Imagine setting aside a few weeks of your summer vacation to travel on dirt roads and bump around in loud jeeps, winding deep into the remote jungle villages in Central America. You risk fevers, diseases, and heatstroke, all in order to help build an orphanage for twenty destitute kids. At the end of the month, you step back, take a selfie with your handiwork in the background, and post it with pride on Facebook. Poof!--the reward is gone. Think about it. In one humble-brag selfie, the trade is made--eternal reward from God is sold for the porridge of maybe eighty likes and twelve comments of praise.
I came across the book Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You and decided to buy it to see if it taught something about GUTS (Godly Use of Technology Skills, one of TEN3's biggest teaching points) that I don't already know. I came across this passage in chapter 3, and as a missionary, I find it so ironic I must wonder if Reinke actually knows any missionaries. We do lots of sharing about our work when we'd rather skip it. Most missionaries don't really enjoy writing newsletters and the like. I enjoy it more than most, but there are still plenty of days when I'd much rather zone in on "the mission" than think about how to compose an appealing account of what I'm doing. Yet sharing the pictures and stories about our activities is considered essential to missions. Can't do missions without funding, can't have funding without donors, and can't recruit and keep donors without impressing them that God does awesome things through their donations to us. So do we have to destroy the spirit of pleasing God in order to accomplish the mission?
I sure hope not. I was given a pretty good answer to this dilemma in Heather Ricks' God and the Elephants, which urges missionaries to make God the central character of each of our letters and blog posts, so that the surest response our readers have is to worship God for how He has revealed Himself in our contexts. I struggle to truly implement that, however. The longer I serve God, the more I find the language of "God told me to ..." or "God is leading us to ..." or "God has promised me ..." to be presumptuous. Not that I judge people for saying them, but I have found so many times that the outcomes I thought God was bringing about aren't how it turns out, that I consider myself unable to do more than loosely speculate how God is working.
The most apt metaphor I've heard for how the Lord leads me is how I once heard Psalm 119:105 exegeted.
Your word is a lamp unto my feet,
And a light to my path.
Ancient oil lamps did not give a powerful beam like modern flashlights; they gave just enough light to see the step ahead. And the "light to my path" would have referred to the torches kept burning on city walls that could be seen from far off. So the idea, I was told, is that God gives us enough light to see the next step we are supposed to take, and to know where our destination is, but everything in between is dark. We may think we know how the path will go, but there will certainly be turns and obstacles we did not expect, enough that it may not seem that there's any way this road can really lead the right way.
Our destination is plain enough: God wants to draw all me to Himself, and to make us like Him. And He gives us enough understanding to know what the next step is and obey. But I usually don't know, probably can't know, how He's going to use that step. We have a very well-thought-out strategy, but we still run into so many obstacles and dead-ends that my colleague once said he dreaded communicating with his supporters because it seemed like every time he shared about an opportunity we were excited about, people would ask about it months later and it hadn't panned out. I'm always skeptical of our plans at this point. But I keep writing the requested materials, keep the editing process going, keep researching the next software platform or project resources we think we will need, because, well, that is the step ahead of me. It probably won't have the particular results we had in mind when we decided to do it, but God knows how it will get us where He wants us.
And where does that leave me when it's time to write these blog posts and put another picture on my newsletter? Am I flaunting my works to be seen by men? Or am I conforming to the pattern before us all, acting with the things that are seen, but with such frailty and faith that the Unseen One may be evident as the source, facilitator, and goal of it all?
I have so much more to learn.