The challenge of walking with the God who knows me
Names changed throughout except in some cases where the person involved has been or is in ministry.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. 2 Cor 5:17
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1 Corinthians 3:5
“What, after all, is Apollos? h And what is Paul? Only servants, i through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.”
In Southampton there had been a struggle of justifying our existence in a world where we did not fit in the normal pigeon holes. In Portugal the situation was even more extreme. In Southampton we had been busy. At the end of our first year I was so exhausted that my eyesight suffered. It may have been that our role in society was not understood, but there was no lack of work to do. In Portugal on the other hand there were major obstacles that brought ministry to a grinding halt. The Portuguese are a people who are very reserved, far more so than the English. They are very approachable and very helpful, but to get beyond the acquaintance level is very difficult. They relate at a family level rather than a friendship level, and indeed have so much family that they have no time for friends. This is not as I am sure you will imagine a very conducive culture for pioneer evangelism. In addition to this to say that I was here in Portugal as a missionary would communicate “I am out to get you.” It was the best way of driving away the people we were there to reach. There are people who solve the problem by teaching English as a means of making contacts and providing an identity. I started with a similar means by doing some research into the values of Portuguese students. This was not a cover as such since I really wanted to know, but in the end it fizzed for various reasons after a year. It was to some degree a relief for I realised that I had great difficulties sharing who I was at the same time as doing research for fear that I would be distorting the answers – and I needed real answers.
So, after a year we were left with where most of the Evangelical missionary movement in the Iberian peninsular sits – nothing much to show for our lives. Yes, there is a lot of work, much heart given, just little to show for it.
Since we live in a world that values people according to what they produce, we felt unvalued and the constant challenge of people who could not understand why we were doing what we were doing. The constant challenge was not to justify ourselves because we were there not because it was people’s idea but because it was God’s idea. Our identity was as servants of Christ doing what He asked us to do. If He chose not to give visible results, that was His business not ours. In the old testament sacrificial system there was the sacrifice of a drink offering where a cup was poured out onto the ground and wasted. This it seemed was a significant part of our role.
When this lesson is understood – that our identity is not based on what we do but on Jesus whom we serve, then there is great freedom to live out the calling God has given and run the race that is set before us. It frees us not to be driven by results and by the constant pressure to compare ourselves with other people’s ministry. Our eyes are on our Lord alone for affirmation. We don’t need to dissipate our energies and time on fruitless pursuit of what will satisfy our self appointed judges, including our own hearts.