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.
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)
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)
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.”
On my visits home, I get to meet a lot of people who are on the edge of responding to the call of God overseas. People who are drawn to leave, but are also a little unsure, hesitant, and afraid.
They can feel like they’re on the edge of a giant, dark cliff.
For me this can be agonizing, because after jumping off that cliff and living overseas I can see a bit more of the bigger picture. I can see how God would provide for them, I can see the incredible life and ministry they could step into, and I can see the lost people who desperately need the words of life that they can carry.
I long and ache for them to step out.
I imagine this is something like what God feels for us as we deliberate, falter, or even doubt the things that he’s calling us to trust him with. He’s patiently, compassionately drawing us towards some new ground. He’s aching to bless us, to bless the nations, and to see his name honored through his children. If we would just trust him!
I’m sure his heart aches and is grieved as we drag our heels, or sometimes even dig them into the ground. And I’m sure he rejoices at even the little steps of obedience and trust that we take. Like a good Father, he works gently with his children. But his heart must burn with jealous passion, both for us, and for the lost around us.
What do you do when there’s just one tiny coal left burning in a fire-pit, surrounded by unlit or extinguished firewood?
You blow on it.
You push out long, forceful breaths, again and again. You aim all your breath straight at it until it glows brighter and brighter, and keep working at it until that coal is hot enough to ignite the wood around it.
So what happens when you have just one or two servants of Christ walk into a big pile of lost, unreached people?
Doesn’t God blow on those servants with his Holy Spirit in the same way? Isn’t he eagerly working to start flames, and ignite the piles of dead wood around these precious little coals?
It’s ok if you yourself don’t feel that dynamic or effective. It’s ok if you feel like you’re just one little coal, with only a little heat somewhere deep inside.
When we step into unreached places, we get transformed and burn with a strength we never knew we had. That’s because God’s blowing on us, and he’s eager to start a fire.