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). Eternity is long. Urgency, or the lack of it, is embedded in theology. Our urgency in sharing the gospel will be in direct proportion to how much we genuinely believe people without Christ are truly lost. To use the old term, they are literally unsaved. There’s a clear correlation: The church’s evangelistic passion has waned as its belief in eternal judgment has weakened. Hear again the lyrics of an old missions hymn by Fanny Crosby: Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave; Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen, Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save! Rescue the perishing, care for the dying; Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save. Do we wince today at such lyrics? If so, it’s an indicator of how far we have moved away from the spirit and passion that has historically challenged the church to evangelism. This song was an oft-requested favorite of earlier generations of believers.
Jim Elliot’s parents were devout Christians. They urged him to defer going on his missionary assignment in order to spend more time with them. Jim was torn but finally replied that the cry of lost indigenous peoples pressed him toward the perishing. He wrote: “Impelled then by these voices, I dare not stay home © iStockphoto/shironosov
Serving rising leaders within the church by empowering them with effective tools for Spirit-led ministry.