Do you wonder why some pastors say that God is a missionary God?
Are you confused when some people call America a Christian nation? Doesn’t Scripture talk about people from every nation being part of God’s family?
How do we reconcile this? What does it have to do with worship?
Let’s consider some scriptures together and see…
From Jerusalem to the Ends of the Earth
Simply said the book of Acts provided a corrective to common Jewish thinking that God was only the God of the Jews. Jesus uttered the Great Commission in Acts 1:8, showing an outline for the church to take the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Later, in Acts 10, God makes it clear that the Gospel is for the Gentiles and not just for the Jews.
But God’s heart didn’t just turn to the Gentiles at the Ascension. His heart has always been for all the nations of the earth. In other words, God has always been a missionary God.
Let’s look at a few familiar passages to see God’s heart for all the world.
The Call of Abraham
In Genesis 12:1-3 we find God calling Abraham to follow him. God promises to make him into a great nation and to bless him. Then he says something surprising, “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The word “peoples” translates as nations, but it’s not to be confused with political nations. Instead it refers to ethnic groups, like tribes in Africa or North America. God is promising to bless all nations through Abraham.
The apostle Paul helps us see the significance of this verse in Galatians 3:8: “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”
When God called Abraham as the father of Israel and many nations, he wanted Israel to be a blessing to all the nations.
The Conquest of David
One of the first stories we hear in Sunday School concerns David and Goliath. In fact this story is told in many circles when people want to give hope to the little guy. But we often miss David’s heart when we tell this story. We know David went up against this champion with just a sling and five stones. Hear what David said before defeating Goliath with that single shot:
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.” (1 Samuel 17:45-46)
Before this day David had hundreds of sleepless nights to contemplate God and his glory. He understood that the whole world needed to know his God. Now that he has a platform, he proclaims God’s glory for the world to hear and see.
A Man After God’s Own Heart
Scripture calls David a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). If God acknowledges that David knows something of his heart, then we should be able to glimpse God’s heart through David’s writings. And we find that the psalms are filled with references to God’s heart for all nations, all peoples.
I remember stumbling upon this reality while serving in Kenya on a 7-month study service program. I was a budding songwriter at the time, having only written a few songs at the time. I decided that I would set a psalm to song while I was there and teach it to my Kenyan brothers and sisters. The psalm I chose was Psalm 67. I selected it because its relatively short and it had a natural refrain. It was only upon later reflection that I saw how profound my choice had been (thank you Holy Spirit!). Here is the refrain:
“May the peoples praise you, O God. May all the peoples praise your name.”
While David was a master military leader who conquered tens of thousands of his enemies, he also prayed that God would be known and worshipped by people from every nation.
While I don’t have a recording of my original song, here’s one from the Scottish songwriter Ian White:
Another one of my favorite sources of psalm settings comes from the Sons of Korah out of Australia. Here is their setting of Psalm 67:
The Lion and the Nations
The prophet Daniel never faltered in his worship of God—even when threatened with a date with the lions. As a result of his faithfulness, we get a glimpse of God’s heart from the tongue of a Gentile king. King Darius wrote a message to all the “peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land” (which was most of the known world at the time):
“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.” (Dan. 6:26)
Jesus: Savior for All Nations
The Jews were looking for a political savior, but Jesus came to establish God’s kingdom. His ministry was primarily to the Jews (though he healed a Phoenician and ministered to a Samaritan woman, among others), but he commissioned his disciples to go into “all the world.” God’s salvation is for people of all nations.
Most of us reading this article would be considered Gentiles. Therefore, if it weren’t for God’s missionary heart we would never have heard the good news of God’s love and forgiveness in Christ. That’s something to be thankful for.
The End of the Story
Let’s fast forward to the end of the story. We know God started by expressing his desire to bless all the nations through Abraham. Revelation shows that He will ultimately accomplish this purpose.
In Revelation chapters 5 and 7, John paints a picture where men from every tribe, tongue and nation are bowing before the Lamb. They are all singing of God’s salvation.
The stories are streaming in from all over the globe today of God’s heart for all nations. In fact most of the church’s growth is happening in Asia, Africa and Latin America today.
If you want to read some stories of how the Gospel is moving to the ends of the earth today, I encourage you to read From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya by Ruth Tucker.
I love Paul Baloche’s simple chorus, “All the Earth Will Sing Your Praise.” It sums up the Gospel and the truth that we will one day sing the truth of God’s salvation with brothers and sisters from every nation on the earth. This arrangement by Travis Cottrell is wonderful:
How Does This Change My Worship?
Understanding that God is a missionary God has many implications for our lifestyle, but how does it impact our personal and corporate worship? Here are 3 closing thoughts:
1) If God is the author of all cultures and loves all nations, we should spend time enjoying and appreciating the worship and arts coming from all over the world.
A great resource for appreciating this comes from the International Council of EthnoDoxologists (people who study culturally appropriate Christian worship).
2) If we are going to one day worship with people from every nation, tribe and tongue, why not start tasting that now. If you live in America, you’ve probably heard it said that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. That’s not as true in major metropolitan areas, but many of us would benefit from regularly worshipping with people from other nations. It gives us a bigger picture of God. Find a church close by that has a different culture and join them for worship.
3) Probably the most challenging aspect of multi-cultural worship is that it confronts our own cultural idols. Some cultures desire privacy, order and reverence while others prefer spontaneity, exuberance and community. God’s heart for the world causes us to confess our self-centered worship and embrace God’s delight in all worship that confesses Jesus as Lord.
Please share your story. How has God’s heart for all nations impacted your life story?
Patricia Redsicker (@predsicker) says
Great article Phil. I’m fortunate to belong to a church here in Baltimore that’s extremely multi-cultural. It’s interesting to see the different worship styles – country, acapella, pop, old ‘moldy’ hymns 🙂 and contemporary. We even have a new group of liturgical dancers – very cool. When I lived in New Jersey we went to a Messianic Jewish congregation. That was the best ever. Viva diversity!
Thanks, Patricia. I know you understand this being from Kenya. I’ve also had the joy of serving in several multi-cultural, multi-style, multi-generational congregations. In San Diego our church was also multi-site and our site had a strong Asian influence. This Sunday I’ll lead worship for a church that has 6 different fellowships with 5 different ethnicities. Love the tapestry that God is weaving together in the church!