In June of 1993 I experienced a sound that to this day I have not forgotten. I did not simply hear it, but I actually experienced it. The sound was the whizzing of an electric motor followed by a kerplunk. It was the sound of the landing gear closing on the plane as we left Raleigh, NC on our way to start a church in Lviv, Ukraine. I had quit my job a few months earlier, and the sound of the landing gear closing was like a giant umbilical cord being severed. All that was safe and secure was cut off, and our future was literally in the air. We were being shot from a cannon, and since we were some of the original missionaries at that time the net on the receiving end was not yet in place. The method of sending in those days was “Ready, Shoot, Aim”, and I felt ill-prepared for the task ahead.
Every missionary has their own version of this story, and I was reminded of our story just recently after I returned from a missionary pastors’ retreat in Warsaw, Poland. One of the common themes discussed was the lack of people who were willing to go to the mission field. “How could we generate more interest?” was my constant thought. The harvest was fruitful in many places, so how could we promote the need? Is there a better way to do this? What can possibly motivate someone to rip themselves up from their roots and choose such a path? The answer was elusive until I recollected how I was originally motivated towards missions.
I honestly would not have picked myself for a mission team in those days, and I often felt like a football player whose position was third-string bench. When all the other players were injured the coach would probably look in the bleachers for replacements before sending me in the game.
Still, I was the one that went, and this is the case with most missionaries. The secret of what motivated us is not found in methods and slick presentations, but it is found in God. We are ordinary people with ordinary giftings who simply had an extraordinary encounter with God. Something had gripped us to such a degree we could not let it go.
Isaiah was a man of God and a prophet, and something quite profound happened to him that I consider to be the motivation and basis of all true mission endeavors. The first thing was that he saw God, and he saw Him in all His glory. Heaven opened and shook beneeth his feet as the praises of God and of His holiness proceeded forth from all the angels. This scene struck the prophet: “Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Is 6:5
Isaiah was acutely aware of his spiritual condition, and he was also aware that not only was he polluted by sin, but the whole nation did not stand a chance before the holiness of God. In much the same way all true missionaries are acutely aware that they live in a world that is under the judgment of God. The renowned missionary Hudson Taylor even published statistics of how many thousands of Chinese entered a godless eternity every day, and this motivated him and a whole generation to literally lay down their lives to reach these dear people. Radical compassion and identification with lost people were and are essential for a missionary.
Isaiah also let God remove his own sin and guilt. The circumstances of this are rather incredible because it shows just how serious the sin issue was as angels took a hot coal from the altar of God to bring to him and touch his lips. Imagine the terror of the moment. The angels could not touch the coal themselves, and Isaiah was already laid waste by the presence of God. However, even as God’s holiness and judgment touched him he was not injured. Instead, his sin was removed. His guilt was gone, and he could not only stand before God but he could answer a specific question that was forthcoming.
Now came the call, and the call was not from angels or from man. It was from God. "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" Is 6:8 Even before God could tell Isaiah where he would be sent or what he would be doing Isaiah jumped in response, "Here am I. Send me!" Is 6:8 God then sent him to those same people of unclean lips, "Go and tell this people…” Is 6:9
There you have it, and to this day the preparation of any missionary is unaltered. They have a revelation of God, His holiness and their own inability to stand before him. They also understand His goodness, His greatness and power on behalf of those who believe. As for me I grew up knowing about the historical Jesus, but when He revealed to me that He was King of kings and Lord of lords I soon abandoned my kingdom and goals for His.
Those who heed the call understand that their sin and guilt have been graciously taken away by the work of Jesus on the cross. They cannot keep this secret like some absurd personal faith, but are compelled to make it known.
They hear the call like it is a personal call, but it is most interesting that God did not say, “Isaiah, will you go?” He asked, “Whom shall I send?” The call is open to all who have ears to hear and understand.
I for one am a strong advocate for understanding that we are all missionaries where we are, and after a bumpy beginning of “Ready, Shoot, Aim” I can attest that practical equipping is essential. However, the lack of interest that I see in foreign missions and the lack of a spark in the eyes of Christians when I talk about this need greatly trouble me.
As leaders we must drive people to the presence of God, and once they have met Jesus and continue to walk with Him they will be able to hear the call. Then sending people will be more like pulling a plow behind 50 race horses and less like coaxing mules with carrots.
Listen, hear & volunteer!