You've been a missionary for 5 years and you're still happy?!?!
Lately I’ve had a number of people say something like this to me: “It’s amazing to see that you’ve been here for 5 years, and you’re still happy!!” I was thankful for the encouragement, and felt kind of good about myself at first. But as I thought about it a little, I thought “Wait a second… There’s a bit of a disturbing assumption behind this observation.” Do people expect this life to be something that slowly sucks all the life and joy out of them? Do they expect to be left totally ruined and burned after about 3 or 4 years? Yikes! Why should joy after only 5 years be so surprising?
Of course, I remember my first year, which was probably maybe the most emotionally volatile and disturbing year of my life. I also know that there have been times of deep frustration and trials, and my friends have had really difficult times as well. After all, we are facing massive evil strongholds that don’t really want us to live this kind of life, so we shouldn’t be surprised at oppositions, problems, or massive bouts of temptations to despair. We also carry the death of Christ around in our bodies (2 Cor 4:10) and that’s not always a pleasant experience. But, we have Christ’s promises to be with us always, and he’s determined to keep us well. So, why should we be surprised if someone’s still happy and gung-ho after only 5 years?
It’s almost as if people expect to have a few years of stamina, but then be totally worn out and beat down by the time that runs out. It’s as if we head into things emotionally healthy and high in spirits, but then, as months and years pass in a challenging, dry, and fruitless environment, our life and energy is slowly depleted.
This picture is TOTALLY WRONG. It’s not as if once we run out of that initial 2 to 4 years of “motivational juice” we’re going to be stuck crawling along with almost zero strength and joy, working like a almost-dead phone with a dimmed screen that keeps lagging and shutting off. It’s not like we have to carry enough energy to run in some God-forsaken place for 2 or 3 years, and then we’ll be done and depressed.
This whole joy/morale thing is a DAILY TASK. We need to remember this. Christ’s joy, his peace, and rest with the Father is always there for us. We just need to make sure we are connected to him and getting it. We’re not psyching ourselves up to run a 2-year gauntlet of destruction. We’re walking with our comforter and encourager, our Father and our friend, every day. It’s not about running a few years until our strength runs out. It’s about making sure that we’re strengthened and charged in him every day, every hour.
So it looks a lot more like this:
There are difficulties, and times we feel down, or experience intense sorrow, but we always need to run to him to get re-charged. As long as we are following him and doing his work (believing and obeying him) there’s always plenty of life, love, and power to keep us going, whether we’ve been on the field for 10 days, or 10 years.
We need to make sure that we are able to rest often and re-charge, and work to help our spouses (if we have them) have time to rest and re-charge as well. In order to survive in the long haul, we have to constantly forget about our own accomplishments or work that needs to be done, and throw ourselves, like children, in Jesus’ arms.
I have learned that diligently pursuing and making this recharging happen is
just as important more important than when I’m sitting and preaching to some group of conservative guys, or doing some other important “work.”
George Mueller learned this way before any of us did. He said:
I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.
I had the priveldge of meeting someone who’s been living where I am for 38 YEARS and is quite a pleasant and joyful man. He said that one day he was at a conference with a bunch of people, and there was a new guy there who was having a really hard time with the language. The guy was pretty worn down, and he asked how long he’s been there for.
“34 years!??!” He responded in surprise, “How did you do it??”
“Well,” the older man explained, “every morning I meet with the Lord, spend time with him and read his word. If he gives me tomorrow, I’ll do the same thing.”
That’s so good. It’s not about facing year after year of toil, it’s about facing (and being filled) day after day.
This last two years I faced a couple of really, really challenging, confusing periods that almost pushed me to despair. But I learned something so precious in these times. I saw that my connection to Christ and his joy was not just something good to check-up on every once and awhile, it’s absolutely vital to our survival. In the most confusing or overwhelming times, I had to pull away and say “All right, I don’t understand, but I know I have to get my soul right and rejoicing with Jesus.” And every time I threw myself in his arms, he did exactly that for me. Learning to do this, day after day, through real, brutal emotional challenges, makes you invincible and able to run through years of ever present, and sometimes ever-increasing difficulty.
Actually, let me add another detail to that chart… notice that the difficulty doesn’t go away, but neither does our morale/joy:
Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
You make him glad with the joy of your presence. (Psalm 21)
Jesus gave us his joy, and said no one can take it away (John 16:22), not even all the enemies of God put together, or the worst of Satan’s schemes, or the strain of a long life as a missionary with all of it’s challenges.
We don’t have something like a depot of strength and morale that we can run with for a certain amount of time; we have a daily, constant decision to stay connected to the source.
Here’s our assignment for every single day that we’re on the field following Jesus:
Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all, the Lord is near. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:17-18)
Do this and you’ll end up not just surviving, not just being happy after 5, 10 years, but you’ll go from strength to strength. Your bones and your very structure will change to be able to walk through hard places and give strength and comfort to others. (Isaiah 58:11) People who are married say that their love just grows and grows and deepens and deepens as they spend years and decades with their spouse. Our relationship with Jesus as we walk with him through dry places should be the same. We’re not just trying to survive and maintain a normal level of joy or happiness. We’re actually growing in strength and peace in him, and our joy is getting richer and deeper and more and more unshakable.
Paul said it very well,
“I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” (2 Cor 7:4)