Why God Doesn’t Need Missionaries to be Martyrs Part II

September 01, 2016

missionaries martyrsThis is part II of Why God Doesn’t Need Missionaries to be Martyrs. In the first part I talked about how God is not the author of our suffering.

This doesn’t mean I believe suffering doesn’t have a role to play in our lives. I’ve written about how desperately we need a theology of suffering.

But being a martyr as an act of devotion to God, and acting like a martyr because you think you have to, are two totally different things.

Through my time living in Mozambique and Uganda, I learned as Christians and as missionaries we are called to enter into the suffering of others and bring love.

I also can’t deny that in my own experiences with suffering, God has used it for me to become more intimate with Him and with others.

He’s used suffering to mature me, to make me a better person of character so I could better join in the suffering of others. The suffering forced me to be needy, and the neediness forced me to get hidden in God’s arms. The hiddenness catapulted me into wholeness.

God has used these poignant moments of pain to orchestrate my deepest healing.

I think this is because God likes to take the things the enemy meant for evil and turn them into our areas of deepest blessing. 

God likes to redeem, restore, and give back more than we lose because of His kindness.

I don’t regret most of the suffering I endured for love, because it was worth it. They were worth it. 

What I’ve found is that suffering is an invitation.

It’s an invitation to connect more deeply with God’s heart for us and for others.

Recently, I’ve been going through a difficult time with infertility and I got some bad news. I went to the gym and put my headphones in to listen to worship music on the elliptical machine. During this song’s lyrics, “You’re so beautiful, so glorious,” I could see Jesus’ eyes, I could see how beautiful He was. I felt the rush of holy spirit and I began weeping, tears mixing with sweat as they poured down my face. He was with me. For me. He was asking me to keep going, and even though this costs me something, when I look into His eyes it is enough.

When I look into Jesus’ eyes and see how beautiful He is, there is nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice for Him, no fight I wouldn’t fight for Him, because He is so worthy. 

But He doesn’t need me to. He loves me just the same even if I said it was too much.
He’s most interested in our connection.

His love is extravagant enough to cradle me when I’m in pain, and to carry me when I can’t walk anymore, to give to me when I can’t give anymore.

What I do regret in my life are the inauthentic choices I’ve made because I thought stopping to tend my own heart meant I was a failure.

And I couldn’t be a failure because I needed the world’s approval too much.

I do regret the times I put the ministry above the Voice in my heart saying “No more. Stop.”

I think much of this comes down to our religious upbringing. Because if you grew up Christian like I did, self denial was something you were taught in Sunday school so you learned to repress your own desires as you handed your animal cookie to some other kid.

No one ever taught us that our heart wasn’t bad and our desires weren’t evil and that when God created us he said “It is good.”

Not it is bad.

The word for good He used in Hebrew is “tob,” it means “beautiful, best, better, bountiful, cheerful,” and my favorite—“at ease.”

My original self made in the image of our Father wrapped up in his arms before He released me to the earth is a good girl.

This means that we can be at ease because He is good, and He is what makes us good, and He will get His glory.

All of life I think we’re trying to get back to that one moment in our Father’s embrace before the world touched us when He spoke into our hearts with loving eyes how good we really were.

I’ve only ever seen the Fruits of the Spirit flow from those who have truly grasped how deeply loved they are by God and have accepted themselves.

We are appointed to do good works as His ambassadors, but the burden doesn’t fall on us to complete it. It’s His story for His glory and He will bring it about. This leads to ease, and rest.

What does this mean for the woman who has been raped in Congo,or the orphan on the street in India, or the little girl sold into slavery in Thailand?

Will we not endure suffering for their sake?

Of course we will. But the motivations behind why we do it are crucial.

Suffering is inevitable in cross cultural work and in life, because sacrifices must be made to fight injustice, to bring light into a dark world.

Sometimes we make sacrifices for the joy set before us because when we stay in that hospital with that child mother for hours we know we’ve proved to her that she is valuable.

The normal consequences of these sacrifices and the terrible things we might see and experience living overseas with violence, rape, injustice, and terrorism, can be things like PTSD, depression, burnout, fatigue, despair, loneliness.

When I say “normal,” I mean that it’s not necessarily your fault you’ve experienced these costs in exchange for your mercy and it takes intentionality to avoid and recover from them, even as God executes redemption in the course of them.

We enter into the suffering of others because of love we have first received for ourselves. We do it from love’s overflow, not from obligation.

In this way, we see the face of God. We enter the inner sanctum, the intimacy that comes from being willing to love as God loves, being willing to enter His heart and weep with Him as He weeps with His children.

Perhaps the abundance Jesus speaks of is not a material thing, but rather the abundance of inner peace and inner joy, the abundance of knowing deep down you are loved, and the abundance that flows from our intimacy with Him.

All love flows from knowing how deeply I am loved by my Father. If I move from my royalty, as a daughter, I will be provoked to be an answer to injustice.

If I move out as an orphan, I will unintentionally hurt those I long to care for.

When your life force is so depleted you have nothing to give to anyone, not to your family, not even to God, then it’s a sign something has become misshapen within your heart and your priorities.

It’s a sign you need to pull back, ask for help, and take stock.

When my giving no longer comes out of joy and overflow, when my giving puts my inner peace and authenticity at risk, I have to seriously question it.

Am I running from some dark secret inside I’m hoping a frenzy of good works will quiet?

Where I see most people falter is in the acknowledgement of such seasons and trusting God and their own truth enough to make tough choices to regain the abundant life Jesus died to freely give them.

They consider this failure rather than integrity.

I’ve seen too many good people lose their way because no one ever gave them the permission to feel what they feel and process it.

We as the body of Christ do little to alleviate these fears. We push people to think that the only measure of success is continuing to expand and grow rather than the complete health of those doing the ministering.

So I’m giving you permission today to feel what you feel and follow your inner truth.

Your emotions are not your enemy, God gave them to you for a reason. They are your guides.

God speaks through your whole being.

God didn’t make me a robot, an automaton, without feelings or choice. He made me with choice and He gave me freedom to choose.

We’re so afraid of outward sin, but we take very little time to examine the sin of our hearts- the sins of self hatred, and abdication of our free will and our inheritance as sons and daughters.

If we’ve stopped listening to our hearts how will we connect to God’s presence?
When we are so stressed we can’t stop, we’ve traded our intimacy with the Father in exchange for a list of “good works.”

I no longer look at my heart’s anger, fear, or despair and berate it, repress it, or try and push myself to feel different. Instead I ask the question inside myself, “Why?”

I know God is speaking to me now through my heart, my desires, my emotions, my body, my Spirit, and I’m learning to pay attention.

You only have so much life force to give away. What will you give yours to?

I want to give mine away to God.

Sometimes that might look like serving the least of these, sometimes it might look like serving my husband. Sometimes it might look like sitting with God in the cool of my backyard on a sunny morning writing and practicing self care.

I think most of this comes down to trust.

I need to trust God is speaking to me using all he gave me: my heart, spirit, intuitive wisdom, body, and friendships. He can even speak through my pain.

The question is am I listening to that still small Voice inside me saying what it is I need?

Or am I just thinking about what everyone else wants me to do and making people pleasing or self glory my idol?

Do I believe God trusts me enough to have made me who I am with my own dreams and desires.

He trusts me enough to give me the freedom to choose for myself.

Doing what I’m made to do will fuel me. Doing what I think I’m “supposed to do” will only drain me.

Sometimes we get this wrong because we do the thing for which we get praise rather than the thing which makes our heart come alive.

He needs you daily living out the rhythms of first receiving then unleashing what He’s given you.

What do you believe about suffering?

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  • Dave Lewis

    The difference you describe is also well defined by Skye Jethani–One is doing ministry/life FOR God; the other is like/ministry WITH God. Your best line, from my perspective: He’s most interested in our connection. Suffering as an invitation – indeed!

    • Thanks Dave, I’ll have to check out Skye’s work. Yes, I’m learning so much about being with God vs. working for Him. He is always inviting us to enter into our own suffering and explore it with Him, as well as enter into the suffering of others because we’ve gotten a glimpse of His heart.