We’re three weeks into a series on Short Term Missions. Let’s get practical.
I’m a list-lover. I will feel confident doing almost any job as long as I have a check-list to follow. I create lists for myself – to-do lists, to-read lists, to-write lists, to-watch lists. I just love lists! It’s genetic. My father is a list maker, too. He makes lists of country music videos to watch while working out. He makes lists of when he watched which James Bond movie last. He makes to-do lists that include such items as, “mow the lawn” and “find the remote.” Listing is in my blood.
Here’s the thing about missions, though, there’s no “this is how you have a successful, God-honoring short term mission trip list.”
Or is there?
Growing up attending three different youth groups simultaneously, I heard a lot of advice on how to be a better Christian. Get an accountability partner. Read your Bible. Spend time with God. Pray. Listen. Seek. Be. Serve. Stay far away from “the line” (the line being sin). Stay pure. Honor the Sabbath. Share Jesus with others. Bear fruit. Repent.
All of these words are awesome words representing awesome ideas. The problem is that they are pretty vague. Stay pure? What does that mean? Because I spent years thinking it meant to keep my body pure which was no big deal because nobody wants to date the boy crazy, loud, no-sex-till-marriage one. Spend time with God? What does that mean? Invite Him over to watch the Lord of the Rings? Share Jesus with others? What does that mean? Hand him out like pieces of birthday cake?
Be a Christian? Do short term missions well? What does that mean? How do I actually do that?
I’m getting the feeling that if these are the questions that flash through my mind whenever I hear a Bible study leader or pastor tell me to “just live for Jesus” that maybe I’m not alone. That maybe I’m not the only one who would really like a checklist (not a list of rules!) for doing this missions thing well.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in Bible study listening to my friend and Bible study leader preach the truth about how stinking saved we are. We are all the way saved. We are so saved. We are not saved by the skin of our teeth. We are not kind of saved on the verge of losing our salvation any day now. We are so stinking saved. “And if we know that, then shouldn’t we live better?” she asked.
I remember nodding along and “mmhmm”-ing but also on the inside shouting the question that my insides are always shouting while my outsides are assuming the answer is so obvious to everyone else that it’d be ridiculous to explain it. This question: “YEAH BUT HOW DO I ACTUALLY DO THAT?!”
Then my blessed roommate spoke up, answering my unasked question. “Jesus. It needs to be all about Jesus.”
I want a check list for doing short term missions better. I want to be able to offer a check list for doing short term missions better, but the thing is, there would only be one item on the list – Jesus.
When our one concern is not lists or projects or success or photos for the slideshow, but rather Jesus, everything else will fall into place. When we’re not worried about where the money came from or where it’s going or how much of it we get to use on souvenirs, but rather Jesus, money is no longer an issue. When we’re struggling to see people as God created them because of all the walls we’ve built up all of our lives and we’re trying to take down the walls brick by brick and we’re trying to figure out what the heck we have in common with these people or we’re asking ourselves why on earth they do it this way when this other way makes so much more sense, we’re missing it. We’re missing the point. It’s Jesus.
When we’re focused on Jesus, knowing Him (by reading the Bible and listening for His voice), serving Him (by loving people as He loved them, which goes back to knowing Him), and proclaiming Him (“Hey this is what Jesus did for me!”) all of the other stuff fades into the background and either miraculously gets taken care of or moves so far down on our priority list that it doesn’t matter anymore.
How do we do short term missions well? We point to the cross and duck. We point to Jesus and get out of the way. We focus on Jesus ourselves. We pray all day. We read the Word, searching for what Jesus said, who He talked to, and how He reacted to sin. We sit and listen to the Creator. We look for the Truth in other people. We believe what Jesus said when He said He’d be with us. We believe what Jesus said when He said we’re all a mess. We believe what Jesus said when He told us, “Go,” and we move forward.
Hey trip leaders/long termers, how would Jesus treat this group of people serving alongside you/under your leadership for this short period of time? How does Jesus offer you grace every single day and how can you offer that grace to the people around you? What are you learning about Jesus every day and how? Are you desiring to please Jesus or to please your community? Are you desiring to please Jesus or to please your short term group? Are you seeking Jesus or are you seeking your own fame? Are you looking for Him out there in the world or are you looking for photo ops and stories to make you and your ministry look better?
Hey short termers, why are you going on this trip? Figure out the why. Ask yourself why and listen as God helps you figure out the real answer. If it’s not Jesus, it’s better to know that for sure than to pretend this is all for Him. Let Him search you. That means asking, “Why am I going on this trip?” and then sitting and thinking about the answer until you understand it all. Sometimes that means writing things down or talking things out with someone you love and trust. Why are you going on this trip? If the answer isn’t, “Jesus,” change it. Look for Jesus every day. Look for Him in the words and actions of others. Look for His grace and His truth in your team. Look for His forgiveness and mercy in your own life. You’re here and that’s a blessed miracle.
There’s only one item on the How To Do Short Term Missions Better list: Jesus. When our eyes are on Him, everything else falls into place.
But that’s still pretty vague, so here are some practical things I do to focus on Jesus.
- Read the Bible. He’s everywhere, not just the Gospels. Read The Jesus Storybook Bible. (It’s not just for kids. It’s awesome.) Once you’ve read The Jesus Storybook Bible, go read about Gomer. Read about Abraham. Read about Peter and David and Solomon and Jonah. See how Jesus loved them? That’s how He loves you. That’s how you should love others.
- Talk about Jesus. Talk about what you wonder about Jesus, what you like about Jesus, what you don’t like about Jesus, what confuses you about Jesus. Talk about Him with people who don’t know Him and people who do. If you need someone with whom to talk about Jesus, I’m always up for a chat.
- Listen to other people talk about Jesus. Go to church. Go to Bible study. Go to dinner with a friend. Write stuff down that resonates with you, stuff that makes you think, stuff that makes you say, “Yes!”
- Look for Jesus. Once you’ve had Him pointed out to you through the Word (The Jesus Storybook Bible – seriously, read it all!) and by others, start looking for Him yourself. Make a list of His attributes as you see them in the Word and search for these in people and places.
- Picture Him when you pray. A couple of years ago I started picturing myself in front of Jesus when I pray. I often picture myself with my head on his feet, speaking into His dirty, bloody, broken feet. Sometimes I kiss His feet, sometimes I soak them with my tears. I focus on just His feet because all of Him is way too much. I tell His feet how sorry I am, how thankful I am, how unworthy I am and I tell His feet how great He is. Make Him real in your mind’s eye.
Jesus is what it’s all about, and when we realize that and make it true in our lives, everything else falls into place. Right? Right. Okay, but how do YOU do that?