TODAY’S READING: Proverbs 19–21
Missions requires and rewards obedience. “He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, but he who is careless of his ways will die… There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand” (Prov. 19:16, 21). God’s commands are indeed wide ranging, yet they are connected to His grand plan for history. God has condescended to be our God if we will be His holy people and He will bless us so that we bless all peoples of earth. Jesus is the key to the blessing passed on through Abraham and David, and those who keep the commandment to bless the nations with Jesus keep their souls. Those who do not bless the nations with Jesus are careless with their ways and they will shrivel up and die. It is not dramatic nor exaggerated to place our missionary responsibility in these drastic terms. The life and death of the people of God, the vibrancy or stagnancy of the “called out” (ekklesia) ones, the Church, is directly connected to whether or not we keep His commands. Lest we have any doubt about what the central commands are, God with us made it crystal clear in His last speeches. Every gospel includes the command to go bless all nations with Jesus. Loving God and loving our neighbor require a global missionary heart. I have a friend who ends every email with the sign-off “Go bless.” Indeed God blesses those who go bless. There may be many other plans we have, but at the end of the human day, God’s goal and counsel will stand. Palestinian Arabs who moved to Qatar for work will stand around the throne giving praise. Life and lasting blessing are directly connected to obeying Jesus command to take the gospel global.
Missions requires energy and wisdom. “The glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of old men is their gray head” (20:29). I used to think that the ideal age for the new missionary recruit was 22. I have recently revised that number upwards to 27. We are constantly looking for fat missionaries—those who are faithful, available, and teachable—and generally the younger you are, the more teachable you are. Hence, our delight at receiving 22-year-olds. However, we are finding that it is the exceptional 22-year-old who has the emotional resiliency to navigate all the pressures of culture, context, spiritual warfare, and the disappointments of discovering that all men have feet of clay. New missionaries arrive on the field starry-eyed, and my wife and I feel obligated to tell them: “We are not as great as you think we are right now. And we are not as stupid as you will think we are a year from now.”
Many young missionaries would do well to be seasoned in their home context, earn a little wisdom the hard way to add to their energy, before landing on the field. When a person has had a pagan boss, they have learned how to be dealt with harshly and not curl up into a ball. They had to go to work the next day, for they have to pay the bills. Some time in the marketplace adds the wisdom of life to the energy of dreams. When a person has had to work across the generations in a church context (without all the free time of university), they learn how to respond to Sweet Sister Suzy who has a slandering tongue or Bright Brother Bob who has a bombastic nature and funds most of your salary. I am not saying 27 is a magic number, but I am saying missionary service requires a blend of both energy and wisdom. It is good stewardship to have missionaries learn and earn a little bit of wisdom in their home culture lest they “bless” Qatari Arabs with their folly abroad.
Missions requires diligent planning. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty” (21:5). Missionary praxis has toggled back and forth between Spirit dependence and strategic thinking. Those who advocate Spirit leading to the hurt of strategic planning say that we should “observe what the Spirit is doing and just go where the fish are biting” or that “we can’t manage missiology as the Lord will do whatever He wants, so it doesn’t matter what we do because God does it all anyway” or even “to plan and strategize is to limit what the Spirit wants to do.” On the other extreme, those who over rely on strategy tend to make 5-year plans, create 10-step processes, or train and promote one particular model that worked in their context so it must surely (with a little tweaking) work everywhere.
Good missionaries plan, and they plan on depending on the Spirt. There is enough oil in the dwelling of the wise and there are smart ways to scale city walls (vv. 20, 22). If God can overcome the dumb things we do missiologically, just think what He might do with wise and diligent plans! The wise missionary does not confuse urgency with haste, nor Spirit dependence with the lack of research and preparation. Just think of all the good God will do in the world when we combine great diligence with great dependence on the Spirit!