TODAY’S READING: Psalm 88, 92–93
The psalms are helpful missionary ballast. When we set sail to obey the command of God to preach the gospel in all the earth making disciples of every people, we start that journey sparkly. Many are the “shiny” missionaries we have seen disembark to their port of entry with new clothes, fresh hope, big dreams, and joyful expectation. Around month three, the romance is gone. Around month six, leaders once revered are revealed as humans with smelly feet of clay. Around year one, loneliness and culture stress seem insurmountable. After two years, they manage to speak the local language at a fourth-grade level with a speech impediment and find themselves wondering if the McDonald’s back home has a janitorial position open and muse about the best way to get an honorable discharge. At that point, they read Psalm 88 and find themselves agreeing more and more with the melancholic sons of Korah: crying day and night, full of troubles, no strength, cut off, in the depths, afflicted, shut up, and wasting away (vv. 1–9). Contrary to the testimony of missionary lions, their particular missions history is that of unanswered prayer, and all they can think is that “loved ones and friends have been put far from [them]” (v. 18).
I am not denying that missionary life can be lonely and difficult. A recent study showed that most missionaries don’t return for their third 4-year term. In other words, the average length of missionary service is about seven years and declining. In my own experience and general observation, it takes about ten years of hard labor before one sees fruitful missionary traction. Our sad missionary statistics indicate that many missionaries give up just a few years before breakthrough comes.
Psalm 92 expresses what many missionaries feel when they’ve held on through the dark and difficult early seasons when nothing seems to go well. Those who have been able to trust Jesus that He will send a dawn, those who have been able to grit and grind it out (by faith and not by feeling) are able to lift their heads and their voices and shout to those still struggling in the valley of despair: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High, to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night… For You, Lord, have made me glad through Your work” (vv. 1–2, 4).
The elder veterans (both in missionary and general Christian living) can inspire the youngers (shocked by their first war experience realities) when they shine forth the joyful triumph of the Lord in the battle for His glory in all the earth. Something spiritually invigorating is imparted when Jesus-loving warriors shine and sparkle after years of service. How depressing is the grumpy veteran and how glorious and gladdening is the scarred-up man or woman who limps into the room but leaps in the light. When a veteran of missions, ministry, and Jesus-centered living who is unaware and oblivious to their obvious wounds rubs joy on all they meet, power and hope surge through every level of our ranks. We need to hear our living saints testify: “I am anointed with fresh oil. My eye has seen my desire. I have flourished and grown like a cedar in Lebanon. I am bearing fruit in old age. I am fresh and flourishing. The Lord is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (vv. 10–15). Everyone knows that life and ministry and missions is brutally hard, so what we don’t need are grumpy and bitter veterans. We need men and women who shine with the joy of the Lord’s favor because they fight His battles, not despite the battles.
Lord, grant to us the veteran voices who agree with Psalm 93 that the Lord reigns on a throne established in eternity and that our Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters (vv. 1–2, 4). If you are a veteran soldier of Christ, find a new recruit today and sparkle at them, look them in the eye, and tell them that if they persevere, God will indeed use them to win the Romani gypsies of Egypt to His joy. There’s no need to talk about scars. Rather, let’s talk about God’s triumphs. Let’s sow hope and faith that the same God with the same glory will do it all again.