Missionaries Sacrifice a Normal Life – part 22

When I was a new missionary, I worked twelve-hour days and would come home late to have a little time to myself. I loved that time. It was only an hour or two, but it was all mine. I so looked forward to that time every day. Little by little, the work of God became more important, and I was just too tired to take that time for myself. Eventually, it was gone.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

(NIV Luke 22:42)

Jesus left it all. He left heaven and the Father to come down here to work in the dirt and dust and suffer with us. He was compelled to do it. The Father may have not wanted to send him here, much less to the cross. Jesus did not want to go to the cross, but he did because he loves us and because it was necessary to complete the mission. He did not want to do the mission, but he did it anyway. That is true love.

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull).

(NIV Matthew 27:32-33)

Missionaries go into the world, not because they want to or because they in themselves love the people or care for the lost souls. Much less do they go because they love anthropology, linguistics, or adventure. They go because the sacrificial love of Christ constrains and compels them. Not a love with warm feelings or even human compassion. I distinctly remember one day returning home late at night after discipleship. It had been a long day in cardboard shantytowns in the dust and heat. I realized that I no longer needed or looked forward to that time for myself. At that moment, the Holy Spirit spoke to me: “Now you know what real love is.” Christ’s love is sacrificial and always for the good of others.

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

(NIV John 4:34)

There were many times I’ve been walking in the mountains among unreached people groups thinking to myself, “What am I doing here? What good am I doing?” I would be walking through indigenous villages looking at the people thinking to myself, “How can anyone love these people? Who is ever going to come to these people?” These are the thoughts that go through a young missionary’s mind. The fact is that no one really wants to go to unreached peoples. This is an important concept to understand: Missionaries go because Christ pulls them along against their will. Eventually, they go along with less resistance. Remember that Jesus did not want to go to the cross.

There are many stories of grandeur that build up the motives and heart of the great missionaries, but they are just stories. You should not tell these stories to new missionary candidates. They will go for the wrong reasons. Soon, the grandeur wears off, even the human compassion wears off and we are left to sacrifice a normal life for the unreached people. The fact is that missionaries are ordinary people who went against family, friends, society, and even their churches’ and denominations’ wishes. But, most of all, they went against what they themselves wanted. They gave up what they wanted for their own lives. The reality is that most of us missionaries would rather be doing something else, but we can’t. The conviction to be on the mission field is stronger because of God’s grace and mercy in our lives. The love of Christ constrains us and makes us not think so much about what we want.

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

(NIV Romans 13:14)

Missionaries are not super heroes or special people, just ordinary people who put it out of their mind when they think about a normal life. They go because the sacrificial love of God has been put in their heart for the lost, and because going is a necessary part of the mission of Christ.

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

(NIV Luke 7:47)

If you go because you think that people will esteem you highly for being a missionary, you will be coming back soon. If you think people will praise you for being on the mission field, get ready for disappointment. They would much rather you come home and give up trying to save the world, but you can’t just go home. Your mind, body, and emotions want to, but your heart cannot. Your heart feels no pain for the lost. Your heart is not moved in the least, it is empty, and, so empty, it doesn’t think about itself anymore. This is when the love of Christ can come in. When your heart is emptied of all human love, God fills you and you get up again and keep going. You are going on sacrificial love. This is a love that goes when it doesn’t want to. This is when all glory goes to God, and you know it does because you know that it is all from Him.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

(NIV Romans 5:5)

Missionary work is not costly to our own comfort zones; it obliterates them. They no longer exist after you have been emptied and God has filled your heart over and over again. The cost is pretty much death. Well, it is death. Read the book of Romans, especially chapters six and eight. You learn to live with or without your comforts on the mission field. Mission work is pretty much complete death to us. That is the nature of being a Christian. Christ is at the center; we are not. We die and are resurrected in Christ. Think of how many times you have read Jesus telling you how to die to yourself. (John 12:24)

We cannot even be born again until we die to ourselves. You can read about many instances in history where the missionary either got saved on the mission field or had this death to self (or sanctification experience) on the mission field. I got mine walking through remote unreached people groups. Some may even go to the mission field for the wrong motives but find that, eventually, if they stick it out, God makes room in their hearts by emptying it completely of themselves. He does this in order to fill them with his love. Here is the tricky part: it is not an emotional love or a feeling of love. It is a force that moves us to action so subtly that, many times, we don’t even know that it is happening.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

(NIV 2 Corinthians 5:14)

Many Christians are so focused on receiving God’s love for themselves that they will never do anything for him. I am not sure that this kind of love they are hoping for is that God is wanting to give them. They are too busy basking in his love, singing for hours in worship services, not realizing that this is self-absorption. Others punish themselves with fasting and lengthy prayer sessions, not realizing that this too is self-abasement. It looks good to the religious, but they are all too aware of themselves and what they want or how they look.

True spirituality will compel you to go into darkness, whether you feel like it or not. But in order to take the Gospel to remote unreached peoples, we must come out of childhood and know that he loves them. The fact that he loves us is somewhat irrelevant. If that statement bothers you, maybe you are too focused on how much he loves you. He loves you OK, so get out and love others. One day, we will be in heaven and have an eternity to feel and know his love. Right now, there is a mission to finish and a world full of people who have never heard his name, much less known his love. When we are new Christians, we need to crawl up into the Father’s arms and bask in his love. We need to be healed and nurtured. But then we grow up. We have to crawl down off His throne and walk out into the mud, sickness, and poverty and take that healing and nurturing to the lost. This is when we sacrifice a “normal according to the immature worldly Christians” life.

There is a reason that the remote unreached peoples live in sickness and poverty, far from modern conveniences. They are still out of reach of the message because it requires that some Christian give up their comfort zones. It requires Christians to grow up and stop thinking about their praise and worship services and fancy preaching from the beloved pastors. There are no mega services in the unreached remote areas of the world.

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

(NIV Colossians 1:24)

Missionaries are content with what they have

Missionaries who are not content will quickly talk themselves out of being a missionary. They left the so-called normal Christian life behind and now it becomes hard. They have to become content. They will have to be content with what they have, even if it may be very little. Again, this requires going through the process of death to self. They will have to sacrifice many things they would have had living back home. Their families back home will also want them to give up being missionaries out of the selfish desire to have them close to home again. It will seem absurd to people back home that you will lack something for being a missionary. That is why modern missionaries are now required to raise $60,000 per year support so that they don’t lack anything. After all, the people back home would feel guilty that the missionary lacked anything, especially when they themselves don’t.

The plan of the devil is to convince the missionary that their personal well-being and their children’s well-being are good reasons to give up mission work altogether. One big issue is the children’s education, but what does God want? In the grand scheme of what God is doing in the world and your part in his redemptive plan, where do your personal wants and perceived deficiencies fall in his list of priorities? Where does your children’s education fall into his list of priorities? Probably pretty low. Even with what we know about the downfall of the education system worldwide, we still want it for our children. Even though we can see that it is producing more worldliness than spirituality, we still strive for our children to have it. It is harder for the missionary to give up things for their children than it is to give up things for themselves. Missionaries need to be content with what is available to their children on the mission field. It won’t be as hard for your children as it is for you. It will seem natural to them if we teach them to be content with what they have. They won’t have a hard time being content if they see us model it to them.

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

(NIV Luke 7:21-22)

Is God content with where you are? This is the real question. What did he have to sacrifice to bring salvation to the world living in sickness, poverty, and darkness? Some of you missionaries are the exceptions, and you may have sacrificed many things to be a missionary. You will be rewarded. You may even be tired but don’t become tired of doing good.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

(NIV Galatians 6:9)

Once we were at the house of some new missionaries and we began to pray for one another. One prayer I heard was “Thank you, Lord, for all your blessings; there are so many people in the world crawling through the mud looking for grains of rice.” At that time there was large-scale flooding in Pakistan and the people were so hungry they were crawling through the mud looking for grains of rice. Missionary life is just going to be hard. It is not the same as living in your own country, where you can eat the food you grew up on and where you can have all the comforts of home. So, being content is an action. You just be content. It is a state of being. You are be-ing content. You forget about you. When you look into the mirror, you don’t see you; you don’t see anything. Stop thinking so much about yourself and look to the fields that are ripe for harvest.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

(NIV Philippians 4:12)

Here is the definition of contentment: (1) Desiring no more than what one has; satisfied. (2) Ready to accept or acquiesce; willing: She was content to step down after four years as chief executive. Verb.  con·tent· To make content or satisfied: He contented himself with one piece of pie. Noun. Contentment; satisfaction.

Too often, we are more concerned with our own needs. We are focused on them rather than the needs of others. When we are obsessively focused on our needs, we cannot be content with what we have. This is the reverse of the spirit of Christ. A missionary cannot have an inward focus. The word “content,” appears only a few times in the New Testament:

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

(NIV Luke 3:14)

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

(NIV Philippians 4:11)

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

(NIV 1 Timothy 6:8)

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

(NIV Hebrews 13:5)

These concepts will help you see that the monthly support you have right now, at this moment, is enough. This is why we should not allow others to set monthly support requirements for us. Once you are on the field, focus on the field. You can focus on others or on yourself. If you intend to be a missionary, it is not about you. It is not about “your,” calling. You and your great missionary endeavor and sacrifice are not the focus here.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

(NIV Romans 12:4-6)

..if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

(NIV Romans 12:8)

Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

(NIV 1 Corinthians 10:24)

And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.

(NIV 1 Corinthians 12:28)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

(NIV Ephesians 4:29)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

(NIV Philippians 2:3)

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

(NIV Philippians 2:4)

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

(NIV Hebrews 13:16)

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

(NIV 1 Peter 4:10)

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

(NIV Matthew 6:12)

It is not about you at all. You are one cog in God’s wheel, doing what he has commanded you (and everyone else) to do. It is all about others. Those people, the remote unreached others, are the ones that you are there to minister the love of Christ to. You are taken care of. You are saved and now a child of God. God is protecting and providing for you with what he sees as necessary. Now it is time to give and do for others.

I remember when I was helping my missionary pastors write their biography. “A Nobody Going Nowhere, And Then!: The Testimony of Rev. Allen R. Ehlers” He was dictating to me and said that when he and his wife were about to go to the mission field they “decided to obey God and not to live life for themselves.” This sums up the definition of missionary. We decide to live a life God wants and not what we want for ourselves. On the way to the mission field, they stopped at a church and were offered to stay and become pastors. They moved on and resisted the temptation to take the easy way out. Not that being a pastor is easy by any means. Being a missionary is much harder I can assure you.

If you are a pastor, youth leader, church staff and are finding it all so unfulfilling, there are plenty of places where there are no pastors, youth leaders, or worship services. It will require you to give up the normal (or so they say it is normal) life. Is it so normal to live where there are churches on every corner? Is it normal to live in abundance? Is it normal to live even in a poor country where everyone has access to the Gospel, Bibles translated into their language, and endless Christian teaching? Is this so normal? Most of the world doesn’t have any of these things. They don’t know any different. What they have is normal to them. Why don’t you just to their level of normal and bring Christ to them?

I find it interesting that before Jesus told the disciples to go into all the world he rebuked them.

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

(NIV Mark 16:14-20)