It’s the pinnacle of Christian service, right, the role of the foreign missionary? The long-dress-wearing, once-a-week-hair-washing, pop-culture-unknowing, weird-food-loving, strange-language-speaking, stunningly holy, terminally single woman who has given her all for an odd set of people and a hopeless work:
Is it any wonder you don’t want to be that?
But let’s say you’ve outsmarted the stereotypes. You’ve seen through the gauze of hero-worshipped missionaries. You can actually picture yourself serving God where God is little known. And now you’ve set your heart and head in that direction. You’ve put your hand to the plow (1 Kings 19:21).
Good for you. But you want the bad news? There are a thousand little evils in your enemy’s bag of tricks all custom-designed to keep you from doing what God has laid out for you to do. Here are just nine of them. Be on your guard.
1. The bubba you’ll fall for
He’ll fulfill 24 of the 25 items on your list since puberty, but he won’t care about the world. This doesn’t make him a bad guy. In fact, it makes him sort of a project and, for that, all the more intriguing.
Or Bubba may be a Barbara, and when you’re standing next to her in church twelve years down the road, you can know the capacity of God to make plans B, C, and Z work but still wish you were worshipping in another culture.
2. The specter of your past
I don’t know what people have said and done to you, nor do I know what dumb stuff you’ve done as a result. But I hear the whispers of those things even now: “You’re damaged. You’ve slept with too many. You’ve messed up too much. Your contribution to things that matter may be small. Don’t get your hopes up!” If you only hang onto 18 of the 1300 words here, let them be these:
You did not deserve the damage that was dealt you,
and it does not have the last word.
3. The weight of your culture
Like air and gravity, your culture exerts tremendous and largely unnoticed influence. It is relentless and almost always wins. The “bet the rent” odds indicate you will grow up to love, spend, and vote like your parents. The more that tweaks you right now, the greater the likelihood it will happen.
Thirty-one years ago, I could fit everything I owned on the roof of my little yellow Ford Fiesta, shared with two friends and all their stuff for the summer. Three months ago, I had three houses, a mountain of debt and five kids. I’m not kidding about the culture deal.
4. The lure of trendy causes
To be fair, some causes are trendy due to their merit and many of us should rally to them. Matt Damon is right about water. Malala is right about educating girls, and Jesus was right about justice for the oppressed (Matthew 25:31-36). But offering the life of Jesus in cultures that so far have heard little about it has not often been trendy, nor is it now.
Causes are rarely single and compartmentalized, for sure. It’s a messy world. But this is true: If some of us do not focus on and work terribly hard to tell people who haven’t heard about the life Jesus offers, we will drift toward work that’s easier, more measurable—and honestly, trendier.
5. What you take in as entertainment
I have no right to judge your viewing habits and I would not float mine forward as a good standard. But let’s be honest, we live in a time when you can see pretty much anything you want at pretty much any time. Our dads had to hide their dirty magazines. You get email invitations to look at stuff and you simply need to angle your phone a bit.
This is not easy to deal with, but it certainly works against our spiritual health and maturity. At the shallow end, it makes us weak. At the deep end, it will leave you disqualified and sitting on a pile of manure you’ve shoveled together yourself.
6. The debt you’ve accrued
It may have seemed like a good idea or it may have looked like the only way, but now, oh my, what a mess. Again, I have no grounds to judge, but let me encourage you to question the common narrative, to consider who benefits from you buying that next shiny thing, to think critically about the messages of your culture, and to bring someone older and smarter than you into the loop of your money habits. (Yeah, people actually do that. It hurts like heck at first but makes you happy later.)
7. The need to please others
Right now, you may be doing any number of things simply because your parents wouldn’t want you to do them. That’s normal. But over time it’s also normal for us to want to live a life that makes sense to the people most important to us.
This is part of what makes society work and shouldn’t be written off too hastily. But it must be weighed against the tendency of God to ask for radical obedience and his track record of using ordinary dopes like us to accomplish extraordinary things, and often to the bewildered surprise—even disappointment—of friends and family.
8. The lazy longing for comfort
Life is hard work and most of us at some point give in to the desire to float downstream for a while with a cooler nestled in the tube tied to ours. But to find yourself doing effective work in North India, speaking Urdu like a champ, will require more than going around the bend of a lazy river.
You may be flush with your own power and energy, right now. That’s God’s gift. Run with it! But keep your head up and your eyes open. You wouldn’t be the first rock star to find yourself satisfied plinking a couple of tunes around a campfire.
9. A numbing love of tolerance
ISIS and the devils in Burma (and elsewhere) notwithstanding, tolerance is the tenor of global culture these days. It is the utopian theory de jure.
Honestly, it has a lot going for it. Jesus was certainly more tolerant than the religious leaders of his day. And people will like you better if you overlook their quirks and flaws. But what do you do when the wave of tolerance washes over you and you wonder if Jesus really is necessary for life?
Tolerance to the right degree will enliven your Christianity. Taken too far, it will neuter and then kill it. Well before getting to that point, you will have compromised enough to give up the crazy notion of raising your own salary and raising your kids in a killer hot place with little or no access to the internet.
If you’ve made it this far, can you do two things for me?
Take a second to share which of these would most likely knock you or your friends out of the race, or another thing if I failed to mention it. Comment on Facebook, reply on Twitter, or share your thoughts on our website.
Since this is list is too grim for even my worst days, remember with me that God is more powerful than all of these, in all their various combinations, in all areas of our lives.
These nine reasons you’re not going to make it could be—should be—proven wrong. One day I’d love to have coffee with you right in the middle of what God calls you to and celebrate our respective victories.