Why are you in ministry? Why do you want to go into the mission field? I have a confession: I had many motivations for going to the mission field. Most were noble, but some were self-serving. I wanted to bring the gospel to the unreached. I was motivated to serve with the poorest of the poor. I believed the best way for people to get to know God was through solid Bible teaching. I wanted to make myself available to Jesus to go to places not many people were willing to go. So, radically serving Jesus, was a clear motivation, but very high on my list of missionary motivations were bragging rights. I wanted to impress people.
I worked hard at my 20th high school reunion to let people know I was working in Africa.
“In Africa! Really? That must be exciting!” one former classmate said to me.
“Well, yes, at first. But then you get used to your day-to-day routine,” I said, falsely downplaying things after I not so subtly made the conversation about me in Africa.
“Where in Africa?” someone else asked.
“South Sudan,” I said, shrugging, like it’s no big deal.
“Isn’t that a war zone?” I was asked.
“Technically, yes.” I said.
In front of all of my hometown friends, I wanted to be The World Traveler. On the other hand, when I was with my church crowd, my motivation for going to the mission field was make the name of Jesus famous. Conviction came through a conversation with Brad, a former high school friend that had also become a Christian since graduation. Brad, in humility, shared all the small, yet transformative things the Lord was doing in his life, expressing gratitude for his co-workers, his wife, his children, and his pastor. I realized that he was a better representative of Jesus to our high school classmates because his speech was Jesus-filled, infused with grace. In my case, I talked about me. Over that reunion weekend, I was an evangelist for me, not Jesus. That was a wake-up call. The Lord revealed to me, through my friend, the shallow motivation of my own heart.
The call to be a missionary is a gift. God is bringing us – you and me – into His overarching plan for redeeming mankind. That’s a big deal! Not only has He called you, but God has given you gifts and talents to make you effective. The things that excite you about the mission field and the sense of adventure you have about missions, others think is unusual. Some of your friends and family think you’re really odd! And YOU think they’re the unusual ones! That’s because you’re gifted to be a missionary. Because missions comes so naturally to you, the temptation is to think your call and subsequent motivations are pure.
Thomas Hale, author of On Being a Missionary says:
“God takes our natural inclinations and interests and sanctifies them for His purposes. Don’t wait for your motives to be one hundred percent pure before heading for the mission field, or you’ll never get there. But once you get there, expect God to begin purifying your motives in earnest!”
Results stemming from giftedness or talent are not equal to the fruit of motivation that is pure. Motivation is tested when God arranges circumstances to isolate motivation from results. This is not always discerned with human senses. In fact, we often miss it. We’re enamored with talent and results. Giftedness is not intertwined with motivation. We all know extremely gifted people with impure motivations.
God doesn’t bless the results of your talent. He blesses the fruit of your heart’s true intentions. He sees the difference even when you – and others – don’t.
God’s motivation test is something He constantly puts us through. He reveals our motivations through circumstances, success, failures and life events. When we’re sensitive to what the Lord shows us, we’re changed and made more useful to Him. In Jeremiah 18, we’re given an image of a potter making and then remaking vessels of clay. The Lord always has us on his pottery wheel making us and reshaping us into vessels useful for his service. The process is not pleasant – testing never is – but God desires for us to be vessels He uses for honorable purposes. He is preparing your life to be “ready for the Master to use you for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). Stay open, pliable, and teachable, and your motivation, usefulness, and results will be Holy Spirit guided and infused with grace.