The true test of a person’s spiritual life and character is not what he does in the extraordinary moments of life, but what he does during the ordinary times when there is nothing tremendous or exciting happening (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest).”
This is applicable to the missionary life, because most of what we do, such as adapting to the culture one day after the other and learning how to live cross-culturally, though challenging, is extremely ordinary. Shopping, paying bills, taking kids to school, attempting communication, cooking with local ingredients, and learning how to navigate the city may cause culture shock and frustration, but the tasks themselves cannot be considered extraordinary, spiritually speaking.
Typically we arrive to the field, emotions and adrenaline jitterbugging because of a high and holy mission we imagine ourselves on. Or, if we’re on a short term team (the one or two week we’re-going-to-bless-people-and-change-that-part-of-the-world kind of team), we think we’ve earned extra points with God for our time and sacrifice. After all, taking a trip like this is extraordinary. Everyone says so.
For the long-termer, when that first down moment hits, whether it’s sickness, frustrations with local customs, lack of quality communications, loneliness, etc., and you fall from that adrenaline-driven emotional high, that is when your true spirituality and character shine through. Most often, it isn’t appealing.
For those on short-term trips, the fall from self-enthrallment may come when you’ve been served something to eat you don’t like, have abdominal issues, plans change unexpectedly, or you claim an offense (a great tactic from the enemy. Wise up, saint!). Many a host missionary has had to clean up the mess from a short-term team, like circus hands cleaning up after the elephant parade.
Chambers has it right when he says, “It’s painful work to get in step with God and to keep pace with Him.” But that is exactly what is necessary. When we walk with God, keeping in step with Him, His presence is what changes and controls the atmosphere, not our emotions or self-affirming thoughts.
If you’re a missionary, ask the Lord to help you keep a good attitude during the everyday, menial tasks that threaten to frustrate you. Give Him your day, everyday. Remind yourself that God is sovereign, even in your daily tasks. Purposefully get in step with God, and keep pace with Him. Your character is more important than your accomplishments.
If you’re a person heading on a short term trip, ask the Lord to guard your heart and your tongue when things don’t go your way. Ask Him for grace to keep in step with His spirit even when you’re confused, scared, frustrated, or are tempted to be arrogant. Your actions and reactions will reverberate long after you return home. Your character is more important than accomplishments.
If you’re someone who prays for missionaries, whether long term or short term ones, ask the Lord to help us conquer our flesh daily as we purpose to keep in step with the Spirit.
Pray that our character would mean more to us than our accomplishments.