I remember when we, as a family, were on deputation for our trip to Germany. We’d all pile into the 1979 Buick LeSabre, pray that it would hold together for yet another trip, and drive across Ontario and the States, telling churches about our mission, and asking for their support. I remember the slide shows, and the car sickness. I remember the smell of my mom’s morning Tim Horton’s coffee, mixed with her perfume — and how the combination would give me a killer headache! I remember falling asleep in the car, then getting up with Dave and Liz and singing “As the Deer” in front of countless congregations in places I couldn’t find on a map if I tried. And I remember my dad’s message, that he gave at equally countless churches.
I remember him talking about Paul the Apostle, one of the first and most influential missionaries of the new Testament, and how he wanted to be like Paul. I also remember wondering why my dad would want to pattern himself after Paul — the guy who used to be called “Saul” and who spent years persecuting Christian’s for their beliefs.
It’s been years since I thought about that, but for the past couple months, I’ve been writing Bible studies for my little team of students. And each month, one guy’s writing comes up in my searches, with more frequency than any other author in the Bible. It seems that Paul’s life and the wisdom of his writing, even 2000 years later, is so relevant and so useful, that I can’t help but be intrigued by the man.
Two things about Paul strike a chord with me, and offer me instruction that seems to consistently be right what I need to understand.
First is that Paul was the original tentmaker missionary — in fact, it’s after his profession that the idea was named! There is a general notion among missionaries, and the churches that support them, that in order to take up the “Great Commission” you have to accept abject poverty. That making money and being a missionary do not mix. And that in order to be sure that your motives are pure, you should be entirely dependent on the church.
Now we have a number of friends who are missionaries and totally dependent on the churches who support them, and when we can, we even support them. I understand and appreciate that missions is a noble and high calling, that in some places and in many cases, offers no way to provide for a family, other than through churches who send people out. If you move to Africa to reach tribal people, your whole life will go into those people, and you may never see the fruit of your labor in your lifetime — much less a dime for your efforts.
But, when it’s possible — when God has gifted us with the ability to make money, and when the fields He sends us to allow — or even require — us to produce our own income, either to supplement, or to eliminate the need for, church support, I think it’s the right thing to do. Paul traveled all around his known world, and he was able to do so by making and selling tents to provide for himself and finance his ministry. I’m sure the churches he started and visited helped him, and supported him. But I’m equally sure he avoided being an unnecessary burden on the church, by exercising his God-given gifts to make money — and that doing so kept him free from red tape and bureaucracy, so he could go and do what God wanted him to do.
The second thing I love about Paul is that he kept moving! Throughout the New Testament, Paul is continuously asked to stay, and he continuously refuses. It’s not that he doesn’t love the places he’s worked at, or the people he’s ministered with and too. It’s that there was a restlessness in him, that told him when his work was done — when it was time to follow God somewhere else. I know that restlessness! I was raised with it! I doubt that I have Paul’s passion or his motivation, but I know that feeling that says you’re done here, don’t sit still!
I love how Jeremiah describes that burning: ‘But if I say, “I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,” Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it.’ I want that kind of passion.
The great thing about Paul was, even though he was constantly packing up and leaving as soon as the Holy Spirit kicked him in the butt, he regularly spent the time he had in a place raising up young leaders to continue on God’s work. His letters to Timothy, Titus, and I’m sure many others that have been lost to history, are examples of how Paul worked. He went to a place, he encouraged the believers there, reached the unsaved, and, knowing He’d be leaving sooner rather than later, he discipled young people to lead in his place.
Aside from being here, and doing a job or two (or sometimes three) I’ve been wrestling to understand what it is I’m supposed to be doing. I suppose some people are content with just living life and rolling with whatever happens, but I am not one of them. Until recently I’ve had something to accomplish and work toward. I’ve had mentors to pattern myself after, and very specific goals to achieve to get to where I wanted to be. But then I got there, and realized this can’t be it. There has to be some purpose to being a Christian in this world — some reason God doesn’t just snap us up to heaven as soon as we get saved. And I think Paul had it down:
- Follow God where ever He leads, share His message, and serve humbly where ever He puts you.
- As much as is possible, pay your own way so that others, who don’t have as much as you, can be enabled to do what God wants from them.
- When God makes you restless, find out where He wants you next, and go — even when people ask you to stay.
- And as you move through life, leave behind what you’ve learned with the next generation of God’s leaders.
So I’m 26. I’ve checked off the boxes for college, wife, kids and career, and I’ve finally figured out that this is my new mission in life. And I guess that means you had it right, Mom and Dad! Have an awesome time doing what you do in Malaysia!