10 Ways God May Be Using Islam to Mature the Church

This post is part of the Series "Introduction to the Middle East"

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The Bible predicts that the focus of the globe will shift back to the Middle East to the very location where things began. This shift is already underway. We need to recognize that the shift that his happening in the earth right now where the global influence and economic power of the west is slowly coming under threat is connected to God’s plan to transition the focus of the earth back to the Middle East.

For the last half century, the west has been the center of global affairs, but the Bible tells us this is not the way the story ends. We have to understand this so that we can recognize what is happening when our own nations decrease in power and influence otherwise we will resist it because we are not viewing modern events through a biblical lens.

We also must understand that a great global controversy is coming that will touch the entire earth and the center of the controversy will be the Middle East. We live in the first generation in history where the Middle East has become a global conflict. We have to understand this global shift, its implications, and what the Bible says about it. Through the issues of oil, terrorism, Israel, Islam, and other issues directly connected to the Middle East the Middle East now touches every part of the earth. This is not going to change, it is only going to increase.

We want to understand what the Lord is doing so that we can cooperate with it. More than understanding the geopolitical situation we need to recognize where God is at work and how we can labor with Him. We are called by God to be a people with understanding. We must understand how this applies to the church. How do we live differently? How do we prepare the people with understanding to do great exploits?

32He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. 33And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. (Daniel 11:32–33 ESV)

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit will give us insight into what is coming. This is crucial for the church because it is the revelation of the things that must come – particularly related to the rule and reign of Jesus – that breaks the fear of Islam and every other crisis in the earth. Revelation of Jesus is the ultimate answer to fear.

13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13 ESV)

All of this is so that we can engage in a missional way, and part of understanding what God is doing and engaging with Him is understanding the rise of Global Islam.

The Challenge of Global Islam

Right now the biggest question about Islam that many Christians are asking is whether it may be the beginnings of the Antichrist empire. However, there is more to understanding Islam than this. We have to recognize global Islam as a divine test being used by God to bring the church to maturity. Conversations about the end times tend to be informational only, but we need to shift end time conversations into missional conversations. How do these challenges affect how we build the church?

The Lord is going to mature His church. His church will overcome the Antichrist. As great and dreadful as Islam can appear, the Lord is going to build a church that will overcome something even more dreadful. The end time church conquers (“overcomes” – NASB, “triumphs over” – NIV) the evil one. In order to fully engage in the mission that Lord has called us to we must know that the church will overcome.

11And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:11 ESV)

To be more specific – The Lord will not release the Antichrist in the earth until the church learns how to overcome Islam. The Lord is far too kind to set into motion the final conflict in the earth before His church is prepared and the nations are warned. However, the Lord knows that we often will not prepare until we have to so He is going to use the pressure of Islam to cause us to mature and become prepared.

Principles for Interpreting the rise of Global Islam

God prepares the earth before great trouble comes. He will not allow the events of the end times to come until the earth is prepared.

14And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. 15“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), (Matthew 24:14–15 ESV)

God will bring the church to maturity.

13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:13–14 ESV)

The church will be God’s demonstration to the powers and principalities.

10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:10 ESV)

God is building a mature church who can overcome the most demonized man in history.

9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, (Revelation 7:9 ESV)

The book of Revelation tells us the church in the last days will be profound. It will be a “multitude no man can number.” This is a bold prediction of incredible revival. The book of Revelation also tells us that God will release power on the church across the nations. There is going to be great harvest across the globe. This church will resist the most demonized man in history.

The church does not simply survive the end times; the church is active in the mission of God during the end times. God is preparing a mature church that can function as the church even in the darkest hour of human history. There will be evangelism, discipleship, refugees, calamity, suffering, power, and glory.

God is Using Global Islam to Prepare the Church

God is specifically using global Islam to prepare the church to face the challenge of the end times. Regardless of whether we see the end times or not, these are challenges the church must learn to overcome in our generation. Islam is unique among world religions in being an answer to another religion. Islam is not a completely different worldview like Hinduism, it is an argument against Christianity.

There are unique challenges in Islam that are tests the church must pass. Here are a 10 challenges related to Islam that relate to the end time church:

The Spirit of Antichrist – The apostle John describes the spirit of Antichrist as the denial of the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22) and Islam represents the largest single expression of that spirit in human history.

Antichrist Figure – Muslims are slavishly devoted to Muhammed and he is an untouchable figure that can never be criticized or presented in an unfavorable light even if the criticism is true. This previews how the Antichrist present himself.

Prayer Movement – Islam is the largest prayer movement in history. Never before have 1.6 billion people been called to bow 5 times a day. Islam is also a corporate prayer movement that believes in the power of united, corporate prayer. Islam is more properly a prayer and worship movement as most of the “prayer” time is actually given to worship. It is also a Scripture based prayer movement that recites the Quran as the basis for prayer.

Devotion to the Scripture – Islam is completely devoted to a false Scripture.

Global – Islam represents a global challenge that transcends nations, ethnicities, and culture. Most Muslims do not live in the Middle East and most are not Arabs. Islam has a global reach that is unique among false religions.

Comprehensive – True Islam is not just a “religion” it is a “way of life.” Islam and Sharia law cover every area of life.

Fear and Suffering – Islam fosters a culture of fear and results in suffering for those who resist it. Right now the global church is suffering tremendously in areas where it is under Islamic rule.

Economics – Islam has a unique system of economics and banking.

Anti-Semitic – Islam is a unique denial of the election of the Jewish people and right now represents the largest anti-Semitic movement in history.

Jerusalem – Jewish possession of Jerusalem and the temple mount has caused Islam to be obsessed with the city of Jerusalem. The “liberation” of Jerusalem is the issue used to rally and unify the Muslim world.

Some could argue that these characteristics mean that Islam will become the Antichrist religion, but we must focus on how to respond to these dynamics now. The church must learn to overcome Islam as it presently exists before the Antichrist emerges. The question of how Islam relates to the end times is more than a question of who the Antichrist will be, it is recognizing how the Lord may be using Islam to prepare the church for the Antichrist. We must ask that question and we must learn to respond missionally to Islam.

Radical Islam Represents a Missional Opportunity

When we look at many of the terrorists, members of ISIS, etc. we can see that many of them were radicalized very quickly. Many of them lived either mostly secular lives or lives as very nominal Muslims not long before they were willing to blow themselves up for the sake of Islam.

To understand what is happening we have to understand that martyrdom, dying for the sake of Allah, is one of the only ways to secure salvation in Islam. One of the motivators for young terrorists is the search for redemption and salvation. The longing to have all their sins forgiven and the guarantee of salvation is so strong it motivates young men to blow themselves up, and if we don’t understand this longing for redemption we cannot truly understand what is happening.

When you look at the entire situation, you can see that radical Islamic groups are recruiting from groups of troubled young adults. These are young adults who have been rejected, are troubled, or in some cases are feeling weighed down from their sin. Most have been raised in the west but western secularism has proven bankrupt and the western pursuit of pleasure was not satisfying for them. This created a crisis where they search for:

  • A cause greater than themselves.
  • A devoted community to belong to.
  • A path of guaranteed redemption to liberate them from the guilt of their sin.
  • A cause they believe is part of “justice” for the oppressed.

The crisis that leads many to radicalization is the crisis that the gospel answers. However, without a gospel witness many turn to Islam because it is culturally familiar and they quickly become vulnerable to radicalization which calls them to a global cause, invites them into a community, and guarantees their redemption.

If we are not careful the challenge of terrorism and radical Islam can cause us to draw back from engaging certain communities with the gospel, but they are the very ones who must be reached with the gospel. Who knows how many would be terrorists could be divinely transformed by the gospel into powerful messengers? We cannot allow our fear or prejudice to prevent us from delivering the gospel to them.

Once we understand some of the factors that motivate radical Muslims, we can better understand the gospel opportunity they represent. If we do not understand the search for redemption their behavior seems strange but when we do understand it some of their behavior begins to make sense. This is also why we see situations such as the Orlando nightclub shooter who killed so many at a gay club and yet had been a practicing homosexual. In that final act, he thought he was waging war on his own sin in a warped way in a search for freedom. Because of Islam’s twisted view of jihad and martyrdom a twisted search for redemption can lead to atrocious acts that destroy many.

None of this excuses or minimizes in any way the evil of radical Islam and acts of terrorism. Nor does it mean that every radical will respond to the gospel. Many will violently oppose the gospel. However, we do want to recognize that radical Islam creates opportunities for the gospel. Some of those who are radicalized reveal a search for redemption that only the gospel can answer. We should labor to see the gospel be given to these before they are subject to radical Islam. The trauma that radical Islam and terrorism leaves in its wake can create fresh openness to the gospel. The terror of ISIS for example has created incredible carnage in the Middle East but also created unprecedented opportunities for sharing the gospel.

Going forward we are going to have to live in the tension of gospel opportunities and calamity. Our world is growing much more complex. Trouble will increase and so will the gospel. Wickedness will increase but some will also be saved. We must learn now how to preach the gospel in the midst of these kinds of challenges. We will have to learn how to live in joy and minister in the fact of fear and calamity. The mature church during the end times will face these same pressures. Even in the days of the Antichrist and global calamity, the church will still take action and preach the gospel (Daniel 11:32). Now is the time to prepare for that hour.

All of this must influence how we respond as the church to the growing Middle East refugee crisis. The refugee crisis presents unique challenges and unique opportunities and we must address it from a biblical perspective.

We have to begin the conversation with the sovereignty of God. What is God doing in the movement of millions of people across continents and borders? Yes, those movements will create challenges. It will potentially weaken nations tremendously. However, is it possible that this is the work of God? The refugee crisis is a sobering reminder that there will be dramatic shifts in the nations in the decades ahead. A few years ago no one would have imagined that masses of people would shift and that Europe could be facing an incredible demographic shift within a few decades. This is just the beginning of dramatic shifts in the nations.

As believers, we have to approach the refugee crisis from a gospel centered perspective. The reality is that is offers an incredible gospel opportunity both because there are refugees now disillusioned with Islam and open to hearing the gospel. Even refugees who are not yet ready to hear the gospel represent people that have been very difficult to reach with the gospel but are now very accessible for the gospel with virtually no risk. Sending a missionary into Syria is extremely difficult, but now there is an opportunity to share the gospel with millions of Syrians with virtually no risk.

Governments will have to make decisions on how to manage the masses of refugees, but we have to decide how to respond to those who do come. What if the first experience of refugees in the west is the Christian church showing kindness and mercy to them and welcoming them? This flesh and blood demonstration of the gospel is simply Christian and might also have a powerful effect on many who up until now have had virtually no real contact with an authentic believer. If we reject them due to fear, xenophobia we just might end up fueling radicalism and producing a fresh generation of terrorists who otherwise could have heard the gospel.

The refugee crisis requires us to keep a number of things in tension. It represents a huge missional opportunity. It is also, in many ways, a cultural threat to western nations. The plain fact is that both of these things are happening at the same time. Most refugees are families desperately looking for a safe haven and many are more disillusioned with Islam than they ever have been. There are embedded terrorists in refugee populations. However, we are called to preach the gospel without fear.

Many are driven by the fear that terrorists could be in refugee populations but the reality is, as terror attacks have shown, terrorists are already among us. The truth is that there is very little risk is ministering to refugees and most of the church in the earth already has to take risks to minister the gospel. The refugee crisis is incredible complex and creates real tensions, but those tensions are the tensions the church is going to have to operate in for the foreseeable future. They are not going to go away. There is no alternative. The calamity and disruption is only going increase in the years ahead. Now is the time to discover how to be the church in the middle of crisis, tension, and massive geopolitical shifts.

Prayer Movement

One of God’s primary tools in our generation for addressing Islam, and what will come on the earth before the Lord’s return, is the global prayer movement. God is going to use a counterfeit global prayer movement to mature the true global prayer movement. Islam has a dark power in the fact that it is a prayer and worship movement. In fact, we could say that ISIS is the fruit of a regional prayer movement. For over a thousand years there has been daily prayer in that region to a false god and ISIS reveals the nature of that false god.

There are two important things we must recognize about Islam as a prayer movement:

  • Islam is ultimately a prayer movement calling on a false god. This makes it vulnerable to a prayer movement calling upon the true God.
  • Though Islam calls for worship and prayer five times a day, Islam specifically excludes music. There is worship and there is prayer, but there is no music.

God has uniquely designed music to touch the human spirit and this is a powerful part of the global prayer and worship movement. As the church puts the singers in place to sing the Word of God and declare the beauty of Jesus it is going to open up the atmosphere particularly in Islamic countries. Muslims have experienced worship and prayer specifically without music. When Muslims encounter the song of the Lord that song is going to bypass their internal resistance, strike their hearts, and touch them with the beauty and majesty of Jesus.

For centuries songs have been suppressed and now is the time for the songs of the Lord to be sung. Prophetic singers prophesying what the Word of God says about Jesus will play a powerful role in God’s plan to redeem the Islamic world.

10Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants. (Isaiah 42:10 ESV)

God is going to use the global prayer movement to push back Islam. He is going to respond to the counterfeit of Islam with a global prayer movement that will be stunning. It will captivate the nations with the beauty of Jesus.

Conclusion

We are in the middle of a global shift back to the Middle East. Over the coming decades the Middle East will drive global events more and more. Right now the Middle East is already impacting nations but this is going to increase more and more. Scripture tells us that the focus of the earth will return back to the place where the covenants were first given and the gospel began. We are in the middle of that shift.

We must be able to understand global dynamics from the perspective of the Scripture so that we can engage in God’s purposes. In order to maximize our usefulness to the kingdom, we must have two components: We must have understanding and prophetic insight. Without this it is difficult to recognize what God is doing and know how to respond to it. As the church we must respond in a missional way to the situation. It is not enough to understand; God wants us engaged. Those with understanding in Daniel 11 are able to lead the people of God into action.

Some search for understanding but do not connect it to action. Others engage in actions, but do not have understanding. Both limit our effectiveness. Without understanding we cannot labor as we should. However, if we gain understanding without knowing how to engage we are not contributing to God’s kingdom purposes. God is using global Islam to help mature the church related to these issues.

Key to engaging God’s purposes for the Muslim world is breaking the power of fear. Fear is ultimately connected to whatever we consider to be ultimate or most powerful. Islam seeks to strike fear in the hearts of those who resist (Qu’ran 8:12) because Islam is making a statement that it is most powerful. This is why Jesus told us to fear only God.

4“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4–5 ESV)

Fear is connected to what we feel is most ultimate and most powerful. We are to be a people who only fears God because He alone is ultimate. Islam is not ultimate. This does not mean we never face fear or never experience fear, but it means we are not governed by fear. We need liberation from fear so as the world is increasingly gripped by fear we can be a people in the earth without fear because we are no longer subject to the schemes of the gods of this age.

What ultimately breaks fear off the human heart is the revelation of the majesty and glory of Jesus. This is why the book of Revelation begins with John encountering the glory of Jesus.

12Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, (Revelation 1:12–17 ESV)

Our calling is to preach the beauty and majesty of Jesus with power and anointing in order to liberate human hearts from fear so that the church can mature to overcome Islam and whatever else will come in the days ahead.

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