What do I mean by that – accomplish our mission? Just do it? Well, it’s not quite that simple. It ties back to how we know what we are to do. It’s a process unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any other realm of this life.
Let’s go back to the idea of detection that we mentioned previously in this series. We referred to Viktor Frankl’s book, you’ll remember – Man’s Search for Meaning. He said that we detect our purpose – the meaning of our lives. Once we know what we’re good at and like to do – our gift – then we start looking for a place to use our gift to help our family, our church, our community. We detect it. But that’s not all there is to it.
I think, to most people, who are trying to work for God, it’s a journey – a learning curve, an unfolding, and sometimes, a backtracking. It seems that God passes us through many different experiences and states to sharpen and polish our gift. And, as we get better and more experienced at using our gift, we are pressed into more advanced uses of it. Do you want to see a biblical example?
What gift would you say God gave to Jesus? Well, He was the Son of God. He existed with God before His life as a man. He created the universe and has been at God’s right hand forever. He’s without beginning or end of days, we’re told in the Bible. So we think of Him as perfect, which He is, but, as a human, He still had to learn. He wasn’t born fully functional. So He had to develop through His childhood to adulthood. Like us, He also had to grow into His mission, because He was a human. Now we all remember the miracle where He turned water to wine. Do you remember the story of it? It’s at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He had never done a miracle yet in public. In John 2:1 to 5, we can read part of the story.
John 2:1-5 – On the third day there was a wedding at Cana of Galilee and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with His disciples. They were all there at the wedding – very festive. Back then, the emphasis wasn’t on the ceremony, like it is today. It was on the meal. They called them wedding suppers or wedding feasts. The gathering was a public acknowledging that the couple was now married. We might think that the disciples thought they were off-duty – just have a social time with everybody. But then – reading in John 2:3 – When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” And His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”
You know, a lot has been said about Mary. And she was honored by God. But she was still a Jewish mother. She’s propelling her son into His mission before He even thinks He’s ready. That’s a kind of detecting, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you say? He didn’t know He was supposed to turn water to wine, but He learned that He was from His mother – to glorify God, not to glorify Himself – to do God’s work, to draw attention to the fact that He was different.
Do you remember when you first learned to ride a bicycle – that feeling of accomplishment and pride? I do. Well, the kind of doing that Jesus did – where He turned water to wine – doesn’t feel like learning to ride a bike at all. There’s no sense of self-aggrandizement or pride in oneself. We feel that kind of pride trying to do God’s work and we’re off on the wrong track.
Think with me a minute about the apostle Paul. He accomplished so much for God. But think about how that happened. First, he was busy killing Christians. Then, out of nowhere, he was blinded and confronted by Jesus Himself in the middle of the Damascus Road. Then he had to be led by hand to Damascus – a blind man. And there he was – so much in disarray that he fasted and prayed for three days. Meanwhile…I’m reading in Acts 9:10 now:
Acts 9:10 – Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. And the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise, and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas, look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. For, behold, he is praying and he has seen, in a vision, a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man – how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has the authority to from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name” – to throw them in prison. “So God, do you really want me to do that? Oh no, not that! Anything but that!”
V-15 – But the Lord said to him – in verse 15 – “Go, for his is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name.”
Now let’s think about the things that he suffered for God’s name. When Paul was called to God, he was highly respected, highly educated man – an intellectual, an intense man, a single-minded man, a man too busy to get married. He seems rather austere to me. And we talk a lot about how convoluted his writing is – in English, at least – but, if we look closely at the things he wrote at the end of his life, we can see that he was different. All the things he suffered made him more compassionate, kinder, more loving. At one point, he told one of his congregations, in a letter, that he cared for them as a mother gently cares for her infant child. That’s quite a picture, isn’t it? Just before he died at the hands of Nero, he was probably at his best. And we might think, “What a waste! All that training, all those gifts, all that experience, and then he dies. Such a shame!” Or not! God doesn’t look at that way at all. He didn’t need Paul to do His work. But God did share with Paul and let him participate with Him in the love of His life’s work, the church – the body of Christ. So that was a gift, too. And that was good for Paul. That’s why it was given to him. He could have done it other ways, but that would also be true of each of us, too. God can always do His work without people. He just chooses to do it through us.
When we’re about to die, like Paul, we’ll realize there is still a lot to be done in the mission that He’s given us and that we won’t get to finish it. And that will help us realize that God didn’t need us, but he did let us help. Why is it like that? Why does God do it that way? Well, the answer is in 1 Corinthians 1, beginning in verse 28.
1 Corinthians 1:28 – God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness, and sanctification and redemption – some things none of us can accomplish on our own. So that, as it is written, “Let one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” See, we’re not doing it. God does it. And, if we feel proud about what we’ve done, then we’re missing the picture altogether. It’s His work, His church, His plan, His gifts, His breath that He breathed into us, so that we can live. God gets all the credit and all the glory. And we get to help and to learn. And, without that participation, we might never make it. So it’s something that God gives to us to do that’s good for us.
When we’re on the right track, we know this. And when we’re using our gift, we’re not lifted up or proud. We’re humble, because we sense it’s not us. And yet, God is sharing and letting us participate with Him.
Okay, let’s say that you know where your gift is. Where do you use it? Where is your mission field? How do you home in on it and get it done? Well, I want to show you a picture – in words out of the Bible – of a man who was like a laser-guided, heat-seeking missile for God’s gift in him. It’s in Acts 8:21.
Acts 8:21 – Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip – Philip’s the man I’m talking about – “Rise and go toward the south, to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and there was an Ethiopian – a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians – who was in charge of all her treasure – so a very important person in that world. He had come to Jerusalem to worship. And he was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him. Why was he running? He was excited. He was going to get to use his gift! His gift was not knowing who to talk to, apparently – the angel had to show him that – but his gift was to know what to do when he got there.
Acts 8:30 – it says:
V-30 – …and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” And he said, “How can I understand unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to up with him and sit in the chariot. Now the passage of the scripture where he was reading was like this: “Like a sheep He was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, He opened not His mouth.” And the man wanted to know who Isaiah was talking about – himself or someone else? And it says that Philip began with that scripture – with that man’s question – and he used those two things as a portal into the man’s heart. He started there and taught him about Jesus. The man was so excited that just a few miles down the road, he wanted to be baptized – so, some good feedback for Philip. What he was doing worked! God was present with him.
You can do this. We can all do it – maybe not in that area – maybe not with new people – but there are other gifts. Of course, having an angel tell him who to talk, probably, didn’t exactly discourage him either. At least he knew what the target was. Most of the people I know, who have a gift, have a laser-guided, heat-seeking quality about them. They’re on the lookout for ways to put the gift to use. And in their situation, they just know what to do.
One day, about ten years ago, I was sitting at my computer, feeling old – of course, I had no idea, at that point. I was thinking about how I wasn’t as good anymore at working with teens, like I used to be, because the age difference is greater and I’m more disconnected from their culture. And while I was sitting there grieving the loss of that ability, an email came in. It was from a young woman who used to be a teen who went to a church that I pastored. And she said that she found me on Google. She told me all about her life now. She was married and she had a son. She was happy. And we reminisced about the old days back and forth in our email conversation. She said, “The thing I remember most about you is, you were there when I needed you.” Well, that was true. I saw that she was struggling – anyone could – but I knew what to do. And there was a time when I wouldn’t have, but I know that God has given me a gift for that. I can pinpoint specific times when I learned what to do – and specific times that caused me to want to use it. Someone observed of me once, regarding this gift, that I was like a man on a mission. So there’s that laser-guided, heat-seeking thing – oriented toward the objective because of the gift and because of the mission – drawn, propelled toward young people who need help. Once they’re out of danger, I seem to look for the next one – not that I don’t care about them, but my gift is not to live their life for them. It’s to help them live their own better – and not that I’ve made the right move always. You know, live and learn means we don’t always know everything or do everything correctly. So, we get better as we use the gift we have. It’s not necessary to be perfect. God knows we’re not perfect. And He doesn’t even need us at all, but He lets us help. And He guides us and makes what we do work.
There is one serious roadblock we need to spotlight for a bit. That Philip ran to the chariot implies something. One, he knew what his gift was. By the way, what gift was that? Well, yeah, Philip had been given the gift of evangelism. He wanted to use his gift. Look with me at a scripture – Philippians 2, starting in verse 19.
Philippians 2:19 – I hope, in the Lord Jesus, to send Timothy to you soon, so that I, too, may be cheered by the news of you, for I have no one like him, who is genuinely concerned for your welfare, for they all seek their own interest, not those of Jesus Christ.
Timothy’s gift, apparently, was that of a pastor. He was genuinely – from his heart – concerned for the care of his flock. He ran to the members of his congregation like Philip ran to the eunuch.
So what’s the roadblock that we have to watch for? Well, it’s self-interest. Apparently, back in the church back then – just like in the church today – very few people were really homing in on what God wanted them to do personally to use their gift in God’s service. So people tend to be not interested in God’s things as much as they are their own. It’s a hard thing to comprehend – something we all have to struggle with. Let’s look in Matthew 16:23.
Matthew 16:23 – But He turned to Peter, and said, “Get thee behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Whoa! Somewhere along the way, Peter changed. He became dedicated to death for Jesus Christ, completely immersed in preaching the gospel, using his gift to do it. You know, it’s pretty dedicated when you know you’re going to be killed for doing what you’re doing and you just keep doing it full bore anyway. Well, that’s what he did.
Now, next is a scripture that shows us where we need to go. It’s in Romans 8:5.
Romans 8:5 – For those who have lived according to the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Many people, who call themselves Christian, don’t think much about their gift, or their mission, or finding either of them. They’re too busy thinking about themselves, the cares of this life, living for themselves. Here’s a biblical warning about this orientation – Galatians 6:7.
Galatians 6:7 – Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. For whatever ones sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will, from the flesh, reap corruption – you know, we’re going to die – but the one who sows to the Spirit will, from the Spirit, reap eternal life.
So that’s your full potential, right? And how do we get there? By focusing on the gift God has given us and doing the job He’s given us to do. We also have to rely on Christ to do all of that – to be forgiven so we can even get started and, then, for the gift that He gives us to do the work. It’s all God. Once we know what our mission is and our gift is, then we need to find ways to use them to accomplish our mission.
After I learned that I had been given a gift to help teens, I started helping them one at a time in my congregation. And the results were pretty amazing. I don’t have time to go into it now, but it was astounding to me. One day I got a call from the director of my church. He wanted me to move to headquarters and oversee our church’s national youth group operation. I thought, “Maybe God gave me this gift to share with the rest of the ministry,” so I accepted. And my first responsibility, incidentally, was to go all the regional ministerial conferences in North America one by one and teach all the ministers how to connect with teenagers. I can still see them sitting out there in the audience – arms and feet crossed, frowns on their faces. Now, it’s not that some of them didn’t understand – and a significant number of lay people heard what I had to say and got it, but they probably had the gift, too. So I learned from that experience that I had taken a detour – not to mention that my church was approaching a split. No one was thinking about teenagers. And ever since then, I’ve made jokes about my lack of timing. And while it was painful, I can’t say it was waste of time, really, because, in a church culture oriented toward a programmatic approach to helping, I now understood that helping programs only work if there are people in them who want to help people one at a time. That’s how people are helped.
So here’s the scripture I focused on. Let me back up to that. Do you know what the single greatest predictor of success in college is? An involved member of the faculty taking an interest in a particular student – one on one. You know, college is the big program, but what makes it work the best is one-on-one relationships. So here’s the scripture I focused on – Galatians 6:9.
Galatians 6:9 – Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, especially to those who are of the household of faith. So this is a call to each of us to help people one on one as we have opportunity.
Now, some people are oriented toward the elderly, some toward children, some toward teens, some toward the poor, some toward new people, and some toward the, as yet, uncalled, and some toward the entire congregation. And each is a gift.
You know, when you’re working with the entire congregation, one on one isn’t as important, perhaps, as being a gifted administrator, which is also a gift from God. So each thing is a gift. And, if you find yourself drawn toward any one of these areas – or others than the one you’re interested in now – just start looking for unmet needs. You’ll find them. And then, when you do, don’t be bashful. People will be glad that you stepped in to meet the need. And you’ll start making a difference. You’ll learn your lessons. You’ll grow. You’ll find a place in the body of Christ. And you’ll know it’s about God and not you. He gets the glory and the credit. We get to enjoy using the gifts He’s given and we can thank Him for His gracious generosity.
Well, that’s it for today. Check back in two weeks to understand what to do when God changes our mission. That will be the final presentation in this series. Until then, home in on those unmet needs around you to accomplish your mission. Oh, and by the way, if you’re interested in helping teens or children, please read the books by Ross Campbell, How To Really Love Your Child and How To Really Love Your Teens. Those two books were the vehicles that God used to open my eyes.