What does it mean to be a missionary? The general idea of a missionary – the one that is always the first thing that pops into our heads at the mention of the word – is often times something like a saintly, glowing person with a halo. Someone with superhuman abilities to do things that “normal” people would never do. Someone who always does and says the right thing, and somehow magically always knows exactly what to do when confronted with a challenge. Someone who goes into the jungles of Africa alone and fearlessly preaches to hundreds of people who all get saved. Someone with great charisma and boldness.
If some of these things are what come to your mind when you think about what a missionary is…you might be surprised to hear what I’m about to say. But I will preface it by saying that I am comforted by these verses:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 ESV)
Serving the Lord isn’t just about going overseas to build houses, or doctor sick people, or preach to cannibal tribes. Sometimes God calls people to do these things…and that is always really amazing to see! But sometimes there’s no glorious title given, such as “So-and-So, a missionary to Such-and-Such exotic location”. Sometimes serving God and doing what He asks you to do means staying in your home country – or even your hometown! Sometimes it means just being faithful to go out to the streets of your city and tell people about Jesus. It can mean simply realizing that practically every person you see walking by you every day is lost and confused and hurting…and dying inside, because they have no hope; because they don’t know Jesus………and then committing yourself to follow the Lord’s direction to reach out to them, and to do whatever it takes to tell them about Jesus – to give them a chance at receiving new hearts and new lives. It’s not always glorious being a “missionary”. It’s not always fun. It doesn’t mean getting a great tan, or having lots of pictures in your scrapbook with little kids in rags, with dirty faces. These people need Jesus…but so does the kid walking down the street with his face glued to his gameboy. So does the girl you see sitting alone on the bench in the park just crying. So does the barista at the coffee shop, with the sad eyes and empty heart…who has tried buddhism, witchcraft, and mormonism…and who is still searching and empty…so empty, and so confused. You don’t have to raise thousands of dollars to go out for a week and do a building project in a third world country. You just have to wake up, and look around you each day – any day. You just have to see the needs of the people in your own town instead of pushing them aside, or assuming they’re “alright” (as I can often do myself, because my natural tendency is to generally just assume that everyone is doing fine). You might be their only chance to hear about Jesus, and how He can actually give them new hearts and take away their sins, and their guilt and shame and emptiness and fill them with joy. Pray for God to give you His eyes to see people…and pray for boldness…because you’ll need it.
Now, can I tell you that, despite the rosy picture people have of “missionaries”…we are not super-human. In fact…our weaknesses are perhaps MORE apparent in the heat of spiritual battle, lack of sleep, and general stress. We often have moments of intense fear and intimidation. There are many times that we know God has told us to do something, and we hesitate too long. There are many missed opportunities. Many times we know we just need to reach out and help someone…and yet, the words escape us. We get tired – very tired – and grumpy. Sometimes we say the wrong things; sometimes we say things out of our emotions (which are not always right) instead of from God’s Spirit’s guiding. We don’t always have victory over the devil’s attacks and discouragements the first time…or the second. We don’t always see fruit from our labors; there aren’t people continually repenting or lining the streets asking, “What must I do to be saved?” We don’t get lots of pats on the back or encouragement – in fact, anger and slander and lots of hurtful words are more common than I ever thought they would be. There are many times when we wish we just had a little bubble that we could pull out and hide in whenever we wanted to have some “alone” or “peace-and-quiet” time. There are lots of times when we’d like to just give up, or get a “real” job, or, at the very least, go on a month vacation. There are some people and places we come across that just downright creep us out. There are sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, discomforts galore…and lots of times – too many from me personally – that we grumble and complain instead of praising the Lord like we know we should.
Being a missionary means being “on call” for God to use you as His hands and feet whenever, wherever He wants to…and it generally goes waaaayyy outside of our comfort zones. Can I just say that again? It generally, almost always, goes waaaayyy outside of our comfort zones. God likes to use us in areas we aren’t comfortable in so that we cling to Him more tightly, and so His power is displayed in our weaknesses – not our skill and cleverness. Sometimes God will call us to do things in a way that we are particularly gifted and comfortable in. Sometimes. But more often than not, I have seen God’s call on my life and many others lead them outside of their realm of comfort and skill, leading them to lay aside their hobbies and many of the “gifts” they seem to have – the ones everyone is continually complimenting them on and marveling over – in order to just pursue reaching the lost with reckless abandon. There will be time for painting and knitting and playing instruments and doing trigonometry (if that’s something that floats your boat) in heaven. (Not that there is anything wrong with doing these things, but we can waste so much time pursing our own interests and dreams that we don’t even notice the hurting people around us. And all of these things take up so much time that they really leave very little for seeking the Lord ourselves, let alone trying to help others find Him. And I will also just add that I have had to lay aside many, many interests that I had in order to do the things God has set before me in this time – from art and playing instruments regularly, to dreams of being an archaeologist and a novel-writer.) But there is only a very short time we have on earth, and SO many hurting, lost people who are just blindly stumbling their way into hell! A missionary is simply someone who decides that time is too short to pursue things other than rescuing the lost, and who lays aside their other dreams and goals in order to seek those who are wandering, and to hold them back from the slaughterer of souls.
A missionary is not a perfect person, not always bold and outgoing (I’m really not!), not eloquent, doesn’t always have the whole Bible memorized, doesn’t always wake up like a chipmunk on coffee – wanting to go out and preach the gospel to anyone and everyone they see, and doesn’t always know the right things to say or do. A missionary is simply someone whose heart has been filled with love and concern for others, and has laid down their own lives in order to bring others into freedom through the gospel (John 15:13). And it is oh, so worth it. Every time I get to see that light in the eyes of someone who “gets it”, my heart overflows with gladness and thankfulness to the Lord for leading me in this way. It can be challenging at times – and made more so by my own weaknesses…but it is so worth it, and so sweet; there is nothing I would rather do. The fruit of living the life of a missionary is that which will last forever, instead of turning to dust like the treasure of this world; meaningless when your life is over. It is wonderful to see people raised up from their dead lives and given new hearts; filled with joy and light! It is beautiful to see those who were wandering aimlessly through life become like an unfolding flower; beautiful and fragrant. It is so special to be a part of a young child taking hold of the Good Shepherd’s hand for the first time. All this because Jesus chooses the foolish things of this world…..and that would be me. I am so grateful to be a part of His plan…and you can be too.
“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.” Proverbs 24:11
“…save others by snatching them out of the fire.” Jude 23a