Long obedience in the same direction
Posted on: 16th April 2019
CMS missionary Maggie Crewes, working in partnership with Retrak and Hope for Justice, reminds us that there are good reasons for the hard work of godly perseverance.
My first home assignment from Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) was in 1995. Three tough years: new culture, languages, isolation, more work responsibility than I ever felt able to deal with, tricky cross-cultural relationships, plummeting economy, political unrest, looming war. As I returned, I was thrown into indecision: would I, could I, persevere?
A dear friend helped me debrief, sharing 2 Corinthians 4:1 “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”. Huh—easy for you to say, I thought! Sensing my scepticism, she encouraged me to check what lay behind the “therefore”. I did that, and found what the previous chapters spoke of: a sure and eternal hope of glory (3:10-12), righteousness in Christ (3:4,9), no veil—a living relationship with Jesus (3:18), life in the Spirit (3:5), a freedom to serve (3:17). That we all (even our groaning creation) are being transformed into his image (3:18). Challenged, I asked myself whether God’s promises and truths, his love, his grace were any less because of what I had experienced, seen and endured? I was deeply convicted—most particularly of the temptation to so easily throw in the towel.
Now, I am no runner. Not of speed, nor endurance, nor even slow shuffle. But I am an enthusiastic armchair Olympian. I cheered with the best of them as Haile Selaisse, and Tirunesh Debaba won gold for Ethiopia (a part of the world where some of my ministry is focussed). Their years of preparation, blood, sweat and tears, determination to win, to give their all were truly awe-inspiring. Thankfully, despite being of “traditional build” I am not excluded from running the spiritual race home to our Father. But during tough moments, of which there have been plenty over the years, I have doubted that I have the tenacity to keep going.
“…we minimise the spiritual battle to our peril. It is only by God’s Spirit and in Jesus’ name that we can stand…”
Hebrews 10:23 exhorts us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promises is faithful”. I thank God that it’s not dependent on my ability (or lack) to hang on, but on his unswerving faithfulness, his holding on to me. God does this through his Spirit and through his people. Countless answered prayers via the CMS networks have been a life-line. Without supporters’ prayers, no mission partner can endure. We are in this race together. Paul’s “keep on being filled” (Eph5:18) has a wonderful sense of a continuous filling, in this very moment—for without his infilling we leak out, losing enthusiasm and losing heart.
Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, I cannot quote from it nor remember much, but I have reminded myself of the title of this book many a time. And, I have kept “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart” as my screen saver (and in my heart!) for over 20 years.
One thing 25 years in Africa has taught me is that we minimise the spiritual battle to our peril. It is only by God’s Spirit and in Jesus’ name that we can stand against whatever battles come our way. We can be quick to sing ‘Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire’, forgetting that to refine gold, the temperature needs to be over 1000 degrees. There’s been a few burns along the way. Best to keep our eyes on Jesus.
Long-term mission requires a stable and predictable budget, which in turn relies on individuals becoming regular rather than sporadic givers. Could you become a regular giver?