When I was young I would play hand games with my friends. You know the ones where you sit in a circle and put your hand on top or underneath the person next to you, you sing a song that rhymes but really has no meaning as you go around the circle. You have to be quick because if your hand is slapped with the last word of the song you are out, but if you are fast enough and pull your hand away, you get to keep playing. The most suspenseful part is the very end when it is only two people going back and forth. It really is a game of chance at this point, whoever happens to be the person whose hands are underneath at that fateful last word moment, they inevitably loose.
Growing up, my family was very active in church and friends, as a little girl, I loved church. I never wanted to leave and have been quoted in saying that I wished Vacation Bible School could last all summer long. Now as an adult, the idea of an all summer long VBS makes me let out a Minnesota “oofda”! Back then, church was everything sweet for me. Belonging, acceptance, friendship, a place that I was known and loved. An environment that nurtured me, I grew well in the space of my home church.
My dad was in youth ministry for most of my life. I don’t remember a time when he wasn’t leading youth group. Our church grew as I grew and by the time I was in highschool my dad was doing a volunteer job with full time hours and he then began to be paid for the work he had been doing all those years. Being a child of someone in full time ministry and then choosing to forgo college for Missionary Training School meant that I was something of an anomaly. In 2019 it is more normal for 18 year olds to take a gap year, travel, do humanitarian or missions work instead of jumping right into a 4 year school. But in 2003 it was different.
I have learned that when people are confronted with something different than what they did or would consider doing they default to defensiveness. As humans we have this idea that if someone is different from us or chooses different than we would choose, then perhaps they are saying we are wrong for not choosing that same thing. So then, we create reasons for why we could never do what they are doing. By doing this we shine a bright light on our own insecurities and alienate the person who has shared their experiences with us.
I spent my growing up years the “daughter of a youth pastor” and in my young adult years the title “full time missionary” was added. These life realities led to many conversations with people commending my passion for Jesus, God’s word, the church and outreach all while saying that there was no way that they could ever do the things I had chosen and felt impressed upon my heart to do. It was like a giant game of “not it”. As if we were all friends and Christ Followers sitting in a circle, playing a game and praying that our hand would never get slapped with the “full time ministry” or “missionary” calling.
What I am not saying is that every Christ Follower should quit their job and begin to fundraise to go to another country to share the gospel (however, if Jesus is asking you to do this, do it!). I am also not saying that every person who claims Jesus as Lord should become a Pastor or work at a church. But what I am saying is that in our own way, if we have experienced Christ and the gospel has transformed our lives, we are called to go and make disciples. Go can mean to your workplace, your neighborhood, your kids school, or community group. Going isn’t as much about distance as it is about stepping outside of yourself and what is comfortable and sharing the life changing work of Jesus Christ as you build real relationships with the people you encounter every day.
The thing is that as Christ Followers, we are all called to read, know, understand and apply the Bible, this is not only a mandate for pastors and teachers . We are also all called to care about the marginalized and least reached, this is not only the role of missionaries. We are all meant to step into uncomfortable places, going where Jesus may lead us, the uncomfortable isn’t only reserved for the leaders of the faith like Abraham, Joshua, Moses and the 12 disciples.
I think we like to tell ourselves that there is an extra measure of faith or calling for those who choose to dedicate their lives and sacrifice their paychecks to full time ministry, however that may look. Maybe we think they are extra close to God, extra Holy, have extra understanding. And maybe in some ways, they do. But not because we are created differently, the extra is directly tied to the willingness to surrender. The seeking out of truth. The desire to walk closely with the Savior.
If you call yourself Christian because of the saving work that Jesus did on the cross, taking your punishment and covering you in grace, and if you believe the Bible to be the true and living word of God then access to Creator God is yours and the filling of his Spirit in your life is there for you to receive. Walking by faith into the unknown, a place where you will see God work, that is for you. We are different, but God, he is the same yesterday, today and forever. And he invites all of us into the work he is doing to draw people into a sweet relationship with himself.
So why do we back away from this life of faith? Why do we pull our hands away hoping to not be left with a slap? Because even, and maybe especially, in these circles of fellow Christians we don’t want to be left on the outside. We don’t want to do the unconventional, abnormal, road less traveled, narrow gate, follow God without seeing – faith thing.
The people are different and the work I am doing has changed in the last 16 years, but my experiences are much the same. People thank me for the work I do to fight human trafficking. They are so grateful that I have risked and followed God to do something about the injustice and darkness that permeates the nooks and crannies of our neighborhoods, schools, community centers, family gatherings and churches, but they are quick to say “not mine”. They back pedal as soon as I begin to tell them how they too can be a part of changing an oversexualized, selfish culture that uses and abuses human beings.They pat me on the back, smile in a way that doesn’t reach their eyes and then look for someone else to talk with, about something else that is a little less dark, awkward and uncomfortable.
If you are still reading, then perhaps you are one of two people. Either you are already knee deep in the hard, uncomfortable work that is walking by faith not sight. Or, God is asking you to step out into an unknown, to be his hands and feet, to show up for those who need to see him, his love, and his glory.
If you are knee deep in the work, my friend, with tears in my eyes I say, “well done, keep going, don’t quit and you are not alone.” I am so sorry it is hard. I am sorry you feel unseen. I know the hours you work, the time you give. I know at times it can seem so insignificant. It isn’t. And you aren’t. Take the next step.
If your heart is pounding because you know God is calling you to something I say, “Follow. He is worth the risk. Knowing him and seeing him work – our Three in One God, HE is the reward.” The unknown is scary, I do realize. What will people say? Probably ignorant, hard, cruel things. Will it work out perfectly? Most like it will not work out according to your standard or vision – but to God’s plan? Yes. He will accomplish the work he is calling you to do.
I am standing across from you, our eyes our locked, my hands are coming down. Don’t pull away, it isn’t a game of avoiding any longer, but a relay race and now is your time to run.
Tag, your it.