The Missionary Experience

As we go forth with the gospel of Christ to the nations, our hearts are filled with missionary zeal to do God's work in the lives of others. But we easily forget the deep gospel work that God has to do in us on the field. Reflecting on Jonah chapter 4, Sinclair Ferguson makes this helpful observation on the prophet's experience, and ours:

Jonah's trauma might well be called The Missionary Experience. Taken out of his normal home context, working under pressures never before encountered, sensing the frustration of a new culture and language so different from his own--these can bring the very worst out of a person, and often do. Sensitivities appear that are hitherto unknown, or could be hidden in our Christian fellowship at home. The bold knight errant who rides into foreign parts with high aspirations and expectations of fervent evangelism, of a ministry teaching the indigenous church, may soon find out that God has removed him across the face of the earth more for the sake of his own sanctification than that of others! There he may find what a narrow-minded, prejudiced, conceited, prayerless, fruitless, and uncooperative believer he really is in his heart of hearts; as a missionary once shared with me, 'I never knew what a heart of stone and filth I had until I went overseas.' In these circumstances a man or woman may be found confessing with Robert Murray M'Cheyne: 'The seeds of all sins are in my heart, and perhaps all the more dangerously that I do not see them.'

This is exactly what we see in Jonah's experience, and it underlines one of the cardinal lessons of Christian service: when the ministry God has called us to exercise is fulfilled and our service has produced abundant fruit, God has not finished his task. He still has his servant to deal with, for he is more concerned with his servants than he is about their service.

“Missionary Experiences,” in Man Overboard! (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2014), 85-94.


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