“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” — Revelation 7:9-10 (NKJV)
God the Father’s vision is multitudes from every language, tribe, and nation worshipping around the heavenly throne. Christ the Son’s vision is making disciples of every nation. The Holy Spirit is the sole power source for those who catch these visions.
Does anyone catch them? Does anyone see with the eyes of God and want what he wants? The only time in history when the bride of Christ (the church) saw the world with heavenly eyes, wanted what her Master wants, and let the Spirit use her to carry out this great vision was in the first few centuries A.D. Since then, it seems that the church has done everything she can to prevent others from catching God’s vision and carrying it out.
During the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church tortured and killed many true believers in Christ. William Wycliffe, William Tyndale, and Martin Luther all fought the RCC to finish their Bible translations. George Whitefield and others fought the Anglican Church to preach the true gospel. Too often I see the church doing to true believers what the Pharisees did to Christ. They want to throw them onto the streets as though they’re dogs. Some persecution comes from unbelievers and those led by Satan. Other times, it comes from within the church.
Western churches today are filled with entertainment, hypocrisy, and selfishness. Now whole denominations are becoming heretical in doctrine and practice! I think persecuted believers are truer to the faith. But syncretism and fear are still problems. Is anyone seeing God’s great vision? Or are we too busy playing, caught up in our own little worlds to see with heavenly eyes?
I’m tired of hearing about sports in the pulpit on Sunday mornings. I’m tired of hearing about television and secular music at weekly Bible studies too. I’m really tired of seeing parties, games, and outings in church bulletins and websites. The Internet isn’t much better. Yes, I read books and watch feature films. But I try to educate myself. When they’re not at church, my other Christian friends fill their days with hours at the gym, the latest books and films (both good and bad), fancy restaurants, and sports talk. No one tries to envision what God is doing. Even worse, too many Christians embrace American concepts of beauty, the outer package. They forsake beauty of the heart, mind, and soul. Christians today dress and act like the world, sin and all.
God called an American wife and mother in this Christian wasteland to the Muslim wasteland of Yemen. He asked Audra Grace Shelby* to share Jesus Christ with Muslim women. I think God called this woman to Yemen to wake her up from her American stupor. Being a full-time mother to three small children (eventually four) is hard. But Audra was so American in her thinking that accepting the family’s call to Yemen was a struggle of obedience. So was giving God the lives of her husband and children when they became seriously ill. Having embraced American concepts of beauty, Audra also chafed against the idea of wearing female Muslim garb in public.
Audra produced great faith and prayer whenever emergencies arose. God answered each need with physical healing. Yet in the initial shock of these trials, Audra asked God, “Why?” I think she just wanted control of her life, i.e. the American version of freedom. But the venom in Audra’s thoughts and prayers whenever she questioned God frightened me. All I could think of was Thomas Paine’s “summertime soldiers.” When the going gets tough, they try to flee.
This wasn’t true of Christians in other centuries and cultures. Even American history is full of survivors. Those who fought in the American Revolution, settled the prairies, and headed west had true grit. What’s happened? American churches, malls, and workplaces today are all filled with “summertime soldiers.” Most won’t survive the suffering God has in store for them.
Why would God call anyone to Yemen? It’s a Muslim wasteland. The country is 99% Muslim, with only 4,000 Christian adherents (Roman Catholic and Protestant). More than 70% of women are illiterate. They’re kept in spiritual and intellectual darkness by their fathers, brothers, and husbands. I think most adult men are bullies because their mothers refused to discipline them as children. They’re taught to get away with torture, using pebbles as boys and deadly weapons as men. They’re not taught to respect women either – only to use their bodies to produce male offspring.
In some ways Muslim culture is similar to American (unbiblical) Christianity. Both trust in outer piety yet dress inwardly (body and soul) however they want – rather than submitting to the Holy Spirit. Gender discrimination in churches also keeps women from their divine calling.
So why did God call Audra to Yemen? He wanted her to catch his great vision: making Christian disciples on earth so that multitudes can worship around the throne in heaven. God also wanted Audra to know the pain of separation between him and unbelievers.
I prayed passionately, longing for the Tihama people to hear and know Jesus. Then, as I prayed I became suddenly overwhelmed as I saw God’s power. I saw his ability to move across Yemen as the Almighty God, pouring His love, surging forward to bring his peace and reconciliation to every man, woman, and child.
I was ecstatic. “Yes, Lord! Do it!” I cried. “Move forward!”
But then I saw God holding back. It was as if he were standing on the crest of the mountain ready but waiting. He was capable, with every resource at his command, fully able to take over the valley. But he was not moving. He was waiting.
I was confused. “Why, Lord?” I did not understand. “Why are you waiting? You desire that every one of these people be saved and come to know the truth. Your word says so (see 1 Timothy 2:4)! Why are you waiting?”
I heard the Lord’s clear answer. “I am waiting until my desire is the desire in the hearts of my people. I am waiting for my people to want what I want and to ask me for it.”
Tears misted my eyes as the picture slowly faded away. … Did God’s people desire Muslim nations to hear God’s message? … Were God’s people praying like they desired it? Were they praying like they believed God could do it? ….
“There’s a lot of work to do, Lord, but it’s not going to start in the Tihama. … Our work has got to start back home, calling your people to pray.” . . . .
I looked at my newborn son, covered by a profusion of IV lines and a jet ventilator tube. To force him out of the Persistent Fetal Circulation, he had been chemically paralyzed. Yellow mufflers covered his ears and a blue blinder hid his eyes. He was under order for minimal stimulation; no one was to touch him unnecessarily.
I tossed the snapshots on the bed. “Lord, even if I was there, I could not hold him,” I wailed. “Even if I was right there beside him, I could not cuddle him close to my heart. There’s a barrier between us!”
At that moment it was as if the fingers of God snapped in my ears. He whispered, “Yes, Audra. There are millions of babies, adult babies, teenage babies I long to hold close to my heart and tell them all that I have planned for them. But there is a barrier between us. They are separated from me by a disease called sin.”
I sat stock-still. The words I had heard made sense. In remembrance of me, heal the sick. I sat in quiet awe, pondering what I had just been shown. It was a sacred and intimate moment, a glimpse into the heart of God. . . .
I looked up at the ceiling. “He was my son, Lord!” My voice broke, remembering the pain I had suffered.
God quietly answered, “He was my Son, too.”
– Shelby, Audra Grace. Behind the Veils of Yemen: How an American Woman Risked her Life, Family, and Faith to Bring Jesus to Muslim Women. Bloomington, MN: Chosen Books, 2011. [pp 178-79, 230-31, 233]
Audra was separated from her fourth child, her newborn son, for only nine days. Thousands of parents have been separated from their prodigal teen and adult children for years. Some parents never see their children return to the faith. Are we praying?
God wants to save his children from sin and hold them close to his heart. He wants to transform whole nations so that they will worship him in truth. But most people will remain unbelievers, separated from God in hell for eternity. Are we praying?
God can transform the wilderness, the wastelands, and the deserts into roses (Isaiah 35:1). He can produce “streams in the desert” (35:6) and a “highway of holiness” there (35:8). He can open blind eyes, unstop deaf ears, make the lame “leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (35:6). God can do all this in Yemen and other Muslim nations. Are we praying?
Many Christians in the church today wonder why God isn’t “doing something” with their wayward children. They also wonder why America is rotting away. They need only to look inside. The world and self are there in greater measure than Jesus Christ. What is the desire of our hearts? Is it to see people saved and worshipping Jesus? If not, we have only ourselves to blame when unbelievers die and enter hell for eternity. Let’s stop playing and start praying.
*Her name was changed to protect her friends and an ongoing ministry in the Middle East.