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A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Philippians 1:9-11)

William Carey (1761-1834) is known as the father of modern missions. Carey was a cobbler, a shoe maker, who had a burden in his heart for the nations without Christ. He made a map of the world out of shoe leather, and would look at it, and pray for the world, as he made shoes. During those early years he also taught himself Hebrew, Italian, Dutch, and French, often reading while working on his shoes.

In 1789 Carey became the full-time pastor of a small Baptist church in Leicester. Three years later in 1792 he published his groundbreaking missionary manifesto, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.

This short book consists of five parts. The first part is a theological justification for missionary activity, arguing that the command of Jesus to make disciples of all the world (Matthew 28:18-20) remains binding on Christians. The second part outlines a history of missionary activity, beginning with the early Church and ending with David Brainerd and John Wesley. Part 3 comprises 26 pages of tables, listing area, population, and religion statistics for every country in the world. Carey had compiled these figures during his years as a schoolteacher. The fourth part answers objections to sending missionaries, such as difficulty learning the language or danger to life.

Finally, the fifth part calls for the formation of a Baptist missionary society and describes the practical means by which it could be supported. Carey’s seminal pamphlet outlines his basis for missions: Christian obligation, wise use of available resources, and accurate information. Carey later preached a pro-missionary sermon (the so-called deathless sermon), using Isaiah 54:2-3 as his text, in which he repeatedly used the epigram which has become his most famous quotation: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”

Carey finally overcame the resistance to missionary effort, and the Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen (now the Baptist Missionary Society) was founded in October 1792. A year later the Lord opened the door for Carey to go to India himself as one of the first missionaries to that country. Carey translated the Bible into 37 different Indian languages, Many of these languages had never been printed before. The Lord had gifted Carey with a great intellect but the fruitfulness of his ministry can be attributed to someone else.

Back in England, Carey had a sister who was a quadriplegic. She was unable to walk or use her hands. Every day for 50 years she prayed for her brother, and his work in India. She wrote him encouraging letters by holding a pencil in her teeth. Carey made the famous statement: “Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.”

A large part of Carey’s fruitfulness must have been the result of his sister’s faithful prayer life.

How can we learn to pray like this? A good model is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It was written by Paul while a prisoner in Rome about the year 62 AD and sent to his friends at Philippi to the church founded on his second missionary journey. You can read about it in Acts 16. One of the church members there, Epaphroditus had been sent to Rome to bring some money from the church to help Paul while in prison.

Paul’s letter therefore is something of a “missionary thank you” but it is much more than that. In his letter Paul shares the secret of Christian joy. Paul mentions joy, rejoicing and gladness 19x in four short chapters. Now the unusual thing about this letter is that from what we know of Paul’s circumstances he had no earthly reason for rejoicing at all.

He was a Roman prisoner, and he did not know whether his trial would result in an acquittal or execution. He was chained to Roman guards and denied basic freedoms. Yet in spite of his danger and discomfort, Paul overflowed with joy.

What was the secret of this joy ? We shall find that the answer lies in another word often repeated in this letter. That is the word “mind”. Paul uses the word 10x, the word “think” 5x, and “remember” once. Add those together and you have 16 references to the mind.

In other words, the secret of Christian joy is found in the way we think – our attitudes. For our outlook so very often determines our outcome. This is no shallow “self help” book that tells us to think positively, or to convince ourselves everything will turn out all right in the end. It is a short letter that explains how we can continue to experience God’s joy irrespective of our circumstances.

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

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