As 2018 draws to a close, my family is approaching the two-year mark of cross-cultural ministry. As this anniversary approaches, the stress and exhaustion and homesickness borne of moving to the other side of the world and pouring ourselves into life in our new home is starting to hit hard. I often feel at a loss for words in describing how I feel at this point, but when words do come, “empty” usually leads the way.
I doubt I’m alone here: the stress and demands of cross-cultural work are real, and then can threaten to overwhelm us. I’m thankful to be home for an all-too brief holiday, and as I try to take a step back from our work and think about what things ought to look like in 2019, I’ve been learning from the shepherds.
In chapter 2 of his gospel, Luke introduces us to some shepherds. Into their lives, their mundane sheep-tending work, heaven breaks: an angel, with a message of the Messiah born. The Messiah! The hope of Israel, the one long awaited. Against the backdrop of the darkness and the silence of hundreds of years, the voice of one angel, and then a multitude, declares the salvation of the Lord.
“Let us go,” the shepherds say, for what else could they do in response to this divine display? They go, and they see the truth of the angel’s message. And then, what else can they do? Again, they go, this time to spread the word, the glorious good news of God’s acting at last to save his people.
The shepherds are the first evangelists, the first people to announce the advent of the Son of God. All of us who go, who leave the work we had been doing and the loved ones we treasure, all of us imitate the shepherds, telling others about the incredible message we have heard.
More than heard: the shepherds came face to face with Jesus. And so all of us: we have encountered Jesus — not the babe in the manger, but the living and reigning King.
“Let us go,” I say, and I think action and adventure. I read the thrilling stories of Paul and the apostles in Acts, the stories of men and women in the past, and I am eager to join them. I hear and say “Let us go,” and I think first and foremost about my activity: my proclaiming, my teaching, my discipling, my serving, my loving. The truth is, I’ve been acting self-sufficient, and the reality of my dependency is hitting hard.
Now that I am dried up, empty, with nothing left to give, the myth of my self-sufficiency is evaporating. Only now do I see that I have been working out of a sense of duty, and right, of calling even, but not out of the joy and awe that comes from meeting Jesus.
“Let us go,” the shepherds said, and so I must imitate: coming first to Jesus in worship. Then, having not only heard the message but encountered the Messiah myself, can I proclaim the good news of God’s salvation. This is how we serve and love. There can be no true going out in service, especially under the strain and stress of cross-cultural work, until we have first gone to Jesus. If we neglect that, we neglect our very life.
Every day, through his word and his Spirit, we can encounter Jesus again. Every day we can, like the shepherds, set aside for a moment the good work that God has given us to do in order to go — not first to service but to worship. First to go to Jesus, to allow him to fill us and nourish us, that our service might not be the agonizing effort of gathering water from a dry well, but the overflow of a heart in love with our savior.
What part of your work feels dry and overwhelming right now? How do you make time for worship in your life so that it can fuel your work?
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