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Expect great things from God: attempt great things for God

A Story from India by Paul LeFavor

    As we go forth to preach the gospel in all the world as a witness to all the nations, we will encounter not only the hatred of the world but the powers of darkness. We are at war! On our second missionary trip to India, my family and I had come to a village my pastor friend and I were led to evangelize. As soon as we arrived, my wife and I felt like we were going to die there. We had both heard the voice of the enemy, telling us to leave or we were going to be killed. As we entered the center of the village, I sensed a prevailing evil. I couldn’t miss seeing the many demonic images that stood out in front of the numerous temples we had set up right in the middle of.

     As we approached a table that had been set up for our “street evangelism,” the voice of the enemy and his evil presence grew with every step. I kept praying that God would do a mighty work there. We had prayed all day for this meeting. Earlier, God seemed so near, but once we arrived at the village, He seemed to withdrawal Himself. Then, after my pastor friend introduced my family and I, the time came for me to speak. A thin sheet was stretched behind where we sat. And as I got up, with Bible in hand, I looked back at my wife and daughters. My wife and daughters were smiling encouragingly, but I felt like any moment we would be attacked, perhaps through the sheet, and my family and I would die there in rural India, in the presence of evil.

    Then I opened my Bible, and the presence of God flooded the place where I stood. It was as though the very ground itself became like that of heaven. Then I remember saying “surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.” And with that the evil voice disappeared, and the gospel was preached in that desolate part of India, where the enemy had made quite a stronghold. We left feeling that God had accomplished a mighty breakthrough there among the people.

    Later, when we discussed the matter, everyone recounted how they had heard the evil voice and felt that perhaps we would all die there. I believe God was doing a lot that night. He was bringing a sword into the enemy’s camp to set at liberty the captives. He called men and women out of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of Christ. He also withdrew Himself from us to test us, if I would stand in the power He supplied or not, as He did to His people in the wilderness wanderings (Dt 8:2-3). God did this also to king Hezekiah as the Scripture reveals, “God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart” (2 Chron 32:31).

    We had entered the enemy’s territory fully armored, we had prayed for the success of the gospel, and God wanted us to remove any uncertainty to the fact that we conquer the enemy only in His Spirit; as the Scripture declares: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain (Zech 4:6-7). Jesus declares to us, “If you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Mt 21:21-22).

“Expect Great things from God; attempt Great Things for God.”

    Fully armed with God’s Spirit, we enter the enemy’s territory, into the very precincts of hades, pushing back darkness, liberating prisoners, to the glory of God. God says, fulfill the Great Commission, “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited” (Is 54:2-3). This was the text William Carey chose for his sermon that inspire much missionary enterprise, and gave to missions for all time the inspiring motto, “Expect great things from God: attempt great things for God.”

    William Carey, an English Baptist pastor, was appalled at the indifference the church of his day had for reaching the lost. “It is related, probably with some embellishment,” writes James Culross, “that at a meeting of ministers the elder Ryland called on the younger men around him to propose a subject for discussion at their next gathering, when Carey rose and suggested, ‘The duty of Christians to attempt the spread of the gospel among the heathen nations.’”[1] Springing to his feet, astonished and shocked, the older man ordered him to sit down, and said “Young man, when God is pleased to convert the heathen, He will do it Himself.”

    Many in the church of Carey’s day, such as hyper-Calvinists, looked on such efforts as an interference with God’s sovereignty; a ‘profane outstretching of the hand to help the ark of God.’[2] There were many objections: the means were not available; the distances too far; the dangers too great. Besides, they argued, the Great Commission was only for the first apostles. However, Carey argued the Great Commission is the command of the Risen Christ for every Christian to seek the conversion of the lost. Carey expected great things from God and attempted great things for God. He became the father of modern missions.

    Carey departed for India in 1793 with his family and a medical missionary co-worker, John Thomas. Their first year was rough. They soon ran out of funds and found themselves destitute in Calcutta. Through an acquaintance of Thomas, Carey was able to take a job managing an indigo factory near Madras, where he worked for six years. This job proved to be a godsend, as Carey was able to begin work for which he was well suited – Bible translation. However, when Thomas’ missionary zeal waned, he was left alone while he labored at translating the Bible into Bengali amidst the hostility of the British East India Company who opposed his efforts at every turn.

    When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions. And matters grew worse for the Carey’s when William’s son Peter died of dysentery and his wife Dorothy suffered a mental breakdown from which she never recovered. Later, on March 11, 1812, while Carey was in Calcutta teaching, a fire broke out in his printing room, and the building which housed Carey’s entire library, his completed Sanskrit dictionary, part of his Bengal dictionary, two grammar books, and ten translations of the Bible were lost. The fire also claimed the type sets for printing fourteen different languages. When Carey returned to Serampore and surveyed the scene, he wept and said, “In one short evening the labors of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God. I had lately brought some things to the utmost perfection of which they seemed capable, and contemplated the missionary establishment with perhaps too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low, that I may look more simply to him.”[3]

    It was another devastating blow to Carey, but with a great resiliency he wrote, “The loss is heavy, but as traveling a road the second time is usually done with greater ease than the first time, so I trust the work will lose nothing of real value. We are not discouraged; indeed the work is already begun again in every language. We are cast down but not in despair.”[4]  Carey resolved to trust the Lord for provision and within a few months he had another printing press set up. God’s providence meets our deepest needs in the wisest ways. And unbeknownst to Carey, the fire generated much support for the gospel cause in India. Funds were being raised in Britain. In fact, so much money was coming in that Andrew Fuller, a great Baptist preacher and friend of Carey’s, told his committee when he returned from a fund-raising trip, “We must stop the contributions.”[5] Additionally, the incident provoked much missionary zeal and resulted in a flood of volunteers.

    “Enlarge the place of your tent” is the command to transform the world; to fill the city of man with the living. Carey dedicated his life to spreading the gospel in India. He served the Lord there from 1793 until his death in 1834, during which time published complete Bibles or portions of the Bible in forty-four languages and dialects. The legacy of William Carey calls for us to “Expect great things from God: attempt great things for God.” The Great Commission is not yet fulfilled. Christ is calling for His church to be His saving instrument in the world. For, “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14). God is sovereign to save, the church is obligated to preach, and fallen humanity is responsible to respond.[6]

[1] Culross, William Carey, 39.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Belcher, William Carey: A Biography, 168. Carey’s printing press in Serampore was the first printing press to be established in India.

[4] Ibid, 170.

[5] Rusten, The One Year Christian History, 142-143.

[6] Shaw, Ten Great Ideas from Church History: A Decision-Maker’s Guide to Shaping Your Church, 155.