Praying For The WorldDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | September 30, 1990
Selected highlights from this sermon
The world needs the Gospel, yet, our prayers often seem cold and stunted when we pray for the world. Why? Because we don’t pray with confidence.
When we understand the eternal purposes of God, we can pray triumphantly for the Gospel’s work throughout the world. The news about Jesus Christ will be victorious.
We’ve been speaking about the topic of prayer and E. M. Bounds says, “Prayer is no little thing. It does not concern the petty interests of one person. The littlest prayer can broaden out by the will of God to touch the world.” The littlest prayer can broaden out by the will of God to touch the world.
If you’ve been following this series, you know that I began several weeks ago by talking about the sin of prayerlessness, then praying for one another, praying for the city, and now praying for the world. And next week the most important message in the series—praying for the glory of God. I don’t want anyone to miss next week.
Praying for the world! How shall we pray for the world? Well, you say, “The world has so many problems, it’s easy to target things to pray for. Let us pray that there may be no more wars in the world.” Are you praying that? It’s fine to pray that, but I want you to know that there are still going to be some wars in the world. “Oh, let us pray that there may not be any natural disasters—no earthquakes, no floods, no famine.” Well, you can go ahead and pray that, and I encourage you to because God answers prayer. But I want to tell you very candidly that your prayers will never erase all the famines and all the earthquakes that are going to still take place in the world. How do we know that? Well, turn to Matthew 24 for just a moment where Jesus is giving an outline of end time events. And He’s speaking to the disciples and notice what He says. He’s speaking about events that lead up to the final climax of Christ’s return.
Matthew 24:6: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.” I want you to know that it would bs possible for all the believers in all the world to get together and to fast and pray for as long as they wanted to fast and pray, and there would still be wars in the world.
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. (There you have it.) All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”
You see, there some things that are going to happen. When you get together and you pray and say, “Oh God, I pray that there may no longer be war in the world,” you can pray that, and I encourage you to, and all of us pray that there will not be war in the Middle East. But God has not obligated Himself to answer that prayer. There is no promise upon which you can base that prayer. In fact, we seem to have just the opposite.
If there is something that I want you to learn during this series, it is simply this—that all effective prayer should be prayer according to the promises of God. If you don’t have a promise, sometimes we strike out in all these different directions, and it is perfectly right and proper because the Bible says we should pray about everything, but you cannot pray in faith until you can say, “Thus says the Lord.” Then you can pray in faith. And so what I want to emphasize to you today is “find out what God is doing in the world, and then get on the band wagon.” That’s to have effective prayer.
What is God doing in the world? How should we be praying so that we know that we are praying in the will of God, so that at the end of our prayer we do not have to tack on to it, “Lord, if it be Thy will,” but we are praying right in line with what God is doing in the world?
Since we have our Bibles open to that passage, let’s read verse 14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Now that’s an interesting promise. God is saying that if you want to pray in a way that is going to capture the heart of God and be in line with His purposes, pray for the triumph of the Gospel throughout the world, because that is eventually what will take place.
Somebody’s going to come up to me afterwards and say, “Yeah, but that’s going to happen during the Great Tribulation.” Maybe so, but the point is, it is going to happen some day because that is the end to which God is moving. The Gospel of the Kingdom is going to be preached, and when you pray that, you are praying within the will and the purpose of God.
So the first thing I would like to emphasize today is the need for a promise when you are praying for the world—the need for a promise.
Take your Bibles and let’s just look at two promises in the Old Testament. We can begin with the book of Psalms—Psalm 22. Isn’t it interesting that the very Psalm that talks about the suffering of Jesus Christ would have an awesome promise about the eventual triumph of God in the world? Psalm 22! Notice what it says in verse 27: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.” What a promise! The text says that every family in the earth is going to worship God, Jehovah, and we can add by implication His Son, Jesus Christ.
Now turn to Isaiah. You’ll notice that Isaiah 11 has a wonderful promise involved. Isaiah 11, and I want you to notice what it says in verse 9. Here’s what the text says: “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” I don’t understand that figure of speech because it’s so clear to me that water covers the sea, but in what sense? I mean what else could cover the sea except water? But I do know this, that it is waters that cover the sea. And what Isaiah is saying is that the day is coming when the knowledge of the Lord is going to just spill over the earth just like an ocean, and everyone is going to acknowledge God. Everyone is going to acknowledge God.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, this is during the millennial kingdom. This is a millennial passage.” Yes, that may be, but still the principle is there that this is the direction in which God is moving, and therefore, when we pray for the world, primarily we ought to be praying for something that we know is going to take place eventually, namely the awesome triumph of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every country and among every family on planet earth.
Now, just think of what that means. You know, we hear reports about the mission field. They tell us that in Morocco if all the Christians got together we could put them in our choir loft here at Moody Church. There are only maybe 150-200 believers in Morocco. I’m told that in Turkey there is no knowledge that we have of an existing church, a group of believers who gather together in the name of Christ to worship. Apparently there are none in Turkey. Do you know that in Thailand I understand that the believers are so scarce? They have all of these pagan temples, but there is no Christian church to speak of.
We hear reports like that, and do you know what we are tempted to think? We are tempted to think that the Gospel is going to fail, and that somehow God’s purposes in the world are not going to be accomplished because it seems as if the human heart is too resistant to the Gospel. The Muslims are too closed, and the Buddhists are too hard, and God can’t save them. Tragedy! Of course, God can save them, and God will save a future generation of those who believe in those religions.
I’ve been studying a little bit about Japan. I’ve not had time to read much, but I’ve discovered that there are three religions—Shintoism, Confucianism, Buddhism—that converge together, you know, in that particular part of the world in such a way that we basically have a full-fledged occult religion. But the number of believers in Japan is small. Does that mean that God stands by helplessly and hopelessly and says, “You know, My plan is failing. There’s no way I can save the Japanese.” My dear friend, I want you to know that God’s plan is on track and that eventually every family and every nation of the earth will acknowledge Jesus Christ to be God and God’s Son.
You say, “Well, what about the failure of the church?” I’m going to say this very carefully, but I want you to know that not even the failure of human beings interrupts the eternal purposes of God.
One day there were some people who were living in the city of Rome, and they said, “You know, this doesn’t make any sense. God chose the Jews and then Jesus arrives and the Jews reject Him, and they have thrown God’s program off track.” Paul wrote the whole ninth chapter of Romans to debunk such an idea. He said, “I want you to know that the Word of God is not off course.” That’s what the Greek word means when he says the Word of God has not failed. He says, “It’s not off-course.” He says, “This, too, falls within the bounds of the providence of the living God. This, too, falls within what God is doing in the world. There is no such thing as human failure, interrupting what God finally and firmly intends to do.” And if you and I are not involved in world evangelism God will use other people to accomplish His purposes, but His purposes will not fail.
Now, I want you to take your Bibles and turn to the book of Revelation, because when you study the Bible we have a very happy privilege here. It’s not just that God made promises that eventually the Gospel would go to the ends of the earth. Jesus said that this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached throughout all the earth. But we actually have a glimpse into heaven. We have a glimpse into the future that John had, and we are going to see how it’s all going to look someday.
And so we read in Revelation 5:9: “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are thou to take the book and break its seals, for thou was slain, and did purchase for God with thy blood men (and men is in italics. It means that there is no reference there in the Greek text that exclusively means men.) Thou did purchase for God with Thy blood people from every tribe.”
Let me stop there. We talk about the tribe of Levi and the tribe of Jacob. That means “every single individual family unit.” Someone is represented in heaven as a result of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. “You did purchase for God men from every tribe, from every tongue, from every single language group.”
That’s why we ought to be praying for mission boards like Wycliffe Bible Translators who are translating the Bible into all the different dialects of the world. Is Wycliffe going to be successful? (chuckles) Of course, Wycliffe is going to be successful (Revelation 5:9). Somebody is there from every language group. We have prayer here for the Schilha Berbers, who we have sort of adopted as a focus for prayer. Are there going to be some Schilha Berbers in heaven? I want to say, “You bet,” but then I remind myself that I’m the pastor at Moody Church, so instead of saying, “You bet,” I’ll say, “Absolutely, there are going to be some Schilha Berbers there”. And then it says, “every people (That’s a larger unit. We talk about people groups.) and every nation.”
What am I trying to say to you today? The Gospel of Jesus Christ will triumph throughout the world. There’s no question about it.
You know, it’s discouraging, isn’t it? A young couple go to the mission field like Brian and Carol Counsley and give their lives to mission work. Brian gets sick. And we say to ourselves, “What in the world is God doing?” I mean how many precious young couples do we have like that to send out? A man becomes a doctor and could earn big bucks here. He goes over to Africa and he’s there, and then, you know, God lets this happen. What discouragement! I mean, what in the world is going on here? Isn’t God strong enough? Isn’t He powerful enough? Are we really on the losing end of things? I’m here today to tell you absolutely not! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is going to triumph.
Now, you know what the Bible says? You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, what about those who never believe in Jesus Christ? What about those who are living today who are a not a part of a future generation that acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord and God? What about them?” My dear friend, I want you to know that the Gospel will even triumph in their lives, though not to their salvation. That’s the tragedy. But I want you to know that the Gospel is going to be so triumphant that Paul says in Philippians 2 that someday every knee shall bow and every single tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. What does that text teach? Even those who reject Christ in this life will eventually acknowledge Him to be God, because Jesus Christ and God the Father are going to get glory from every tongue that has ever been created, and from every mouth that God ever put together. They are going to give glory.
There is no such thing as a person who ever lived in the past, whether it is Joseph Stalin, or whether it is Adolph Hitler, or whether it is a present day ruler. Whether it is Saddam Hussein or anybody else, there is no one who is going to live forever without first having acknowledged to the glory of God that Jesus Christ is Lord, the absolute certainty of the triumph of God’s purposes in this world.
I want to say something to you missionaries who are so discouraged. And I can imagine how discouraging the counts must have been. You know, you go there and you work, and then you labor, and nobody seems to want to believe, and the human heart is so hard. I want you to know that you are part of God’s eternal purpose, and that eventually, what you are doing will triumph. It will triumph! Absolutely!
I love the words of Peter Marshall. Peter Marshall says, “It is much better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.” That’s so good I’m going to repeat it, and I have that right because I’m the speaker and you’re the listener. And I speak and you listen, and I always pray to God that we’ll end at the same time. Peter Marshall said, “It is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed. It’s better to go to the mission field and die there of malaria or some other disease, and have your grave over in Timbuktu (or wherever). From the standpoint of the world we say a failure. He didn’t establish a church. He was only there 18 months, and suddenly he dies like a friend of mine who went to India as an airplane pilot and died on his first flight in India. He crashed into a mountain. He’s over there a couple of weeks and he’s already dead, and we say, “My goodness, what a waste!”
What a waste! Wait a moment, wait a moment! He was part of a cause that will ultimately succeed because someday every single person in India is either going to believe in Christ or after their death, acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. It’s better to die young in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in something that isn’t going to amount to anything in eternity. And there are many of you who are successful in things that ultimately will not matter. It will not matter! It’ll matter only now but not forever.
What am I saying, preaching on prayer? What we must do is to understand what God’s eternal purpose is. We must see with clarity the unquestioned triumph of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And now that we have seen God’s promises and His program, now we can begin to pray in faith. Now we don’t have to pray as if God is a weakling and He can’t pull it off. He tells us to preach the Gospel but not many people believe. Now we can begin to say, “Father, I thank You that Your eternal plan is on course, and I want to thank You that what is happening in the world is happening under Your direction.”
There’s a verse I was reading in the Bible yesterday which says that God possesses the nations. You say, “Well, not Iraq!” Oh really? Is that a footnote in your Bible? Does it say, “Except Iraq?” God possesses the nations. He owns them all, and everything is on course, and therefore, when we pray, we funnel our prayers into the triumph of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What is our plan then in our praying after we’ve laid hold of that promise? We begin to pray against the strongholds of Satan, because it is God’s intention to take countries that are under Satan’s authority to supplant the devil, and put Christ in authority instead in people’s hearts. That’s what God is up to. Therefore, when you and I pray for various countries of the world, what we must do is to simply take the victory of Jesus Christ, which is unquestioned, and enforce that victory, and enforce that victory for our missionaries and for the countries of the world. That’s our responsibility.
And so we pray against strongholds. If you were here last week, you know that I mentioned that every single country of the world has strongholds. There are demonic powers that are assigned in different gradations and in different orders to countries of the world and undoubtedly to cities of the world. When you get down to it, probably to apartment blocks.
There was a man who was deeply into the occult. He was gloriously converted, and because of that he had sensitivity to the spirit world. And he said that when he goes to Washington, D.C., the oppression of Satan is particularly heavy. And we can expect that because it’s a governmental capital of one of the largest and probably the most powerful nation of the world. And Satan is there making sure that he can do as much damage as he possibly can. And that’s why it isn’t enough to simply try to fight the Supreme Court through legislation. We have a spiritual battle.
I read this past week about some decisions that were made by the Supreme Court of the United States which, if effectively enforced and applied, could eradicate religious freedom in the United States. I won’t take out time to explain that today. I hope in the future to do that.
This isn’t just a battle between wits or intelligent people to see what’s going on. My dear friend, we are in a spiritual battle, so what do we do? We pray against those strongholds that exist in Japan and in Central America and in Washington, D.C., and in Turkey and in Morocco, and in all those other countries that are now lying in the lap of false religion. And we begin to pray in faith. And the reason that we have all this faith generated is because of the absolute unquestioned confidence of the triumph of the Gospel. But God is going to get glory from every single human being. Eventually the record will be set straight, and we should pray against cultural barriers and religions barriers.
Don Richardson said that at one time there was this tribe that could not memorize Scripture, no matter how much Scripture they got. He said that whenever a sermon was preached, if you asked people at the door, “What did the pastor say?” they couldn’t remember. I wonder if that happens only in uncivilized countries. I don’t know. Maybe we should test it. Maybe we should get all the elders to stand at the doors and say, “What was the sermon on?”
They couldn’t memorize Scripture. They couldn’t remember messages, and so the missionaries got together and they bound Satan and forbad him to snatch the Word of God out of people’s minds, as Jesus said he does in Luke 4, how that when the Word of God is planted he’s like a bird that comes and takes the seed. And Jesus said the bird is the devil. And people began to memorize Scripture and they began to remember messages. You see, what we need to do is to free countries and language groups up. We need to free them so that they can listen to the Word of God, and so that they can hear the Word of God.
And then, of course, what we need to do is to pray for the people of God. I don’t have time to comment on it, but Jesus said, “Pray you therefore to the lord of the harvest that he will send forth laborers in his vineyard.” We ought to pray that God will raise up many people from Moody Church to go to the remotest parts of the earth in different ways. There are all kinds of mission work these days. It’s not just simply wearing a pit helmet, living out somewhere in a thatched roof hut. But what we ought to be doing is to pray and to say, “Oh God, raise up people from all different groups and ages, and send them out.” Now we’re praying within the will of God. Jesus told us to pray that.
Now we can pray in confidence, no longer wondering, “Now, is this what God wants us to do, or is it not what he wants us to do? What is His will?” My dear friend, it’s revealed. That is His will, so we begin to get in line with the breeze and we set our sail so that we blow right along with what God is intending to do in the world. And we begin to pray for those who have gone—the customs of the countries, the climate, their health, their loneliness, their mental and emotional stability, the children of missionaries.
My dear friend, you and I have no idea what couples like the Counsleys feel. They are too modest to tell us the whole story as to what it’s like.
It’s difficult out there. It’s lonely out there. You’re misunderstood out there. You’re not appreciated out there when all the while you could be in the United States making big bucks. And that’s why we need people who are going to pray.
I know this from speaking to missionaries. If we had 20 people totally committed to praying for Brian and Carol and for other missionaries, and saying, “By God’s grace, these are the ones for whom we pray in a committed combat way, so that we’re going to pray against Satan, and we’re going to pray that the barriers will be taken down,” I want you to know it would revolutionize what our missionaries would be able to do wherever they are, because primarily, fundamentally at root it is a spiritual battle.
You know in the year 1727 a man by the name of Count Zinzendorf was in charge of a little congregation in Hernhut Germany—Saxony actually as it was called in those days. We’re talking about the year 1727, and the church was divided and there was bickering. And so Zinzendorf said, “You know, I want us to pray 24 hours a day.” So 24 people signed up for an hour so that 24 hours a day prayer was being offered to God. Then they continued to have other people participate, and the number of people that were praying per hour increased. Do you know that by 1792 (that’s about 65 years later) that little church had sent more than 300 missionaries to all different parts of the world, including the West Indies, Greenland, Turkey and all over the place?
Why do I say 65 years later? It’s because that’s the year that William Carey preached his famous sermon in England, in which he challenged the people to let him go to India. And he said, “Attempt great things for God and expect great things for God,” and evidently he was told that if God wanted to convert the heathen He could do it without him. And so we always say in the history of missions that William Carey is the founder of modern missions.
But I want you to know that William Carey used the example of the Moravians to motivate his Baptist Church, which incidentally today in London is across the street now from a huge mosque. He motivated his church to become like the Moravians.
Do you know that that prayer meeting that was begun by Count Zinzendorf evidently lasted for a hundred years? For a hundred years that little community, generation after generation, would invite people to sign up for an hour a day of prayer, particularly focused on the heathen, the text says “especially those in whom most people had no interest.” That’s the way it was phrased. And they prayed, and hundreds of missionaries went. One one day there was a Moravian meeting in London, and a man by the name of John Wesley, who had already been to the United States trying to do mission work, and not knowing that he was unconverted, went to the meeting. And in those days they didn’t always have preachers like they do today. All that the person did was read the introduction to Luther’s commentary on the book of Romans.
One day I read that introduction, and I wondered at what place John Wesley said “his heart was strangely warmed, and he was born again of the Holy Spirit listening to Luther’s introduction to the book of Romans.” But that was a Moravian meeting. Part of the overflow of what happened in that little community of Hernhut (as the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached, and prayer went on incessantly, and some of the greatest stories that missionary history endeavored are told) can be traced to that prayer meeting that lasted a hundred years.
I want you to notice God’s principle of how He wins victories. Would you turn to one more passage today? It’s the book of Leviticus. That may be a bit of an odd book. You may be surprised that I’m asking you to turn Leviticus. It’s one that we often don’t refer to. But God is talking to the Israelites about how to win a war, and that’s what we’ve been speaking about here today. And I want you to notice how God does arithmetic. He does it a little differently that most of us do with our calculators.
It says in Leviticus 26:7: “But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword. Five of you will take a hundred… (Well, I’m not very good at math but I think that that sounds to me like a ratio of one to 20. Alright? Are we agreed?) And a hundred of you will take (Wow!) ten thousand. (Well, I have to do a little bit more work on this one than the previous one, but I think it comes out to a ratio of one to a hundred. Well, that’s interesting.) And your enemies (the text says) will fall before you by the sword.”
You get one person praying and that prayer will accomplish only what one person’s prayer can accomplish, and it may be much, but not everything. You get five people praying, and suddenly more than just accomplishing five times that amount, suddenly the text is telling us twenty times that amount. And then you get a hundred people praying, and it’s not just twenty times that amount. Now it’s a hundred times that amount. That’s the way God does arithmetic.
That’s why we’re emphasizing prayer groups here. We’re emphasizing that you have a prayer partner. We call it triple cord. That’s why we have the prayer meeting on Wednesday that is now exactly focused on praying, and warfare praying. And that’s why the church is open at 7:00 o’clock Friday mornings. It’s because our great desire is to increase the number of combat prayers at Moody Church, because the text is telling us that as we increase the number of people who understand the burden of prayer, the results begin to multiply exponentially. I hope I pronounced that correctly. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in math class, but that’s exactly what God does.
You know, we look at these apartment buildings here in the area. We think of the countries of the world that we’ve already spoken about, and we say, “Oh, you know, the human heart is so hard. Oh, in Turkey there are no Christians. In Greece the church is almost ready to die. Oh, tragedy, tragedy, tragedy!” My dear friend, I hope you grasp something today of the fact that the Gospel will eventually be triumphant. Eventually every knee shall bow. Eventually there will be representatives from every family on planet earth and every language group. God is not about to lose. His purposes are on target.
But I also want you to know that the way in which God accomplishes His purpose is with a burden for people to begin to pray. Choose a couple of missionaries in a couple of countries in which they serve and say, “That is my prayer target and I am going to become that, praying for the advancement of the Gospel in the countries of the world, praying right in line with what God is going to do–right in the middle of His will.
One day a stone cutter was squatting down and taking some hard stones and chiseling them to make them fit. And the minister walked by and said, “You now, I wish it would be possible for me to chisel and mold hard human hearts just like you can mold and chisel hard stone.” The stone cutter said, “I think you can do that if you work like I do: on your knees.” Yeah!
I’m calling you in the name of Christ to pray. I plead with you. Those of you who do not know how to intercede, would you learn? Would you learn? Would you help us to teach you? Would you come to Wednesday’s prayer service? Would you use the opportunities that we’ve given, because it is prayer that will accomplish much, right in line with what God is doing?
Join me as we pray.
Our Father, today our hearts are so refreshed to know that the eventual victory of Christ is unquestioned. We thank You today that we can look to a future with apodictic certainty, knowing that in the end You will triumph, and mightily. We thank You for the countries of the world that are closed, and hearts that are closed, and we thank You only because we know that these barriers are nothing in light of Your power and Your awesome purposes. And when the time comes, every single barrier and wall is going to crumble so that You will be the undisputed ruler, honored by every tongue that You’ve created.
Thank You for those who have gone as missionaries. Thank You for those who should go as missionaries. And thank You that we have the privilege of going to India and Africa and Thailand, and all around the world, to stand alongside of missionaries, to stand with them to bear their toil and their hurts through our prayers. We thank You, Father, that we have that privilege. Help us to make the most of it. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.