It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. You’ve probably heard someone say that in a meeting or TED Talk somewhere. We identify with sports analogies like these because they teach us a lesson that’s easy to remember. The writer of Hebrews uses a sports analogy when he encouraged readers to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1,2)
The truth is, if given a choice, we’d rather run a sprint than a marathon. A sprint is a much more manageable commitment. Training for a sprint is much different than schedule you commit to when looking forward to a marathon. A marathon is daunting. A 40 yard commitment is easy compared to 26.2 miles. A marathon takes endurance. And building endurance takes patience.
Since the course you’re running leads toward the mission field, you need to develop patience more than you would in any other area of ministry. I’ve never met anybody heading to the mission field for the first time that wasn’t in a hurry. They think somehow they’ll miss an (usually) undefined opportunity. The result is they impose unrealistic deadlines on themselves. This becomes their method of getting things done, and develops into a habit, then a lifestyle. Finally, they impose unrealistic deadlines and expectations on everyone around them. That way of doing ministry has a very short shelf-life.
Yes, the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. The operative word here is “workers” not “plentiful” or “harvest” or “few”. To be of any value as a worker, you need to have a long-range view of the task, the ability to endure the work, and patience in the work. You’re absolutely needed for the task of reaching the nations with the gospel; hands down; without a doubt. Further, the experience and wisdom you’ll develop over the next few years of your life in the mission field will have value you can’t put a price on. You’ll be needed to train those who will go to the mission field after you. If you think you’re part of a rare segment of the population now as you prepare to go, just wait a few years. Seasoned trainers of missionaries are even more rare.
Patience (P) is something that is built through experience (E) over time (t). If you’re a geek like me, you could turn that into a formula that looks something like this: P = E x t
Here are thirteen directions to develop your experience over time to build the patience needed to finish your race well.
- ► Authentic faith and personal integrity. The biggest beef Jesus had with religious leaders in His time was not about theology or methodology. It was about hypocrisy.
- ► Contribute to the goal of every person in every nation in your generation hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do your part to not short-circuit, limit, or hinder the opportunities of others to know Jesus.
- ► Fulfill your call to cross-cultural ministry whether living abroad or living back home.
- ► Live in community. The longer you walk with others in the church, the more you’ll be inclined to be cynical. Resist the temptation otherwise you’ll isolate and insulate yourself as you age rather than be available to bless and train the generation that follows.
- ► Commit to fulfilling all ministry assignments in each season of my life well.
- ► Manage money and resources well.
- ► Maintain sexual fidelity. Many of us lived without rules or restraint before meeting Jesus. Don’t ignore old triggers; name them and replace them with godly behaviors and habits (like those on this list). Slow down. Pause. Don’t indulge. Don’t get used to the thrill of failing in the familiar struggle against immorality. Starve your appetite for illicit, secret thrills. Stay faithful to your spouse even if you haven’t met him or her yet. Finally, serve others more than you serve yourself.
- ► Parent well. Whether on the mission field or preparing for the field, family should never take the back seat – even to fund-raising. Even (especially) at home, you’re preparing the next generation to reach the nations when it’s their turn.
- ► Submit to authority.
- ► Lead well. This is joined at the hip with “submit to authority.” If you don’t submit to authority, you’ll emerge as a toxic leader if/when you get your turn to lead.
- ► Serve others. There is no other way to develop true humility. Ambitious people know how to fake humility by playing (hypocrisy means play-acting) religious games. This false method of working one’s way into leadership gets exposed sooner or later. Sadly, it’s usually later.
- ► Train leaders and hand over authority. Just like your dad handed you the keys to the car, it’ll be your turn to hand the keys over to someone younger and less experienced than you.
- ► Continue to prepare for the next task. Once you reach a certain age, you may think you know all there is to know. God continues to prepare you through times of brokenness that can be more difficult than preceding seasons of your life. No matter what your age, be patient to allow God to finish the work He’s begun in you.
Very few people develop the patience they need to finish well. Paul in his second letter to a young man he was mentoring wrote: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7). It’s possible for you to say words like these in your future. Allow God to build patience in you.