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A Heart Aflame by Rev.Mike Ricker
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us.”
Luke 24:32

 

Missionaries For the Right Reasons
by Ajith Fernando

This is a shortened version of an address given by Ajith Fernando to the Evangelical Missionary Alliance (now Global Connections) annual conference in November 1997.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, "Death is at work in us for life in you." Ajith Fernando, Director of Sri Lanka Youth for Christ, discusses what this means. Spiritual ministry is costly.

Even Christians can be swayed when deciding where to work: by the benefits, the house, the salary. We hear people saying "I don't want to work in that country, because I don't like the climate." Jesus's call was to leave earthly comforts and take up the cross. And a cross is a place where people die.
A key part of Christian ministry is the cross of suffering. If we avoid that, we forfeit eternal fruitfulness. The Lord said "Love each other as I have loved you." (John 15:12) And how do we do this? "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Christians are people who are so committed to their friends - those they minister among - that they lay down their lives for them.
A Theology of Groaning
Paul dedicated his inner being to people he was close to; he yearned for them. That yearning is a missing factor in ministry now. It is too painful to yearn any more. But it is yearning that produces urgency. He said "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel." (1Corinthians 9:16) He was passionate for the gospel. That passion caused him to do whatever it took to share it with others. Today we're afraid of such urgency. So we don't yearn for people like Paul did.
When we open our lives to others we make ourselves vulnerable to pain. To love is to hurt often. Using the vivid imagery of a woman in labor, Paul expresses this in Galatians 4:19: "My dear children, for whom I am in the pains of childbirth until Christ be formed in you, how I wish I could be with you and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you." He identified so much with the Galatians that he hurt over their theological confusion.
The Christian life as a life of groaning, as we long for our full adoption and redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). Present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. After a huge catalogue of trials, Paul says, "We do not lose heart, for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2Corinthians 4:16) So we have a theology of groaning. The groan of those who look forward to glory.
Handling Stress
Paul lived a stressful life because of his commitment to the flock. "Besides everything, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led to sin and I do not inwardly burn?" (2Corinthians 11:28) Today, stress is looked upon as something to avoid. But it is all part of opening our lives to
others. Paul wrote, "We love you so much that we delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well." (1Thessalonians 2:8) That's a very beautiful verse.
Some stress is wrong stress. We don't know how to take our Sabbath rest. We are "driven" people, getting fulfilment out of success in a competitive society. Perhaps we suffer from a "Messiah complex," refusing to delegate, and we bear burdens which we should have shared with other people. Biblical stress comes out of love for others, not out of a lust for achievement. If we take on biblical stress, we must be strong by having the strength that comes from the joy of the Lord.
Finding Joy
For Paul, this was the one joy which always remained. "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice." (Philippians 4:4) That is something we must jealously guard. How do we guard it? He goes on: "Let your gentleness be evident to all." When the joy of the Lord is missing, gentleness goes, and if provoked, we can act in an ungentle way. So how do we get joy which will make us gentle? The answer is simple. "Don't be anxious about anything." (Philippians 4:6) We may have the stress of life, but we can't have the anxiety of unbelief.
This peace, like this joy, is essential to life. It guards us. It guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Here is the key to managing stress: grapple with God until joy and peace in believing returns. Only then can we go to the world and take on the stress we need to absorb, if we are to be his agents in a torn world.
There's a lovely example of this from the life of Hudson Taylor just after Maria, his first wife, had died. He first went to his room and spent time alone with God, then he came down to see to arrangements. When it was time to close the coffin, he took one last look at his beloved wife, and went again up to his room. Only after this did he come back to complete plans for the burial. It was a discipline he had cultivated. This joy is a treasure we must guard with the utmost diligence, and guarding it is a discipline.
John Stam of the China Inland Mission, who was shot along with his wife by the Communists - when they were 29 and 30 years old - once said "Take away everything I have, but do not take away the sweetness of walking and talking with the King of Glory." Take away everything I have - this I must have, the joy of the Lord. We must develop our own ways of restoring this joy.
God taught me this when I was having a hard time with my studies at a Buddhist university, and staying in a Buddhist home. I developed the discipline of walking, sometimes three or four miles, until I felt the joy of the Lord in my life, and regained a sense of his sovereignty. Only then would I turn back. Walking home, I began to intercede. But no intercession until the grappling with God is complete.
Handling Anger
Angry Christian leaders have no freshness in their spiritual life. Sooner or later the weight of their anger shows in an ineffective, unattractive ministry. We must work at having our lives controlled by joy, not by anger. Angry people cannot be gentle under provocation. Any kind of provocation acts as a switch to release hidden anger.
Sri Lanka is torn by strife. The Youth for Christ work has a bigger Tamil work than a Singalese work, and I'm a Singalese, and this has been a very important part of our experience as a family in going through the turmoil. There will be times when we have strong anger at what is happening, but that anger has to co-exist with God's joy. This came to a head for me in 1989. That year alone, we lost about 50,000 people with Singalese fighting Singalese, but it went unrecorded. It was just one of those terrible years. There was never a time when there wasn't a body floating down the river at the edge of our city. They were all young people. Some I knew, some I'd talked to the Lord about. And I was very angry.
The government set up a commission to ask "Why are the young people revolting?" I felt this was a good time to express my outrage. We brought our staff together, and what we produced was a very revolutionary document. We sent it to the Commission. People who spoke out against the government were being killed, and the best-known journalist had just been killed. For several days after sending that document, I got up in the night in a cold sweat, thinking they had come to take me.
I felt it was my Christian responsibility to express this anger in a constructive way. But I later realised that I was not handling my anger properly.
We decided that whatever happened, we were not going to leave Sri Lanka. We would work at keeping a happy home for our children. That is the best heritage we could give them. But my moods were not helping. I would get depressed and angry and upset. One day my wife said to the children so that I could hear, "Father is in a bad mood. Let's hope he goes and reads his Bible." She hit a very important theological truth. She knew we needed to spend time in the Word, surrounded, as we were, by anger and pain and death and the smell of bodies burning. You need to expose yourself again to eternal truth, and focus on things that do not change, then you get strength, and with that strength comes joy. The joy that enables us to go out to the world and to take on the anger, the pain of other people.
Missionaries For the Right Reasons So what can we learn from this as missions? In inviting people to join you in your task, use biblical means, not promises of excitement and fun. "Come and see the world, meet wonderful people" and all of that. To produce missionaries who know how to suffer, use biblical truth that can sustain them when the going gets tough. By that I mean the glory of the gospel. When Jesus sent people out, he said "Christ will suffer and rise, and repentance and forgiveness will be preached." That was part of the Great Commission. The content of the gospel is a tremendous motivation to go and share the gospel.
James Denney once spoke at a missions conference and almost his whole talk was on propitiation. Those who invited him were wondering "What on earth is this man up to, talking on propitiation?" And just in his conclusion, he said, "If this is so, we must go and preach the gospel." Let people see what it is to be separated from God. And let them see the call of God to deny themselves, and take up the cross, and die. (Mark 8:34,35) The glory of the gospel; the lostness of the people; the call to die. We can find missionaries who come for the right reasons.
I tell our staff that Christian ministers are people who get their strength from God, go into the world and get bashed around. Then we come back, get our strength from God, go back into the world, get bashed around. And that is our life. We go, get bashed, get strength, go, get bashed, get strength. And we can take on strength in this way.
Don't hold back from the idea of commitment as you prepare people for missions. Christians from affluent countries are losing their ability to live with inconvenience, stress and hardship. They are unable to stick to their commitments when the going gets tough. Will this mean that the West will disqualify itself from being a missionary- sending region? I think we are seeing some embarrassing examples. This could be one of the crises that missions are facing: missionaries who are not prepared for deprivation and pain. We can find missionaries who come for the right reasons, and we must.