Visualizing the End of God's Mission
by Jeff Ritchie
In last week’s blog, The Outreach Foundation’s Executive Director Rob Weingartner gave us two fundamental truths about every single person in the world:
1. Every person we meet has been created in the image of God.
2. Jesus Christ died for that person.
To live, speak and act in the light of these foundational realities will indeed change us and impact others.
This week I would like to share another perspective-shaping principle for mission. While based in Scripture, this principle came first to me from a book I read twenty-five years ago, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Steven Covey. The book greatly influenced me then, and its enduring value is seen today in the elementary school where my grandson, Alex, studies. The goal of the school is for each student, each teacher, each one of the school staff and administration to live out each of these seven habits.
I want to focus on one of Covey’s seven habits as it helps us carry out missionary calling to be God’s witnesses. In his book it is Habit #2: “Begin with the end in mind.” Whereas Covey focuses on individuals and uses this principle to help them set up a personal mission statement, I would like to focus on the ultimate goal, the end-point of God’s mission, as the thing we want to keep in mind in this changing world. What, in fact, is the end of mission that becomes our starting point?
When I was growing up, mission for me what we did in obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ. The resurrected Lord told his followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) beginning from Jerusalem and from there to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). For me this was motivation enough to enlist in God’s service.
After almost a decade in Korea, I returned to the headquarters of my denomination as a missionary in residence. Our Global Mission staff often had discussions on mission, and one of the saints, who had grown up as the son of missionaries in China, offered another motivation for mission. He pointed us to Ephesians 1:10 where Paul speaks of God’s ultimate plan for the cosmos: “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us ... a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:8-10). Those conversations continued over a decade, and finally the Worldwide Ministries Division of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made those verses the frontispiece of their programmatic statement on global mission in the early years of the 21st century, “Gathering for God’s Future” (2003). It is still available as a PDF file from the website: www.pcusa.org.
It is hard to describe the energy that comes for the work of mission when one begins with the end in mind. In God’s future, everything in the cosmos will be gathered together under one head, the Lord Jesus Christ. To him will every knee bend and every tongue confess his lordship (Philippians 2:11). Our work, then, is to be among the gatherers. We are part of God’s harvest team, inviting people of every tribe and tongue into a relationship with God and to labor in their communities to approximate what it will be like when, at the end, all things will finally be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
To start with the end-point in mind did not change my motivation for mission in one sense: I was already committed. But it did change my enthusiasm about joining God in mission. I knew how the last page of history was going to be written! To know this engenders great faith, hope, and love.
Without knowing the end from the beginning, one may be tempted to despair, to falter before the finish. There is enough wrong with the world, enough wrong with the church, and yes, enough sin in my own life to throw up one’s hands and lament, “How can God do anything through his frail and fallible people? Are we any better off after two millennia of the church, the body of Christ?”
The answer of the scripture is unequivocal: “Yes, God is moving toward his future.” The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ as it says in a doxological passage in Revelation 11.
To aid our faith, the hymnody of the church provides us with a musical way to internalize this great truth of God’s mission. For some it may be the “Hallelujah Chorus.” For others it may be Michael W. Smith’s rendition of “Agnus Dei.” For me, one of those hymns which keeps me focused on the end-point is “This Is My Father’s World,” a hymn written in 1901 by a Presbyterian minister, Malthie D. Babcock. The last stanza reads like this:
This is my Father’s world: O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heaven be one.
(From “Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal,” #370)
Today I invite you to open a hymnbook or go to YouTube and locate a singing version of your favorite hymn or praise song that speaks to the hope that is set before us: God will be all in all. Buoyed by that hope in scripture and song, let us be about the task of sowing seeds of the kingdom, caring for tender lives who are open to the kingdom, rooting out noxious weeds – our own and others’ – that choke the fruit of the kingdom, and presenting those who are ripe and ready to join the harvest team before the One who will be all in all.
Associate Director for Mission