7 Aspects of Missionary Passion
It wasn’t the live coal that changed Isaiah but rather the forgiveness that he knew God had given him when that burning coal touched his lips. We can see the change in Isaiah by his two contrasting responses to God. His first response to God’s holiness was negative, “I’m undone!” now when God asks for volunteers we see Isaiah jumping up and down like a school boy with his hand raised high in the air!
“Pick me, pick me, pick me!”
…Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” Isa 6:8
I’m convinced that righteous desires can only come from God. Satan isn’t in the business of tempting people to give their lives to missions. Unfortunately there are times when we can confuse a true desire for missions with other desires that do not arise from proper Biblical motivation for missions. Some people desire adventure and the romance of traveling to new places, some may go to the mission field in an effort to meet the expectations of others, while still more may be trying to win God’s grace and by becoming a missionary.
To go with misplaced desires is dangerous. It will most likely result in lost passion, discouragement, and return home sooner than expected. However, a Biblically informed desire will never point you in the wrong direction and will provide you with the strength needed when you find that “missions” is not a romantic travel adventure! The substance of your missions desire and passion must firmly connect with your understanding of God and the forgiveness he has given you through Jesus Christ.
Pastor John Piper explains the question of desire for missions this way:
“To be sure, as you discern God’s call on your life, take into account your gifts, consider the need, consult your church. But in the end, the question is this: Is there an unrelenting, recurring, desire to spend and be spent for the glory of Christ among unreached peoples of the world?”
While a desire to go is a good sign that God has called you, the absence of that desire does not automatically mean you are not called. Once again let’s not forget Jonah! We know that God called him (Jonah 1:2) and Jonah’s response was to get up and run the other way (Jonah 1:3)! Why didn’t Jonah’s desire line up with God’s call to missions in his life? Most likely it was because Jonah’s understanding of God’s salvation plan was out of whack. Unlike, Isaiah, Jonah did not have a Biblical outlook on his own position before God and upon God’s grace and mercy. It is only when we succeed in aligning our correct knowledge of a holy God with reality that God can begin the work of creating those righteous desires in us.
Isaiah’s new-found desire to serve God flowed directly from his understanding of what God had done for him. Isaiah wasn’t looking for an adventure, trying to earn God’s favor, or seeking to meet the expectations of his friends or family. It was a pure holy desire to share with others the joy that God had given him. This should be the primary and ever growing factor that pushes your hand into the air and says,
“Pick me, pick me!”
What exactly does a righteous desire for missions look like? Let’s look at a few characteristics to help you identify it.
1. A thankful heart
Gratitude should never be an empty word nor an idle feeling for the child of God. It was thankfulness that energized Isaiah to boldly say, “Here am I, send me!” The desire to serve in missions must connect with a heart overflowing with thanksgiving. We go not because we “must” or “should” or “have to” but because we “get to,” because we want to more than anything else!
Like a child who received the toy he had been longing for at Christmas we must jump to our feet and embrace our Heavenly Father!
12:1 You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.
2 “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”
3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
4 And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 “Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.
6 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
2. A readiness to serve God
Missions involves serving people yet it is primarily about serving and pleasing God. A desire for missions must include an eagerness to do all you can to please your loving and holy God. You are not earning His favor but rather returning His favor.
Notice what Isaiah didn’t say.
He didn’t say:
“Here am I, please don’t send me.”
“Here am I, I’ll go if no one else does.”
“Here am I, I suppose I could go for a few months.”
“Here am I, I’ll go if it’s not too hard.”
“Here’s my friend Bob, why don’t you send him?”
Isaiah’s exact words were, “Here am I, send me!” In one short sentence Isaiah threw himself upon the altar of God’s will, he held nothing back, he was ready to serve God whenever, wherever, for however long needed! He did not limit his involvement, he did not hold back parts of his life, he did not leave himself a “Plan B.” He so fully committed himself to service of God that he didn’t even pause after saying, “Here am I” to see what God’s answer would be, instead he boldly made the suggestion, “Send me!”
3. A love for God’s Word
God’s Word is the core of all that a missionary does. Without a deep and abiding love for God’s Word it is impossible to have a godly desire for missions. Isaiah indicates his value for God’s Word in just about every corner of his book. Very early on in the book he writes:
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken… Isa 1:2
This kind of statement tells us of the authority Isaiah invested in God’s Word. “Jehovah has spoken” indicates divine revelation; it is something that should be listened to very carefully and then obeyed. Later in the book Isaiah will tell us other important facts about God’s Word.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Isa 40:8
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isa 55:10-11
A love for God’s Word must accompany the desire to serve in missions!
4. A love for God’s people
Isaiah’s ministry was not an easy one, few people responded but God did promise him that there would be a remnant, a small percentage of people who would turn in faith to God, these are God’s people.
And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump. Isa 6:13
It was for this holy seed that Isaiah went out and preached. As a missionary you will preach the gospel to many and not all will respond, yet some will, they are the reason we go out, they are the reason we don’t give up, they are worth the pain and the problems that you will face as a missionary!
The Apostle Paul also describes a similar desire in himself:
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 2Ti 2:10
The reward for the missionaries work is growth of the church, if you don’t love God’s people, if you are not enthralled with the Church then your desire for missions is off and you are sure to encounter apathy in your mission.
5. A recognition of spiritual darkness
Recognizing the veil of darkness that covers the unbelieving heart is also a vital part of the missionaries desire to go. The missionary understands that without Christ man is in complete darkness. We don’t simply go to fix social problems, we take the light of God into a dark hearts.
Isaiah first recognized the darkness of his own heart “Woa is me for I am a man of unclean lips” then he recognized the darkness of the world around him, “and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
We must grow in horror over our own sin
We must never allow come to think of ourselves as give in to the lie of Satan that we are in some way better than those to whom we preach the gospel.
We are saved by grace, we continue by grace, and we preach the gospel by grace.
I want to be as a forgiven sinner speaking to unforgiven sinners, not as a self-righteous and pious speaking down to poor sinners.
Later Isaiah describes the darkness that envelops the people to whom he is being called to preach. Notice that they are not only “in” darkness but the darkness is also “in them.”
And when they shall say to you, Seek to the mediums and to wizards who peep and mutter; should not a people seek to their God, than for the living to the dead? To the Law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this Word, it is because no light is in them. And they shall pass through it, hard-pressed and hungry; and it shall be, they shall be hungry; They shall rave and curse their king and their God, and look upward. And they shall look to the land; and behold, trouble and darkness and gloom of anguish! And they are driven away into darkness. Isa 8:19-22 (Modern KJV)
God called Isaiah to preach to people who were in darkness and in whom darkness dwelled. After being exposed to the light of God’s holiness Isaiah now had a basis to see this darkness as it was, hideous, dangerous, and far from God. His task to shed light on blackened hearts would not be easy. Many would shrink further into the darkness, some would try to put out the light that Isaiah carried. Yet Isaiah could also see that the end result of this darkness, it would bring destruction and anguish upon the people. Certainly Isaiah also remembered the darkness that previously dwelt in his own heart. This knowledge surely strengthened his desire to go with the light of God’s Word, after all, only divine light could dissipate the spiritual darkness of the human heart.
In the gospels we see Jesus coming as the “true light” (John 1:4-5) and “the light of the World” (John 8:12, 12:46). Jesus also teaches us how we ought to be the light and gives us one compelling reason to bring God’s light into a dark world.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Mat 5:16
The reason is simple, we want others to enjoy the treasure of God, we want them to join us in glorifying and worshiping the one true God forever. The only way for that to happen is to bring them the light of the gospel!
6. A disregard for personal power, position, or praise
On the negative side it’s also helpful to look at what is not included in the desire for missions. Isaiah’s response to God’s call is simple and pure. He does not appear to be vying for position, trying to “move up the ladder,” or anticipating some sort of authority or power.
Isaiah seemed to be well acquainted with the authorities of his day, he interacted with kings. It appears that Isaiah may have been been of royal blood, Jewish traditions holds that Isaiah’s father was the brother of King Amaziah. If that’s true then Isaiah would have known a lot about positions of power. Like any government modern or ancient, struggles for power are common. Isaiah quite likely had “connections” in the king’s palace who, if he wanted them to, could “get things done.”
Yet we sense no greed for power in Isaiah’s voice as he volunteers for service of the Almighty God; we see no political ambitions or maneuvering for a better position in the monarchy. In fact, what we see is quite the opposite. Isaiah’s message would not be a positive one for the rulers of his day to hear. His message would cause him problems personally; it would take from him any political power that he may have had.
Unfortunately our propensity towards power and popular positions can easily be passed off as a genuine passion for missions.
In Western church culture missionaries are often elevated far above what is proper, because they have “sacrificed” everything for the mission.
Additionally, social media has made it popular to show how caring, kind and spiritual you are. This can get you more followers, dozens of comments of praise and recognition by thousands of people.
We’ve replaced “Short term missions” with “Selfie stick missions” too many use missions as a way to self-promote
There can be good applications of short-term missions and we should respect those who choose to give their lives in service to God in another country, we must at the same time never allow the praise and admiration of man nor the opportunity for power and position to play a role in our desire for missions. Your desire for missions must chart a wide course around personal fame, power, and praise.
7. A secondary regard for the conditions of service
By secondary conditions of service I mean the following things and those like them:
How much will I get paid?
What kind of house will I live in?
What kind of health insurance will I have?
What kind of retirement package will they give me?
Certainly all the things mentioned above have a level of importance and can greatly affect our ministries. However, we must also understand that they are secondary to our call. That is to say, these conditions do not have a direct relation to our call but only a secondary effect on the details of our service to God.
Notice that Isaiah doesn’t have any criteria for serving God. He doesn’t say, “I’ll go if you can promise a decent salary, and a good retirement plan.” Isaiah’s desire to go and to serve his God is so powerful that he’s not afraid to answer the call before knowing all the details.
When Paul describes his missionary service it looks like this:
24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;
26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;
27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
The reason Paul could go through the above was because his approach to life and missions was:
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press ontoward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
A wise missionary will pay attention to the details of his service. He must take care of the proper paperwork if visas are necessary, he must make sure his family is provided for, that they have funds to properly feed and clothe themselves and continue in ministry. Yet these questions must always have a secondary nature in the heart of the called missionary.
J.C. Ryle puts it well:
“Zeal in Christianity is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire, which is not natural to men or women. It is a desire which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when they are converted to Christ, however, a desire which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called “zealous” men and women. This desire is so strong, when it really reigns in a person, that it impels them to make any sacrifice-to go through any trouble-to deny themselves anything to suffer, to work, to labor, to toil, to spend themselves and be spent, and even to die-if only they can please God and honor Christ.”
We desire to go not because the pay is good and the living arrangements are comfortable but because deep within rests a desire to please our Savior! When knowing God and making Him known is your greatest pursuit you’ll find serving Him, no matter the situation your greatest satisfaction. Our God is a Father who wants to give us righteous desires and then help us fulfill those desires for his glory!
A Biblical zeal for missions isn’t a passing emotion, it’s more than a sympathetic tear for the poor or needy.
Biblical zeal for missions must be worked on and cultivated in our lives daily.
Biblical zeal for missions starts in our own hearts as we grow in our awe and understanding of God’s grace.
Biblical zeal for missions expands as we root ourselves deeper in the truths of God’s Word
Biblical zeal for missions motivates us as our eyes our enlightened to spiritual darkness