In the previous two blogs about “Facing a Task Unfinished,” (Part 1, “The Call”; and Part 2, “Holding the Ropes”) we’ve examined the call to missions and those who hold the ropes in prayer and support for missionaries. Today, we’ll learn from two who responded to this call: Henry Martyn and William Carey. They were both 19th-century Brits, both people who had a real facility and gift for languages, and they both ended up in India, where they worked to translate the Scriptures into Hindi, Bengali and what we would call Arabic.
The other thing they had in common was that serving in missions was never their intention. In fact, Henry Martyn, a Cambridge grad, was the most brilliant mathematician in his generation. And it was Charles Simeon, director of Christ Church, who encouraged him to think more broadly than a mathematical career. So Martyn ended up in India, translating the Scriptures.
You see, Simeon understood something that, for me, defines Christian maturity: The point of the Christian life is to be a vessel God will use in the lives of other people. And that’s very different from the common understanding that the point of the Christian life is for me to become a better person and hopefully get to heaven.
Focused on God
The second orientation is entirely self-focused. And if that’s how you think about the Christian life, two things happen: First, you weigh all your actions on a scale: “How am I doing? Am I OK, God?” because you’re thinking about the good deeds roster. Second, you approach even matters of discipleship as you would a university course. It’s all about your betterment.
But the goal of the Christian life is not about betterment. Hopefully that’s a byproduct, but it’s not the goal. The actual goal is for you to be useful in the kingdom of God, making a difference in the lives of others. And it was that vision that captivated both Carey and Martyn—which is why they both ended up in India when they could have done many other things.
Most people get into the ministry not because they can’t do anything else. That’s the rumor, though. I say that because the commitment to be useful, which is at the heart especially in Romans 10, doesn’t always guarantee visible success. Right in the middle of his plea for God to raise up those with beautiful feet, as he says in his quote of Isaiah: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Rom. 10:15b). But despite his specific call to Isaiah, God did not guarantee the prophet success. In fact, he told him very specifically that in his generation, “You’re going to go to a people who are in fact, not going to pay attention to you at all.” But Isaiah still went, and the fruit of his life is, in part, one of the most phenomenal prophetic books in the entire Old Testament.
Dependent on God
In Matthew 17, the disciples come to Jesus, frustrated because they could not cast a demon out of a young man. And Jesus speaks to them plainly, saying in essence, “You’ve got more in you than you know. All it takes is just a little bit of faith. If you only had that much, you could uproot a mulberry tree. Come on! Understand what I’m putting within you.”
That sense of understanding of what God has put within you is, in fact, the key to availability. Because if you see yourself as still somehow trying to live on the treadmill of self-betterment, you can always think of reasons you’re not good enough for God to use you in the life of another person.
That is a trap from the pit of hell that has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus. Instead, the whole thread—even Jesus talking about mustard-seed faith—has to do with what God has put in you as a believer in Jesus and your dependence on him.
Changed by God
Does that mean you’re always going to win? No. But look at those he called. Look at those he continues to call. In truth, the call is not about whether you think you can do this but whether you will step out. And it is as you are stepping out that things begin to happen.
And those things, those extraordinary God-moments, never happen to the person who continues to sit and calculate. Instead, they happen to the person who, regardless of qualifications, steps up. And out of that, begins to see things happen that he or she would never imagine otherwise.
And they wouldn’t. Because if the focus is on me and my betterment, I can always think of reasons I shouldn’t get out there. But if I know in my heart of hearts that I am being changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, then what God is doing in my life is bigger than all my failures. And his glory within me is always stronger than the places of shame and sin. His plan and purpose for me are bigger than anything I could ever imagine for myself. And I have the privilege of getting in on what God is doing in me to make a difference in the life of another person.
When that begins to sink into the depths of your soul (which is, in fact, faith) a part of you says, “Let me in on it!”
Martyn and Carey would no doubt approve.
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Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.