This morning I was reading from John chapter 3 and something Jesus said made me think about missions and how we apply the notions of “flesh” and “Spirit”.
(While I’m treating it in the context, I suppose the notion could more broadly be applied to Christian service in general as well.)
But first, let’s start with where I started… the words of Jesus:
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”John 3:6
Spirit VS Flesh
Typically, when we speak about “spirit” and “flesh” in a Christian context, the former always carries a positive connotation and the latter is seen more negatively.
- Matthew 26.41 says “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
- Galatians 5.19-21 lists the works of the flesh (and none of them should be on the Christian’s “to-do” list)
- Galatians 5.16-17 says that the Spirit and the flesh are contrary to one another. Paul exhorts us to “Walk in the Spirit so as to not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” (paraphrased)
That last verse is a clincher. One is contrary to the other.
Never the twain shall meet… or shall they?
In my experience, missions requires both!
That which is born of the flesh…
First of all, let me be clear about the traditional connotation of flesh.
If your main motivation for missions involvement is…
– to be validated by your peers, your parents or your pastor, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.
– to travel, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.
– to escape an ongoing problem, you’re doing it for the wrong reason
– to “fix” your spiritual walk, you’re doing it for the wrong reason
If any of those are the principal reasons for you being involved in Short Term Missions, then your motivation is born of the flesh, and you can expect to principally reap from the flesh as well.
You may go, you may take part and you may witness great things… but what will YOU take away? You may be disappointed with the answer.
– validation …the satisfaction is short-lived.
– travel has no eternal value.
– problems, have a funny way of waiting to meet us upon return.
– a spiritual “fix” is a matter of consistent long-term obedience.
That which is born of the flesh, is flesh.
We reap what we sow.
There is so much to be experienced through Short-Term Missions involvement. Don’t short-change yourself.
Don’t settle for flesh.
That which is born of the Spirit…
Let me step away from missions for a moment and get you to think about the difference between Romans 7 and Romans 8.
Romans 7 is well known as the chapter where Paul describes the torturous struggle between what his flesh wants and what his spirit wants… what he knows to be right. In my mind, that passage is best summed up by verse 15.
“I do not understand … For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”(NIV)
Paul expresses a certain helplessness to do what he wants to do… what he knows is right and what he feels he should do. Compare that to the first and last verses of Romans chapter 8 where the mood is completely different.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…… For I am convinced that [nothing] in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”v.1, vv.38-39, NIV
See the difference?
One possible explanation for the difference in mood between chapters 7 and 8 is this. There is an abundant presence of the words or notions of “law” and “self” in chapter 7 and no mention of the Spirit of God. In chapter 8, however there are over a dozen references to the Spirit of God.
An emphasis on the Spirit brings about a whole ‘nother result.
(note: the term ‘nother is a perfectly grammatical synonym for “other” in Atlantic Canadian English 🙂 )
Which kind of STM experience would you prefer to have?
That being said…
It’s really not all about you, is it? You need your STM trip to be born of the Spirit for more than just your own personal benefit.
Kingdom resources will be put toward your trip. People will have given of their savings and some will give sacrificially in order for you to be able to go. Over and above the finances, people will have put their confidence in you as well.
This is serious business. As short-term missionaries, we need to walk worthy of the calling that is ours. We need to pursue Spiritual results.
Don’t get me wrong. Some of these results will happen seemingly quickly (although we may not see the planting and watering that has gone into our “quick result) but other results may only come months or years after you’ve come and gone. You may be the one to plant a seed, as opposed to the one privileged to witness a visual harvest.
Having that kind of perspective is spiritual.
Spirit AND Flesh…
Have you ever heard this said of someone…
“They’re so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthly good!”
It’s generally not a compliment.
Here’s where I think that there’s a place, even a need, for both Spirit and flesh on the mission field.
When you’re on the mission field, missionaries, group leaders & national pastors will be counting on you to be “on your game” in every sense of the word. They need your spirit to be on-game, that goes without saying, but they also need your flesh.
…Not the part of you that acts and reacts from a fallen, broken state, but the raw, physical strength that you bring to every task, even when the music is not pumping, there’s no preaching happening and the powerful altar time was at last night’s service. They need your flesh to be engaged with tasks that may or may not be “spiritual” in nature.
The Last Word
If all you want to do is engage the flesh-part of who you are, then hundreds of secular organizations, who require only willing bodies and no particular religious conviction, will welcome you with open arms.
If all you want to do is engage the spiritual part of who you are, with no physical demands… they maybe you should look for a conference instead of a STM trip. Conferences typically involve fewer physical demands.
If you want to engage your spirit AND your flesh (the Holy, redeemed part of it), then STM is sure to offer you an opportunity to do just that. When you find yourself on site, pray that God strengthens, reinforces, sanctifies and uplifts your spirit so that IT drives your flesh rather than the other way ’round. In this way… even that work you do “in the flesh” will be born of the Spirit… making it Spirit-ual.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”John 3.6
God bless you as you plan, prepare and grow in faith,
in a context of missions.
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