Wisdom in Waiting

I want to come back to a thought slipped into a recent post about Paul’s calling. A great book on Luke’s narrative of Acts got me thinking about mission calling. Let’s look at the idea of calling in Paul’s life again.

Paul’s mission calling consisted of two necessary components. Paul received an invitation to mission from Jesus in Acts 9, but Paul did not go until he received the second facet of his calling—the sending. In Acts 13:1-4, while the church fasted and worshipped, the Holy Spirit said to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work I have for them. Many years earlier, God shared the big plans he had in store for Paul, even in his sending, he went out as an assistant to Barnabas. Likely, as most of us do, Paul had big ideas for changing the world. However, he waited his time before going, and didn’t skip steps on the way.

There is wisdom in waiting. Let me come back to this idea in a moment. When Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, his world changed. He went north to destroy the church, but returned ready to help build the church. Even though he received a paradigm shift of epic proportions, Paul need the appropriate time to process all God was doing in him. Before his encounter with Jesus, he was flying up the ladder to great things among the Pharisees, and then we don’t see him doing anything of significance for a longtime. Part of his paradigm shift must have included a patience and waiting on God to do the leading rather than leading his own life and looking for opportunities to advance his position like he did at the beginning of Acts 9 by going other Sanhedrin to receive letters to persecute the church. Now God looked for him and found opportunities for Paul to advance the name of Jesus.

In mission, the calling is the easy part. The invitations are numerous, especially too young people in that prime window of opportunity between 18-24. In my context of Bangkok, we are perpetually live in a cycle of inviting people to come serve with us. There is always more work that can be done and more hands on deck will help accomplish the mission of God in this city.

At the same time, we have seen some people come through here with an eagerness to enter into the calling they received from God without waiting for an accompanying sending. The role the local church plays in missions is vital. In the same way as the Antioch church sent Barnabas and Saul, we need local churches sending those called by God. Balance should be the watch word. I understand some churches are afraid to send their best and brightest overseas, because the local ministry has so much need too. Yet some churches let everyone go with little oversight. If a young person feels a burden for another country, they just go with a slap on the back. As young people, we need to have the blessing and support of our local church in order to succeed long-term. If we want more than an experience, we need to have a church backing us the whole way.

Let me give a few points to how our local church plays a significant role in our ability to succeed.

  1. Financial support. Without the financial support of a local church or partnering ministry team, one severely limits their long-term potential. I know people who just come to participate in the mission without fully tapping into a support base, and their long-term viability has limits. I understand the role of faith, and that is an issue for each person to work out between God, but if God wants us to be somewhere, he will make a way. Notice in Acts 18 after Paul arrived in Corinth, he worked at tent making until Timothy and Silas arrived. Then he devoted himself to the word and prayer. He became fully engaged when others supported him. The local church or a partnering support team makes it possible for a missionary to dedicate their time and energy to the mission that God has called them to.
  2. Prayer support. When we know that our church, and many others, pray for us regularly, we gain a confidence that God is going before us to make a way for the ministry. I have told people in our church that we know God is praying for us. We feel God’s presence when our church family lifts us up in prayer. In this way, our church celebrates with us when we do well, and lifts us up when we have struggles. And who doesn’t have struggles on the mission field.
  3. Sharing in the benefits. Our local church gets to share in the benefits of the ministry happening halfway around the world. They work to keep us well, as we represent them in mission.
  4. The little things…email greetings, birthday cards, packages, presents; little decorations for holidays all help us feel connected with our home as we live out a calling in a different context.

If we want to succeed, the support base that sends us plays a pivotal role. There is wisdom in waiting until God’s timing and sending. Don’t short circuit his plan by leaving to soon…


2 thoughts on “Wisdom in Waiting

  1. I have to laugh because it feels like we are living in the reality of all these things. Having to wait 10 years, feeling the vacuum between the local church and the support needed to go as we raise support. Seeing the droves of college age people going overseas but returning in a year. It has caused us much reflection on these things. I would love to talk more about this offline, but something that I am wanting to target as we talk to these college students is to, on the one hand help them discover opportunities to experience and learn, but at the same time bringing them into a pattern of discipleship and steady maturing that will (hopefully) help them see beyond the moment. I love that college students fully embrace the moment that they are in. The whole world is open before them, and they can jump in anywhere with both feet. But they can just as easily jump out again and go another direction. Granted, I don’t know how much this is simply the culture we live in. However, I listen to the message we send as American Christian leaders to these youth, and can’t help but feel that we often foster this fantasy that “I am the next Christian super star that will win the world for Jesus, I can do anything. I have all the options available to me, I just have to pick what I want.” No, not really. Reality is a lot tougher and far less glamorous. I can’t help but feel we are guilty of creating such a sense of urgency and implicit calling, that we are setting them up for disappointment when the slow steady pace of following Christ kicks in.

    What does discipleship look like when you are stuck mowing lawns for a year, instead of doing something “amazing” for Jesus? What does does discipleship look like when after a year overseas, we are totally burned out and disappointed and come home to a place that does not feel like home anymore? What does discipleship look like when no one supports us, and we look at God thinking, “But I thought …” What next?

    Oddly, I think our obsession for “success” poisons our perception of discipleship and obedience to Jesus. At the same, time we have painted so many different facets and stages of life to look like “failure.” And if there is one thing that our culture will not accept, it is falure – in life and ministry. If your life or ministry does not match the image of success that we painted and imagined, then we call it failure.

    Oh, but this kind of “failure” is solid gold, I think, in teaching us how to slow down and listen, and wait.

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