The following is a guest post by Daniel Im, the author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry. This article was adapted from the book.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor.” Think about it. Christians who say they love Jesus but do not advance the kingdom of God are fakes.
When we live out our core identity as missionaries, the Lord matures us. However, if we focus on behaviors directly tied to the maturation of our souls, we may never go beyond ourselves. The interesting thing about both goals—to mature and to live as a missionary—is that they’re cyclical. What matters is your starting point.
If you start with the goal of maturity, then in the quest for Christlikeness, and having been influenced by our educational system, you may inadvertently focus on head knowledge alone. If so, as you grow in your knowledge of theology, doctrine, and apologetics, you may also neglect going out and telling others about Christ! “I’m not ready,” “I don’t know any non-Christians,” or “my role is to equip others to do the work of ministry” are typically the excuses for Christians that are solely focused on maturity. If this is the case, then while you may be growing in head knowledge, true maturity is not happening. This is because maturity that does not result in living as a missionary is false Christianity. Remember that powerful Spurgeon quote? If you’re not telling others about Christ, the question is, do you really love Him?
If you start, however, with the goal of living as a missionary, you will surely mature, because the only way you can actually live on mission in a sustainable manner is to mature! Ministry that does not flow out of a sense of rootedness and a deep understanding of your identity in Christ will always flame out.
Just consider the lives of Moses, David, Jesus, and Paul. All of them had desert experiences before the Lord released them into ministry. And even after being released for ministry, many of them experienced the desert again! For Moses, it was when he first fled to Midian (Exod. 2:14–15), and again during the forty years in the desert (Deut. 8:2). For David, it was after he was anointed by Samuel (1 Sam. 16:13), and again when he was chased out of his kingdom by his son Absalom (2 Sam. 15:14). For Jesus, it was when he was tempted by Satan in the desert after his baptism (Matt. 4:1–11), and again when he was nailed to the cross (Matt. 27:35–50). For Paul, it was during the three years after his conversion before he went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter (Gal. 1:15–18), and again during his house arrest in Rome, while awaiting his trial (Acts 28:30–31).
We don’t fall into the desert when we are locked up in our study. The Lord matures us through seasons in the desert that occur while we are living as missionaries for His kingdom. God uses these desert experiences to “humble you and test you to know what [is] in your heart, whether or not you [will] keep his commands” (Deut. 8:2). He did this in each of the above examples and more! The Lord used the desert to ready David for his kingship and Jesus for his ministry. He uses these desert experiences to refine our character and deepen our prayer lives.
After all, how many of the Psalms were written out of David’s desert experience?