Heavenly Vision

We sat in a planning meeting for an upcoming student mobilization conference discussing conference titles. Someone suggested an old theme: “To Know Him and To Make Him Known.” We wrote it down for consideration. Another tried to build on the worship/missions balance by suggesting “From Worship to the World.” We added this to the list of possibilities.

A third student jolted us out of our malaise when she suggested something more radical. “If we’re trying to mobilize students for the 10/40 Window, why don’t we title the conference ‘Come Die for Jesus’?”

We had remained pretty neutral at the first two suggestions, but this option demanded response. We know that calling people to the countries of the 10/40 Window may mean calling them to their premature deaths, but should we put this as the title on the conference brochure? After all, it would be consistent with New Testament history. Of Jesus’ disciples (the 11 remaining after the resurrection), ten died martyrs’ deaths and one died of old age in exile. Should we build our conference on that legacy?

We who mobilize often appeal to people to go in sacrificial service as an imitation of Christ. We challenge people to “complete the task” in the dangerous places of the world. We inspire them with stories of the great sacrifices missionaries in other eras made - missionaries who packed their earthly belongings in caskets because they knew they would never come home from their pioneering destinations. But is our heavenly vision vivid enough to sustain such sacrifice?

In contrast, we find ourselves preoccupied with a this-life-only world-view. New recruits (at least from the United States) want commitments for insurance, retirement programs, private schools for their kids and western-style living accommodations before signing up to go. Missionaries 50 years ago packed their goods in one or two barrels. Today’s missionary requires two 40-foot containers. A Wycliffe veteran in South America summarized it in this way, “When I came 30 years ago, we expected to leave everything to follow Jesus; today’s missionaries want to take everything with them.”

We have become so materialistic that we seldom think about heaven. We maintain a this-world orientation because we have it so good here on earth. I fear that we have lost the heavenly vision that undertakes challenges and makes sacrifices motivated by visions of the reward beyond the grave.

Bernie May, former U.S. director of Wycliffe Bible Translators (which traditionally attracts the heartiest stock of pioneer missionaries), cites the four main reasons Wycliffe candidates drop out:

  1. They don’t want to leave family and friends.
  2. They don’t want to raise money or live with the insecurity of low income.
  3. They are concerned for health and safety - for themselves and their families.
  4. They don’t want to accept the low standard of living associated with missionary work.

All of these are legitimate concerns, but we overcome them with a vision of heaven. A heavenly vision strengthens us to endure hardship. Jesus, “for the joy set before him endured the cross,” (Hebrews 12:1-2). A heavenly vision motivates us for great and sacrificial courage. Paul remained faithful during his last days in prison even though everyone had deserted him. Why? “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.” (II Timothy 4:8). A vision of heaven detaches us from our stuff.

Unless we allow a vision of the eternal finish line to motivate us - that day when Jesus will welcome us into heaven with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21) - we’ll stay bonded to this life. We’ll value health, prosperity and comfort over obedience, sacrifice and suffering so that someone else might hear the gospel for the first time.

At a conference on “Completing the Task,” a speaker who worked in the Muslim world stated matter-of-factly, “Perhaps we’ve had so little success in the Muslim world because we just haven’t had enough martyrs.” Martin Luther King, Jr. preached that, “No one knows what they’re living for until they know what they would die for.”

Maybe we should stick with the “Come and Die for Jesus” conference title. At least we won’t get any half-hearted attendees who come only for some great worship.

By Paul Borthwick