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The Way of Life: Experiencing the Culture of Heaven on Earth
by Bill Johnson
Learn More | Meet Bill Johnson
Thr Greatest Commission
When the dream of God becomes the most important part of our lives, a culture is formed that enhances our purpose for being. This is what brings us into our greatest possible delight.
The dream of God is to be discovered and embraced until it becomes our dream. And at least in part, that dream is that Heaven would come to earth. Sound impractical or impossible? Not to Him. It’s in His heart, and it is well within His ability to complete, even through the finite efforts of those yielded to His purposes. It is our privilege to join in this endeavor by co-laboring with Him and watch Him add His wisdom and power to our prayers that we follow with simple obedience.
Assigned by God
The Bible frequently speaks of the responsibilities given to those who follow Jesus. But there is one assignment given that is so large, so all encompassing, that every other commission aligns its purpose to the fulfillment of that one. Perhaps we could call the other assignments sub-points to one major point. Each commission is vital and important because it serves the greater purpose. And the fulfillment is the realization of God’s dream through the cooperation of those made in His image.
Our assignment as believers is a mandated focus that is to influence our relational journey with God. This becomes most evident in the discovery that our commission is to pray. And that prayer has a specific focus that is to become a vital part of our fellowship with God. Simply put, in the context of drawing near to our Father in worship and interaction, we are to lift up our voices, declaring, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10 NIV).
The assignments to evangelize, to work miracles, to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the like are all practical expressions of this one major task—God’s will fully manifest here, with Heaven as its source, model, and inspiration.
This task is not possible if we only discover the principles of God and follow them. Heaven itself thrives on the presence of God. Our commission is only possible with the increase of the overwhelming atmosphere of the glory of God that increases as we pray our assignment with faith. Those prayers must be followed with the risks necessary to display His will on earth. If there is any confusion on what that will looks like, look at how Jesus displayed the heart of His Father in His interaction with people in need, namely by eradicating disease, torment, and sin. Jesus Christ is perfect theology. And it is our privilege to illustrate the same reality that Jesus carried. Jesus declared it so when He said, “As the Father sent me, I send you” (John 20:21 MSG).
The reality of His world is so great that its effects must be anticipated in a way that can be measured. Our perception of unseen realities is powerfully influenced when we experience His presence. For this reason, He says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). What and how we see will always be influenced by what we experience.
We cannot allow ourselves to live in theory only. We do this whenever we embrace a routine of prayer without expecting an impact on the here and now. It is not wrong to look for evidence that our prayers are answered. If we become accustomed to praying prayers that aren’t answered, we tend to settle for living in the realm of theory. Many resort to pretending they are being effective in their prayer assignment, looking only to eternity to measure success. Heaven/eternity is far greater than our wildest dream. But because of that greatness, we tend to hide our unbelief there, without any expectation for breakthrough here in the present. Whenever we do this, we rob ourselves of the personal strength and joy that was intended to be our possession as the result of answers to prayer. Answered prayer is God’s design. We suffer in the long run when we expect our prayer assignment to be fulfilled in Heaven only.
The Original Commission
I love to study the commissions of God in the Scriptures. They all add something to the overall theme of the divine purpose for mankind. But it is the original commission that has really left a mark on my thinking and therefore on my approach to all the others.
- God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).
Be fruitful: lead a productive life where the fruitfulness of our labors helps to contribute to the overall wellbeing of what God has made.
Multiply: have children, who have children, who have children, all living under the beauty of His rule, illustrating the wonder of a perfect Father.
Fill the earth: spread throughout the world, bringing the influence of His Lordship through your lifestyle and service.
Subdue it: this implies there was already darkness and chaos outside of the Garden of Eden. Subdue is a military term that means to conquer. This was to be done by Adam and Eve, and their descendants, until the boundaries of the Garden of Eden covered the whole planet, placing it under the influence of God’s perfect rule through His delegated ones.
In the Disciples’ Prayer we find that God still longs for His world to influence and shape this one. Combining the “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) with “go into all the world” (see Matt. 28:19), we see that His heart has not changed regarding our assignment. In many ways, when Jesus was resurrected He brought the keys of authority that man abandoned when we obeyed the serpent rather than God. When Jesus announced that all authority was now His, He was basically saying, “Now let’s get back to plan A!”
There are several commissions given to the 12 disciples during the time Jesus walked the earth. Toward the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, they were commanded to “ heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (Matt. 10:8). And after Jesus was raised from the dead, they were told:
- Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
We could go on, but these two will work to illustrate my point. In spite of the uniqueness of their personalities, gifts, and calls, they were all given the same commission. To me that implies that the same assignment can be done differently, yet still be pleasing to the Lord. And while there are those who insist that certain parts of God’s assignment for the 12 disciples are no longer valid, i.e. spiritual gifts, it is clear that Jesus intended for these responsibilities to continue throughout the age of the Church. He told the disciples to teach their converts to do all that Jesus taught them. That must include healing the sick as well as the other assignments given in Matthew 10 and Luke 9. It is not hard to see that Jesus intended for each generation of believers to embrace the responsibility to teach the following generation to do all that Jesus taught them to do. Changing that assignment and standard was never to take place. But it did.
Like Cutting Wood
A number of years ago, I heard a pastor talk about a building project he once had to build a new sanctuary. He had such excitement for the new project, as this was to be a fulfillment of a vision for his growing church. We know that buildings are not the church; people are. Yet they can be wonderful tools that we use to facilitate the work of the ministry that ultimately impacts cities and nations.
He told us of how much he wanted to help in the actual building although he had no building skills. The contractor could see his excitement for the new project but also knew that he had no training in the skills needed for the job.
The pastor was persistent in asking if there was any work he could do. His enthusiasm over their building project finally persuaded the contractor to find something for him to do. While I admit I forgot the actual number, it was something like the following: He told the pastor that he needed 100 two-by-fours cut to eight feet in length for the next morning. This would be a great help as they would be able to get to work immediately upon arriving at the building site. The pastor was excited that he got to be involved in his own church project. So after everyone else left for the night, the pastor stayed and cut the lumber. He took the first piece of wood, measured eight feet with his tape measure, and marked it. He then carefully cut it to eight feet, exactly. Instead of using the tape to measure and cut the second piece of wood, he used the previously cut board, as he thought that would be much more efficient. He laid it on top of the uncut board, carefully drew a line where that board needed to be cut, and sawed off the part that was too long. He then took that newly cut board and placed it on top of the next piece that needed to be cut. He used this method of measuring throughout his assignment to cut 100 boards.
I’m sure you can see the problem. By using the previously cut board as the measure, the next board is marked and cut about one-eighth inch longer than the previous one. This process wouldn’t have been so bad had he only had two or three boards to cut. But when that method is used for 100 boards, you end up with the ones at the end of the pile over nine feet long.
For 2,000 years, we’ve been comparing ourselves to the previous generation, noticing only slight differences. These “one-eighth-inch changes” seem rather harmless in the moment. But in the end, we end up with something that looks little like the example Jesus gave us in the beginning. And to protect our unbelief concerning our assignment—the great commission to disciple nations, displaying the greater works—many have found the need to create watered-down doctrines that dismantle the example and commandments that Jesus gave us.
It’s crazy, but these people take it a step further by vilifying those who give themselves to rediscover the full intention of the commission that Jesus gave us all. It still amazes me to see how many fall for this deception. Instead of comparing ourselves with ourselves, we should have been using the original standard found in the life of Jesus so that the measure of God’s goodness revealed in Christ, demonstrated in purity and power, would have remained the same through the past 2,000 years. Perhaps then we can see why He intended for us to do “greater works” than He did! (See John 14:12.) We would be building upon His example for centuries with fresh courage and great faith to see what might be possible in our lifetimes. Jesus only had three and a half years to discover what the Father would do through Him. We can learn this renewed standard by following His lead through the Holy Spirit and then building upon it to be able to complete the assignment given.
Our heavenly Father is truly bringing us back to the original measurement that He might be revealed more accurately as the Father who loves well.
Every follower of Jesus is unique. Our gifts, personalities, backgrounds, and cultures all work to create a beautiful mosaic called the Church, the Body of Christ. It is interesting to note that unity is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. In fact, it is called, “the unity of the Spirit” in Ephesians 4:3. It’s His. We are called to “preserve” this unity, not create it. It already exists wherever He has influence. And if it’s not present, we’ve left His influence out of the equation. Second, it is of upmost importance to recognize that His kind of unity requires diversity. This is where individuals are valued for, and in spite of, their uniqueness. There is beauty in contrast.
This concept of unity through diversity is in opposition to the spirit of the day. There is strong political effort to erase the distinction of nations and people groups. Some call it globalization. Efforts have increased yet again to say there’s no difference between humanity and animals. The absence of a creator/designer removes the possibility of a design, which exalts the opinions of the ignorant to divine status. That same spirit is now working to erase the distinction between male and female. This effort of the enemy of our souls is to blur what God designed and has called good. God’s design is distinct and truly beautiful.
It is correct to say that individuality has merit, as God has no grandchildren. Each one must come before Him as an individual. But it is also true that there is a sameness that is equally important. We are all summoned by the Father to become like Jesus. It’s the same call.
How wonderful that the life of Jesus, so perfect and complete, is able to flow through different personalities, giving unique flavors to what others are able to taste and see. The four Gospels illustrate this point quite well. The perspectives, values, callings of each writer are seen as they illustrate what it is to follow Jesus and become like Him. For example, Luke the physician shows a compassion and care that isn’t as pronounced in Mark. The efficiency and economy of Mark’s Gospel illustrates the most bang for your buck in this life as a disciple. As such, it is often referred to as the businessman’s Gospel. You don’t find that valuable trait in Luke. Similar things could be said of each of the four Gospels, not to mention the great diversity in the writers of the epistles. God seems to love and celebrate this theme.
Each of the writers in the New Testament reveals his individuality in what he wrote. Their personalities are visible without contaminating or distorting their revelation of Jesus. I find this to be so encouraging. I tend to become the weakest in faith when I compare myself to those whose gifts are so much different from mine, excelling in ways that I’ll never be able to touch. Comparison is dangerous, and, in fact, it’s deadly.
The call of God for each believer is equally diverse. The gifts and responsibilities are vast—so vast, in fact, that it will take the entire Church working together to accomplish the assignment given to us to re-present Jesus unto the discipling of nations.
Prayer Is Assignment One
As mentioned in the beginning of the chapter, we are to pray for His will to be done here just like in Heaven. That prayer assignment wasn’t for eternity. It is for now.
Our God assignment reveals our reason for being alive. It is found in what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer. (That is not a good title for it, as in it is the confession of sin. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, had no sin. So I’ll refer to it as the Disciples’ Prayer.) The prayer goes like this:
- Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen]
Breaking it down in the following way will help to reveal the nature of our assignment.
“Our Father who is in heaven.” Calling Him our Father is an affirmation of our identity as a family of sons and daughters and His place in our lives as the Almighty One.
“Father...Hallowed be Your name.” Father is a holy and revered name of God. This is the key revelation Jesus brought to earth.
The Commissioned Prayer
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is our co-laboring assignment to reveal His heart to the nations.
Specific Application of the Commissioned Prayer“Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Answers to these requests are specific manifestations of the overall mandated prayer—“on earth as it is in heaven.” The fulfillment of each is a practical manifestation of the answer.
“For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
This prayer is an apostolic prayer. Apostle is a term used by both Greek and Roman armies to describe the leader of an entourage with the assignment to bring the culture of the conquering country to the one newly conquered. The purpose for this is fascinating. It was so that their ruler would feel as at home there as he did in his home country. Thus, we have, “as it is in heaven.”
Our prayer assignment reveals God’s overall commission and purpose for our lives. Through prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven” is to become an increasing reality. The Disciples’ Prayer is an apostolic prayer in that it results in both miracles and transformation.
It’s important to remember that He would never give us a prayer to pray that He didn’t intend to answer. He’s not a cruel taskmaster, giving us ritual and routine just to keep us busy. He is a Father. The creator God, the source of all design, is giving us direction and commands that are consistent with His divine strategy and purposes. He is the master builder, building for His intended outcome. And we get to play a part.
Because of the monumental size of the answer to this prayer, the temptation is to think this prayer is to prepare us for going to Heaven, or perhaps for the millennium. Historically, the Church tends to take the greatest promises of Scripture and put them off into a period of time for which we have no responsibility. Jesus commanded His followers to do things that they might have impact now. His assignment to His followers was always to bring transformation to their immediate surroundings. In this prayer, we see the passion of the Father revealed as He invites us into interaction, which is a co-laboring partnership. It is here that we see the outcome as the invasion of His world into ours.
Three things need to be noted about this greatest of all commissions that we might be fully prepared for what God intends to do. The first is that God wants His world, Heaven, to have overriding influence on this one. In a practical sense, we must discover what that looks like. The second is that the process for this breakthrough is prayer. Prayer followed by action is exponentially powerful. What are the actions that should follow this kind of prayer? They are the specific commands listed in the other commissions—heal the sick, evangelize the world, disciple nations, etc. The act of prayer sets the stage for victory much like walking around the walls of Jericho set the stage for the walls to fall. Their collapse made it possible for Israel to go into the city and destroy their enemy. Prayer removes the obstacle (the wall) to our victory so that our actions help facilitate the fulfillment of what was prayed for (the Kingdom to come). In the assignment to pray, we have an invitation to come into His presence with confidence and co-labor with Him to see His purposes realized and established on the earth.
Third, we are to pray His heart, His dream. The Bible is filled with such insights into what His dream looks like. One of the expressions of this dream is to see the earth filled with His glory. Picture this, and never let it go—the earth filled with the manifested presence of Jesus!
Is this an impossible dream? Yes, if it’s attempted in the strength and wisdom of man. But it’s God’s heart, revealed in Scripture. This is God’s dream. So how is this going to happen? He will bring it to pass as we co-laborer with Christ. We have the privilege of establishing a culture that attracts Heaven. In my pursuit of “on earth as it is in heaven,” I’ve embraced certain values that have become part of the culture in both our personal and church life. The aspects of the culture we are experiencing in this move of God will be addressed in each chapter of this book.
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