Circumcision

A flint knife of the type the Israelites may have used (Joshua 5:2)

After first sending in the priests instead of storm-troopers, and then stopping to do the bronze-age equivalent of posting selfies on social media, the Israelites are still not going to carry out an invasion in the normal way.  They next thing they do is put every single one of their soldiers out of action for a couple of weeks following elective surgery.  It would have been a great time for the Jericho army to have attacked them.

In some ways, the circumcision of the Israelite men was like the consecration we have already talked about – it was an outward sign of dedication to God, reminding them of the covenant with Abraham.  The Israelites invading the Promised Land were far from being foolhardy in having surgery which would incapacitate them for a fortnight or so.  They were in fact demonstrating their trust in God to protect them and to fight for them when they couldn’t fight.  Much as we would talk about walking by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  And this group went on to trust God for their victories over the coming years, notably in the conquest of Jericho which they would soon go on to take without even needing to land a blow.

What would be the equivalent for us of being circumcised just as we enter a war zone?  What would that look like in the context where we work?  To follow God with a little more unpredictability rather than always trying to play it safe?  Hudson Taylor pointed out that if there is no risk in our ventures, there is no need for faith.  Yet in our increasingly risk-averse and litigious culture, it can be hard even to entertain the concept of risk when we feel we should be minimising it.

Life involves risk, mission more so.  The places where people don’t know Jesus can be some of the most dangerous places on the planet for us to go.  It’s not that we deliberately seek out danger, as if we were seeking a thrill to enliven meaningless lives, but if following in the footsteps of Jesus takes us into dangerous territory, we proceed in faith rather than turning back because the risk is too great.  We trust God daily for our income, our safety, our visa renewals (just about!) and many other things.  Let us reflect at the start of another year what else we can manage without organising for ourselves but by trusting God to take care of it for us.

 

Was Hudson Taylor wrong?

Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor

“God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.”

This quote from Hudson Taylor (1832-1905, missionary to China, founder of the China Inland Mission, now OMF International) is highly likely to be quoted in any discussion about raising funds for mission, and is usually used to trump any other argument.

It is generally taken to mean that if you’re doing what God wants, the money will appear.  But even worse than its overuse and misapplication is the fact that this striking quote is never challenged.  It is given the status of a verse from the gospels.  Hudson Taylor said it, so it must be true.

But is it really true?  It certainly doesn’t feel true to the many thousands of mission workers worldwide struggling to pay living expenses.  So if we believe this verse, we are then forced to conclude that either we don’t have enough faith to believe God for his provision, or that we’re getting something wrong.  This can inspire us to review our calling, our methods and our attitudes towards fundraising, or it can propel us into a spiral of self-doubt, lack of confidence and a crisis of faith leading to our unnecessary departure from the mission field.

If our funding isn’t coming in, perhaps we do need to question our calling.  When was the last time you sat down and really prayed over what God wants you to do with your life?  When did you last discuss this seriously with your church or mission leadership?  Are you conscious of a sense of calling to what you’re doing now?

It’s also worth reviewing how much money you really need.  Perhaps the funding is not coming in because our agency is asking us to live a Western-standard lifestyle where we could easily make do with less.  For example, we may not have enough money to buy an air-conditioned 4×4 to get us through the Cairo traffic in comfort, but we may be able to pay for a bus ticket where we can share the journey with crowds of people we can start to build relationships with.  But then of course we have to offset the stress of travel against our ability to survive in a foreign culture.  What would Hudson Taylor do?

In many circles today it is tantamount to heresy to question the aphorisms of the great Hudson Taylor.  But despite his phenomenal role in the world of missions he was still a flawed human who made mistakes.  Perhaps, as with many giants of the faith, he assumed that what applied to him in his relationship with God, also applied to others.  There is no disputing that he had an incredible gift of faith to believe for and pray in God’s funding.  But not all of us have that gift.  It is good to be inspired to faith by his example, but not to be crushed by failing to live up to it.

We should never forget that while God is theoretically able to provide for all our needs, he keeps all his money in other people’s pockets, which severely compromises his cashflow.  If the people looking after his money are not obedient to him in emptying their pockets for world mission, many faithful mission workers may not experience the fullness of his provision.

Taylor famously made a point of never asking for money.  But D L Moody, also a giant of the faith, was explicit in asking people to empty their pockets, and he is seldom quoted on the matter of fundraising despite his notable success.  Perhaps we should take him as a role model instead of Taylor, and take the liberty to qualify Taylor’s famous quote: as long as his people give faithfully.”

Urgent!

Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor

150 years ago this week, on 25th June 1865, Hudson Taylor started the China Inland Mission, now OMF International.  It had (and still has, though slightly adapted) the goal of “the urgent evangelisation of China’s millions”.

Taylor was greatly concerned that the Chinese were dying without Jesus.  This prompted the sense of urgency which pervaded not only the CIM but other 19th century missions too.  They were motivated to take the message of Jesus to people who  were being lost, consigned to hell for eternity.

These days, hell is an unpopular and rarely mentioned concept in much of western Christianity.  We feel it is distasteful, incompatible with the idea of a loving God, and disrespectful of those who choose not to follow Jesus.  We certainly don’t use it in our outreach, preferring instead to tell people of God’s love for them rather than focus on divine wrath.

Whether you agree with downgrading hell to a theological optional extra or not, the disappearance of hell from the evangelistic agenda has removed the sense of urgency.  We recognise that telling people they’re going to hell if they don’t repent is not the best way to build a bridge towards them.  And while we may not be sure what happens after death to those who don’t follow Jesus, we trust God to be fair and sort something out.  Rob Bell infamously flirted with universalism in his controversial book Love Wins, which was welcomed by many people who can’t stomach the idea of God condemning millions of his creatures to burn for eternity for the simple crime of not worshipping him even though nobody had told them to.

Today we prefer to take our time to woo people into the kingdom of God because we’re not in a hurry any more.  But that doesn’t mean people have stopped dying without Jesus.  In the time it’s taken you to read this blog, thousands have died before being told the message.  Whatever you believe happens to them after death, it can’t be as good as spending eternity with Jesus.  So go and tell them.  Quickly.

Financial dependence

1354359_fifty_pounds_2Financial independence is the goal for many people in the West.  It is a state of existence when the assets we have built up through hard work, scrupulous saving and wise investing can yield sufficient income for us to live without having to work.  It acquires significant meaning when thinking about saving for a secure retirement, and many investment strategists encourage us to invest 10, 15 or even 25% of our monthly income in our future security.

Such an approach may seem sensible, but it is frequently beyond the financial means of mission workers.  We often struggle to raise the income we need for our current needs, let alone future ones.

Financial independence may be part of the mantra of western individualism, but a much healthier goal for Christians is the complete opposite – financial dependence.  This is a state which is familiar to most of us who raise our financial support, a state in which our daily needs are met by others in our community on whom we are dependent.  This may be a humbling reality for many of us, but is much less of an issue for many of the cultures among which we work, where the community cares for its own, and actually feels it is an honour to be able to support family members, friends and others in their community who for various reasons are unable to support themselves.

78855_for_pam_There is also Biblical precedent for financial dependence.  The Levites, for example, were not given land like the other tribes of Israel.  They were supposed to minister full time to the Lord and his people in the temple, and because they would have no time to earn a living they were supported out of the offerings that were brought to the Lord (Numbers 18:21-24).  Jesus, once he started his ministry, seems not to have ‘worked’ but been supported by the donations of his followers (Luke 8:1-3).  When he sent his followers out on a ministry trip, he told them to expect others to provide for them (Matthew 10:5-11).  Paul, although he did fall back on working at times, took the opportunity to devote himself to preaching the gospel full time whenever he received a financial gift (Acts 18:1-5, cf Philippians 4:15).  And many of today’s church leaders are supported by the giving of their flock, even though we may lose sight of this direct relationship as we give into church funds, which in turn are used to pay the minister’s salary.

Mission workers, as part of our ongoing ministry, gather around us a group of supporters who contribute to our ministry through prayer, advice, encouragement, practical support and finance.  Sadly, the ones who provide finance are often too few, which can lead us to start recruiting donors for their finance alone.  We can feel under pressure to produce results so that we can demonstrate that supporting us is a good ‘investment’.  We frequently feel that our need for money complicates our relationships with friends.

Yet focussing on our material needs, and on the people on whom we are dependent to meet them can obscure from us the real basis of our financial dependence – God.  It is he who sends us, and an important part of the testing of our calling is to see God provide for our needs.  Jesus taught that we shouldn’t worry about what we eat or what we wear, as God will look after us (Matthew 6:25-34).

So why do so many of us struggle for finances?  God is not short of wealth, he says he will provide for us, and yet we don’t see it.  Part of the reason may be that our expectations are too high.  God may be giving us enough for the basics, but not enough to support a western materialistic lifestyle.  Perhaps, alongside of Paul, we need to learn to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11).

912758_hand-holding_1The other reason why we don’t always see full provision for our needs is that God doesn’t have his own bank account – he keeps his money in other people’s pockets!  God likes to share around the blessing of giving and allows us all to take part, yet I am convinced that many people today are not giving to world mission because they are not hearing God’s heart to pass on the money he has blessed them with.  They focus on their own needs rather than the Kingdom’s, despite the exhortation of Jesus to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’  (Matthew 6:33).  The temptation to seek first our own financial independence may resemble that of a rich farmer who hoarded his assets instead of giving them to the poor (Luke 12:16-21).  Jesus called him a fool.

We might be tempted to think that we are not wealthy enough to be supporting mission workers, but the Philippians were commended for giving generously even though they were poor.  And to them (not the financially independent) Paul gave an amazing promise: ‘My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19).

If you wish to support mission workers, you can do it effectively through your church, direct to their agency if they have one, or through Stewardship.  If you are trying to raise your own support, our friends at Oscar have some helpful resources, and there are some very helpful day courses run by Stewardship.  You can also find excellent factsheets on their website.

However you seek to raise your funding, and whether you are giving or receiving, follow the advice of the man of faith Hudson Taylor: ‘Have faith in God’.

Generating personal financial support

Source: www.freeimages.com

Raising financial support is something that most of us working in the missions sector have to do, and yet few of us find it easy.  It is always a challenging issue.  It’s something we all need, and everyone knows we need, and yet it’s something we can find it difficult to talk about.  Options range between not talking about it at all, via aggressive fundraising, to self-supporting.  There isn’t necessarily a best option, or a right one, but the answer may depend on your theology or the attitude of the organisation you’re serving with.

There are three principal approaches to bringing in funds from outside (other than generating them yourself).  The George Müller approach involves telling nobody what is required, simply relying on God to provide, since he already knows your needs.  Müller built a massive orphanage complex in Bristol housing 2000 orphans using this approach, but it’s not for everyone.  Hudson Taylor, who was inspired by Müller, set a precedent for his organisation of answering questions about the needs, but stopping short of asking directly for money.  D L Moody was quite happy making a direct appeal to people for funding, and raised large amounts by this method, which remains popular in the USA and in US-influenced organisations.

It is important to realise that all of these methods are based on our trust in God, even the latter, which though requiring our active participation in the process, still recognises that the funds come from God motivating other people to give.  I personally have trusted God for my income for over 10 years (sometimes through paid employment which God provides) and I have never lacked for anything I needed.  Perhaps if we find our funds don’t stretch far enough, we should start by reassessing what our needs really are.

In Matthew 17:24-27 we find that Peter had a problem.  He needed to pay tax but he didn’t have the money.  So he goes to discuss the matter with Jesus.  But Jesus already knew what the problem was, even before Peter said anything.  He told Peter to go fishing.  Peter could do that.  He was used to it.  So he went and did what he was told to do.  He didn’t worry about the problem.  He just got on with the job.  As he did so, Jesus provided the money.

The significant points of this story are, for me:

  1. Jesus knows what the problem is
  2. Jesus might want us to learn a lesson in the process, but he provides what we need
  3. We participate in the solution (whether you interpret that as by prayer, or by working)
  4. We get on with our work

These are incredibly difficult times for mission workers financially.  Churches are cutting back on support, individuals are reducing giving as they feel financially squeezed, the pound has lost a lot of its value and inflation in many host countries is high.  I know many of us whose income has fallen by almost 50% in real terms in the last few years.  The outlook is gloomy, from this perspective.

Yet one has to wonder how small our God is if he cannot overcome a financial crisis.  Even in these challenging circumstances there are many stories of God miraculously providing.  As we and our supporters make sacrifices, God is able to use us.  As I discovered with my recent mission trip to Brazil, God provided every penny I needed, and more, so that I could generously bless the children I went to work with.  All thanks to the generosity of my supporters, and the generous God who motivates them.

So when we approach the challenge of fundraising, let us start by stirring up our trust in the generous God who loves us, called us, equipped us, and will provide for all our needs, and (as we learn in Philippians 4) all the needs of those who give sacrificially to support us.

A fuller discussion of fundraising methods is found as part of our online guides to doing missions well: click here.

The Power of the Timid Prayer

Effective prayer?

I was struck recently by a video I saw of some Christians in Denmark who roam the streets looking for sick people to pray for.  Their approach was unassuming, they didn’t make a big issue of it, but lots of people were being healed.  There were lots of shots of people throwing away crutches and walking unaided without pain.  There was no prior explanation of who Jesus is, how he saves, how he heals.  They just asked if they could pray.

What struck me most however were their very simple prayers.  They didn’t shout, command healing, rebuke Satan, or use any of the other spectacular techniques that we have come across.  They prayed a simple prayer: Jesus, we thank you that you can heal.  We ask you to heal this person now and take away all the pain.  Thank you.

This of course, is not a new approach.  Jesus told his disciples not to pray like pagans, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words (Matthew 6:7).  He taught them that God will answer quickly (Luke 18:6-8) because he is a good father who knows how to look after his children (Matthew 7:7-11).  Hudson Taylor remarked that he never forgot that his children needed food to be put on the table for them, and he had no reason to assume that God was any different than him.

Max Lucado observed, in a sermon called The Power of the Timid Prayer, that when Jesus found his disciples unable to cast out a demon, he subsequently taught them that only prayer could cast the demon out  (Mark 9:29).  Yet the only prayer recorded in this passage is the one of the boy’s father – if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us. Did he have great faith?  No, he even asked Jesus to help him believe.  Was he eloquent?  No, his prayer was a pitiful plea.  All he had in his favour was that he had asked the right person.

Have pity, he pleaded.  The underlying Greek word is much stronger than pity or compassion, closer to ‘gutted’ in modern English.  It is used selectively in the Gospels: only of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33), the father of the lost son (Luke 15:20), and of Jesus on the numerous occasions when he had compassion on the lost, the poor, the sick and oppressed.  It tells us a lot about Jesus.  As the creed says, his nature is always to have mercy.

Effective prayer depends not on our faith or our eloquence, but on the mighty and compassionate God who has pity on us.

Join the Syzygy prayer network to pray for mission workers worldwide, or visit the World Prayer Map for up-to-date prayer information on specific countries.

To boldly go?

Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been part of two seminars on risk.  One considered the need for charities to comply with legislation protecting children and vulnerable adults, observe employment legislation, and take out insurance against risks that can’t be entirely managed away.  The other concerned how much risk our organisations are prepared to take when sending people abroad, particularly into potentially hazardous situations.  How much does the litigious culture we live in force us to avoid some legitimate risk, refrain from sending teams to unstable places where they can make a huge difference,  and pull our staff out of dangerous situations at the very time the local people need us most?  Apparently some of the first people on the flights out of Haiti after the earthquake were mission workers.  How tragic.

Evaluating risk is something we all do on a regular basis.  We’re so accustomed to it that we don’t even think of it as such, but each time we cross the road we evaluate the risk of not walking fast enough to get all the way across before that bus hits us.  When we choose a school for our children, we’re evaluating the risk of damage to their education or personality if we get it wrong.  When we take out a pension plan our advisers ask us what our risk profile is, so that they know how to invest our funds. Most of the time, we plan for safe options.  We talk about job security, or financial independence, but what we mean is ‘safe’.  Perhaps there’s not enough risk in our lives.  One of the reasons that apparently dangerous activities like bungee jumping, tombstoning or riding on roller coasters are so popular may be because people don’t get enough adrenalin in their lives without artificially seeking it out.

Perhaps we should actually be looking to live more adventurously.  We were asked at one of the seminars ‘Does God take risks?’  The answers varied, but it was clear that over the millennia his people have done.  From Abraham setting out from the security of Ur for an as-yet-indeterminate country which he would never call home, via Paul regularly suffering beatings, stonings and shipwrecks when he could have had a pleasant life as a Jewish rabbi, to the many missionary saints and martyrs of more recent centuries, God’s people have not been known for being risk-averse.  As Hudson Taylor observed, If there is no element of risk in our endeavours for God, there is no need for faith.

When I was first planning to go and serve God in a particularly undeveloped, post-conflict country in Africa, my best friend asked me what I thought the risks were.  Before I answered him, I thought about the potential damage to my career prospects and my finances.  I wondered about the impact on my hopes to have a family.  I considered the possibility of serious health problems – or even death  – due to landmines, gunfire, malaria or car accident.  In the end I concluded that there was no risk at all… because a risk only exists where what you stand to lose is of value to you.  As that missionary martyr Jim Eliot wrote: He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.