Why does someone become a missionary? I suspect there are any number of reasons, but usually it involves God’s calling in one form or another. There are also all kinds of people who become missionaries. Some people have been Christians their whole lives. Some by God’s grace have lived lives that have been largely spared from sin and tragedy, while others have a long, tragic, and often sordid past. This post is written mostly to the former, the ones without a history, for reasons I’ll get into. Why does God choose the people He chooses for His purposes? This is a question that often perplexes people, on occasion myself included. Look through the bible and you’ll see all kinds of people God has used for His purposes, and the underlying theme found for almost all of them is that they were imperfect, some in profound ways. Paul was a murderer. So was David, as well as an adulterer. Gideon was a coward. I could go on, but you get the point. So why is this such an underlying current? The answer is very simple. God is not looking for the über-capable, He’s looking for the über-faithful, and those who will act in love. People who have a history know what they’ve been saved from. People with a history know that it’s only by God’s grace that they are saved, and it’s only by God’s grace that they’re successful in their efforts in ministry. They give glory to the one to which it’s due, and unless they have a very short memory, they know it’s not them.
Now let me get to people who have followed God their entire lives. It is an incredibly blessed person who has not faced the darkness that some have, and are able to serve God faithfully. If you need to read that again for it to sink in, do it, because it’s that important. People who have always followed God are more prone to fall into certain traps. You wouldn’t think this was the case, but it’s true. I’m a missionary. I have many missionaries in my family, and many friends who are missionaries. I have seen the pattern enough times to know that this is not an outlier. Let me give you the chain of events. A person who has followed Christ all their lives goes overseas to the mission field. Initially it’s done with some humility, and a genuine concern for the lost. They are grateful for everyone who is backing them up financially and with prayer. They get overseas to some remote country with crushing poverty, and the depth of how they’ve been blessed is seared into them like a hot iron. But then time passes, and they begin to have success. People are coming to Christ. The church is growing. The sick are being healed, and all kinds of unexplainable things start to happen. That’s when the dangerous road starts. Without the humility that comes from a past away from God, it’s easy for pride to start. Where before there was humility, the missionary starts to see these successes as something they’ve done themselves. Further down the road, they start to see themselves as the only one who can do what they’re doing. The people who are supporting them financially are now seen as just a means to get them where they need to go. Other missionaries who are doing similar work are looked on with suspicion, even members of their own team. The mission becomes everything, coming even ahead of the God that sent them on that mission. In some cases, missionaries will neglect their own families to give to the needy outside their family. Without humility, they can no longer give the mission to God, and rather than leave it in His hands, a large amount of effort goes into attempting to control other people and situations. A little further down the road, and they start to see themselves as some kind of superhero, a Christian Jason Bourne, if you will. The love they initially had for their supporters turns into glory-seeking and hubris, and that’s where it all falls apart. There are some places in the bible that talk about this, and I’ll quote a couple.
1st Corinthians 13:1-3 says, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”
1st Timothy 5:8 says, “But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.”
The most direct and to the point passage is from Revelation. It’s a letter written to the church in Ephesus, and it speaks directly to a situation similar to what I speak of. “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.
“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.”
I’ve started down this road on occasion, but fortunately I have a wife that is willing to point it out to me. I’ve seen the damage done, and believe me, I never want to wake up one day, look around, and find I’ve spend lost months or years walking down a different road from the one God called me down. Fortunately, there is always repentance. The question is, what damage has been done by the time repentance happens? I guess this is where prayer and leaving it up to God is the only answer. I’ve seen Him leverage sin on more than one occasion and turn it into something beautiful, and I know He’ capable of doing it again.
I used to think pride wasn’t a big deal. In the past couple years I’ve learned I was wrong. People talk about original sin like it’s something Adam and Eve did when they disobeyed God in the garden. But people forget about the sin that happened long before that. Pride took an angel of worship and turned him into the devil. Pride is a big deal.
The humility that comes with a checkered history is a valuable thing. If you’ve thought about becoming a missionary, but thought you weren’t good enough, you are wrong. God uses all kinds of people, and many times the worst things that people have done become the greatest assets to God’s kingdom. This is what I mean when I say that God leverages sin. He takes the broken of the world and uses them to fix others. He takes those who are foolish to the world and uses them to confound the wise. Don’t let anyone tell you that your past keeps you from becoming a missionary. Current, un-unrepented sin will. Pride will. Unforgiveness will, but your past won’t.