It is easy to over-simplify missions and missionaries, reducing the mission and those doing it to the lowest common denominator. For example, supposing that every missionary is exclusively motivated by the Great Commission is a mistake. I once knew a lady who characterized missionaries as people “who like to use the church’s money to take extended vacations.” I’ve heard others paint missionaries as social misfits who couldn’t make it in a real job so they moved overseas where they could be weird at a distance. I’m sure that these folks had their reasons for their views. Maybe the missionary they knew only spoke of the Great Commission. Perhaps they met an unscrupulous missionary who wasted lots of money on frequent, expensive vacations (doubtful, but possible). Perhaps they knew a missionary that they thought was absolutely odd. I’ve known a few :-).
As a missionary, I will tell you that missionaries are as different from one another as any group of people. Some missionaries are exuberant, some reserved; some boisterous, some edgy; some excitable, some unflappable; some quiet and deliberate, others spontaneous; some deeply thoughtful, others reactive; some mature, others immature. Missionaries are people, broken, in need of a Savior, dependent upon God’s grace and mercy. One quality I think most missionaries share is reflected in Paul’s comment found in 2 Corinthians 5:
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
In my opinion most missionaries I’ve ever served with (this is a personal observation) are profoundly grateful that Jesus died for them and furthermore, raised again. Because of that, at least on some level, they no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them. This doesn’t make missionaries perfect in their ability to lay self aside. They struggle with this reality as much as anyone. It does reflect their motivation for going and doing and being, though. While the Great Commission does come into it for most, the love of Christ that caused him to sacrifice himself for us is likely more personal, more intimate, more compelling and is more likely to carry a person through dark days than is a mere command.
Don’t miss the importance of being compelled by Christ’s love. Consider what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Sobering words, aren’t they? These words drive us beyond the surface of legalistic pietism and onward toward a life transforming spiritual worship–offering our bodies as living sacrifices. Going to the mission field, being separated from home and hearth, missing holidays and family events and whatever other of our favorite things mean nothing if they are compelled by some reason other than love.
Will our love be perfect? Of course not. Missionaries are not perfect people. The quality of our love, our willingness to lay self aside and embrace Christ’s sufferings, indeed, the needs of others, is in the process of being perfected. As we grow in our relationship with Christ, the quality of our love will become more His and less ours.
What compels you as you consider the missionaries you know and the missions you or your church support? When you pray for your missionaries or write checks to support them, my prayer is that these are acts of living sacrifice; acts of worship. The joy and warmth that accompany loving Jesus in this way will not be supplied by other motivations or means.
I am overjoyed when I consider the love being shown to Jesus as we worship him together in prayer, in generosity, and living sacrifice. Thank you for loving him with all your heart! Thank you for worshiping Him! Thank you for walking with us toward renewed service in Papua New Guinea. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the the Lord make his face shine upon you and give you peace.