May I Help You Discern Your Calling?

Is God calling you to cross-cultural missions for the sake of the global glory of Jesus Christ? Jesus promised to be with us to the end of the age in our mission to make disciples of all ethnic groups (Matthew 28:20). So the duration of the mission is as long as the duration of the promise — to the end of the age.

The question is: What part will you play?

God does not intend for all of his people to take on the specialized calling of learning a new language and culture, and of embedding themselves in an unreached people group to make disciples and plant churches. Otherwise, when Paul wrote Romans he would have recruited them all to go with him to Spain instead of asking them to send him (Romans 15:24). There are senders and there are goers.

But God does intend for hundreds of thousands of you to be goers. Goers from America, Brazil, Britain, Australia, Nigeria, South Korea, Singapore, India, China, Canada, South Africa, Germany, Sweden, Iran. From everywhere the church is, to everywhere the church isn’t.

How does God communicate to you that you should go? Some have said, “Everyone has a call to go. We should only stay if God makes that clear.” I can’t make that square with the New Testament. The epistles are written to people as if they should make their livelihood in the ordinary roles of society.

Others have tried to say that there is no divine call to missions, but it is a matter of wisdom: “Assess your gifts, consider the need, consult your Christian friends. If everything lines up, go.” This simply does not work. The factors that are supposed to make it clearly “wise” are not clear. They are not quantifiable. There are unavoidably subjective factors that defy calculation.

The Great and Wonderful Mystery

How God communicates his call to you for cross-cultural missions is a great and wonderful mystery. It does not involve less than all the factors that we call “wisdom,” but there is more. There is, in the end, you and your God, in communion, over time, inescapably bound together in a new direction of life. You cannot explain it fully. You can point to a dozen factors that God used. But in the end, soaked in Scripture, and captured by a need, and aching for his glory — you knew.

Scripture is preeminent in how God does this. Even the apostle Paul shows this. On the one hand, no one had a more unmistakable encounter with the risen Christ than he did. There was the blinding light on the Damascus road. And there was the commission from the Lord Jesus: “I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light” (Acts 26:17–18).

But, on the other hand, when Paul told the Romans about his “ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named,” he never mentioned his dramatic experience. Instead he quoted a verse of Scripture — Isaiah 52:15! “As it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand’” (Romans 15:20–22).

Why? Evidently, Paul’s personal calling (not everyone is called to preach where Christ is not named) was confirmed and clarified by his meditation on Scripture. To be sure, Scripture speaks to all of us. It is meant for everybody. But for thousands of years God has led his people not only by the way Scripture applies to everybody, but also by the way parts of it lay hold on individuals in life-shaping ways. It grabs you and won’t let go.

In what follows I have combed through Matthew 10:16–31 to find the costs and the blessings of following Christ into the uncertainties and dangers and joys of a life of world missions. My prayer is that as many of you read these, God — by his word — will take hold of you in an unusual way that will not let you go till you have blessed the nations with your presence.

Count the Costs of Front-line Missions

1. The cost of being arrested by authorities.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:16–18)

2. The cost of family betrayal.

“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” (Matthew 10:21)

This is almost unbelievable: Fathers and children will be so opposed to the Christian faith, they will want each other dead rather than believing.

3. The cost of being hated by all.

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” (Matthew 10:22)

Be careful that you don’t elevate friendship evangelism to the point where this text makes evangelism impossible. You will be hated by all does not mean: You can’t do evangelism.

4. The cost of being persecuted and driven out of town.

“When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.” (Matthew 10:23)

5. The cost of being maligned.

“If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (Matthew 10:25b)

Jesus died in our place so that we might escape the wrath of God, not the wrath of man. He was called to suffer for the sake of propitiation; we are called to suffer for the sake of propagation.

6. The cost of being killed.

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28)

So they can kill the body. And sometimes they do. Don’t ever elevate safety in missions to the point where you assume that if one of our missionaries is killed we have made a mistake. Jesus said plainly in Luke 21:16, “Some of you they will put to death.”

Number the Blessings of Front-line Missions

For 2,000 years, thousands of missionaries — unnamed people of whom the world is not worthy — have counted this cost and put their lives at risk to reach the lost with the only message of salvation in the world. And the reason they could do this is because the blessings so outweigh the costs.

May the Lord make these ten blessings that I am about to name overcome all your fears and give you a passion to know him like this.

1. The blessing of being sent by Christ.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

“I am sending you out.” It is a deeply satisfying thing to be sent by the living Christ into his work.

2. The blessing of being given words by the Spirit of God.

“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19–20)

What a wonderful thing it is to sense the presence and power of the Spirit in your life, giving you the words you need.

3. The blessing of experiencing God’s fatherly care.

“For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:20b)

Jesus makes explicit that the one caring for you is your Father in heaven. You may have to leave father and mother to be a missionary. But you will always have a very attentive Father who cares for you.

4. The blessing of salvation at the end of it all.

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)

When all the cost has been paid, we will have the great end of salvation. We will be raised from the dead with no sorrow or pain or sin, and we will see Christ and enter into his joy and hear the words, in spite of all our imperfections, “Well done” (Matthew 25:21, 23).

5. The blessing of knowing that the Son of Man is coming in judgment and mercy.

“You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:23b)

This was a great encouragement to those persecuted disciples. Jesus comes at just the right time in historical judgments and deliverances, and he will come at the last day and vindicate all his people.

6. The blessing of belonging to Jesus’s household.

“If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (Matthew 10:25b)

Whatever rejection we may experience, Jesus wants us to be sure we are always aware: This rejection is a sign that you belong to me. You are part of my household.

7. The blessing of knowing that the truth will triumph.

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Matthew 10:26)

Nothing is hidden that will not be known. For a season in this world, people will mock your proclamation of the truth. They will say, “What is truth!” But know this, and hold fast to this blessing: the truth will be known. Your proclamation will be vindicated. “Nothing is hidden that will not be known.” Count on it. What is scoffed at now will be written across the sky someday. And one minute of that vindication before all your enemies will make every act of patient endurance worthwhile.

8. The blessing of having an immortal soul.

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28)

Henry Martyn, the missionary to Persia, said that he was immortal till his work on earth was done. True. And he would have also agreed that in the fuller sense: You are immortal after your work on earth is done.

9. The blessing of having a heavenly Father who sovereignly rules the smallest details of life.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matthew 10:29)

Jesus mentions the fall of a sparrow to the ground because nothing is more insignificant than that. Yet God, your Father, oversees that and governs that. So you may always know that your Father, who loves you as his precious child, oversees and governs every detail of your life.

10. The blessing of being valued by God.

“Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:31)

God does not despise his children. He values his children, for two reasons: One is that in union with Jesus Christ all of his perfection is imputed to us. The other is that by his Spirit we are being changed from one degree of glory to the next, and God loves the sanctifying work of his own hands.

In the End, What Counts?

To be sure, as you discern God’s call on your life, take into account your gifts, consider the need, consult your church. But in the end, the question is this: Is there an unrelenting, recurring desire to spend and be spent for the glory of Christ among unreached peoples of the world?