“What keeps you going?”, he asked. It’s a canned question, but meant to give veterans the chance to encourage young missionaries, I suppose. How do I answer that? What remarkable, memorable statement could I utter that would make a lasting impression, maybe even change him forever? My genuine answer, the one my heart immediately trumpeted, was just one very loud word: “Jesus!”. But that’s so expected. I’m a missionary after all, and that’s what you’d expect me to say. How boring. “Jesus, literally, truly, absolutely, keeps me going.” I told him that, not because he expected me to (he didn’t), but because this is one, true thing I know for sure-without-a-doubt.
The sun has set on our Namibia assignment. There was a day, or a week here and there, where I was able to exercise my gifts to teach and encourage others to follow Jesus Christ and know His word. Mostly though, it has been twenty-one months of isolation, of a life un-peopled, of being invisible. So, during our end-of-term review, I had to answer another question posed by my leadership: How has your emotional health been this term? I wrote one word: fragile.
The multiplied hardships that characterize a missionary life, and this assignment in particular, look like a recipe for emotional meltdown. Too often we respond to such a recipe by fighting back, demanding attention, and becoming self-focused. Our soul grows bitter, depressed and rebellious. And I could see it coming. I wasn’t immune. But meltdown didn’t happen. My soul is healthy!
Most of my needs for friendship, companionship and to be useful (other than within my precious marriage) went unmet month after long month. But my heart danced! How is that? I am not hardier of character or a “stronger Christian” than other people. A friend once marveled at how I could “just leave my family” for years on end and live far over the ocean. She comforted herself by telling me she supposes I don’t have the same emotions she has so being a missionary comes easy for me. I wanted to punch her, (which is proof that I’m not a “stronger Christian”). It is precisely because of my weakness that Jesus, and only Jesus, is “what keeps me going”. He is my satisfaction, my joy, my salvation, my peace, my Redeemer, my everything.
Jesus. The Holy Spirit took me deeper into the knowledge of Christ through His word. Oh! The depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! [All of the riches of his grace are mine, now, in this situation!] How unsearchable are His judgements. [He, in all His bottomless wisdom, has put me here.] How inscrutable His ways! [Who do I think I am to question His way with me?]
Jesus. God revealed. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. [I am humbled before such a matchless Master.]
Jesus. He has loved me with an everlasting love. I am not my own. [I don’t belong to me.] I was bought with a price. [He paid the price for my sin with his own life, his own blood. He bought me back from my old master, sin. So of course He will protect my wobbly faith.] “Therefore, my soul, glorify God!”
Jesus. The Great I AM. He has come to me, seeing me in my rocking boat, and has passed by, in order that I might gaze on His glory. Oh, listen my soul! It’s not that Jesus gets in the boat with me, takes my storm away and says, “It’s ok, we’re good.” He did not get in my boat but has desired to show me his glory. He beckoned me to look long at Him, at His person and identity. And then I was not afraid, or angry, or demanding to be useful. After all, why would I be?
Jesus. The one who I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. [I have committed the salvation and the preservation of my soul to him. He will keep it. I can stay in my right mind and not give myself up to an attack of doubt or panic.]
Jesus. The one the prophets foretold. The one about whom the Scriptures were written that I might know God and have eternal life. His word is written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. [The hope and comfort I need each day is to be found in Christ as I learn about Him in the Bible.]
Jesus. According to His mercy [not my usefulness] He saved me, through the washing of regeneration [I am baptized into Christ, He claims me as His own!] and renewing of the Holy Spirit [every day, he is continually renewing my soul, helping me change my mind and think rightly about him and others, and myself.]
Jesus. He daily blessed me with his presence and spooned into me the knowledge of Him. He fed me with Himself through reading His word, meditating, accepting his correction and repenting.
And so, one by one, the days passed in pondering Christ rather than myself. My fragility became my strength and my joy. I learned not to recoil from the ache in my heart, but let Jesus use it to make me more like Him, that He would be shown as glorious.
Having learned more about the measure of faith I’ve been assigned, I won’t put God to the test by seeking a second assignment that entails such isolation, though! I won’t court trouble. Trials will come without my looking for them.
Back in my home culture, where life is comfortable, I let down my guard. I know from experience that I eventually lose the fragility and my sense of utter dependence on Jesus Christ. This frightens me. I have feasted too much on Him in this wilderness to be satisfied with any less of Him in the “land of plenty”.
Romans 11:33-36; I Corinthians 7:23; II Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 1; Titus 3:5
Resources that help me to bring God’s word to bear on my soul: Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Unabridged; John Calvin’s Commentary on Psalms; sermons by Aaron Messner and daily devotion guide .