Christians should ask God for a sign. There are good and bad ways to do this. Many are bad.
There are few things more “churchy” on the continent of Africa than asking for a sign. The Zion Christian Church (ZCC) is Sub-SaharaN Africa’s largest African-Initiated church. They have well over 5 million members. They live and die with signs and wonders. The denomination began through signs and wonders. They continue to ask for signs.
This shouldn’t surprise us. The ZCC is a cult. The cults in Jesus’ day also pleaded for signs (Mt. 12:38). The cults in Paul’s day pleaded for signs. “The Jews demand signs” (1Cor. 1:22). Sometimes the signs people ask for are demonic (2Th. 2:9).
But there are good ways to ask for signs, too. Psalm 86:17 is a good example. Christians, especially missionaries, should pray this prayer often.
“Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.”
David asked for an obvious mark of God’s goodness. He wanted a sign, a means of proof, that God’s pleasure was upon him. David prayed for a billboard from the Almighty that would read: “I am the living God. I approve of David’s life and ministry.”
David wanted God to humiliate his enemies in a certain way. “That those who hate me may see and be put to shame.” David’s adversaries ridiculed the Lord by scorning David’s trials. They mocked God. They jeered David. They sneered at truth.
Jesus and Paul had their own share of enemies. The Jews wanted the Master dead and plotted to kill him (Mt. 26:4). Fake Christians betrayed Paul (2 Tm. 4:14). Missionaries, too, have enemies. The good ones have many. Spurgeon said that if a man has no enemies, he should be afraid that he’s not a friend of God.
If a person disagrees with or criticizes someone else’s established belief system, he should expect resistance. But consider the outsider, the missionary. He has a different skin color, a different culture and a different accent. When he tells his hosts and neighbors that what they’ve long believed is a lie, he can expect from them much more than just resistance. Expect condemnation. Expect slurs. Expect abuse. Expect slander. Expect opposition. Expect enemies.
Missionaries should pray that such enemies would be ashamed because the Lord has helped them by pouring favor upon them. There are at least two signs of God’s goodness that missionaries should pray for: signs of favor and signs of deliverance.
TWO KINDS OF GOOD SIGNS
First, there are signs of favor. A good Old Testament example is Esther receiving the golden scepter from the king (Esther 5:2). A good New Testament example is the leaders of Athens giving Paul permission to preach (Ac. 17). A good modern day example is a missionary given carte blanche to preach in the public school assemblies.
Prayers for signs of favor may look like this. “Lord, flood our Christian school with earnest students from earnest parents.” “Lord, keep our baptismal wet from frequent baptisms.” “Lord, replace the disgruntled members that have left with twice as many true believers.” “Lord, move the town counsel to seek and approve our efforts in the community.” “Lord, grant us precision in the local language, despite the ridicule from the locals.”
Second, there are signs of deliverance. A good Old Testament example is Joseph being raised into prominence (Gn. 50:20). Some good New Testament examples are the apostles set free after taking Gamaliel’s advice (Ac. 5). A good modern day example is a missionary being protected from police extortion.
Prayers for signs of deliverance may look like this. “Lord, remove the chief’s ban on our building plans in the village.” “Lord, give us the proper paperwork so that we may remain in the country.” “Lord, turn the negative words of the surrounding Muslim and Hindu adherents into foolishness.” “Lord, cause the parents’ embargo against attending church to be lifted.”
Bunyan said that you can do more than pray after you’ve prayed, but you can’t do more than pray until you’ve prayed. Do you have enemies, dear missionary? Then pray that God’s favor upon your ministry would put them to shame. Pray for signs of God’s favor and deliverance. You mustn’t always announce such prayers. Just pray. Then praise God when he answers.
Paul, thank you for the thoughtful article. I most appreciated the examples of prayers for signs of favor and prayers for deliverance. Often times we think we need a miraculous sign as confirmation, but it is rare that God does things supernatural in this age. Thank you for making this applicable for ministry. – Andrew DiDio