Language learning and living water

Learning a language is kind of like un-blocking a river. You remove bits of mud, take out stones, and pull away logs that would be obstructing (or diverting) the flow of the river.

Sometimes it’s a tough and tedious process, and sometimes it might feel like you’re not really getting anywhere.

But the pressure of the river is always ardently surging forward. At first it’s an ever increasing trickle. Then it turns into a firmer flow that tugs at your ankles, and then finally it lets loose into a constant rushing current that carries you away.

The pressure of the river makes the un-blocking easier.

For some, this river (this motivation) might be the desire to talk to some people or some special someone. For others it might be a desire to make money, or to get ahead in the world.

But for us, this current, this forward-propelling, obstacle-removing force, is the very living waters of life springing up from within us. We long to talk to people and pass on the good news. We bubble with excitement when we start to be able to have little conversations with these people that God loves. And we’re propelled forward by his desire to be able to speak and get the gospel in every last corner of the earth.

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’“(John 7:38)

If we can just take the time to remove the obstacles (the language we don’t know), then this living water can naturally flow forward and spill out onto very, very thirsty, dry ground.

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Come on, let's be realistic...

Some people are afraid of becoming a missionary because they’re worried that things might not pan out, or they’ll be stuck without a way to earn money later, or they’ll have nothing to ‘fall back on’ years from now.

The logic is simple: If this doesn’t work out, or when I’m done doing this, I’ll be snookered for life.

Riiight… Let’s think about how reasonable of a thought that is for a second:

The God of the universe has been longing for all eternity to fill the earth with his Good News and glory. He’s been aching for all the poor lost souls trapped in darkness. If there’s one task he’s determined to get done before the end of the world, it’s to have the good news of Jesus spread everywhere.

Now you’re thinking of letting go of your other plans and devoting yourself to this task.

Do you think that God would just leave you–one of his precious workers–high and dry? Do you think he would just schluff you off and leave you to figure out your failed life on your own?!

Come on, let’s be realistic.

We need to remember:

  1. God is a very good, loving Father.
  2. God is super eager to strongly back anyone devoted to what he is passionate about.

Look at how he filled Moses’ life with miracles, provision, and rumbling fire. And our job is more glorious than even his!

“If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!” (2 Cor 3:9)

So maybe you’re thinking of prying your hands of your current pursuits and ruining your life to go carry the Good News to the darkest places on earth. I’m pretty sure God is infinately stoked about that and he’ll take very good care of you.

Trust him, you’ll be just fine.

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Missions is learning...

Moving to some unreached place and doing this thing we call ‘missions’ means:

  • learning to listen, speak, and communicate in a now language and culture

  • learning how to exist, live, and thrive in a place that you don’t normally belong

  • learning to look with hope and faith into circumstances that seem impossible

  • learning to follow Christ’s instincts, inclinations, and instructions among scores of lost sheep

  • learning to show love and respect in a new culture

  • learning fascinating aspects and stories of very different people

  • learning the depths of God’s faithfulness as you watch him take care of things and solve problems and open doors

  • learning to draw near to Jesus in challenging circumstances and find comfort and strength from Him

  • learning to enjoy Christ’s friendship when there might not be too many other friends around

  • learning to share his heart and his concerns

  • learning to dream and long for the things that God longs for, and then to stake your life and years on them

  • learning to freely, naturally, and openly confess Christ in front of all kinds of different people

  • learning to do new things and find new joys

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Learning a language is like working for Rachel

Learning a new language to bring the gospel to a new people is a little bit like Jacob working to marry Rachel.

It can seem so long, so trying, and even counter-productive or irresponsible.

I mean after all, Jacob was just hidden away, toiling for 7 years, and then 7 more, just to get some girl!? Wasn’t there something more productive he could have done with his time? Or couldn’t he have found someone else and gotten married sooner?

In the same way, there are so many other good, productive things that could be done by a young servant trying to break into the language of some far-away people. Spending 2 years doing that means 2 years not doing some other great thing. And the language learning process can be so trying, frustrating, and even humiliating.

But like Jacob, the cross-cultural messenger is driven by a love and passion that makes the months and years melt away. He’s working for a beautiful bride. And so he’s determined to turn away from other opportunities, to bunker down, and to put in the necessary labor.

It’s not a waste of time, and it is worth the best of our years.

We’re not actually marrying the bride we’re working for, but we do get to share in our master’s joy as a friend of the bridegroom. And somehow, that makes it all worth it.

Plus… there’s all kinds of joy in the labour itself.

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The Joy of Living for Something Impossible

There’s something so wonderful about being in a place you don’t naturally belong, and being given a task that’s not naturally feasible or even possible.

Your confidence in your natural self is completely eroded, and along with that any human anxiety or pride also seems to shrivel up and vanish.

In these situations, you don’t have to much of yourself to worry about. All you have are the promises of God, and the anticipation and excitement knowing that he is going to do what he’s been aching for so long to do.

“Somehow, he’s going to glorify Jesus in this place. And somehow, he’s calling me to be a part of that.”

This week, I felt this mixture of joy, anticipation, and unshakeable peace as I hurtled down a busy street, the wind blowing through the back of the little rickshaw I was riding in this new city that the Father has called me to.

I could have been unnerved by the fact that my driver kept looking backwards at me as he tried to teach me some more language while navigating the crazy traffic. I could have been worried about the fact that someone could mug me at the next stoplight, but I wasn’t. It was all just so right, and I was so inexplicably happy.

It feels sooo good to lean on our Father in places where we shouldn’t normally be able to live.

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (Isaiah 40:11)

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The crucial task of seed sowing

At the core of the spread of the gospel is one very simple action: one person telling another, in very simple terms, the truth about God and Jesus.

Yet this very crucial activity is also the most easily forgotten.

It can get buried under a number of other important things or tasks, or obscured by a grand vision of the latest missions strategy. It can even disappear in a wash of discussion and excitement about ‘movements’, ‘ministries’ or ‘church-planting.’

Many are excited about seeing and being involved in big picture things, and wonderful moves of God. Many speculate and plan out how things will work strategically, and cast grand visions in theory.

But who is actually taking the time and faith to sit with someone and tell them about Jesus? Who is taking the time to learn the language needed to talk to an unreached person? Who will wrestle in prayer for an open door to speak the gospel?

It seems like such a trivial activity, so basic, and sometimes so painstaking.

But the seed of these massive trees and endless forests are very unassuming, hidden, and not very glamorous. They’re just little, simple seeds.

It’s the gospel that saves people, and not our ideas.

The Enemy will do anything he can, even fill our lives with exciting ministry activity and pressing responsibilities, to keep us away from that crucial little activity of seed sowing.

Getting to just one little conversation about Jesus is often a battle of faith, and takes intense prayer. But it’s so worth it. In fact, simply talking about Jesus with people who don’t know him is worth young people’s best years. He is worthy of them giving the prime of their youth, the brightest parts of their heart, mind, and soul, just to tell a few people about him.

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house of brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age the come eternal life. But many who ore first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29)

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Why more girls than guys in missions?

Why are there often far more single girls than single guys in missions?

Why are single girls often the first ones running into the darkest, most dangerous places?

It seems like an age old question…

Why was it a woman who dumped her life savings of perfume on Jesus’ feet?

Why was it the women who were the first to get to the tomb, and the first to believe the resurrection?

Why was it women that followed Jesus and the disciples, without any titles or fanfare, helping them and supporting them out of their own means?

So today, why is there a disproportionately small number of guys involved in missions?

Is it because guys are more pre-occupied with their own accomplishments and effectiveness, while girls are more ready to simply give themselves freely?

Is it because guys are more obsessed with lining up a solid career, whereas girls feel they can trust Christ, their husband, to provide?

Is it because guys are actually afraid?

Is it because more guys are stuck in sin?

Is it because guys have worked strengthened their bodies and bank accounts, but haven’t strengthened their hearts in prayer?

Whatever it is, it ain’t right.

Come on guys, let’s go. Brothers, let’s follow the examples of our sisters.

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No churches to confiscate...

Walter J. Ciszek describes how groups of Christians survived and flourished under Soviet persecution. His words provide a beautiful picture about how flexible, life-giving, and destructible the church can be when it keeps things simple.


“There were other religious sects in Siberia, as throughout the Soviet Union, some of them flourishing. They didn’t build churches where they would gather for services; the homes in which they gathered on Sundays or at other times served them well enough. They kept no records of their activities. But whenever they assembled in common prayer, with readings from the Scriptures, they were somehow drawn closer together and inspired to seek out others to join them. The informality of their services, the conviction of their religious beliefs, the spontaneity of their prayers, made them aware of the presence of God in one another and community of believers gathered together. They were strong in their faith, not afraid to practice it or speak of it openly to others, seemingly much less afraid of persecution than other Christians or terrified by official repression. They were the bane of the secret police and the Ministry of Cults, for they refused to be intimidated–and they had no churches to confiscate.

From “He Leadeth Me” by Walter J. Ciszek

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