What is the aim of missions?

John Piper comments on Psalm 117:

“Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!” This is God’s purpose: that he be praised by all the peoples – that he be much of; that he be seen and savored and shown to be great.

MissionsMissions is a cross-cultural movement aimed at helping people stop making much of themselves and start making much of their Creator. Missions is a cross-cultural effort to transform people’s hearts so that God is felt to be more praiseworthy than sport stars or military might or artistic achievements or anything else that God has made. Missions is a cross-cultural endeavor to help people experience God as their Treasure above all earthly treasures forever. It is a life and death struggle to give people eternal life, which consists in knowing and enjoying God forever.

Missions is telling the nations to praise God and then giving them evidences that this is good to do and showing them how God has made a way for sinners to do it because of the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Missionaries don’t just say Psalm 117:1, “Praise the LORD, all nations!” They also say Psalm 147:1, “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.” We don’t just say, “Praise the true God, through his Son Jesus!” We give reasons. We explain who he is and what he is like and how he has worked in history and spoken to us in the Bible and in his Son. We give reasons for why praising God is the only safe and satisfying response to God. We make clear: Not to praise is to perish.

Let’s face a problem here. Not everyone hears Psalm 117:1 as good news. God’s command to praise God sounds really vain to lots of people. For example, Michael Prowse, writing in the London Financial Times March 31, last year said:

Worship is an aspect of religion that I always found difficult to understand. Suppose we postulate an omnipotent being who, for reasons inscrutable to us, decided to create something other than himself. Why should he . . . expect us to worship him? We didn’t ask to be created. Our lives are often troubled. We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect God would surely have no character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday? (Financial Times, March 30/March 31, 2002, p. 2.)

In other words, the only incentive that Prowse can think of for God to demand praise from us is that he has need – a defect. But what if we have the need, and the need is to see infinite beauty and enjoy it so much that is spills over in authentic praise. What if admiration really is the highest pleasure and God is the most admirable being in the universe? If that were the case, wouldn’t God’s demand that we praise him be a demand for our maximum joy. And do we not call that love? C. S. Lewis struggled with the same thing, and made the great discovery:

But the most obvious fact about praise-whether of God or any thing-strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise-lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game-praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least.…

I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. (C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1958, pp. 93-95)

The reason God seeks our praise is not because he won’t be complete until he gets it. He is seeking our praise because we won’t be happy until we give it. “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant” (Psalm 147:1). Therefore when we say that missions is the cross-cultural effort to help the peoples praise God, we mean that missions is love not arrogance.

Missions is calling the world do what they were created to do, namely, to enjoy making much of God forever. If missions does not reach a people with the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ, God will be dishonored and the people will be miserable – for ever. Therefore we are driven by two motives (which turn out to be one): the glory of God, and the good of man. They are one because praise to God is the consummation of pleasure in God.

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