When we became missionaries five years ago, Joel and I were in our late 30s. Joel is an entrepreneur and I have had quite a few different jobs over the years. Our experience in ministry centered mostly in leading short term mission groups, small groups in our home, and being discipled by others mainly. I grew up in a missionary home, and saw first-hand how ministry, work, life, and relationships all mingled together. How do you measure your working hours? How do you measure growth? What is a healthy balance?
It seems like these questions circle around our heads when we are feeling over-extended, tired, and ready for a break. It also seems like this past year has picked up steam and before we could see what was happening, we were overbooked and exhausted.
Everything looks so appealing at the start. Instead of praying or reflecting on whether we should say "yes", we accept because, after all, this is an opportunity! Why else are we here?! "Say yes" becomes the motto, and then without enough rest, one begins to resent the opportunity or worse, the person associated with said "opportunity".
These are hard lessons to recover from.
I started reflecting on Jesus and his ministry. It is a dangerous thing to pick and choose different aspects of his ministry to make tidy blog post points about. However, I am convicted to look closer into his interactions and responses in such different situations.
Jesus sometimes remained silent (with Herod as he peppered him with accusations. Luke 23:9).
Jesus sometimes walked away, or in this case "sail" away:
When Jesus saw the crowd around Him, He gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. — Matthew 8:18
Jesus didn't decide what he would do based on a crowd, a person, or as a reaction. What are the common themes of Jesus' ministry years? Prayer, Healing, Preaching, Resting, Eating, Walking, Fasting. Impossible to determine what to do and when without one very key element....connected-ness to the Father.
Time and time again, Jesus did what in our minds looks like a u-turn.
Why am I surprised then, when we have committed to helping, partaking, entering into a relationship, discipleship, and suddenly....... u-turn? It doesn't make any sense to me. I want to know why or did I even make a difference? or the particularly less-graceful moments, I want to see justice. Or can I even admit it....? I want to tie up the ministry in a bow and present it as a success!
What is success? I go into these opportunities with people and even though I pray and ask the Lord that I stay focused on Him and am able to let go, u-turn, or do whatever He asks of me, slowly creeping in without me knowing it is a pride in what I would consider "success points". I have to admit that I have "success points" that I find acceptable for that of a missionary. Change of heart, transformed lives, growth and maturity, and in vulnerable populations the "success points" are even trickier. They needed a water source, we gave it. They didn't have clothes, we clothed them. They needed to talk, we listened. However, when I am working out of this paradigm, I am the one determining the need most of the time. I am the one finding the solution and giving it.
If success is just supply and demand, does it matter how we got there?
The answer, of course, is "yes". Jesus was relational. He loved people well. But what always went before people? His Father. Jesus was praying, fasting, being silent, walking... and constantly in communion with the Father. People-led ministry is not the way to go. That can be so difficult to confuse because we see the needs of people all around us. Why did Jesus only have 12 disciples when he could have had 100? 1000?
Why did Jesus not wave his hands and heal ALL sickness at once?
Even as Jesus was walking on this earth, He taught us how to pray:
"Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." Matthew 6:10
When Jesus was tempted, we read that the Enemy offered him...a kingdom on earth.
As I reflect, and enter into a time of repentance and rest, I must acknowledge that we too will be tempted with a kingdom on earth. It is a lesser kingdom. It is a kingdom that lifts up my name instead of the name of Jesus.
What a temptation indeed. Frequently we are asked how we or the ministry are doing. Jesus could have easily accepted the kingdom on earth ahead of the appointed time. However, He continually prayed for his Father's Kingdom to come.
As I come out of a season of relationships that have discontinued, I am reminded that this kingdom fades away. There is so much that I cannot see. I am hurting. Partly because I live in a fallen world; partly because I expected a different outcome. I grieve. I opened up myself, our family, our time, and my life and was vulnerable. I did get hurt. If I don't share that with those who are supporting, praying, and following our journey, then perhaps the little kingdom is lifted up and not the Kingdom of God.
In repentance and rest is your salvation in quietness and trust is your strength, (Isaiah 30:15a)
I repent for where I became "little kingdom" focused. I repent for wanting to only have good reports to share instead of heartbreak. I repent because I can so easily get wrapped up in how I think it should have gone. Less pain, more measurable outcomes. I repent.
I rest in knowing who you are, God. I don't need to know anything else, except that you,Jesus, are the author and perfecter of my faith. I rest in knowing that You are in control. My soul finds rest in You alone.
The remainder of the verse above after the comma is a warning to Israel and to us all:
but you would not. (Isaiah 30:15b)
Oh Lord, that I would stay true to repentance and rest and find my strength in You alone. Show me when to be still, repent, walk away, and when to speak. Without You guiding me I don't know how to live. Show me, Lord.