At night I often find myself singing for joy. My daughter, Lindsey Joy, frightened by the dark or a dream, will call out for me, and I will come to her room and sing for her. I will sing for Lindsey Joy. And there in the darkness, with the singing, comes peace.
These times with my daughter have helped me understand more how what we do among our churches and seminaries in the States can once again assist and strengthen the pioneering work among the unreached peoples of the world—a partnership that solidified even more for me during a trip I took to East Asia a few years ago.
Psalm 67 asks God for the praise of the nations, for the ends of the earth to come and praise the one true God. I have prayed, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,” but until one evening in Asia, I had never heard that kind of singing.
Hope in the Darkness
When a college friend of mine left for East Asia over fifteen years ago, he went to serve among a minority people who lived in and around a city surrounded by mountains. The gospel had not yet reached these people, in part, because many of them lived in villages not found on any maps and not readily accessible by any mode of transportation other than foot or bicycle.
These people dwelt in a land of deep darkness without any gospel light. So, my friend started on his bicycle, slowly, month by month, attempting to find where all these people lived. At one point, after much effort, he felt he had documented all the known villages of these people residing in the valley area in and around his city.
Days later, setting out to ride up and over one range of mountains, he discovered as he crested the ridgeline another valley spread out before him consisting of dozens of villages never before known, never before reached. Such it is with the pioneering work in East Asia. Incalculable strides made one day are dwarfed the next by the overwhelming sense of how much work remains still to be done.
“Laboring to see hope flourish means that, instead of constant introspection, we are seeking to share hope with others.”
From the mountains and into those valleys of spiritual darkness, my friend would take the good news of the Lord Jesus, what Ephesians 6:15 calls the “gospel of peace” and what we have called gospel hope—two sides of the good news coin. As Isaiah 52:7 reminds, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace.”
And as Romans 10 explains, God’s plan for reaching these people lost in spiritual darkness and unknown to mapmakers is for someone to carry it to them. Into the darkness comes peace. And that is what makes what I heard that night during our trip all the more remarkable.
In the ensuing years since he first arrived in East Asia, my friend and his co-laborers would painstakingly document, map, befriend, learn the language, and share the gospel with the people in the undocumented villages. Today there is a handful of churches among the three hundred thousand-plus people.
When I was visiting there, I joined some of these believers for their weekly gathering to hear from God’s Word, and I listened to them pray. To see them meet in secret, care for one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, and treasure their time together was immensely encouraging and humbling. I was seeing the flourishing of hope in a way I had never before seen or heard—for Jesus is the hope of the nations (Rom. 15:12).
Flourishing Hope Inspires Songs of Praise
As evidenced in the lives of these reached, hope flourishes when it is employed in the service of others. C. S. Lewis understood this when, in his autobiography, he said, “You cannot hope and also think about hoping at the same moment.” What he meant was when our thoughts and affections are truly focused on another, there is no room for self.
In Mere Christianity, Lewis says something similar of humility. The truly humble man, he says, “will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” Laboring to see hope flourish means that, instead of constant introspection, we are seeking to share hope with others.
This is not to say that a perspective of flourishing hope means we abandon all ambition regarding ourselves. Yes, Paul instructed us in Romans 12:3 not to think too highly of ourselves, but it also says to think of ourselves, and that with “sober judgment.” In Philippians 2:4 he understood that we will, by necessity, look after our own interests, but prioritizes the interests of others. This kind of balanced godly ambition, leveraged for the flourishing of hope, is a powerful thing in a cynical age.
Of all that I witnessed as I gathered with that church in East Asia, it was the singing that still echoes in my ears. This was not just any singing; this was praise arising from a people previously unreached with the gospel. These were songs of gladness despite real danger and hardship. I had prayed that God would let peoples like this one find the true peace that only the blood of Christ can provide. Many times I had read Psalm 67 and prayed, but that night was the first time I ever heard a recently unreached people singing with such joy.
At the conclusion of the meeting of this house church, one of the members recounted the marvels of how my friend was the first to bring the gospel to their village. Yet, she recognized that the work had only just begun. They had one church, yes, but they did not want to stop until every village has a church, until all have heard. Imagine in that place of darkness hundreds of churches joining that one church in singing for joy and heralding the gospel of peace.
By the grace of God working through local churches, nations of people who have never heard are now hearing. Peoples who have never praised are now singing for joy. Much work remains to be done, and now more than ever do Christians with godly, other-centered ambition need to support this task. We too can sing for joy in the night. For in the darkness, peace is coming, and hope is flourishing.
Jason G. Duesing serves in academic leadership at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. This is an adapted excerpt from his book Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism and is republished here with permission.