What Sustains Missions in the Hardest Places?
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Psalm 84:1–2)
An enthrallment with God’s glory has led thousands to the mission field. Missionaries are propelled by this passion, yet it can quickly wane once the “romance” of missions is replaced by “monotony and drudgery” (C.T. Studd).
“The gospel we preach to the hardest places is the same gospel that sustains us in the hardest places.”
Missions is challenging, and it is easy for our sight to become our faith. Zeal is tempered amidst difficulties in language study, countless cultural faux pas, and the never-ending demands of normal missionary life (discerning children’s education options, countless trips to the immigration office, navigating furloughs, faithfulness in support raising, and on and on).
For those serving in particularly hard places, it is easy to lose hope and begin to fear that the work is for nothing. Paul himself lamented, “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). In the midst of all these challenges, there is a risk of forgetting the vision of God’s glory that inspired us to go. When missions is challenging, we must return constantly to the delight of God-exalting worship. Nothing else will sustain us.
On Mission to Pursue God
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. (Psalm 84:5–7)
Missions is a journey from strength to strength (Psalm 84:7), from grace to grace (John 1:16), and from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). Our strength is in the Lord, and with that strength we find ourselves on a journey of worship that leads us from faith to sight. Missions is an entirely faith-driven affair. Augustine writes, “When a mind is filled with the beginning of that faith which works through love, it progresses by a good life even toward vision, in which holy and perfect hearts know that unspeakable beauty, the full vision of which is the highest happiness” (Enchiridion, 1.5).
There are only foolish reasons to support missions unless there is something we cannot see that matters more than what we can see. We long for that unspeakable beauty — we go out not just serving those in need, but seeking that full vision of the highest happiness. With longing and joy in worship, we go on mission ensured of the promise that as we seek the heavenly Jerusalem, we will appear before our God (Psalm 84:7; Hebrews 11:13–16). Missions is quite simply a pursuit of God who is in heaven.
A Vision Worth Living For
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Psalm 84:10)
Any real commitment to God’s mission to the world requires a vision of God’s glory enjoyed for eternity. A longing for his honor and renown that swallows our own selfish ambitions. Through missions, we embody the quest to be a bellboy for heaven, despising a life of luxury in a mansion of wickedness. This vision can now only be perceived by faith, but it is a vision made to be enjoyed eternally by sight. It is this vision that provides the sustaining grace and endurance in all monotony and drudgery.
“Just a day of glimpsing God in eternity is better than many lifetimes of comfort in this world.”
A kingdom mission seeks the honor of our Lord whose renown we cherish and proclaim. The beginning of mission takes place in the worship of faith. The end of mission in the worship of sight. There is a vision of God’s glory so compelling that it inspires going to the hardest places, sustains us through our hardest experiences, and is worth enjoying for all of eternity. Theologians call this vision of God’s glory the doctrine of the beatific vision.
“[The] beatific vision implies the most perfect and clear knowledge of God and of divine things, such as can belong to a finite creature, opposed to the imperfect and obscure knowledge which is possessed here by faith” (Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 20.8.8). We shall behold our God, and “[this] immediate sight of Christ is that which all the saints of God in this life do breathe and pant after” (Owen, Works, I.379).
All worship points to this worship. All mission seeks this worship. The beatific vision is the grounding and fulfillment of worship-driven missions. All worship in this life is but a foretaste of the worship that is to come. This glorious vision is all that we need to inspire great acts of faith and sustain us in daily sacrificial service for our neighbor. Just a day of glimpsing God in eternity is better than many lifetimes of comfort in this world.
The God We Preach Sustains Us
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)
This vision mandates missions. It shines out like the sun. The beatific vision is not something enjoyed in isolation by any individual saint, but, according to Scripture, it is celebrated by the bride of Christ together. It is enjoyed by “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9). The reward of Christ for his faithfulness is an inheritance of nations (Psalm 2:8–9; Revelation 2:26–27), a universal church of nations that will worship him forever.
“What every weary servant needs most for power and endurance in ministry is God himself.”
Calvin describes this worship as “a happiness of whose excellence the minutest part would scarce be told if all were said that the tongues of all men can say” (Institutes, 3.25.10). So we go out to gather all the tongues of men to say all that can be said as missions will fully and finally end in worship. The beatific vision mobilizes and sustains missions in the hardest places amidst the hardest challenges.
What every weary servant needs most for power and endurance in ministry is God himself. He gives favor and honor when we are shamed. Blessed is the saint who trusts in him (Psalm 84:12). He promises not to withhold anything that is good for us. The gospel we preach to the hardest places is the same gospel that sustains us in the hardest places.