A New Year's Reflection
When I was a kid growing up in church, the very last thing I aspired to be was a missionary! I mean, there couldn't possibly be a worse career move.
Missionaries were people we felt sorry for. We gave our used toys to their kids for Christmas. Some churches even kept their used tea bags to send to those ‘poor missionaries’, those raggamuffin vagabonds of faith.
Many years later, I’ve been involved with Christian outreach in many parts of the world. I still don't much like the word ‘missionary’: partly because it's tainted by a kind of poverty-thinking; partly because it seems to me the Lord has given us much better words to describe his various ministry gifts (Cf. Ephesians 4).
But the main problem I have with ‘missionary’ thinking is that it robs the church of a central truth – that we are all, in fact, people on a mission. We are all commissioned to ‘go’.
At Christmas, we pause to consider the greatest of all God’s good gifts to humankind – the gift of his Son. As we look forward to a new year, let’s consider the great commission which followed God’s gift: the command to go into the world and bring Christ’s message to all.
Over the years, I’ve seen again and again the benefits to individual Christians when they invest time, energy and finance into world outreach, at home and abroad. Whether you are leave home and travel to the other side of the earth – as my family have done – or to pour yourself into evangelism and disciple-making closer to home, several benefits follow:
1. You get to obey.
I don't want to live without the favour of God! I mean, once you've tasted what it's like to walk under God's smile of approval, nothing else is good enough.
The favour of God is the visible blessing of heaven on your life; special blessing that cannot be explained through your own talents or hard work alone. The favour of God is what attracts others to your faith -- and it's what sets you above the norm in your generation.
According to the Bible, God's favour looks different on different people: for Abraham and Isaac it resulted in great wealth, for Joseph it was the ability to manage other people's money. For David it was the ability to win in battle, for Solomon the ability to rule in peace. God gives different manifestations of favour to meet different needs and express different things about him.
There is one thing that's true for all of us, though: the favour of God comes only in response to obedience. God wants us to grow in his favour, as Jesus did (Luke 2:52), but before we can come into any new level of favour, we must first come to a new depth of sacrifice and obedience.
Sacrifice is much more than just giving. Some people will give, even generously, provided they can keep control of what happens afterwards. Sacrifice means giving when you can't control the outcome.
Some people give things that cost them only for that moment. Sacrifice is giving when it goes on costing you, when you will live with the result for a long time to come.
That's the kind of giving involved in world outreach -- and that's the kind of giving that will bring the favour of God on your life.
2. You get to have influence.
Here's some good news: you were not born to be ignored. You were born to have influence, to bring change. That's why it hurts us when we feel overlooked -- it's against the way we're "wired".
The apostle Paul said: "We, however, will not boast beyond proper measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God has given us." (2 Corinthians 10:13)
The word translated "sphere" means a "measured area or zone". God has marked out a zone of influence for every Christian (cf. Ephesians 2:10).
The zone of influence God has marked out for you is where you will find your ultimate success in life. Paul didn't waste time wishing for someone else's success -- he was too busy keeping up with his own!
Your zone of influence is much bigger than you think. Paul thought it was good being part of a cutting-edge team in the Antioch church, but then God called him to Jerusalem. Paul thought that position was pretty good -- until God called him to plant churches throughout the whole of Asia Minor. And that looked good until God called him to go plant the flag of faith in western Europe (Macedonia).
All along the way, Paul was learning that the influence he was born to have was much bigger than he'd first imagined.
Isaiah 54:1-3 tells us that God is waiting for us to fill our zone of influence. If you're willing to take some risks, to invest your life in something bigger than you are, you'll find that God just keeps stretching your influence!
3. You get to see Kingdom power in action!
Jesus told us to seek first his Kingdom, then expect to see our needs met (Matthew 6:33). But what is the Kingdom of God?
The Kingdom is wherever the rule of Christ is transforming human hearts, relationships and institutions. The Kingdom is wherever people with changed hearts change their world.
A couple of years ago, we were holding a major outreach event in one of the largest night-clubs in Estonia, a former communist state. Over half the people in the building that night were there because they were regular patrons -- they just came for a drink and a dance.
They got more than they paid for! We gave them great music and an excellent hi-tech show. They also saw some powerful worship. (Worship in a club? Sure -- God wants to be where people are listening.)
Then I gave a short, positive, in-your-face message about the real Jesus of history. The crowd were captivated and you could feel the presence of God.
At the end, we invited people to put down their beer glasses and join us down on the dance floor so we could pray with them. Over thirty people made a first time commitment to Jesus that night.
The next day, I was at the airport ready to go home. The young woman who took my ticket at the desk was beaming from ear to ear. I asked her if we had met before. She said, "Well no, but I was standing right in front of you last night in that club. You prayed for me."
For that young woman, the Kingdom of God was found not in a church hall or a cathedral. It was inside a club, where some people had gone to tell her about Jesus. Once she'd responded in faith, the Kingdom was born in her heart and life.
You could tell when Jesus was talking about the Kingdom -- because there were miracles going on everywhere. The sick were healed and the demon-oppressed were shaken free. That kind of thing only happens when you're willing to get out of your comfort zone and put the Kingdom first!
4. You get to prove God.
You and I were not called just to build God a great business, a great career or even a great ministry. Our first call is to make God a great name (cf. 1 Chronicles 17:21). God wants you to make him famous in this generation!
Nothing proves God like people who will believe for what they can't yet see and obey what they don't fully understand. As my good friend Winkie Pratney points out, the world says "hear, understand and then do" but the God of the Bible says, "hear, do and then you'll understand."
We love to quote Acts 1:8 as an apologetic for speaking in tongues, but it's much more than that! The word translated "witnesses" here is actually a Greek word "martus", from which we take the word "martyr", someone who lays down their life for their faith.
Here's what this verse is saying: "When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you'll be so filled with power from a higher place that you'll have what it takes even to lay down your life for the gospel, if necessary."
What's the greatest proof that our God is real? That we're willing to give everything we have for him, because of what he's done for us.
5. You get to know God!
Most people say it's unhealthy to brag. Actually, the Bible says there is a form of bragging that's not all bad:
"'Let him who boasts, boast in this, that he understands and knows me…' says the Lord." (Jeremiah 9:24)
Ours is a generation that's been given education without revelation and technology without truth. Education is a great thing -- if we had more Christians who used their minds, we'd have more Christians! It's good, but it was never intended to be the highest form of learning open to a human being.
Revelation is a higher form of learning, because it's goal is higher -- the knowledge of God himself.
Our generation is desperate for revelation. People are searching for a truth that is "out there"; a reality that comes from some place beyond the reach of science; a truth that explains where we came from, why we're here and where we're going.
Revelation grows with sacrifice. Paul knew a thing or two about revelation and being prophetic. Here's what he said on the subject:
"[Even though I'm going through tough times], I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed to him until that day." (2 Timothy 1: 12)
The word's "believed" and "committed" are the same word -- it means to "entrust something" to someone. So, what's Paul telling us? That you can only really know God -- and have confidence in him -- in proportion to how much you entrust to him. The more you risk in faith, the more you will see God's power in action and his awesome character revealed.
Someone wrote, "The greatest witness for Jesus is a life that cannot be explained unless there is a God." I remember standing in the empty living room of our house in Melbourne, Australia just before we moved to Europe 12 years ago. I said to myself, "Either I'm completely loopy, or there is a God…"
Since that time, so many good things have happened in our work across Europe that I can only say, 'There is a God!'
I know one thing for sure: having taken that a sizeable risk back then, I understand God's character and his power better today than I ever did before that.
Bottom line: there is no revelation without risk and the greatest risk is the one wrapped up in that single, scary little word, "Go!"