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.
Yes. But it’s a lot harder to get married and then become a missionary.
You need to get connected with somebody who shares your passion to lose everything and waste your life in places where almost no-one knows Jesus. You can’t drag someone along in that kind of life, no matter how supportive or submissive they are.
If you’re going to be a missionary, your spouse has to be someone who holds the missionary call as their core desire, and actually lives it out. It can’t just be someone who talks about it or agrees with it. So many people talk about how passionate they are about missions, about how excited they are to go, but few of them actually go and persevere for years.
There’s a huge difference between someone who talks about being willing to go, and someone who’s a proven worker.
If you’re going to get married, you need someone who will joyfully run with you towards the same goal, through all kinds of nasty, trying circumstances. You need someone who will thrive on God’s passions in dry, thirsty, and lonely ‘pioneer’ places. Only God can set up that kind of match, so I say it’s best to take your hands off and avoid trying to make it happen.
If you want to go, don’t wait around wondering if that guy or girl will follow you into the mission field. Don’t get romantically involved or emotionally attached to someone who may or may not go. Just go, let go of everything, and go! Trust God to miraculously connect you with someone else who’s fully committed and happily living out the call. It’ll most likely happen out on the field.
Don’t wait to get married before you become a missionary. If you wait for marriage you may never get to go. First become a missionary and go. Then let God get you married, if that’s what’s he thinks is best.
What was the pinnacle of Jesus’ ministry? What was his most effective, glorious moment? When did he have his biggest audience, and make the biggest impact?
It was the on the cross, when he was stripped almost naked, and labelled as a criminal. It was when with his bones hanging on big nasty nails, and he could barely breathe. It was when being mocked and spat on, totally misunderstood and despised.
He didn’t reach the peak of his ministry by getting more and more respected, established, and powerful. He didn’t get there by amassing resources and money.
He got there by becoming weak and more pathetic and embarrassed. He got there by losing absolutely everything, even the robe they gave him to mock him.
And we follow in his footsteps. That’s the way that we get to influence as well.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” (Matt 10:24-25)
Walter J. Ciszek followed a call to Russia around World War II, and suffered greatly for 23 years in Soviet prisons and labour camps. In his book ‘He Leadeth Me’, he explains the second thoughts and doubts he had to deal with as he was about to make the dangerous leap into the call he’d felt for so long.
“Reason and rationalizations boil through your mind. There are present and future responsibilities toward family and friends to think of, thoughts of the good to be done at home or in other possible ways of serving God and man, mistrust about the motives swaying the mind now this way and now that, doubts about one’s abilities to live up to the call (and even about the call itself), vague fears for the future and very real fears of making a mistake right here and now, knowing a decision must be made and yet knowing, too, that it involves a commitment from which there can be no turning back, something that will change the whole course of your life. Men faced with the possibility of a new and perhaps better job, women considering a proposal to marry, parents planning a move of one sort or another, teenagers trying to decide their future in a changing world–all knowing the troubling turmoil of doubts and fears, of competing reasons and of answers, that can afflict the mind and paralyze the will in such a situation…
…Abraham, called by God to leave behind everything he knew and cherished in order to set out for an unknown land on the strength of a vague promise, must have known the full force of such counterarguments.”