In 1988, two couples in the church of which I was a pastor came to me and said, “We just took a course called ‘Perspectives.’ You really need to take this course.”
At that point, I was a Bible college graduate (I majored in ‘missions’ as an undergrad) as well as a seminary graduate and had been a pastor for 10 years. Kathy and I were both raised in strong Christian homes. I had read many missionary biographies and considered myself “missions-minded”. Our church already had a strong missions commitment, so I felt that I didn’t need to take a class on missions. I refused and tried to nicely avoid meeting their eyes.
But my protestations did not dissuade these two zealous couples. They persisted to the point that Kathy and I ended up taking the course just to get them to leave us alone.
I’ll never forget the first night of class. At the evening’s midpoint, as we took a break, “I remember turning to Kathy and asking, ‘Why have we never heard this before?'” I was humbled and shaken to realize that I had been teaching the Bible wrong and needed to reorient my biblical worldview to accommodate the new insights I was getting.
The well-worn Perspectives slogan aptly fit me that night: “You” be ruined for the ordinary!” Though the natural human drift is towards ordinariness, I have never been able to fully escape the missions world view that I gained 25 years ago. Perspectives is still “ruining” me 25 years later…
As I write this article, I am “swimming” in the Perspectives curriculum. I find it’s impossible to teach this material without the lessons continuing to “ruin” me.
This past week I was teaching lesson 2 (“The Story of His Glory”), which focuses the student (and instructor) on the overarching purpose of missions: that God would get the glory He deserves as the nations respond to the Good News and bow to worship Jesus.
Lesson 2 is all about motives and motivation. The key word for the lesson is “passion”. Since the word “passion” is not found in our major English versions, I have concluded that the words “zealous” or “jealous” are the biblical equivalents of passion.
As I taught this lesson, I found myself once again wrestling with my own heart
and my need to harness all of my passions for the mission. Lesson 2 highlights the fact that there are many conceivable reasons for engaging in the work of missions – some are good and some are not so good. For instance, a common, yet terrible, motivation is “guilt”. I grew up with this motivation and find that many Christians still live with guilt that they “are not doing enough for Jesus”.
Another reason for missions involvement is “obedience”. Obedience is a wonderful reason for doing the work of missions, but it is not the highest motivation. After all, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Love-driven obedience always trumps guilt-prompted and duty-motivated obedience.
After a lifetime of Bible study and following Jesus, I have become convinced that the supreme impulse for missions must be a passion for God to get his rightful glory. Like Phinehas (Numbers 25:1-13) who was moved by a passionate zeal for God, may we long for the seal of approval that was given by God to Phinehas: “…He was jealous with my jealousy…He was jealous for his God.” What an incredible affirmation!
Two of our Perspectives authors (Steve Hawthorne and Tim Dearborn) assure us that when our passion for the nations is ignited by “a far-reaching jealousy for God’s glory”, we can be delivered from missions activity which so easily “degenerates into a wearisome, overwhelming duty.” We can then find ourselves participating in “the joyous life-giving privilege of being deeply moved by human need while acting boldly for God’s purposes.”
It is then that we may boldly say with Elijah: “I have been very jealous (or “zealous”) for the Lord, the God of hosts” (I Kings 19:10, 14). I long to be able to say that in truth and with enthusiasm. – Dave Shive