Prayer is, or should be, an everyday practice for Christians. It is our communication channel with God as well as being one of the essential disciplines for spiritual growth and health. The Bible exhorts us to pray “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but that always raises the question of how does God answer prayer? One way he does of course is with a firm NO!
Every day there is much prayer offered for fruitful mission; by churches, mission organizations and other groups seeking to reach the lost. Such prayer is offered in the belief that God both hears and answers prayers, and that his desire is that none shall perish. However, gauged by the declining amount of missional fruit we see it may appear that God is either not listening or, if he is, not responding to our prayers. Of course, we know that this cannot be true because God promises to both hear and respond to our prayers (John 14:13,14), but, and here is a vital point, it is also true that his response can be a firm No!
Could it be that despite fervent prayer the reason for the lack of missional fruit in traditional western churches is that God is choosing to say No to requests for him to bless the efforts of those churches and if so why? One possible answer to that question is that God does in some circumstances choose to not bless a particular person or group even those he has actually chosen for mission.
There are a number of Biblical examples of people whom God chose to be engaged in his mission yet he then seems to have blocked their plans or redirected them. When looking at these it can be seen that a common factor is that each individual seems to have wanted to adopt Frank Sinatra’s song ‘My Way’ as their ‘Mission’ theme song!
For the first example, we don’t have to go further than Adam and Eve who clearly chose to do things ‘My Way’ and the rest is history as they say- all of it! Then there is Jonah who God chose for mission to the Ninevites but chose ‘My Way’ and God had to use some pretty rugged methods to get him back onto ‘God’s Way’!
Another example is the awful tragedy and so sad end of King Saul’s mission as the leader of God’s people which came about because he chose to amend ‘God’s Way’ to ‘His way’ (1 Samuel 15).
When we turn to the New Testament we have the example of Peter full of zeal for his mission to the Jews. However, he wanted to limit what he was prepared to do to ‘His Way’, which was to go to the Jews only. God had to shock him, by the repeated nightmare of being told to eat that appalling ‘unclean food’, into mission God’s way, that is to the those dreadful unclean, indeed cursed (according to the Jewish Law) and ‘untouchable’ Gentiles (Acts 10).
Then there is the great Apostle Paul. His way (Acts 16) was to go and preach the gospel to the lost in the Roman provinces of Asia and Bithynia. What a great idea we might say. To preach Jesus to those stumbling in darkness, tens of thousands of them in those provinces. That was the way Paul planned to go and we would cheer him on, but God said NO! because it was not ‘God’s Way’. In fact God had other plans for Paul to cross the Aegean sea for mission Europe.
I wonder, can this be relevant to us in mission? Are we willing to do mission but in reality insist on ‘Our Way’, not God’s, or do we pray for fruit but put limits on what we are prepared to do, and so God does not answer our prayers for fruit? I would like to suggest that for the most part that is indeed what western churches do.
We do this by insisting on maintaining and relying on the traditional SIC church model as our missional platform – SIC meaning Sunday Centric, In Drag (into church services) and Christendom Form even though this is not required by scripture. This insistence on doing mission ‘Our Way’ namely using the ways we have been using for a long time and are comfortable with is still almost everywhere the case. So it may well be that God’s answer to our prayers for missional fruit is actually No!
If holding onto the centuries-old Christendom form of church which is just one of many permissible expressions of NT ecclesiology (doctrine of church), is more important to us than the gospel imperative, then I would suggest that rather than following ‘God’s Way’ for us we actually fall foul of the schemes of the ‘elemental spirits of the universe’ (Galatians 4:3). These are the Satanic spirits that seek to control and bind human, and Christian, behaviour through holding us captive in-
“human institutions, traditions, ideas, and religious philosophies”.
It may well be that ‘God’s No’ to our prayers for missional fruit is because we are praying for mission ‘My Way’. Indeed the apostle James (4:3), while addressing a slightly different context, makes the linkage between ‘God’s No’ to prayer and our wrong motives when we want things ‘My Way’.
For a real revival of missional fruitfulness, we must be prepared, in Jesus words, to “deny ourselves”. This will essentially involve letting go of the attitude of ‘My Way’ for mission and adopting the attitude of Paul which is to be prepared to
“become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some”
(1 Corinthians 9:22).
One thing is certain. For fruitful gospel mission our theme song cannot be ‘I Did It My Way’.
Rather it must be ‘His Way’, or we might find that God’s answer to our prayers for mission might be (continue to be?) a resounding No!