by Stan Nussbaum
As we look at the South African situation, our family has to think about some unpleasant possibilities, even though they are remote.
In the February, 1976, issue of Reader’s Digest there was an article called, "Time Runs Out for South Africa." Lesotho, the little country where I work, is completely surrounded by South Africa. So, that article was of some interest to me. The preceding article also caught my eye: "How You Can Worry Less." Now, of course, the people at Reader’s Digest didn’t know about my circumstances when they put that issue together, but those two articles side-by-side made an interesting combination.
As we look at the South African situation, our family has to think about some unpleasant possibilities, even though they are remote. That has been healthy for us; it would be healthy for any Christian to look right in the face of pain, or uncertainty, or even deathlook it right in the face.
Pain, uncertainty, and death are closely related. Missionaries need to fact them honestly— in the light of Scripture. The first important fact is that safety does not mean absence of trouble and danger. Consider the apostle Paul’s testimony: "I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea, and in danger from false brothers" (2 Cor. 11:26) .
Nor does safety mean ignoring danger; c.f. 2 Cor. 11:33. Paul was let down in a basket over the wall of Damascus when he knew that the governor of the city had the gates guarded so he could arrest hire.
Paul didn’t sit in Damascus and say, "I am the Lord’s missionary; nobody can touch me. The king has guards there, but they’ll never get me. I live in such and such a house and I’m going to stay here, and I’m going to preach and they can’t touch me."
Neither did he walk out through the gate of Damascus when he was ready to go, assuming that he was immune to arrest. He sneaked out in the middle of the night, and most likely when his feet hit the ground at the bottom of the wall, he ran. Paul safeguarded his own life. Safety is an issue, but it is secondary to one’s mission. J. S. Shedd has said, "A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships ate built for." The question a Christian asks is not, "How can I stay safe?" The question he rust ask is, "How can I accomplish my mission?" As long as I’m thinking, "How can I stay safe?", about whom am I thinking? Myself! I’m watching out for my own interests. But when I start to think, "How can I accomplish my mission?", about whom am I thinking? The people to whom I have been sent.
That is obedience to Christ. There is no verse in the Bible that says, "Thou shaft always do the safe thing." We all have that desire built into our own personalities. We want to take care of ourselves. We don’t need a chapter and verse to tell us that. But there are plenty of other commands about carrying out our mission.
When Paul lost his safety, he was arrested, put in jail, and kept there for at least two years. He could not navel around, could not preach in a church, and could not visit the churches that he had established. We would say that his safety was gone, but that did not stop him from accomplishing his mission. Think of the letters he wrote while in jail. An apparent loss of safety does not necessarily mean that the missionary cannot accomplish his mission. Now consider a dangerous situation in the life of the Lord Jesus:
"All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this (that Jesus was claiming to be the Christ). They got up and drove him out of the town and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way" (Lk. 4:28-30).
At what point did Jesus get his safety? He was preaching in the synagogue, which should have been a safe place. However, suddenly the people seized him, and he wasn’t safe. They got hire to the edge of the cliff, then, "He walked right through the crowd and went on his way." He was safe. When he needed his safety, he had it.
The same principle — safety is given when you need it — is seen in Acts 12. James was put in prison and killed. Herod, who had. done this, saw that the Jews were very happy that he had killed one of the Christian leaders, so he imprisoned Peter. Peter had his trial on the night before he was to be executed.
Well, Peter managed to sleep that night and as he slept, the angel made his chains fall off and opened the gates for him. Peter went to the house where the believers were having a prayer meeting, and from there he left town. I don’t have any idea why God arranged the situation that way, but James’s time had come, and Peter’s time had not come. So, Peter was safe even though he was in an apparently hopeless situation.
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom has an interesting illustration about safety. As Corrie was thinking about what would happen to her if the Nazis found out that she was hiding Jews, she became very worried because she knew about some of the things the Nazis did to political prisoners. So she asked her father, a very old man at that time, about the possibilities. How could they be sure, how could they be safe in this situation?
He told her something that explains how God works. He said, "Corrie, when you were a little girl and you used to go to your grandmother’s house, remember how I used to take you down to the train station and you would get on, and then grandmother would meet you at the other end.?"
"Yes." She remembered weld, because she had done that several times. He asked, "When did I give you your tickets for the train?" She said, "Just before I got on." He said, "That’s right. I never gave you your tickets when we left home to go to the train. I never gave you your tickets a week ahead, did I? I kept the tickets until you needed them, and when you needed them you had them." He explained, "That’s the way God works."
No missionary knows the future; we don’t have our safety guaranteed for next year. We get our safety "when we get on the train." We get our safety when we need at. As Christians, we’re dust plain invincible until the Father allows. The missionary’s questions are not, "Will God give me another day alive?", "Am I going to make it through this crisis?", "Will I live to gee tomorrow?" That’s not the Christian’s question when he’s faced with uncertainty, but rather, "If God gives me tomorrow, how will I use it to serve him?" That’s the question.
What about death itself? "Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives and his disciples followed him. Upon reaching the place, he said to them, `Pray, so that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, `Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Lk. 22:39-44).
Missionary safety is not safety from death. It is safety in spite of death. Salvation and safety come from the same root word. There is no real safety that does not have an eternal dimension to it. There is no safety without salvation. Risking one’s life for Christ has been the accepted thing throughout church history. Yet, some missionaries and their supporters give the impression that death is the worst thing that can happen. The question a Christian asks is not, "How can I escape death?", or "How can I stay alive as long as possible?." The question he asks is, " How can I do God’s will while I am alive?"
Death, physical death, is not the worst thing in the world. Disobedience is. Disobedience is spiritual death. To be unresponsive to God’s directions and commands is to be spiritually dead. In order to be safe from disobedience, each missionary must come to a point in life where he says, "Not my will but throe be done."
Pain, uncertainty and death can all be good things. They can be in God’s will for any missionary, and they are a necessity for some. Where would the church be today if missionaries had always gone to the safe places? Where would the church be today if Christians had always done the safe things – the things they were sure they could afford to do? Where would the church be if Christians always asked themselves, "How can I stay safe?" "Will God give me another day of life?" "How can I escape, or at least postpone, death?"
I’d like to suggest an application here. All the questions that a missionary should be asking— "How can I accomplish my mission?", "How will I use another day God gives it to me?", "How can I do God’s will?"— all these questions lead to a further basic question: "What am I ready to risk?"
I know we’re not gamblers, but gambling terminology provides some illustrations. In poker a certain kind of player is called a penny ante player. He is one who just starts out with the minimum stake, the least risk he can take and still play the game. He’s a cheapskate and he’s afraid.
I heard of a fellow who bet another fellow $1,000 that he could hit a golf ball a mile. A mile! An exceptional golf drive goes about 300 yards; it takes about six whopping good drives to cover a mile. But this fellow bet $1,000 he could drive a golf ball a mile because he knew he could do it.
But he didn’t do it on a golf course. He waited until winter came and went to the shore of a frozen lake where the ice was smooth and clear. He teed up the ball, and with a careful swing drove the golf ball out on the ice. Nothing slides like a golf ball on ice. It went about four miles. He collected his $1,000 and went on his way rejoicing. He knew he could drive a golf ball a mile, so he bet a lot.
When we know we’re going to win, then we risk all we have. That’s the only way for a missionary to live— to go for broke. As we seek to do this in Southern Africa, to ask whether we come back to the U. S. or not is an acceptable question, but it’s a secondary question. The primary question for us in the years that God may give us is, "Do we do God’s will?" Don’t bet your pennies on Jesus Christ; mortgage your soul and make Christ your only security, because you know he will lead you safely home.
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