It Aint Over Till It’s Over
It was Yogi Berra who famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” As a baseball player and manager, he no doubt saw many great comebacks in his career. He saw teams who were ahead but eased up too early and allowed another team to overtake them. He also witnessed teams that were behind, but refused to give up and fought their way back to an unlikely victory. Likewise, Bear Bryant, the famed football coach of Alabama once said, “Don’t give up at halftime. Concentrate on winning the second half.”
I have seen runners slow down close to the finish line (thinking they had an easy win) only to be passed in the last second of the race by someone who was closing in on them. I have also seen football players who flipped the ball behind them right before they crossed the goal line, forfeiting a touchdown. They may have hustled early, but they quit too soon. Persistence doesn’t just pay off in athletics—it’s an absolutely vital trait in following and serving God.
A verse that recently spoke to my heart involves Moses’ successor. Joshua 13:1 states, “Now Joshua was old, advanced in years. And the LORD said to him: ‘You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land yet to be possessed.’” There is a natural tendency to reach a certain point in life and want to shift into neutral and simply coast based on past momentum. God, though, has a richer plan for each of us. No matter how much we feel we may have accomplished, if we are still breathing and if we listen closely, I think we will hear the Lord say, “There remains very much land yet to be possessed.”
God’s plan for Israel was not simply to get them out of Egypt, but to get them into the Promised Land. Possessing the Land was not going to be an instantaneous event resulting from a sudden burst of faith, but rather a process that took time as a result of faith, obedience, and perseverance. As a matter of fact, God referenced the progressive time element involved in Deuteronomy 7:22 when he said, “And the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you little by little; you will be unable to destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field become too numerous for you.”
The good news is that God does not ask us to accomplish everything all at once; all he asks is that we be faithful, putting one foot in front of the other. Missionary David Livingstone said, “I will go anywhere, provided it be forward,” and “I determined never to stop until I had come to the end and achieved my purpose.”
Other people also said some great things about persistence!
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
– Calvin Coolidge
“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity.”
– Louis Pasteur
“Never give in. Never, never, never, never. In nothing great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
– Winston Churchill
“Every man is enthusiastic at times. One man has enthusiasm for thirty minutes, another man has it for thirty days, but it is the man who has it for thirty years who makes a success in life.”
– Edward B. Butler
These types of Scriptures and quotes can be good reference points against which to check our hearts. How is our vision, our focus, and our stamina? Are we pressing solidly into our partnership with God and with one another? I recently came across some information that inspired me about the days we are living in and the opportunities that are ahead of us. [i]
- In 1890, Brazil had 140,000 evangelical Christians. Today, of Brazil’s 209 million people, thirty million are evangelical Christian. Missiologists project that by the year 2050, fifty-percent of their population will be evangelical Christian.
- In the late 1970s, there were only 2,000 Christians in Cambodia. Today, the number is around 150,000.
- In 1989, there were only four known Christians in Mongolia. Today there around 20,000 who meet in more than 100 churches and 500 house churches.
- The first church in Nepal began in 1959 with twenty-nine members. Today there are more than half a million believers meeting in 5,000 congregations.
- The number of Christians in Asia, broadly defined, has grown from 22 million in 1990 to over 300 million today, of whom 140 million are evangelicals.
While this expansion and growth of Christianity is encouraging, there remains much to be done! It is estimated that Europe has less than 3% evangelicals compared to 14.5% evangelicals in Latin America. Vienna has more registered prostitutes than evangelicals, and Belgium has more Muslims than Protestants. Europe needs a might move of God and a great spiritual awakening! The Joshua Project (joshuaproject.net) reports that there are 16,839 unreached people groups in the world. They define an unreached people group as having few evangelicals, few who identify as Christian, and little, if any, history of Christianity.
In some parts of the world, tremendous revival and Church growth are occurring. Other parts of the world are in great need of a great surge of vibrant evangelism and powerful discipleship. In either case, we should embrace this truth: “there remains very much land yet to be possessed.” What will it take for the Church to move forward, to advance, and fulfill its destiny? I believe there are three key elements:
We Must Re-Establish Our Sense of Mission
We are not here as mere recipients of God’s blessings; we are Christ’s ambassadors and representatives in the earth. We have been charged to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). We don’t simply have a mission from God, but we are on a mission with God. We are laborers together with God (1 Cor 3:9), and we must take our assignment seriously.
One of the stanzas in C. T. Studd’s classic poem reads:
Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
The last two lines are gripping. Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. Reminding ourselves of that regularly will keep us on target!
We Must Re-Capture Our Sense of Urgency
Powerful Christian soul-winners take seriously the imminence of the Lord’s return and the lost-ness of humanity without Christ. In reading various biographies, I’ve noticed that great soul-winners typically share a common denominator: hell is very real to them, and they are gripped with an overwhelming compassion for countless souls that are heading there.
Many Christians have backed away from having a red-hot expectation of Jesus’ return because of ill-advised predictions and erroneous date-setting by unwise individuals, but that must not deter us from being energized and motivated, “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12). Even if Jesus’ literal return is not in our lifetime, today is someone’s last day! Someone’s “age”—his or her lifetime on earth—is ending today, even if the “Church age” continues for years and years to come.
Other Christians have ceased being passionate about souls because they have so emphasized the goodness of God that they act like no one is really lost and that sin doesn’t really matter. In their mind, it’s as though Jesus doesn’t rescue from an eternity in hell; he simply improves a person’s quality of life here. If a believer today has no pressing sense of urgency about the seriousness of sin and the reality of hell, it is unlikely he will adopt Jesus’ attitude of urgency: “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).
We Must Re-Claim Our Strategy of Multiplication
I recently heard someone say that we shouldn’t simply train leaders, but we must train leaders who will train other leaders. Likewise, we shouldn’t just plant churches and schools, but we should plant churches and schools that will plant other churches and schools. Paul’s admonition to Timothy is still relevant today! “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). Jesus multiplied himself through his disciples, and we must continue that multiplication process today.
As I said at the onset of this letter, it ain’t over till it’s over. The year before us holds untold possibilities and unimaginable potential. Jesus told the church in Sardis, “I have not found your works perfect before God” (Rev 3:2). That does not need to discourage us because he is committed to perfecting the work he began in us (Phil 1:6), and he will not doubt also perfect the work he began through us.
[i] Most of this information is from The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the History of World Missions, Edited by Martin I. Klauber and Scott M. Manetsch (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008).