As we were planning a family vacation my kids asked, “Are we going to sleep in the car?” I’m sure most of you would hope the answer is no. But I asked them if they wanted to, and they went crazy saying, “YES!” When I consider driving straight through the night I feel like groaning, but my kids feel like celebrating.
In his book, Ministry Mantras, J. R. Briggs shares a story about when his son was three years old and he helped plant vegetables one morning. When his son woke up from his afternoon nap later that day his first questions was, “Are the vegetables ready yet, Daddy?” He responded to his young son, “No buddy, that’s not how vegetables work. It takes a long time.” Briggs is challenging and encouraging those of us who get impatient with God’s seemingly long and slow plan. He says, “Much of ministry is learning to plod along faithfully, even when we aren’t seeing results. As Eugene Peterson writes –quoting German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche –a life committed to ministry is a ‘long obedience in the same direction.’”1
Over the many years of staff devotions, there are two I will never forget. One was a challenge from my dear friend Tom Zillman, who after reading Isaiah 6 asked this question, “If God calls you to an unfruitful ministry, will you be faithful to it?” Well, God would never do that right? And how could it be ministry if it’s unfruitful? Pastor Tom concluded by pointing out that God told Isaiah to preach to those who would not listen, perceive, understand, or respond. When Isaiah asked God how long he would have to do this, God said until the cities are empty and the homes are desolate.
Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, is a great example of perseverance – a long obedience in the same direction. He wrote in his early years in China, “At home, you can never know what it is to be absolutely alone, amidst thousands, everyone looking on you with curiosity, with contempt, with suspicion, or with dislike. Thus to learn what it is to be despised and rejected of men…and then to have the love of Jesus applied to your heart by the Holy Spirit…this is precious, this is worth coming for.”
As Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story for Hudson Taylor is this… “Taylor’s daughter died from water on the brain; the family was almost killed in the Yang Chow Riot of 1868; Maria, Taylor’s first wife, died in childbirth; his second wife died of cancer; and sickness and ill health were frequent. Yet, the China Inland Mission continued its work of reaching China’s millions for Christ. By 1895 the Mission had 641 missionaries plus 462 Chinese helpers at 260 stations. Under Hudson Taylor’s leadership, C.I.M. had supplied over half of the Protestant missionary force in China. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, 56 of these missionaries were martyred, and hundreds of Chinese Christians were killed. The missionary work did not slack, however, and the number of missionaries quadrupled in the coming decades. Chinese Christians proved remarkably resilient under Communism. They did not die out but multiplied many-fold in one of the greatest expansions in church history.”2 Praise the Lord for Hudson Taylor’s persistence!
At some point on our long road trip I’m sure I will groan and my kids will whine and ask “are we there yet?” But I’m learning to “apply the love of Jesus to my heart by the Holy Spirit.”
Maybe even with a beef jerky and Diet Dew at a gas station in the middle of the night. Then it’s on the road again!
For other articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org
1 Ministry Mantras, JR Briggs and Bob Hyatt, pp 84
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