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The Insufficient Missionary

Nearly every missionary I have worked or interacted with, at some level views themselves as insufficient to the herculean task before them. Some who might compare themselves to missionary greats even view themselves as frauds. The daunting task of glorifying God in another culture seems too much to bear when you are on the inside looking out and all you see is your own sin and insufficiency.

Missionaries are some of the most self-deprecating, silent sufferers serving the Lord today. A typical missionary wrestles daily with the fact that, in comparison to his historical and contemporary counterparts, he is insufficient to minister cross-culturally.

You are insufficient
Missionaries, before you can begin to heal and serve joyfully you must come to the freeing realization that, yes indeed, you are insufficient to the task for which God has called you. Your ability, skills, and training are less important on the mission field than your willingness to serve others. You don’t need training, certification, or a job title to bring the gospel to the world. You only need an obedient heart inclined toward God. We must lay down our wisdom, our abilities, our strength, and our victories and we must rest in the unmatched grace of God.

As disciples of God, we are to view our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 21:1). All our abilities come from God (Jas. 1:17, 1 Cor. 2:13, Is. 41:10) and our God-given talents are provided for His glory (1 Pet. 4:10). Therefore when we despair because of our insufficiency we are to remember we can accomplish anything through God (Phil 4:13) and that in the end we will succeed in God for His advancement (Phil 1:6). Global evangelism is not easy, but the Lord promises us that He has sufficiently prepared us and His purpose will be accomplished.

Promised success
If we are in God’s will we cannot and will not fail. No matter how badly we slow down the progress of the gospel or foul up the advancement of God’s grace, God’s will is guaranteed to be implemented. Look at the life of 19th century missionary Hudson Taylor. This pioneering missionary to China would be declared by most everyone as a missionary success story. Yet, during his time on the mission field, he was beaten, became ill numerous times, and was robbed. He endured the death of five children, his first wife, and dozens of fellow missionaries. Hudson Taylor endured pain, but he knew he was being used by God for His glory. Taylor once said, “God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supplies.”

If God selected you for His work he will provide you with all you need. Go forward knowing our Father has prepared you for victory. When it comes to global mission you are neither a winner nor a loser of souls. You are a tool in the hands of a master carpenter. Let God work. God desires to utilize His disciples, but we must always remember, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing that has the ability to truly change lives.

We have proven to be an insufficient source of wisdom. We cannot trust our fellow man. We must trust our labors to Scripture and God’s perfect plan. We know God is sufficient and provides us with everything we need to succeed. So why do we continue to meddle in His perfect will?

Avail yourself
God did not select you as a disciple because you were the wisest or most holy. He did not set aside some to be missionaries because they were the best and the brightest. Missionaries are willing servants whose greatest attribute is they were intuitive enough to say “yes” when called to serve in cross-cultural missions. Our missionaries have been set apart, not because of their abilities, but because of their obedience. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “It was God's hand that laid hold of me, and drew me out, and separated me to this work.”

Missionaries, you were obedient when God called you to the field. Now, remain obedient when God asks you to endure hardship and allow yourself to be used for His glory. Embrace the fact you are insufficient for the task you have been called to accomplish. Find joy in knowing God is sufficient and He has prepared you to accomplish what He desires. You have been endowed by God with great blessings which are to be used to bring Him abundant glory. Tim Keller said, “Gifts are abilities God gives us to meet the needs of others in Christ’s name.”

We all have different experiences and abilities, trials, and blessings. The question is, how are you using your life to bring glory to God? Go forward in confidence. God selected you to do His great work and he knew your flaws and limitations before He choose you. Like Paul and David and Moses before you, you are insufficient sinners who God has called and prepared for success. You are no mistake. You are exactly who God wants battling on the frontlines. 

Mike Pettengill has served with MTW in Honduras and Equatorial Guinea. He is now the director of MTW’s West Coast office.

Mike Pettengill, Missiology Reflection Jun 2, 2016
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