Life needs to have purpose for it to feel truly worth living. No one wants the epitaph on their tombstone merely to read: “Used up oxygen, took up space.”
From childhood, at least for those growing up in a church culture, the word “mission” conjures up images of long voyages to dark jungles and living with people drastically different from us. Those who were most successful in these endeavors (measured by the people’s response to and love of the missionaries) were those who went with an attitude of love and humility, those who lived with the people in the way the people lived, learned new ways of eating and dressing, learned new languages, and adapted their teaching to that new culture. Books abound that tell stories of people groups who were resistant until a missionary who was paying attention enough to their belief systems began to talk about the Everlasting Gospel through the stories of the people themselves. Most often, the missionaries gained new insights into God’s love and grace, as well.
A term that has become very familiar in recent years is the “10/40 Window,” the designation for that area of the world in which the majority of people have not heard about Jesus. This is the area between ten degrees and forty degrees north of the equator and stretches from North Africa to China. It is not only an area that is underserved by Christian outreach, it is also an area of heavy population density—and of great need.
As important as that 10/40 window is, though, it is equally imperative that Jesus is known to all in our own communities. In many ways, this means an even deeper preparation in learning the languages and customs of the people group to which one is called. Just because we speak English, and even perhaps go to church, it does not follow that we think like or understand our neighbors when they speak. We have a good track record in speaking to people from Bible-based, church-going cultures that are similar to our own. If someone believes the Bible is the Word of God, we know how to show them what it says about various topics they may have questions about, or how it speaks to a need or crisis they may be facing.
But what if my neighbors are completely secular, perhaps never having seen the inside of a church? What if they aren’t even sure there is a God, let alone that Jesus was His Son? What if they are Neopagan, or New Age, or spiritualist or Buddhist? What if every word I am used to saying about God is like so much gibberish to them?
Then I have a few choices. I can try to talk to them in the missionary language of my childhood and then give up, assuming that they don’t care. I can wait for someone else to reach them. Or I can learn their language and try to enter their world with the hope of inviting them into mine. This is a dangerous choice, because in entering their world we don’t mean living in a way that denies or compromises our faith; we mean trying to learn to see things through their eyes, to “walk in their moccasins” for awhile. So I’d better not do it unless I am certain that God is calling me, personally, to this mission field, and unless I have close, supportive, strong Christian backup.
Probably the most important thing to understand about mission is that God is the one who does the calling, and calls different people to different tasks. That’s why the Spirit has to come first. If you want to know what it is that God is calling you to do, the first task—and by far the most important—is to be certain of your own saving relationship. If work needs to be done in your own heart, do it first. Have you completely turned yourself over to Jesus? Do you know for certain that He has accepted you? This question is not meant to imply that He sometimes doesn’t. He promises to accept all who come to Him. It is meant to emphasize that those who are uncertain of their own safety with God already have trust issues, though it is also true that in attempting to strengthen the faith of others, we will strengthen our own, and that it is a mistake to wait until we are “strong enough,” “good enough,” or “perfect enough.”
Which brings up an often-ignored or overlooked, but vital, mission—to be a backup person for someone else on the front lines. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, may simply be to stay in the background with rations of heavenly manna, canteens of living water, the biggest arsenals of prayer you can stockpile, and lots of bandages!
The trend in recent years has been to take inventory of the spiritual gifts within a church family and to use those gifts in specific ways to implement a mission strategy. This can be far more effective than simply using the latest PowerPoint® seminar to train everybody to “do evangelism” and then sending them all out shotgun style. Jesus did the same by giving His disciples tasks that complemented their abilities and furthered the gospel commission. Of course, He often had a better idea of their hidden gifts than they did, and still tends to ask people to do things they are certain they could never do.
But it’s also possible to make a spiritual-gifts test of some kind the latest “How To Do Evangelism” method and get so caught up in making precise definitions and lists of each one’s gifts (and arguing over whether a gift should really be on the list or not) that still, no real outreach gets done. It’s worse yet when people become discouraged and less likely to try again.
It’s simpler than we like to admit. Ask God. He knows what He wants you to do, and, yes, He will tell you. Life needs to have purpose for it to feel truly worth living. No one wants the epitaph on their tombstone merely to read: “Used up oxygen, took up space.” The longer we live, the more we sense a need to live a life beyond ourselves. Human beings were created with a divine yearning for a mission greater than themselves, a calling that helps broken people traverse this life through the good news of salvation and gives them hope for the future. In fulfilling this mission, we find a deep inner peace with God and with ourselves.*