Goals, plans, objectives, we all have them. From the time we are born we are taught to work towards things. School, education, jobs, careers, all place us on the path from something towards something.
Even the Bible takes great pains to encourage us to be wise with our resources; to not start building a house until we determined that we have the resources to finish it.
Proverbs 29:18 tells us that “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” In Pastor Andy Stanley’s well known book, Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, the first point is, “Clarify the Win”. “Even the best team can’t score if it can’t find home plate. It is impossible to know if you are making progress if you are not clear on the destination.”
The forces that push us towards organization, order, planning and defining our goals are good. When we know what we are shooting for, when it is clear what we are to accomplish, then we can measure how we are making progress.
Believe me I’m all in favor of this. Yet over the 13 years I have spent serving as a missionary in Guatemala, I have found that there is a tension between planning your work, doing it, and facing the reality that sometimes God has bigger and greater plans then we do.
This was made particularly evident to me recently.
The other day I was doing a fellow missionary a favor by taking their car to my “transmission guy”. People joke that I have a “guy” for everything, and after so many years making friends here, I guess I do. Often it’s not easy to find quality work in less developed countries, so when you do find it, you hang onto it and share it with others.
The mechanic who did the work was a Catholic and was always ready to talk about his experiences with God. We were sharing testimonies when his boss, an Evangelical Christian, came over. He was very interested in the conversation we were having, and, from his questions, I could tell this was not the first discussion about faith in the shop.
The discussion spanned broken car stories, faith in God, miracles he had done for us and our personal prayer lives. An hour had gone by before I realized how long we had been talking. I had other classes that afternoon in an orphanage. Working with orphaned and vulnerable children has been the primary ministry God has called us to in Guatemala. Yet as I pondered my pressing responsibilities, and thought about the conversation going on, I felt an overwhelming urge to stay and continue the conversation.
So I cancelled my other classes and spent the next few hours talking and praying with my brothers in Christ.
When I finally left, late in the afternoon and was sitting in traffic, reflecting upon the events that had transpired, a sense of clarity came over me. There wasn’t a tension or conflict between the ministry I believed God has called me to and people I now realized God had placed in my path to minister to. There was simply a higher order to the priorities that I had missed.
God may have called me primarily to orphan care ministry at this time, but the higher calling of every missionary, no, of every Christian, was to share the good news with the entire world, not just those we “feel” specifically called to.
In the well-known parable of the “good Samaritan” we read of both a priest and Levite, servants of God, people with a well defined, some might call “higher,” spiritual calling of serving in the temple. They lived their lives in service to God. Everything they did, from the food they ate to the clothes they wore, were part of their religion, and, in their eyes, their service to God. Yet they failed to help and assist the injured Samaritan lying in front of them on the road.
They were so focused on what they thought their mission was, that they were blinded to Gods mission which was right in front of them.
For missionaries whose job often consists of “service”, it can be very easy to clock out and think that we are only here to reach who we think we are here to reach, and ignore the others that fall out of the scope of our ministry.
On a personal level, it can be easy for someone like me, working in orphanages to say, “My job is to care for the orphans,” and in the meantime forget the staff. Or for someone who works in a feeding ministry to care only for the hungry person in the food line, and get angry with a neighbor, coworker or fellow missionary who happens to rub them the wrong way.
But when we stop and realize that the entire world is our mission field, then I think we finally have the perspective where God can use us to our greatest capacity.
I think Charles Dickens said it well in A Christmas Carol when Ebenezer Scrooge came to the realization that “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.”
The simplest way to know just who it is that God wants us to reach, is to look at the people he chooses to place in our path.