We’re not missionaries because we want to do something great for God; we’re missionaries because God has done something great for us!
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There’s a certain way to market the Great Commission that strikes a chord with bored twenty-somethings who are tired of college classes or are not looking forward to entering the rat race. And it goes something like…‘Wouldn’t you like to do something meaningful with your life? Don’t waste your life in a cubicle when you could make an impact on the world! Dare to break out of normalcy and get involved in something bigger than yourself!’
I recently saw an ad for a missions organization that said something like, ‘there’s more to life than working a 9 to 5.’ Now, I get what they mean by that. Disciples ought not content themselves with securing a source of regular income and just plugging away mindlessly until retirement. There is definitely more than that. We are part of God’s expanding kingdom on Earth. And becoming part of the Christian missionary force is certainly an incredible experience on the frontlines of that advance. So there’s definitely a kernel of truth within. But while this appeal may awaken some dormant zeal in a believer’s heart, it alone is not a strong enough motivation to make a faithful career missionary. Because it makes the Gospel largely irrelevant to the believer’s excitement. The Army can recruit people with the same pitch: ‘Aren’t you bored playing video games? Wouldn’t you like to do something exciting and important in the world?’ It’s true, obedience to Christ’s commands does make our lives meaningful and exciting. And it’s easy to get excited and glory in the sense that we’re doing something important. ‘But rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.’ In other words, our joy of serving God must never supersede our joy in God himself. We’re not missionaries because we want to do something great for God; we’re missionaries because God has done something great for us! Like most deficient motivations, this passion for excitement will at times work just fine. It will get you off the bench and into the game. But the true measure of a motivation is when it gives out. And this one has a very definite breaking point. It will keep you going exactly until you are asked to do something tedious in the name of Christ. Simply put, it equates the goal of Christian ministry to ‘don’t be bored.’ And that’s too bad, becausesometimes effective ministry involves doing the tedious thing long-term. We’ve had a bunch of short-termers over the past year, and it’s pretty easy to detect their general sentiment about a career in missions. They think it would bore them to tears. You know what might interest them? Long-term short-term missions! All the excitement of a short-term missions trip replicated ad infinitum (and there are some long-termers who attempt precisely that!). What they’re missing is the need for patience to make an impact in anything besides a pillow. Language school, planting a church, or training a leader all have one thing in common. They all take an enormous investment of time. Those with short attention spans need not apply. There’s certainly more to life than working a 9 to 5, but there’s not less! Meaning, if you don’t find something in your life that you’d love to do for large amounts of time for as long as you live, you are doomed to ineffectiveness and boredom! If you perpetually dash madly from one excitement to another, two things are certain. One, you will never be very good at anything. And two, you will train yourself to find joy in things other than God – and those joys will finally wane. In order to attain any real joy in your life, you will have to stare down the barrel of boredom… and not flinch! Saying that there’s more to life than a 9 to 5 is a little like saying there’s more to a marriage than living together. The problem with dull marriages is not that people live together, but rather what they do when they’re together. And the trouble with dull lives is not steady occupation, but what you do when you clock in. Those that don’t have the patience to stay put declare with their wishy-washiness that they still haven’t found something worth living for. Something worth working and suffering for. When you’re dealt that great hand, you go all in. You hold back because you think there might be something better out there. Ironically, those that claim to be living for passion often turn out to not have enough. When you find something truly worth living for, 9 to 5 won’t be enough for you. A truly meaningful life doesn’t look like a 9 to 5, but more like a 12 to 12. You’ll feel you can’t get up early enough or go to bed too late. You’ll have to discipline yourself to rest. I am thankful to have been influenced by some great men who live on a mission – who seem to have a limitless supply of motivation. Where does that come from? Paul said that he worked harder than them all, but it was really the grace of God working with him (1 Cor. 15:10). The Gospel is the great motivator. It buries the foundation of our passion deep in our impossibly-righteous standing before God. The Gospel is to believers as Tornado Alley is to storm-chasers. There is no other place for us to find a thrill. So, by all means, resolve to not waste your life. But don’t think an erratic, thrashing lifestyle guarantees a meaningful life. In fact, it guarantees the opposite. The good thing about bad motivations, though, is that God is often gracious enough to use them to lead us to the right motivation! So whatever reason you started for, keep going! Find your rock-solid motivation in the Gospel and go to work! Or don’t, but then don’t pretend you’re living for thrills, either.