“So why do you want to spend the next two years overseas?” is a question I’ve been asked a lot lately as I’ve walked through the application and training process for the missions program I’m joining. My initial response is always, “Why not?” Ultimately, my answer runs much deeper than that, but as a starting point, the question I first asked myself and what I now ask of you is, “Why not spend two years overseas?”
I was raised in a Christian home. I was in church every Sunday morning and, for many years, every Sunday and Wednesday evening, too. I became a believer at a young age and followed Christ headlong throughout my teenage years. But it wasn’t until college that I understood the gravity that the Great Commission holds in the lives of believers. Somehow, in my eighteen years of church and Christian culture, I missed the important truth that we are all commanded to make disciples.
I remember hearing missionaries speak from time to time as I grew up, but I always thought missions was something they were specially called to, not me. They spoke of this ethereal “call” they received personally from God. I thought that was great, but I had never experienced it, and I thought it was probably something too surreal to happen to me. I concluded that they could go overseas and share the gospel with their lips. I could stay in the States (ideally very close to home), live my life, and hopefully, point someone to Jesus. They were called to missions, not me. For at least eighteen years of my life, I limited my gospel witness to the bounds of my comfort zone.
There’s a lesson I’ve learned: if you are a follower of Jesus and you are comfortable, perhaps you are not following him close enough. Or, better yet, take it from C.S. Lewis: “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” In my limited experience, following Christ is more fruitful the less comfortable it is.
Surprised by the Great Commission
Despite my love for my “safe space,” God in his kindness plucked me from the comforts of home and planted me in the most mission-minded church I’ve ever been a part of. It wasn’t something I was searching for, but nevertheless, it found me. I had several things I was looking for in a church (i.e., expository preaching, engaging worship, etc.), but “a heart for the nations” was not on my list. Praise God for his sovereignty in granting me what I did not know I needed!
In this church, God made me very uncomfortable with the way I was living my life, safe and separate from risk. He showed me the error in my conclusion that missions is for “them” and not me. This church reads The Great Commission together after every single service. Week after week, month after month, year after year, I’ve spoken the following words aloud alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)
Without any help from me, the Spirit has used this passage to slowly and steadily transform my mind and heart. It was often subtle and sometimes subconscious, but the process and where it has brought me is a testament to the living, active power of the Word of God. Through these three verses, the Spirit convicts us, calls us, and carries us.
The deeper this passage sinks into my heart, the more I feel convicted by my unfaithfulness to share the gospel. Far too often, I am not obedient to this command. Personal evangelism is not a “spiritual gift” that some are blessed with and others are not. Evangelism is a spiritual discipline that all of Jesus’ disciples should intentionally practice and cultivate, much like any other spiritual discipline (i.e., prayer, fasting, reading Scripture).
Ask yourself: When was the last time I shared the gospel? How many times have I shared the gospel in the past month? Do my habits of evangelism provide an honest reflection of my relationship with Jesus? If not, consider the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 10:14–15, 17:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
May God’s Word convict you, but may it not stop at defeat. May it call you to something greater.
If you are a disciple of Jesus, you are called to make disciples of Jesus. That is clear. The question is not if you are called, but where? To whom? Doing what?
Where has God put you today? What people has God put around you today? What does God have you doing today? Wherever you are, whoever you’re with, whatever you’re doing, that is where God has you, and he has a purpose in putting you there. It makes no difference whether that’s in your office in America with your coworkers or in the 10/40 window with hard, calloused souls and a marketplace visa to mask your missionary identity; both are unique callings that flow from the Great Commission. The place, people, and platform may look radically different, but at the end of the day, both places are under God’s rule, both groups of people are in need of a Savior, and both platforms are a potential launching pad for making disciples. Still, the task is too great to face in our own strength.
Were it not for the promises on the bookends of this command, this would all feel much too daunting. However, Jesus leaves us no room for excuses. He alleviates all feelings of inadequacy by showing us his sufficiency to carry us through. He starts by reminding us of his comprehensive authority, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Then (and only then) does he command us to go into all the world and make disciples.
Jesus concludes the Great Commission by saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus not only convinces us of his authority, but he gives us his word that he will be with us every step of the way. This is the promise and blessing that enables and equips us to obey his command. True obedience is impossible in our own strength, but as Paul tells us, God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Therefore, we can boast gladly of our weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may be manifested in us (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Finding Your Place
As you’ve heard me process my own story in light of the Great Commission, I hope a few things have stood out. First, I hope your eyes have been opened to both the danger of comfort and the fruit of obedience. Following Jesus inevitably takes risks: his heart is for the nations, and ours should be as well.
Second, I hope you’ve heard that you are called. Even if there’s no hyper-spiritual “moment,” you are called by God to make disciples. Wherever you are, whoever you’re with—be there and make disciples.
Finally, I hope you feel empowered to obey the Great Commission. I hope the truth of Christ’s authority and the promise of his presence gives you what you need to be obedient to his command. In the words of C.T. Studd,
Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say, “Thy will be done;”
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say ‘twas worth it all;
Only one life, ‘twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Less than 1% of all money given to missions goes to unreached people and places. That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Let’s change that!
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