Those who serve publicly can identify with the trials detailed inthis article. Yet, it also contains principles for all who serve the Lord in any sphere.
The public ministry of God’s Word is of supreme importance and lies at the very heart of missionary endeavor as we have already seen (Mat 28:19-20). We are in the center of God’s will whenever we exalt Christ in the preaching of the gospel and glorify Him in the teaching of divine truth. At the same time, we do well to remember that much of life is not lived behind a pulpit or on a platform. This becomes even more obvious when one has left home and begun to pioneer in a foreign land.
On the mission field, one’s life is constantly scrutinized, day and night, by those who may or may not come to hear you preach. At first you are a novelty. Your appearance, speech and customs are so very different. What is normal to you may seem most unusual to local people. They will watch you at home and in the street. They will listen to your everyday speech. They will observe how you react to frustrations and disappointments. They will be quick to detect any superior air or arrogant spirit. Even before you can speak a new language, your whole demeanor tells out its own story. You are always “on duty” and always “on parade”.
Then later, perhaps, you may be viewed as something of an enigma. Some people wonder why you have come to a foreign land and what are you hoping to achieve. There might be others who will harbor suspicions about your motives and intentions. Again, the single brother or sister is often thought of as a real mystery indeed. Many ask themselves “Why is he not married?” or “What can she do here on her own?”
Little by little, you gain the confidence of local people until your personal life is no longer a mere novelty or enigma but an asset to the free flow of God’s truth. A blameless life that shows out the love of Christ will commend the gospel to the unsaved. A thousand and one little things either boost this confidence or erode it. That which has been built up slowly over many months and years can be destroyed in a moment.
Eventually, when God’s blessing attends your labors and some are saved, you will come to be regarded as a friend as well as a guide. People will turn to you for help and counsel. Your life becomes inextricably linked with dear national believers in the bonds of love.
God is the great Giver and in giving His Son, He gave His best. The Savior, too, did nothing but give. In giving up His life, He gave His all. If we are to represent such a God and such a Savior, we must learn to give. After having given ourselves to God (Rom 12:12), we may also give our thanks, our time, our talents, our treasures and much else besides.
Through salvation, we have become priests who serve the living and true God. Our service should be marked by spiritual “sacrifices and offerings” which ascend to God as a sweet savor and bring glory to His Name. When we empty ourselves something will always be filled. A young boy gave his lunch to the Master and a multitude was filled (Jn 6:1-14); a poor widow gave her two last mites to God and the treasury was filled (Mk 12:41-44); a woman gave her box of pure and precious ointment to the Savior and the house was filled with the savor (Jn 12:1-3).
There are many trials in serving the Lord, and especially in a foreign land one can find numerous petty frustrations or even major problems to complain about. But giving thanks is the great remedy. To know and to experience something of the great spiritual blessings in Christ will make us careful for nothing, prayerful in everything, and thankful for anything (Phil 4:6).
Our time is one of the most precious things God has given us and sometimes we fritter it away. Far from home with nobody looking over one’s shoulder, the day can be lost by engaging in dozens of little tasks that are urgent but not important. There are also frequent interruptions as one tries to labor for God in cultures where people are in no hurry and do not wear watches, carry diaries or work to deadlines. Treating such callers with impatience leaves a bad impression. With these many pressures during the day, one has to assiduously guard time spent in the sanctuary alone with God (Ps 73:17) and time spent in His harvest field.
All of the experiences of life prepare one for service (consider Paul’s facility in languages or even his ability to make tents), but in offering to God our talents we are only giving back the gifts He has so freely dispensed to us. To be able to teach someone to read, to be able to treat someone who is sick, to be able to translate literature into a local language – these are just a few of the talents that can be laid at His feet and which beautifully complement the gospel.
Pouring vast financial resources into social projects can be unwise but there is also the danger of the other extreme should those who preach of the Savior and His love keep their hands firmly in their pockets. This was not the case in Macedonia, “their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality”(2 Corinthians 8:1-4). On the mission field, particularly in poor and developing countries, one needs great wisdom in giving of one’s treasures, but quiet acts of personal kindness flowing from a deep personal exercise will be richly blessed of God.