Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my Gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the Word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
2 Timothy 2:8-10
There is something that always stirs inside my soul when I read those words—But the Word of God is not bound!
Praise God. It’s powerful, transforming lives… it transformed and transforms my life! It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, what season we’re in, what’s going on in the world—the Word of God is not bound by anything.
It’s not bound by Coronavirus. It’s not bound by location. It’s not bound by governments. It’s not bound by enemies.
The Word of God is not bound.
I was always so awed by this idea that I kinda just stayed in the afterglow of this thought and breezed past the next one.
Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
I endure everything. Everything.
It prompts a great question—what am I willing to endure for the sake of the advancement of the Gospel?
Am I willing… no, really—am I willing to endure chains for the sake of the Kingdom of God to go forth?
What is my “everything”?
That’s perhaps easier to answer from the comfort of my couch. Sometimes we romanticize, imagining ourselves in that valiant role, standing solidly on our faith as a gun is pointed at us.
But what if it’s not physical chains we’re bound by?
I’ve been reading some books over the last few months about missionaries and burnout. One, specifically for women… one, a general book.
Last year at our organization’s conference, we learned that every year, 7000 missionaries leave the field. Seven thousand. That’s 20 a day. Almost one per hour.
As one missionary said, “It’s hard out there.”
In his book, The Mind of a Missionary, David Joannes says,
-In a survey by the Journal of Psychology & Christianity in 1983, 90% of women and 88% of men said they were more stressed working as missionaries than they were beforehand, with women bearing a higher brunt of that stress.
-In 1967, psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, began to study whether stress contributes to illness. They surveyed more than 5000 medical patients and asked if they had experienced any of a series of 43 stressful life events in the survey in the previous two years. Each of the units… had a different “weight” for stress. The patients marked the events that they experienced and tallied their marks to find their overall score. The higher the score, and the larger they weight of each event, the higher the probability that the patient would become ill….
The original 1967-1970 study found that if a person reached a level of 200 on the scale in a year, the cumulative stress would have consequences for some time to come. In fact, they found that 50% of those who reached this level were hospitalized within two years. The reasons included heart attack, diabetes, cancer, and other severe illness. If a person reached a level of 300, they were almost certain to end up in the hospital within two years.
In 1999, doctors Lois and Larry Dodds of Heartstream Resources began to study the levels of stress on the mission field using a modified version of the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale. First term missionaries were found to have scores peaking at a whopping 900, while veterans maintained 600-plus year after year….
Joannes goes on to say “…while the average person requires a decent amount of self-care, rest, and rejuvenation, and a person in the danger zone requires even more, a missionary realistically requires a bare minimum of at least 3 times the amount of attention to self-care than the average person.
Now, I don’t know how that’s possible.
But it’s true that the stress is immense at times. I’ve taken the test, which didn’t include half of the things I consider stressful in my life… and my score was around 400.
Specifically for our field, Christ Bible Institute Japan’s Brett Rayl and Michael Oh write, “Serving for years amid great spiritual oppression with little to no apparent spiritual fruit has led numerous missionaries and entire agencies to abandon Japan or transfer the work to another field. Supporting churches and sending agencies have often discouraged missionaries from pursuing ministry in Japan. The words of one recruiter for another mission field summarize the thoughts of many: ‘Japan had its chance.’”
Japan has long been known as a missionary graveyard— not a physical one, but a career graveyard.
Remember those 7000 missionaries that quit a year? Many not only quit the field, they quit their faith.
Again from David Joannes’ book, “Upon crossing cultural, linguistic, and geographic barriers, global missionaries are faced with tremendous and often unforeseen pressures… When asked about the emotional struggles on the mission field, one of my missionary friends, who wishes to remain anonymous, responded with a barrage of one-liners that she confronts: ‘Rejections, betrayal, territorialism, competition, and homesickness. Guilt of not being with family during crises; guilt over never doing enough or doing well enough, disillusionment and fear of failure… unrelenting standards and unrealistic expectations…”
Whew. I won’t go on. There’s a lot that could be said and things that have been written that say it better and have more insight than I do.
But in this very real struggle, I’ve learned something about endurance and how it works.
It’s the “why” of it all.
It’s for the sake of those who have yet to hear. It’s for the sake of His Kingdom. It’s for Him.
Now, I “knew” all those things before. And again, in my romantic notions and comfortable setting, it was easy to give the “pat” answer. But having gone through my own struggles, I’ve learned it.
And I’ll probably have to re-learn it many times.
Hebrews 12 encourages us to run with endurance. To look at joy that is set before us. That enabled Christ to endure the cross and triumph in spectacular glory.
To endure, I need to cast my eyes to the glory of God and to the goodness of who He is. To His triumph that gave me life and allows me to triumph over sin, over distress, over opposition. It allows me not just to conquer these things, but to be more than a conqueror…. And “having done all, to stand firm.” (Eph 6:13).
I’m not going to give you a spiritual pat answer either, because I despise pat answers as truly unhelpful and often insincere.
There are practical things that need to be done to self-care. There has to be rest. There has to be times to cool off your brain and shake all that stress out. There really needs to be trusted people you can talk frankly with. Some work needs to be delegated so as to spread the burden out. Stress will fog your ultimate vision and wear you down from running the race. Speaking of running, even in training for a marathon, rest is necessary to both recover and run more effectively.
So, yes, those things are needed.
But under it all… turn our eyes, Lord, to the “why”. And then help me to answer my questions.
Am I willing to put up with intense ongoing stress?
Am I willing to face opposition?
Am I willing to trod a seemingly unfruitful field?
And am I willing to put up with all these things that feel like chains for the sake of those who have not yet heard?
Lord, though I may be bound, I have your word in my heart, and your Word is not bound. Help me to be more than a conqueror. Help my brothers and sisters, wherever they are and in whatever they are going through, to learn patient endurance. Let us hold to the hope and joy of your glory shown in our lives, conforming us to your image and likeness, and may all who see and hear also put their hope in You. To YOUR NAME be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The Mind of a Missionary by David Joannes
I also grabbed a few quotes from this article.