Lessons Learned

A friend, Shannon Taylor, recently posted an item that is a great encouragement to people who are leaving their home country to serve in Christian ministry:

Seven Years Later…

Today marks seven years from August 1, 2006, the day I boarded a plane and moved to Asia. What a ride it’s been – full of growth, challenges, adventures, tears and joys I never would have imagined! Recently I was asked for some advice by a young woman considering going into full-time missions. That got me thinking. So to commemorate seven years, here are 10 important lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. BE FLEXIBLE. One can’t say enough about this when living cross-culturally in places where the western values of planning and preparedness don’t always reign. And it’s especially important in a developing country where politics is crazy, city-wide strikes are common, and you may or may not have electricity or water (which isn’t clean even when you do have it) at any given time.

2. LAUGH EASILY & OFTEN – ESPECIALLY AT YOURSELF. If you can’t do this, you’re gonna end up crying far too often… like when you accidentally say something really embarrassing when trying to speak in a foreign language, or when you have absolutely no idea what people around you are talking about, or when there’s no room on the bus and the driver tells you unkindly to climb on the roof, or when you’ve forgotten to bring your own toilet paper into the asphyxiatingly stinky squatty potty during a power outage (keep in mind frequent GI issues in such countries), and the candle inside goes out and it’s pitch black and there’s no water to flush or wash your hands (true story).

3. GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS. Give up the right to choose your food, to wear what you want, to cleanliness, to comfort, to convenience. Give up the right to be understood, to have a good reputation and respect, to be self-sufficient and independent, to be in control. Give up the right to control your money, and to have plenty of it. Give up the right to be recognized and get credit for what you have done. Give up the right (if you’re single) to marriage and a family. Forfeit all your personal rights for the greater good. Instead, live humbly and with open hands, all the time. If there’s ANY DESIRE OR THING OR PERSON other than Jesus that you are holding onto and afraid to surrender, you may want to ask him what he thinks about that. It may be hard to release it into God’s hands – really hard. It may hurt. A lot. But God’s promised to take good care of you. And giving up the right to things doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t or won’t have them. It just means you’ve settled in your heart that you don’t NEED them, so you won’t hold it against others or against God if you don’t have them. Oh, the freedom and lightness! Mark 8:34-35

4. SORT OUT YOUR IDENTITY ISSUES. It’s not about what you DO (even what you do for God), but about who you ARE – God’s Beloved (Song of Songs 6:3), his work of art (Eph 2:10) whom he looks upon as holy and righteous because of Christ (I Cor 1:30). It’s about sonship, not about success. When you are in Christ, there is nothing you can do to make yourself more or less perfect or whole before God (Romans 10:3-4). There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more or any less. It is already done – and it had nothing to do with your efforts in the first place. (Here nine minutes of goodness on that point.) The finished work of the cross is just that – finished. Live and work FROM that finished work, not FOR it. It makes all the difference.

5. PUNCH YOUR FEARS IN THE FACE. If there is one thing God makes a point of repeating in scripture, it’s “Do not fear”, though I stole the “punch” line from Jon Acuff’s book Start. If you are operating out of fear, then you are not operating out of truth, plain and simple (Deut 31:6). Don’t let the enemy of your soul keep holding you down and eating your lunch – punch back! Get some moral support if you need it. Every time you confront fears, expose them to the light of truth and walk straight into them, not only do you see them scatter, but you get stronger, but you become a little (or a lot) more yourself – more fully who God created you to be.

6. BE A PERSON OF PRAYER. Prayer is often a much more effective kind of work than your own wonderfully brilliant human effort. And it can save you a lot of time spent on the wrong work. For real. ‘Nuff said.

7. CARRY THE RIGHT BURDENS – nothing more, nothing less. There is a lot of fixing to be done in this world, and there are a lot of people out there who need to know God’s love. With all our progress, that’s still the case (Matt 26:11). You can’t do it all, and you’ll kill yourself trying. Know what God has asked of you and do that – and ONLY that! Don’t get ahead of him. That is prideful and foolish. God’s divine enablement will not accompany you where he has not asked you to go. Don’t pick up burdens just because you see a need, or because someone else thinks you should. Jesus is boss. Ask him first! His yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt 11:30), but other yokes and burdens are not. Doing the wrong assignments or carrying false burdens can hurt you, and it won’t produce lasting fruit. John 15:16, Psalm 127:1-2. That segues nicely to my next point….

8. GOD SAID TO REST- SO DO IT! If you don’t know how or don’t take time to rest in healthy ways, you are going to get into trouble. True rest is not only about sleeping or not working, though those are important. Be still. Know your God, and know that he IS God and that he wants to give you rest. Do not fail to receive it (Psalm 46:10, Hebrews 4:1-11). It is beside God’s heart and in his will that you find true rest and peace (Matt 11:28-30). Learn to live in those places, and everything else somehow magically falls into place…Note: it may require some letting go and repenting to get there – remember that open hands thing. Isaiah 30:15 and some humorous commentary

9. THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH! This is a fact, as stated in Nehemiah 8:10. If you aren’t living and working from a place of joy and thankfulness, but rather are anxious, stressed or overly driven – something is wrong! Not only are you weak, but you are living in downright disobedience (Matt 6:25-27, John 14:27, Phil 4:6-7). Stop, reassess, throw off everything that’s hindering you. Fight for the joy! Repent of believing lies. Punch some fears. Lay down false burdens. Remember that God is absolutely crazy in love with you. If his joy is not your strength, you don’t really have strength… Sooner or later what you do have will get used up and run dry. Trust me, it’s not pretty when that happens.

10. JESUS TRUMPS EVERYTHING! The best thing you have to offer anyone, anywhere, is not your great program or organization, your expertise, your great theological insights, your wonderful church, or even your own love and friendship. It is JESUS – the person who loves them most of all, who will never leave them or forsake them, and who already knows all about them, because they were his idea. Sometimes we have to give up trying to be the hero, the fixer, or Jesus’ personal Don Draper. Jesus is the fixer. He’s the healer. He’s better at it than you. And he can market himself just fine. Point people to him, rather than trying to do his job for him. And there’s a bonus for you when you do – you get to work WITH him rather than FOR him. It’s so much fun and the fruit is so much sweeter!

2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned

  1. Mike says:

    Yes, I remember facing #7 when I first came to Russia. I sensed the Lord saying that I should help those who are at arm’s length; that is, the people who are close to me, within reach. Those are the people He has put in my life. I couldn’t help ALL the Russian orphans, but I could help those God put close to me (and MIR).


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