Bloodhounds are amazing to watch. They are able to put a mental map together that combines their senses with the terrain. In particular, their sense of smell is so finely tuned, that they can take one sniff of a target’s clothing and match it to the faint trail left behind.
But, when that invisible trail loses clarity, the dog will zig-zag in a wider pattern before it eventually doubles-back to where it last recognized the scent. It has been trained to keep a consistent link to the trail and not wander aimlessly ahead.
It is a great lesson for Christians who strive to faithfully apply the Great Commission given by Jesus to his Church. The Bible reveals several important training tips on how to sustain the commission through all obstacles, over endless time, and with unmatched energy.
This series will focus on 6 features of the map:
Defining the Commission
Commissioning the Commission
Sustaining the Commission
Maintaining the Commission
Measuring the Commission
Culmination of Mission
Two of the greatest obstacles to living out the commission of going into all nations, sharing the gospel of Jesus, are distraction and burn-out. Doing the commission is humanly impossible. There is a limit to how far any of us can go, and that is far short of the objective.
If we are to stay on the faint trail, and not lose our heading, we need to understand how to sustain such a task no matter what we face along the way. Distractions can come at us from everywhere: entertainments, social pressures, persecution, fears, insurmountable odds, lack of immediate resources, desires to fit in, busyness, forgetting the original scent that started our mission, apparent ministerial successes, even other good works.
Trying harder, working longer, giving more, relying on our talents, and trying to do everything needed by others, will burn out a believer. If our strength and sticking-power are draining, then we may be operating too much on our own abilities, and need to shift our priorities, to spending more time focused on drawing near to God, and in delegating responsibilities to others who show themselves trustworthy. The commission requires superhuman strength and other-worldly ability, that are not self-generated. We need to find our constant support and sustenance from the Holy Spirit.
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isa 40:30-31)
Demands of the needy can consume more than we have to offer. We can only give as much grace as God has allotted to each of us. To try to do more, is to go beyond the Spirit, and attempt to minister on our own. We need to learn when to acknowledge our God-given limits, like Moses who was counseled to appoint other judges to ease his own workload. Even Peter encouraged the church to appoint deacons to help carry the ministry, so the elders could devote themselves to their primary mission that need time in prayer and preaching the word of God.
God’s grace is always sufficient to do his will, but it will never be enough to do our own will and agenda. So, one who wishes to sustain their personal efforts in the commission, will need to submit to what the Lord provides and stay focused on constant re-charging “closet time”.
A common error in promoting the Church commission is that it all starts with “Go”. That is misleading, because “to go” has a critical foundation that must remain in place if the efforts are to remain godly and on track. The go command is always presented in the context of “come”.
“‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mt 4:19)
“’Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-30)
“’Come,’ He said.” (Mt 14:29)
The commission of the Lord begins with “Come”. It also is sustained because we stay in that—we rest in him as we “go”. It is essential that a believer keeps coming and never stops coming to the Lord. The come idea is the same as “hold to my teachings” and “fix your eyes on Jesus” and “to obey everything I have commanded”. Even the call to come is framed in the pattern that God initiates everything by inviting believers to continuously draw near.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”. (Jn 6:44)
The Spirit of God guides us along as we try to sense the trail; he gives us the strength to endure beyond human limits; he gently notifies us of distractions that could knock us off course. But most importantly, it is our dwelling in the Lord—by worshiping him, immersing ourselves in his words, engaging in his church, loving others sacrificially, and striving to obey his every instruction—that allow the “come to me” to remain our divine-sense as we occasionally zig-zag about trying to stay on target.
“If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)
Going with the commission can only produce lasting fruit, if we first, and continuously, remain in the Lord. Coming and remaining are foundational for producing. This passage continues with warnings for those believers who, like Judas who heard these words, do not remain in the Lord as they go about their daily lives. Those branches get cut off and burned, not simply pruned. Fake going is very common. This cannot be emphasized enough, how important it is to rest in Jesus, remain in his will, obeying everything he commanded, in order to belong to him as we go into all the world.
All those who take part in the Great Commission should reflect upon the same question the disciples asked Jesus, “how can we know the way”? His answer directed their focus and constant reliance upon him,
“I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:6)
Unfortunately, many believers think they understand this, but the Lord doesn’t agree. You may recall Jesus’ disturbing reply, to those who preached in his name, and did amazing miracles, even casting out demons, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt 7:23) They were doing dramatic ministry that should only be possible through the Holy Spirit, but the Lord refused to accept them into his Kingdom.
The advice shared here should be carefully considered by those who are doing the Church commission and want to also belong to the Lord. Successful-looking ministry is not a guarantee of obedient “going”. Paul’s own personal reflection on this commission struggle to “save some” is insightful:
“Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor 9:26-27)
Sustaining the Church commission requires a deep and humble dependence upon the Lord and what he provides through his Spirit. It demands holding to his biblically recorded teachings as presented by those early apostles. Striving to remain submissive to his lead is critical so that we don’t run off trail.
“Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God.” (2 Jn 8-9)
This straying off course is the likely correction Jesus gives to the church located in Ephesus, as recorded in Revelation. They were doing a lot of what the Lord wanted, but they had lost their “first love” and needed to get back on track. Those who were willing to hear his rebuke, “Repent and do the things you did at first”, would be forgiven and allowed to eat from the Tree of Life.
Sometimes sustaining requires a walk of continued repentance.
There is probably one more essential “aha” about sustaining the Church commission: that of training up the next generation. Those original 11 apostles could not fulfill the commission over the next 2000 years, as we now recognize was necessary. They needed to disciple disciple-makers.
The Great Commission is a team relay. It not only requires each part to do its section, but it also requires that we replicate the effort over and over, through new believers, new styles, and new talents, and new ways. Every Christian should look to train up their own replacement, or two, or ten.
Help someone else learn how to “go into all the world” for the Lord. Share not only your faith, but your methods at trying to apply the word of God. Don’t constrain them to simply doing things your way, but show them your way. Show them, support them, train them in the commission.
Leave a legacy of faithfulness, not by putting your name on the side of a building or a bench, but by implanting your commission efforts in a fellow Christian who can and is willing to “go” for Jesus.
In this way, Jesus’ promise will stand: “and the gates of Hell will not overcome” the Church, as it spreads the commission from generation to generation into one nation after another, until the Lord returns.