Facing a Task Unfinished by Frank Houghton, 1931. Additional lyrics Ed Cash, Keith Getty, Fionan De Barra, 2015.
Facing a task unfinished that drives us to our knees,
a need that, undiminished, rebukes our slothful ease,
we who rejoice to know you renew before your throne
the solemn pledge we owe you to go and make you known.
Observe: It’s good to refocus for a time away from our current situation back to the task that Jesus entrusted to every believer.
Jesus left us with a “Great Commission,” as we wait for his return. After his resurrection, he said to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV).
Frank Houghton, the Director of the China Inland Mission, wrote this hymn to encourage the missionaries to China during a tune of persecution. Evangelism is always a task unfinished because there are always new souls who need Christ. Because the work has eternal consequences, we joyfully preach Christ in word and deed, because we are pledged to go and make Jesus known.
Where other lords beside you hold their unhindered sway,
where forces that defied you defy you still today,
with none to heed their crying for life and love and light,
unnumbered souls are dying and pass into the night.
The Bible reveals there are forces that defy God and enslave people. Before you were saved, you were enslaved. Paul writes that each of us were once, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh. (Ephesians 2:2b–3a). People are still enslaved. Who will heed their cry for life, and love, and life? Can we sit idly and let them die and pass into an eternal night?
No! We must take up the torch that has passed to us from those who have gone before us. Some, like the missionaries to China in Houghton’s time, gave their lives to the cause. Well, guess what, fellow Christian, we have the same commission from Jesus, and, in this time when persecution is still unlawful, we proclaim the “same glad message, fired by the same ambition, the power of the Holy Spirit that works in us when we yield to his power.
Verse 4 is our prayer and our resolve.
O Father, who sustained them, O Spirit, who inspired,
Savior, whose love constrained them to toil with zeal untired,
from cowardice defend us, from lethargy awake!
Forth on your errands send us to labor for your sake.
All three persons of the Triune God are at work in and through us. The Father sustains us, the Spirit inspires, and the love of Jesus, our savior, constrains us. “Constrains” is a word that means compelled. As recipients of grace, we gladly share the gospel and look on as God redeems our loved ones and friends.
Why should we be cowards? God does the heavy lifting. All we need do is open our mouths. Awake O sleeper and depart on the errands that God has prepared for each of us from before the beginning of the world, that we might walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! (Romans 10:14–15).
May your feet be beautiful today.
Blessings, Pastor Don.