Disclaimer: If you read this start to finish, I applaud you because this is one lengthy post. 🙂
A professor of mine recently shared some hard-to-process facts in a Missions class. Now to set the stage, I must remind everyone I’ve listened to hundreds and hundreds of people get up on a stage and speak on the dismal state of affairs the world is in. There are millions of malnourished people knocking on deaths door every day and I’ve always felt guilty about the fact that I sit here, warm coffee in hand, typing away on my blog amongst a sea of pillows and luxurious quilts (luxurious might be a stretch, I suppose…), completely unaffected by the sheer horror of these countries. Horror. Shocking. Disastrous. Heart-wrenching. These are the words they’ve used to describe what these parts of the world look like. And, inadvertently, or perhaps, purposely, they’ve turned missions into a duty – an obligation – that we, as Christians, are commissioned to fulfill.
Guilt is a powerful mover. But being moved to missions by guilt and obligation is not the heart of God. Now, many, including myself, have always resisted this paradigm of guilt and obligation in favor of something different. I can personally attest to having uttered the words, “Christianity is all about bringing others to faith for the glory of the kingdom.” Essentially, it’s all about missions. That’s why Jesus gave the Great Commission on more than one occasion. Isn’t it? That’s why my high school sent out a dozen teams every year to other countries – to spread the good news. But what if we’re forgetting something?
To answer that, I want to share some small excerpts from a book I bought for this Introductory Missions class. It’s called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement and is a collection of essays written by different theologians, pastors, etc. Reading one particular chapter completely and utterly rocked my world. There’s no other way to say it.
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides for ever.”
Later in the chapter it goes on to say, “God’s full delight in his own perfections overflows in his merciful will to share that delight with the nations. We may reaffirm then [the truth] that worship is the fuel and goal that drives us in missions, because it is the fuel and goal that drives God in missions. Missions flows from the fullness of God’s passion for God and aims at the participation of the nations in the very passion that he has for himself.”
Hopefully I didn’t lose anyone after that “little” excerpt. The point I’m trying to make is that never in my 19 years of listening to sermons, seminars, and the like, have I heard it put like that. Pictures always flash up on the screen showing starving children and team leaders always list off the numerous comfort items they brought to the people. On my own trip to Zambia a few years ago, I can honestly say we spent maybe 1/8 of our time worshiping God. And I suppose you could argue that the things we did with the kids were acts of worship. That’s entirely true in some cases. But the goal of our trip was one of mission. Not worship. Maybe thinking this way is exclusive to me… It could be that everyone else in the Christian faith has got it right and worship has always been the center of everything they do. But I’m more inclined to believe, based on what I’ve seen and heard, that many of us have got it entirely wrong. We get so caught up in this realm of missions and outreach and how much we have to give and how God designed us to go out and share and preach and bring others to the faith. But God designed us to worship. Worship is the fuel for His Mission. And it should be the fuel for ours too.
So back to those mind-blowing facts. I may contradict myself in sharing these but remember, since my little “conversion” from mission-oriented to worship-oriented, facts like these strike me in an entirely non-guilty way… There are 90,000 people in North America enrolled in bible college type programs. Of those 90,000, 5% are intending to work overseas while 95% intend to stay home. This is where it gets tricky so bear with me. 5% of the worlds population live in North America and most of them have heard of Jesus at some point in their lives. So that means the 95% are intending to stay home and minister to the 5% of the population that have already heard of Jesus while 5% intend to go overseas to minister to the other 95% of the population, the majority of which have never heard about Christ.
Wow. I don’t even really know where to go with that because I’m guilty myself of belting those lyrics “I will go to the ends of the earth” in that classic worship song but deep down thinking, please, God, keep me here… Long term missions is not for everyone. I don’t know what the future holds for me but I know that in the past semester I have been feeling a burning desire to worship God in such a way that the nations take notice. Ambitious, I know. The truth is, I really blew it on my trip to Zambia. There were many who supported my trip with prayer and money and there is no doubt they were needed and put to wonderful use. There is no doubt about the fact that the children we ministered to were deeply affected and lives were changed with the resources and effort that went into the trip. I feel the need to offer that assurance because my little revelation sounds awful to those supporters. The problems can be attributed to immature hearts, my immature heart, and an unreadyness (definitely not a word, I know) to worship God despite the obstacles we faced within our team.There were a million factors at play and no shortage of leadership flaws but I know in my deepest heart that I was not there to worship God. I was there to do what PA kids do – go to Africa. With such a shaky foundation to depart on, I’m not surprised by the problems we faced within our team. Before I left for that trip my church prayed over me and one of my most wonderful mentors at that time (yes, Andy, you!!) prayed Isaiah 61 over me. I read the sections on building the nations and was touched. It wasn’t until I returned though, full of regret over the way I handled the problems we had and facing the reality that my reputation was tarnished and my name shamed by one petty person, that I understood the promise of this psalm.
“Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours. ”
Maybe I’m not interpreting this correctly but I know what my heart feels when I read these verses. Maybe I’m not understanding who is being addressed in this verse and making it all about me, just like I always do. In fact, I’m almost positive I’m not interpreting it correctly and if you have some insight, please do share. Nevertheless, when I read these verses I feel the joy of God’s promise and the promise is this: He has redeemed my sins and He is not finished. A double portion. God is a God of second chances and while I do not profess to know what mine will look like, I know my heart is ready to set out again in worship, not in obligation. My hands shake as I write this because the vulnerability in sharing these thoughts is so very real and scary in this moment. I do not profess to know the future but in light of all I’ve been learning this semester and when I reflect on this scripture prayed over me so long ago, I feel in my spirit that God is not finished with me yet.
That is truly a marvelous thought.