Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why I Love Writing Prayer Letters

You know those sermons that stick with you forever? I remember one from my early years of college. Hillside Church, Sunday night service (back in the day when churches still had Sunday night services), Harry Brown of Cityteam ministries. He said (to paraphrase): If you (as an American church-goer) had to write a missionary prayer letter to your fellow church members on how God is using you to minister to others, what would you say?

Cuz we’re all supposed to be missionaries.

Right?

That gets drilled into our heads even when we are little in Sunday School.

But what does that even mean?

One thing that I really, really love about actually being an overseas missionary is that it forces me to actually live like a missionary. Got it? Clear as mud.

Let me explain. Let me tell you the expectations that are on us, since we serve God overseas:

We are held totally accountable for our finances. We get a stipend from HOPAC, but almost all that we live on comes from sacrificial donations. Do you know what it feels like to live like that? We think twice about how we spend it. We are constantly aware that everything we have is the result of other people’s love and faithfulness. We are forced to see what we own as sacredly entrusted to us to do God’s work. Yes, we do go on vacations and we certainly eat more than rice and beans. But we are reminded on a daily basis that all that we have belongs to God.

We are held totally accountable for our time. Every year our mission requires each of us individually to write and submit extensive goals for ourselves: personally, spiritually, and in ministry. Mine this year take up 3 single spaced pages. It’s like New Year’s Resolutions on steroids. Every month, we must submit a report which states how we are doing to meet those goals.

We constantly live with a sense of calling. We have been forced to be deliberate and purposeful in everything we do. Where do we live? What neighborhood should we live in? How big should our house be? Who do we spend time with? What kind of lifestyle do we choose? How do we spend our Friday nights? How will our children be educated? Each question is answered according to our calling. Everything must be purposeful.

And finally, we have to write prayer letters every month. We’re not just held accountable to our mission to but to hundreds of other people as well. Every month, we better be doing our job, because if we’re not, we’ll have nothing to say to the scores of people who pray for us and financially support us. Yes, it’s very intimidating! But it’s also amazing.

Let me make something really clear. There isn’t anything special about us that puts us in a different category than your average Christian. There isn’t any reason why we should be put on a pedestal. Our halos aren’t shinier than anyone else’s. Our hearts are sinful and our words are not always God-honoring. We have hurt people and deliberately disobeyed God at times. We can be lazy or judgmental or set on our own agendas. Of course, we believe in the saving power of God’s grace. But we consider ourselves really blessed to be forced to live in the way that every Christian should be living anyway. We fight it sometimes, but the accountability is wonderful. It pushes us, shoves us, demands that we do what we know we should.

In some ways, because of this, I think that it’s easier to live as a Christian in this life than it is in America. CrazyLove and Radical aren’t very hard to apply over here. Of course, that’s not why we choose to live this life. But it certainly is a benefit. How to live the missionary life in America? To live knowing your money and time belong to God? To live with a sense of calling and purpose? To be held accountable for those things to the Church? Now that is the bigger question.

One of the best parts about serving as an overseas missionary is that we get “sent,” commissioned….prayed for and sent off with much fanfare. It’s inspiring and motivating and invigorating. We have a calling! Our church is behind us! We are doing God’s work! Run to the battle!

I’ve always thought it would be wonderful if the Church did that for every profession. Like if one week they brought up all the medical professionals, and another week all the business people, and another week all the stay-at-home moms. Let them give their own “missionary updates” on how God is using them to redeem humanity culturally and spiritually, and then….commission them, pray for them, send them off to do God’s work! Because aren’t we all missionaries? There really shouldn’t be a difference, should there?
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