The subject of culture and language associated with this process, often comes up with missionaries. A drastic change such as moving to a different culture and language can be a stressful and sometimes emotionally painful thing. Attempts are made to understand and help the missionary to deal with this part of their work. Is it possible that the very stresses we try to overcome are actually designed by God as part of the work, rather than a side effect of it? It is always comforting to know that someone else can relate to your discomfort. It is a helpful thing to be able to say “I know how you feel.” However, what we say after that may not be helpful; it may be dangerous.
The greatest competitor to the beauty of God in the face of Jesus Christ is our self. Self-image is the most common idol in all the world. When Jesus spoke of us losing our lives, do we imagine he was meaning our lifestyle? He means our selves—our image of who we are and the importance we attach to that image. Because Self is the greatest competitor for the beauty of Jesus and because the human heart is, above all things, deceitful, we cannot afford to take our eyes off Jesus Christ. This is the “front line” in the battle. No Christian need leave home to be part of the war, just go to the nearest mirror.
The work that God does through us will come at the expense of Self and by crushing this idol. Do we resent the things by which God chooses to accomplish this? Do we resent the humiliation of not being able to communicate our so called great wisdom to our host culture because of inadequate language? Will we refuse loneliness, friendlessness, and being misunderstood? We are ready—or so we say—to be persecuted for the name of Christ but are we ready to be embarrassed, to be unimportant, to be the foreigner who is stared at all the time? We are ready to die—or so we say—for Jesus Christ, but when does the dying begin? Maybe it begins in the inconvenience of being worn down by change. Maybe we get to experience the realization that we are nothing in a way that many from our home country don’t get to experience. What a privilege!
I appeal to you for my own soul’s sake. When I am weighed down with stress from trials, even and especially in the small things of life, remind me of the promises of God and more importantly, the Promise-maker. It will be most comforting if you can say to me, “I know how you feel.” But then, please do not point me to a counselor, the latest book, or try to help me to understand myself; rather, point me to the Counselor. Help remind me not to worry about understanding and improving my Self, but to put my eyes on Jesus Christ.
If God wills that I would be able to return the favor to you, I might be able to say to you, “I know how you feel.” However, even if I cannot, I hope by the power of God to tell you things like this:
Jesus Christ is the friend you need. His love is steadfast and everlasting; His love never departs forever. He is a friend that is closer than a brother, closer than yourself. He knows you where you do not know yourself since the human heart is, above all things, deceitful. He is interested in every tear, every disappointment, every lonely time, every irritation, every emotional and physical pain and pleasure that you might experience.
All power and authority is in Jesus Christ. He has overcome the world, sin, and the Devil. His very name, the highest name ever, Jesus Christ, Only Son of the Only Living God, is invested in each one of His children. His plan for each of us is that we overcome in Him. He alone knows what this will take in our lives and He alone is authorized and sufficient to ordain the suitable circumstances for us. Every stress and inconvenience is ordered by Him for our good which is why we can rejoice in trials.
God has identified Himself with us in Jesus. He lowered himself, taking human form, making himself nothing. He identified with us so that we can identify with Him. He knows we are human, that we are but dust. Our lives are just a breath, a vapor, and Jesus, God Himself, identifies with this. He knows we are children, mere lambs, and that we cannot care for ourselves. He does not demand that we rise to some high place, but He invites us and compels us and waits for us to cast ourselves onto Him so that His name will be known as Great.
These big truths apply to you personally. If you don’t fit in, rejoice that you get to be like Jesus. Who could have been more of a foreigner on Earth than Christ? If you are misunderstood through a language barrier, be glad to have yet another thing to leave in His hands. If you are tempted to wonder if you will ever be of any use, remember that our all-wise God chose the weak on purpose, to shame the wisdom of the world.
It’s never about you but always about Jesus. Your flesh and heart may surely fail, but God, in Christ Jesus, is your very own. You are not special, but God calls you “precious” because His Holy Spirit is in you and is working to conform you to the image of His own Son. You are His workmanship, along with the rest of His sheep. He certainly will complete all His work and all of His plans will come to fruition.
God is not asking for advice. Jesus calls His sheep; He came and is here to find the lost. This is a work that only God knows how to do. Theories, opinions, methods, and strategies are as numerous and transient as clouds, but God is real and His character and promises are real.
This is not your home. Where you are doesn’t matter. There is no “holy” culture except the culture of Heaven of which we are citizens. Stand firm, Jesus holds you up. Just as you received Him, so walk in Him, remembering that He offers His yoke.
*This article was originally published in To Every Tribe’s September 2015 edition of Ekballo Magazine.