John Paton was a missionary to the cannibal tribes of the New Hebrides islands in the 1700s. The amount he gave and lost in the name of Jesus while there is staggering. Perhaps the most poignant picture of this is captured in his recollection of being forced to climb a tree to avoid being killed and eaten by the very people he’d come to serve. Paton had seen some members of the tribe warm to his benevolent intentions. Being made aware that others wanted to kill him, these friends told him to climb the tree so they could defend him. Of his time in the tree he writes,
Being entirely at the mercy of such doubtful and vacillating friends I, though perplexed, felt it best to obey. I climbed into the tree and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe as in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then? (Piper, You Will Be Eaten by Cannibals).
Last week I asked you to consider the first thing you think of when you hear the words “missions” or “missionary”. This story is meant to help you consider today the first thing you feel as you consider missions and the first activity you associate with missionaries. Do you feel excitement? Nervousness? Confusion? Frustration? Fear? Sadness? Vulnerability? Apathy? Do you imagine being chased up a tree by cannibals? Blazing a trail in some remote village? Street preaching in a foreign land? Friendship evangelism? The point of this sermon is to help you sort through the many possible feelings we’ve felt and applications we’ve imagined in light of God’s word. And all of that in order to help launch us into faithful, God-glorifying feelings about and engagement in world-missions. Again, let’s pray in earnest that God would grant these things to us.
HONORING GOD WITH OUR MINDS IN MISSIONS REVIEW
I opened last week’s sermon with three primary convictions. First, God’s word is our sufficient guide for missions. That means that the bible alone must determine our understanding and practice of missions. Second, the bible teaches that until Christ returns God means His people to be continually engaged in missions. Engaging in missions, then, is not optional or occasional in this life. And third, when it comes to missions (along with everything else in life), right thinking leads to right feelings and right feelings lead to right action. And for all of those reasons I chose to spend the first week (last week) highlighting what the bible says about how God’s people are to think about missions. This week, then, I mean to highlight what the bible says about how we’re meant to feel about and act in missions.
Since our feelings are determined by our thoughts, it’s critical that we think right things. That’s why last week’s sermon was first. The things we feel need to be rooted in those truths. As a quick refresher, then:
- Missions is doing cross-cultural ministry where ministry is the process of calling people to follow Jesus because of our love for God and others.
- Missions is ultimately for the glory of God (Isaiah 43:1-7, 48:10-11; Psalm 67:3-4, Psalm 96:3).
- Missions is joining God in His Work (Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 14:27).
- Missions is obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
- Missions is the ultimate expression of love for neighbor (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43, 22:39).
- Missions is an endeavor given primarily to the local church (Acts 13; Philippians 4:15-16 and 3 John).
- Missions is essential (Romans 10:13-15).
- Missions is costly (Matthew 13:53-58,19:28-29; Luke 9:58; John 15:18-21; Philippians 1:21; 2 Cor. 11:23-27).
- Missions is rewarding beyond measure (Philippians 1:21-26, 3:8; Mark 10:29-30).
HONORING GOD WITH OUR HEARTS
If those are godly missions thoughts, what godly missions feelings are they meant to produce?
(Back in 2009—I can’t believe it’s been 11 years—we had a seminar on evangelism. In that seminar I made a list of the things God’s word calls God’s people to feel concerning evangelism. As I was working through this portion of the sermon I made another list. Having done so I was struck by how similar the two lists were. For that reason, much of the content in this section mirrors that of the evangelism seminar.)
Love. Regarding missions, our feelings must begin with the kind of love for God that leads to love for the world. By “love” I don’t mean merely a feeling of fondness or affection. I mean mainly a deep desire and resolve to go after that which is best for God and His people—that’s biblical love. That’s the kind of love that must drive our missionary efforts. That’s the kind of feeling that must overwhelm us if we are ever to act rightly in missions. That’s the kind of love that God has for His people and calls His people to have for Him and others. We see that kind of love in God and His people throughout the bible.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Mark 10:17, 21 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him… 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
1 Thessalonians 2:8-9 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
We see the relationship between love and missions first in God sending His only Son, Jesus, to earth so that there would be good news. We see Jesus’ love for the Father spill out onto the lost as he shares the good news with the rich man. And we see that love made Paul “affectionately desirous” of the Thessalonians as he proclaimed Christ to them on his missionary journey.
We saw last week that missions is the ultimate expression of love and one of the most significant ways we can glorify God. Therefore, if we are to feel rightly about missions, we must begin by crying out to God to give us a deep love for Him in order that He might grant us His love for all mankind. Ask God to fill you with great delight in Him and a true longing for the nations to be glad in God—for He is what is best for the nations. If any other feeling is first or most in your heart (at best) you will struggle to overcome apathy and any missionary efforts will likely quickly fizzle out. Filled with the love of God, however, there is no corner of the world to which we will not gladly go with the gospel.
Sadness. When we truly love someone and we find that they are in a disastrous predicament, the natural (and necessary) emotion is sadness. This is where we find ourselves regarding the lost. Even more so, this is where we find ourselves with the lost who have no opportunity to be found (which is often the case on the mission field). Because of our God-given love for sinners, the knowledge that the wrath of God remains on them must produce in us deep sorrow. Once again, we see this vividly in Jesus and Paul.
Romans 9:1-3 I am speaking the truth in Christ- I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit- 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Luke 19:41-42 And when he drew near and saw [Jerusalem], he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
Missions is essential in light of the world’s enmity with God. Therefore, feeling rightly about missions includes a sadness or sorrow for the eternal condemnation of those who do not know Christ. Thus, we will never engage missions properly if we don’t feel an appropriate sadness for the unreached peoples of the world. Grace, we must cultivate grief for the lost. I hate that I often fail to tremble at the reality of hell and the fact that millions around the world have no access to the means of escaping its eternal fire. Fight with me for godly grief over the perilous position of the lost.
Urgency. As we experience love for the lost and sadness for the spiritual condition of the lost, and as we consider those things in light of the fact that the longest life is short, we should expect to find a sense of urgency welling up inside of ourselves. That is, as we come to realize that tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone (including ourselves) and that there are millions of non-Christians in the world today, we must grow in a sense of alarm and compulsion.
James 4:14 What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
2 Corinthians 6:1-2 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Again, because missions is essential for the salvation of the lost, me must have a profound sense of urgency in missions if we are to feel rightly about missions. Heavenly Father, grant us a healthy understanding of the condition of the lost and Your charge to us to bring them the words of life. May we never forget your sovereign reign over all, but may we never forget our missionary responsibility to all. Grace, if you don’t understand the essential nature of missions, you will never feel appropriate urgency.
Privileged obligation. As I’ve tried to point out many times before, where we find a command of God we’ve found a priceless treasure; for God only gives good commands that lead to full joy. Therefore, while many resist, recoil at, or feel oppressed by God’s commands, Christians understand that they are sweet and safe and to be desired above all else. For that reason, God’s commands to us to engage in missions ought to produce in us a sense of privileged obligation to share the gospel even to the ends of the earth. That is, since God, our King, commands us to share the gospel with the world we should feel a sense of duty or obligation or responsibility to obey. And since in missions God graciously allows us to be conduits of His grace for the salvation of the lost we should feel a sense of privilege or honor or position.
Romans 1:14-15 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
We are commanded and invited to engage in missions. Therefore, a God honoring heart in missions means feeling a deep sense of privileged obligation toward missions. Grace, let’s learn to acknowledge God’s lordship over us and the sweetness of His every lordly decree. And then let us pray to God to help us feel bound to obey while simultaneously honored by the opportunity to do so.
Joy. Perhaps the most obvious source of joy in missions comes from the knowledge that we possess the words of eternal life. That is, in engaging in missions we must do so in joy, knowing that the Word of God is powerful and active and that salvation belongs to our God! And the joy of seeing a sinner repent and believe is like few other joys in the Christian faith—and that is only amplified when it takes place on a different continent, in a different culture, through a different language, and at great personal expense.
I’ll never forget the gladness, the deep joy I felt when I found out that one of the bibles I’d handed out (before being taken to the police station for doing so) in the Middle East eventually found its way into the hands of a young man who read it and trusted in Christ because of it. What a wondrously joyful thing it is to be involved in the salvation of one who was and would have remained a stranger apart from our heeding God’s call to go where we otherwise would never have gone.
Acts 15:3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.
3 John 1:2-4 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 3 For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
And yet, as great as the joy is that we’ve already talked about, Jesus talks about a greater joy still in Luke 10.
Luke 10:17-20 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven…. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’
The greatest joy in missions—as I read earlier in Paton—is found in the fact that faithfully and fruitfully engaging in missions is a God-given means of knowing that we have everlasting fellowship with God!
By God’s grace and God’s design, missions is rewarding beyond measure. Therefore, a feeling of great joy should mark our hearts as we engage in missions. While fear or concern or overwhelmedness may be our first emotional response as we consider missions, thinking rightly about missions means that those feelings will be quickly and thoroughly overshadowed by great joy.
Hope. Finally, our missions engagement should be characterized by a deep feeling of hopefulness. Our knowledge that God is sovereign, that His Word will not return void, and that none that the Father has given to the Son will be lost should give us a deep, deep sense of hope (even in the face of apparently fruitlessness or difficulty or hostility) every time we engage in missions.
Isaiah 55:10-11 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Because engaging in missions is joining God in His unfailing work, if we are to feel rightly about missions, we must grow in hope that God will bring to Himself all that He wills. God, fill us with hope as we let go of every moment, every dollar, every relationship, and every comfort for the cause of the nations. Let us engage more fully in the full knowledge that not a single faithful missionary endeavor will be wasted or unsuccessful.
A godly balance of feelings of love, sadness, urgency, privileged-obligation, joy, and hope, must fill our hearts if we are to honor God in missions.
HONORING GOD WITH OUR LIVES
Finally, then, if thinking rightly about missions leads to feeling rightly about missions, what actions will feeling rightly about missions lead to?
Acknowledge God’s call on your life to engage in missions. You’ll never truly live out God’s missionary call on your life until you truly acknowledge that the call is on your life. Spend some time this week reading, considering, and praying over the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and other missionary calls in the bible. Ask God to help you rightly appropriate missions as a call on your life.
Remember the gospel. Confess any wrong thoughts or feelings you have regarding God’s call on your life, ask for God’s help to repent, and then rest in the forgiveness that is yours in the gospel. Don’t continue in disobedience if there is any, but don’t wallow in guilt either. Have you thought of missions primarily as humanitarian aid? As being mainly about “fulfilling your call”? For the young and zealous? As optional or unnecessary? Is there apathy/indifference? Fear? Doubt? Stubbornness? Hardness? Have any of your feelings wrongly dominated others? Don’t allow these things to continue. Fight against them. Ask God to transform you by the renewing of your mind and heart.
Begin to seek God’s wisdom about what rightly engaging in world-missions might look like. There are three main options: send, support, or go. To send is to be involved in the recruiting, training, identifying, praying, support raising, and commissioning of missionaries. To support is to care well for missionaries who are on the field—regular prayer, accountability, visits, encouragement, and support-maintenance. And to go is to be willing to personally engage in cross-cultural ministry.
To learn more about what these look like at Grace, please talk to Kyle (who heads our missions team) or anyone on it. Over the years they’ve gotten better and better at leading us to send and support well.
But who should consider going? As I’ve been a part of missions, engaged missionaries, read about missions, and examined the scriptures, it seems that there are a handful of things that you ought to be looking for in yourself and that we as a church ought to be looking for in those considering missionary work.
First, just like would-be pastors or those engaged in other vocational ministry, would-be missionaries ought to be thriving in Christian maturity at home. The mission field (like the ministry field) will expose every weakness. While the current missionary culture seems focused on sending out zealous young people, I think God’s word calls us to focus more on mentoring the young and sending the mature. The point is this: you will likely never be on the mission field what you are not already being here.
Second, potential missionaries ought to be thriving in ministry at home. I know many missionaries who thought that their evangelistic and discipleship burdens would kick in once they got on the field. They struggled at home to reach out to the lost, but believed that since they were “called” to missions everything would fall into place once they got out there. I’ve never met or heard of anyone for whom this was the case. The point is this: you will likely never do on the mission field what you are not doing here.
Third, the aim of missions is to glorify God by inviting people from every tribe, tongue, and nation into the Church of Jesus Christ. That is, missionaries are called not simply to find converts, but to establish them among the people of God. For that reason, those who are considering going must be joyfully and healthily engaged in the local church themselves. Seek first, then, to thrive (and help us thrive) in every way here so that you have a clear picture of what you’re working towards “there”.
Forth, sound doctrine is critical to missions. We must make sure we aren’t exporting a false gospel. This does not mean that potential missionaries need advanced degrees in bible or missiology (although those things could certainly help), but it does mean that anyone considering going onto the mission field must be able to eat solid food—to understand the bible well.
Fifth, consider the specific area of missions you’d like to focus on. Do you have a good example of what that looks like in real life? Do you have access to good training and experiences? Are you finding aptitude and joy in engaging in it here? The mission field isn’t mainly a place to find new gifts but to exercise developed, old ones.
And finally, it’s also helpful for potential-missionaries to experience life in a different culture. It’s another world out there. It’s important to know that you can adapt joyfully and helpfully outside of a mid-western, western, white culture and mindset. Have you had a chance to see how you survive or thrive when most of what you know is taken away? Do you have good reason to believe God has gifted you with the adaptability and strength to handle missionary life?
As we saw last week, it is the local church’s job to assess all of this and then send and support those found ready. We’re eager to help.
Again, and finally, right thinking leads to right feeling and right feeling leads to right actions. Let me close, then, with a pastoral plea: poor over the word of God that it might shape your every thought—especially your missions thoughts. Poor over the word of God that you might know what kinds of emotions ought to flow from those truths. Poor over the word of God that it might inform your understanding of missions in practice. Cry out to God to drive every one of those things deep into your mind, heart, and life. Do you let up until God grants you that grace. And then send, support, or go for the glory of God and the gladness of the nations. Amen!