The Student Mobilizer
As I write this article, I am in Pattaya, Thailand, for a confer-ence of team leaders from 45 countries around the world. I am struck by the sheer scope of the ministry that is taking place through these modern-day pioneers. These people are leading teams in some of the most difficult ministry areas of the world. I could look at them through some starry-eyed view that they are superhumans. But I cannot because they are my friends. I know most of them well enough to know that they go through the journey of life the same way we do ... one step at a time. What I am most reminded of in my time here at this conference so far is the reality of Jesus Christ in my friends' lives, and that is making the difference!
The Gospel of John, chapter 15 has a lot to say about how and why many teams are making it in these difficult places. Equally important, the basic message of Jesus in this relationship chapter is very real for anyone ... that is, anyone who desires to have fullness of life and eternal impact as the norm of his or her life.
Jesus knew that He was about to leave this world. The disciples didn't yet understand but He knew the purpose for which He had come and His future purpose for His disciples. He knew that God has a loving plan of redemption for all the peoples of the earth and He seeks to accomplish His plan through ordinary people like us. But what was most important and on His heart to say during this very intimate time with His followers? What would you say to those around you if you knew you were going to die in a few short days?
I have begun to learn that what Jesus would say in this chapter answers two of the most important questions of life and ministry:
- If I choose to follow His leading, how can I know that I will be all right?
- How can I know that my life will make a difference?
In my interaction with literally hundreds of people over the last few years, I have heard these questions come up time and time again. The root of the first question varies.
Some struggle with issues of security. Their future is determined at this point by what kind of job they will get when they are out of college, and the future they envision is one of financial success. Following Jesus, they rightly figure, may lead them to places of discomfort and even personal sacrifice.
Another area in which security is a question is the assurance of God's care. I met Cheryl at a missions conference and we talked about her fear. "I've never had a 'call' in my life," she said. "Yet I do believe God is leading me overseas. I have heard some missionaries say: 'If you don't have a call, then don't go because you won't make it.'" She was understanding them to say that unless she had a sensational experience of 'call' in her life, then she would not make it after arriving on the field. Is that true? No. And I will explain in a moment.
Another root of this question deals with significance. What will my friends think if I choose to become a missionary? What about my boyfriend/girlfriend? And my parents?
Jesus' words in John 15 speak to both of these issues in one statement: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you." Do you think that if Jesus loves you He will do something to cause you harm? Will He lead you step by step to serve in the Middle East and then abandon you there? Will He forget about you and not meet your needs? Will He lead you to a ministry you despise? The answer is a resounding "NO!" You may ask, "How can you be so confident?" One reason and one reason only: He loves us!
I asked Cheryl how she dealt with difficulties in her life now. She began to explain how she talks to her friends and they pray and seek God together. Often they have experienced His answering their prayers. When I asked her what would be different overseas, she got the point. Our security is truly found in God alone. Whether we are in Atlanta, Georgia or Astana, Kazakstan, it does not matter. Our geographical location does not determine His availability and care for us. Sensational call or not, He is there!
In the early days of our understanding of His global purpose, remembering that He loves us is critically important because the enemy floods our minds with doubts and fears. He whispers, "You will never make it." Or, "You wait until that mission agency finds out what kind of person you really are; they will never even consider you for mission service." "You have never accomplished anything for God here. What makes you think you will be useful over there?" "And where do you think you will get the money from?" "You think your girlfriend will go for this? Ha." "What about your dreams and ambitions to become a ...?" "You will disappoint your parents if you follow through with this hairbrained scheme."
But do not forget, He loves you! He is the Good Shepherd. He guides, provides and protects. Remember His words in John 10:10: "The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that they might have life and that to the fullest." He loves you!
The second question people bring up is one that can plague not only those who are seeking to become involved but also those who already are: How can I know that my life will make a difference? Or in John 15 terms, How can I know my life will "bear fruit"? The answer is found in the paradox of this chapter. If "fruit" is the driving force of our lives and the object of our affection, then none will be born. In contrast, if we have as the object of our affection Jesus Christ then "fruit" will come and it will be lasting! We often mistakenly strategize for fruit bearing without remembering this important principle.
What is the point? The love of Christ experienced in life brings the greatest measure of security, significance, and fruit-bearing ministry that one could ever desire.
But there is one catch!
Intimacy. The invitation of Jesus in the second part of John 15:9 is key: "Remain in my love." When there is a closeness in our relationship to Him, we find Him to be what He said He was ... a gentle Shepherd. He leads. He provides. He protects. He gives life to the fullest. He cares. And as he communicated in this chapter to His disciples, He loves. This gives us courage to obey. Acceptance of the love of God precedes obedience to the will of God!
But the personal benefits of remaining in Him are just the beginning. Remaining in His love, we discover that the overflow creates genuine impact into the lives of others. Jesus' invitation to His disciples was not "get out there and get the job done." Those involved in "ministry" or "missions" can subtly and easily get so caught up in the work that the intimacy is lost. Lost intimacy with Jesus makes life a drudgery and absolutely minimizes ministry impact.
Whether an experienced team leader among an unreached people group or someone who has just begun to capture an understanding of God's redemptive purpose, there is one thing that makes the difference: a daily acceptance of His invitation to intimacy.
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; now remain in my love" (John 15:9).