When reading through the Psalms, it becomes obvious that there is an inextricable link between music and missions. The Psalms are a collection of God-breathed songs. And these divinely inspired musical pieces are filled with lyrics that express through the songwriter God’s desire to be known and worshiped among all the nations in the world. Therefore, God Himself has created music as a way to mobilize His people to engage in worldwide missions.
Missions is not a topic that suddenly appeared on the lips of Jesus when He gave the Great Commission before ascending back to heaven. Missions is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. Evidence for this is abundant in the book of Psalms, which contains many songs about missions. One of those psalms, Psalm 96 is saturated with missions. We are going to consider four truths from this psalm that help us understand missions and its relevance to our life. We are going to see the essence of missions, the task of missions, the participants in missions, and the strategy for missions. My prayer is that God will use this message to stir more members of His church to say “Yes, Lord” when it comes to getting personally involved in impacting the nations with the Gospel.
I. The essence of missions is worshipers gathering global worshipers.
A Notice how this psalm is filled with worship to God (96:1-2a, 4, 7-9)
B. This psalm gives a picture of people so enthralled with the true God that they want the whole world to worship Him (vv. 1 & 9 “all the earth”). The essence of missions is worshipers moving out to gather more worshipers until the whole earth is filled with worshipers of the one, true, living God.
C. Let the Nations Be Glad authored by Pastor John Piper is one of those “Ah-ha” books that opened my eyes to the connection between worship and missions. Listen to what was for me the worldview-shifting words of Piper in the opening paragraphs of his book.
“Missions begins and ends with worship. … [It begins with worship] because when the flame of worship burns with the heat of God’s true worth, the light of missions will shine to the darkest peoples on earth. [It ends in worship because] in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory.”
D. True worshipers in this age aren’t content with just enjoying God for themselves or enjoying God with others who are nearby. Worshipers in this age are so captivated by God and so delighted in Him that they also want to bring the whole earth into the “white-hot enjoyment of God.”
1. A worshiper is like a man dying of thirst in the desert. He finds a spring of fresh, cool, clean water. He drinks and his thirst is quenched and he is saved from death. Then he recalls others he saw in the desert who were also dying of thirst. In his joy over finding water, he heads back into the scorching sands to invite others to come and drink and be saved and be satisfied. He hears that there are others without water in the farthest reaches of the desert. So he is ready to go himself or to send others who have received the water so that those dying of thirst in the ends of the desert can have the life-giving water also. .
2. You see, beloved, the zeal of our worship is not measured merely in how loud we sing. It is measured by how large our heart is for the nations and our passion to make Christ known both across the street and across the seas. If we are true worshipers, we will give ourselves to gathering global worshipers. This is the essence of missions.
II. The task of missions is declaring the Lord’s glory.
A. Missions involves a declaration, a making known of the Lord’s glory. In missions we are declaring how great and how good and how gracious and how compassionate and how patient and how forgiving and how just God is. We are able to declare it because we have experienced His salvation for ourselves. We know the joy of being forgiven and cleansed and redeemed. We have seen Him do marvelous works in our own lives by transforming us and answering prayer. So, having seen His glory, we can declare to others, “There is no God like Him.”
B. There are two primary ways we declare His glory.
1. Declare Him with a lifestyle of worship (96:8-9)
a. “Bring an offering.” Uh-oh. Now we see that worship goes beyond singing. It gets very personal because God is messing with our “stuff.” Worship is going to affect our possessions and our bank accounts. But, if we are true worshipers we will welcome this because God is the Owner and Provider of all we have. We will be eager to give a portion of our income as a way to acknowledge God’s Lordship over everything we possess. And when we bring our offering and place it in the plate, we are worshiping God because we are declaring with our actions that He is the Master over us and all we have.
b. “Come into his courts.” This is a picture of coming into God’s presence to spend time with Him in personal worship. We come into His courts to commune with Him, to behold Him, to hear from Him and to speak with Him. As we hear from him in the Scriptures and speak to Him in prayer, we are worshiping Him. In my own life, I seek to start every day by coming into His courts. It is a fitting way to honor Him and to set the tone for being a worshiper throughout my day. It is also a way of showing that apart from Him I can do nothing and that I need Him if I’m going to make it through the day.
c. “Worship the Lord in holy attire.” This involves recognizing that God is holy and to walk with Him we must be dressed in holiness. The emphasis is not on our clothes, but our character. He calls us to a lifestyle of holiness. One of the main themes for God’s people carried over from the OT to the NT is, “Be holy for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev 19:2, 1 Peter 1:16). With all the emphasis today on the gifts of the Spirit, we must remember the main title given to the Spirit: He is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the hearts of God’s people, He is there to produce holiness in our lives. Someone who speaks in tongues on Sundays then cusses like a sailor on Mondays is not filled with the Holy Spirit. Someone who sings “I love you Lord” on Sundays, then is lusting over internet pornography on Tuesdays is not filled with the Holy Spirit. Someone who prophesies to the congregation on Sunday mornings, then gossips on the phone to a member of the congregation on Sunday evenings is not filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit produces a lifestyle of holiness that declares the Holy Lord of glory is living in our lives.
2. Declare Him with lips of witness (96:2b, 3, 10)
A lifestyle of worship alone is inadequate for declaring the Lord’s glory. There must also be the announcement of the message for people to be saved. Yes, missions includes demonstrating the gospel with a holy life and acts of compassion. It is good to go on short-term trips that involve building houses to provide shelter and drilling wells to provide clean water. But, we must also tell people how to have an eternal home and how to have living water. They must hear the good news that Christ died for their sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead the third day. They need to hear the good news that salvation is a free gift, received through faith alone in Christ alone. Otherwise, we may give them a roof over their head, but not a shelter them from the wrath to come. Water-borne diseases may be dramatically reduced, but they will still be unclean and will perish from the deadlier disease of sin. If we are going to be faithful declarers of God’s glory we must open our mouths and tell the glorious gospel.
III. The participants in missions are all worshipers of the LORD.
A. All those who worship are to participate in declaring God’s glory to the world. God wants all of His people to participate in missions. Participation in missions is not reserved for a handful of evangelistic extremists in the church. Nor is participation in missions relegated to churches in economically wealthy countries. All of God’s people in every nation are to be on mission with God in the world.
B. About four years ago, Operation Mobilization (OM) began to work with some pastors in southern Mozambique. Located in southeast Africa, Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world. These Mozambican pastors had a hard time believing a certain portion of the Bible. They had a hard time believing that the command of Jesus to go and make disciples among all the nations was for them. Like most African Christians, these African pastors believed that only white-skinned people were called to send out missionaries to other people groups. But, after two years of OM discipling and working with these Mozambican pastors, they became convinced that the Great Commission was for dark-skinned Africans as well. So, they began to send workers from their churches to the OM training base to be trained as missionaries to other people groups.
The OM missionary training base in Mozambique sent a team of African missionary trainees to a Muslim village in the north of their country. The missionary team settled down, began to live in the village, and preach the gospel.
Then one day the village imam approached the team. The imam is the spiritual leader of the local mosque. He is the one who leads the prayers in the mosque. Expecting to be chastised by the imam, the missionary team was completely caught off guard when the imam told them, “We have an old god. I think you have a new God. I want you to teach about this new God in our village. The older ones won’t accept your teachings, so go to the people under 40 years old. These younger ones will be more receptive. They need to hear about this new God.”
But, that was not all the imam said. The imam then asked them to take a very intelligent young man of the village with them and, “put everything that is in you into him.”
The team readily complied with the imam’s instructions. They took the young man with them to the OM missionary training school. Within two weeks, the man came to faith in Christ. When he completed the training, he returned to the Muslim village. His life was so radically transformed that the imam sent two more Muslim men to the team for training. These two men were sent to the training school and also came to Christ. They have since returned to the village as changed men. Guess what happened next? The imam has now sent two more young men from his village to learn about the new God.
These Mozambican churches are having the joy of joining with God to reach the nations.
C. Every one of God’s people in each church are called to participate in missions. And the same is true for every church in every nation, including those nations that have historically been known as “receiving nations.” God wants to turn the receiving nations into going nations.
D. Every worshiper can have a part in going to the nations by being either a “goer” or sender.
1. God calls some to leave their homeland and go live in a distant geographical location to bring the gospel of Christ to those in another culture who haven’t heard. God may call some of you here today to be one of these cross-cultural “goers.”
2. You can also be a “goer” by going on a short term trip. Jesus used short-term trips to give His disciples a vision of what God wanted to do in each nation of the world and to prepare them for long-term ministry. Going on a short term trip is a strategic way to have your vision of God and the world enlarged. And you can make a significant impact on the field in which you serve, though there for only a short time.
3. Now, if God doesn’t call you to be a short-term or long-term “goer,” you can participate by being a “sender.” You can send by giving so others can go. And you can send by praying for those who go. When you give and pray, you are a partner with those who go. And as their sending partner, you will be participating with the “goers” in declaring Christ among the nations.
IV. The strategy for missions is reaching nations. (96:1, 3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13).
A. God’s strategy for reaching the world is to reach every nation in the world. To understand the strategy, we need to understand what the Bible means when it speaks of “nations.”
1. A NT equivalent to Psalm 96’s emphasis on reaching the nations is Matthew 28:19. Jesus commanded His people to “go and make disciples among all the nations.” The Greek word for “nations” is ethne. What English word do we get from this Greek word ethne?
2. We can think of “nations” as ethnic groups, groups of people related to one another by their own language and culture. This aspect of a “nation” is used frequently when speaking of Native Americans. Not all Native Americans are the same. They are distinguished from each other by “nations”: the Cherokee nation, the Arapaho nation, the Sioux nation, the Seminole nation. These are distinct groups of people, distinguished from each other by their own language and culture.
B. How many nations, Biblically speaking, are in the world today? Some missions experts say as many as 26,000 nations. Half of them are nations where the gospel is accessible and has taken root in the nation. This leaves about 13,000 nations that are unreached, i.e. they have little or no access to the gospel. These 13,000 unreached nations make up about 1.6 billion people, approximately one fourth of the world’s population.
C. For instance, take the country of Chad in north central Africa. Chad has a population of 10 million people. But, in the biblical sense of the word, Chad is not one nation. It is one country that has 180 different “nations.
1. One of those “nations” is the Mimi people. This entire people group consists of about 70,000 people. In my research on this “nation”, here is what I discovered. They are 100% Muslim. There are no known Christians among them and no churches among them. There are no Scriptures available in their language; no Jesus film available in their language; no radio broadcast available in their language.
2. As I pondered these facts, it came to me that this means for the Mimi people, Hope is not available. Salvation is not available. Forgiveness of sins is not available. Living water is not available.
3. But somehow at sometime using someone, God is going to bring the message of salvation and hope in Christ to the Mimi people. And many will hear and believe. I know this because I’ve read the end of the story. Here is how it turns out, as described by the apostle John in Revelation 7:9-10: “I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” There is coming a day when a sizable number from the Mimi nation will be worshipers of Jesus. There is coming a day when multitudes from all 26,000 nations will be worshipers of Jesus. And in that day the desire for global worship expressed in Psalm 96 will be fulfilled.
Until that day, God gives us the joy and privilege of singing and proclaiming and telling so that God’s goal of being worshiped by every nation and tribe and language group will be reached. Will you let your passion to worship God overflow in gathering worshipers from among all the nations?
If you are a worshiper, God wants you to be on mission with Him in the world. There are various ways in which you can personally participate. He may want you to go by embarking on either a long-term or a short-term mission. He may want you to send by giving and praying so others can go. Will you ask your Lord how He wants you to personally participate in sounding out His salvation to the nations? Then, whatever He says to you, do it!
Notes & Quotes
“Next time you hear the phrase “music is a universal language,” do the world a favor and speak up! Point out that music systems, more than any verbal language, are culture specific and must be learned to be understood. Music, although universally found in every culture, is not a universal language!”
– Robin Harris, Executive Director ICE (International Council of Ethnodoxologists)
“To put it bluntly, God has no favorite songs or favorite styles! Rather, He rejoices in an infinite variety of worship expressions from His people (evident around the world, as well as down through the centuries), when lifted up with an attitude of thanksgiving and in dependence upon His Spirit. Let’s not try to limit God or impose our own narrow tastes upon Him.”
– Ron Man, Pastor of Worship/Missionary in Residence, The First Evangelical Church, Memphis, TN
“Praise his name, we are called to doxological evangelism: Salvation is of the Lord! Let that song die and we have nothing to sing to the nations… But when the people of God sing his praises, then the nations listen.”
– Edmund Clowney, Urbana Conference 1976
“The crescendo is building, the tempo quickening, moving steadily toward that exhilarating moment when all redeemed humanity join the millions of angels expressing their devotion to the triune God in His glory. It will involve the vast mosaic of all redeemed peoples using all their redeemed artistic expressions in an unending symphony declaring glory through eternity.”
– Frank Fortunato, Director, OM Heart Sounds International
Window on the World
Heart Music Sparks Church Growth
For 20 years the Vagla people in Ghana had had the New Testament in their own language. They also had pastors from their own tribe. But their worship music was borrowed from other cultures. Few Vagla could read, and their churches grew very slowly.
In 1997, ethnomusicologist Paul Neeley co-led a workshop to help Vagla Christians develop their own Scripture songs. One of the literate people read a Bible passage. Neeley recalls that the gathered men and women “waited expectantly,” till an old woman began “hesitantly…but with growing confidence” to sing the words she’d just heard. She sang, “He who is carrying a heavy load and is getting tired, bring it to Jesus.” Within minutes, people were on their feet—improvising choruses, shaking gourd rattles, beating drums, and dancing in circles.
Song after new song poured out under starlight. An ensemble of men playing antelope horns put John 3:16 to music. Neeley says that to him it sounded like a traffic jam but to the Vagla people, it was “one of the sweetest sounds on earth.”
Paul and his colleagues improvised a studio and recorded two hour-long cassettes of Vagla Scripture and songs. Singing and dancing Scripture in their own cultural forms encouraged church growth and literacy, because people wanted to learn to read the book that sparked their new music.
(From “Ethnodoxology: Calling all peoples to worship in their heart language” first published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, www.calvin.edu/worship.)
Heart Sounds International , (http://heart-sounds.org )
A ministry of OM, Heart Sounds promotes indigenous worship through seminars, songwriting events, and recording of non-Western worship mostly in the restricted parts of the world. Heart Sounds is directed by Frank Fortunato (quoted above).
Ron Man (quoted above) recommends a variety of resources and ideas that can help church leaders and congregations grow in their understanding and appreciation of the link between missions and music (http://worr.org/WRI/WORLDWIDE_WORSHIP.html). Here are some of Ron’s suggested resources and ideas.
Suggestions on how a U. S. church can expose its congregation to the diversity of music within the global body of Christ.
- Visit an ethnic congregation in your area.
- Host a joint service with an ethnic church in your area.
- Swap choirs or worship teams with that church for one Sunday.
- Learn songs from nations where your church has missionaries serving.
- Let ethnic members in your church teach songs from their tradition to the church, the choir, or the worship team.
(www.worldofworship.org/) This group, founded at the first Global Consultation on Music in Missions in 2003, seeks to network and link those who are seeking to foster the development of culturally appropriate Christian worship.
Video: “Arts Consultant: Understanding Local Arts.” (www.sil.org/arts/artsconsultantvideo.htm) This excellent production by SIL International/Wycliffe shows the depth and expertise that goes into the work of helping people groups to examine and develop their indigenous forms of cultural and worship expressions.