Over the last month or so, I have been reading a few books about great missionaries, specifically the founder of Youth with a Mission and the founders of One Mission Society. When you read books about people who demonstrated amazing faith, it can sometimes be intimidating. As I read though, I noticed a couple of things that these incredible men and women of God had in common (among many). It wasn’t that they had all of this incredible knowledge and skill that made them effective. It wasn’t that they were great fundraisers and used all the best techniques to ensure they could accomplish God’s plan. It wasn’t that were just powerful speakers, although that was certainly part of it.
The first thing that I noticed was prayer. I don’t mean prayer as a discipline but prayer was their very breath. Their whole lives were lived in a posture of complete submission to and communion with the Father. Their prayer lives were certainly remarkable, particularly because they all believed that when they went to God in prayer, He would answer. Such a simple thing but when you put everything on the line, that is radical faith.
At the beginning of the story of YWAM, Loren Cunningham tells a story of when he was young. He had to go down to the store to get some milk and had a five dollar bill. This money was to be used to the groceries for the week, so when he lost it on the way to the store, he was devastated. When he went home to tell his mom, she said, “Come son, let’s pray. We will ask God to show us where that money is.” After they prayed, she said that God told her it was under a bush. They retraced his steps together and found the bill under a bush on the side of the road. Loren tells this story as part of his inheritance from his family and he continued to rely on God in the same way with YWAM.
There is one story of Charles Cowman, who along with his wife started One Mission Society, where God gave him an incredible vision to take the gospel to every household in Japan. At one moment all of the funds ran out and he said, “It is not a question of supply and demand but of the Supplier.” He sent out telegrams calling for a day of prayer and spent the night on his knees. Within days, God had supplied the money. When I hear this, it is incredible to me that the response was NOT to send out telegrams to ask for donations, it was to pray – the only plea for funds was to the Supplier and He provided.
The second thing these individuals had in common was a bit of recklessness when it came to their own self-interest. They followed God’s call so intensely that they abandoned all desire for their own comfort, safety, security, and wealth. They were not here on this earth to make a name for themselves, they knew they were here for a higher purpose, to make the name of God known among the nations that He alone may be glorified by every tongue, tribe and nation as it talks about in Revelation. When you read their stories you don’t see them making decisions that make sense in the natural.
I had a soccer coach when I was young that would always yell at us from the sidelines, “Play with reckless abandon!!” My parents and I would laugh about this as it was his favorite and constant phrase. As I think back on it now, I wonder, what does it look like to LIVE with reckless abandon? Is there something about following Jesus where this phrase would also apply? When I read the stories of missionaries that have gone before me it barely seems believable the way that they poured out their lives. It wasn’t just that they were not afraid of death, it was that they died daily to any desire to satisfy themselves.
One of the good friends of Charles Cowman, E.A. Kilbourne wrote in a letter a few hours before he died after a lifetime of mission work in Asia that he praised God that he had no personal bank account and he did not own a square foot of property. He felt privileged that God would allow him to be a conduit for millions of dollars to pass through his hands for the great missionary cause for which he lived and died. I don’t know many people who would praise God for having nothing of material wealth at the end of their life, but a spiritual legacy of living for the King.
I think that these two things are inextricably tied. I don’t think you can pour out your lives like this without constantly drinking in the living water that comes through prayer. Prayer is an exercise that allows us to remember the God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. It builds our faith because it builds relationship with the One who is faithful. It builds our confidence because it builds relationship with the One who is sovereign. It builds our ability to lay down our lives because we get a glimpse at the prize, the glory and beauty of the One who laid down His life for us.
In closing, all I can say is that He is worth it. He is worth any suffering, any want, any danger, any sacrifice. So many amazing men and women lived out their lives to show others the beauty of the risen Christ. Let us join with the thousands upon thousands of angels in heaven by proclaiming:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”