There is a you-shaped hole in God’s global mission. God has prepared good things specifically for you to do. Yet even if you already agree with those statements, determining the will of God concerning cross-cultural service can be frightening. How do we hear God’s voice? Will he make me do something I absolutely detest? How do I know?
There is no set formula for discovering God’s will. Instead, consider this discovery like viewing a constellation. When we look into the night sky, we need to see clusters of stars to view a constellation. Only by looking at the overall group of stars will we see Orion or the Big Dipper. Focusing on one star does not give us the big picture.
In the same way, discerning God’s will involves looking at the big picture. When all of the “stars” come into view, we begin to understand the big picture we call the personal will of God for us. Here are eight “stars” that contribute to this big picture:
1. Biblical guidance
God will never ask us to do something contrary to his Word, but he demands obedience in the clearly revealed things, and obedience to the commission to make disciples may thrust us out.
2. The opinion and counsel of others
Especially older, wiser leaders who know us well. If many people around us commend us on our cross-cultural sensitivity and encourage us to pursue international service, maybe God is speaking through them.
3. Gifts and abilities
God has entrusted us with certain unique personal resources; how will we use them?
4. Opportunities and situations
If our job asks us to take an overseas position or our church leaders invite us on a short-term mission trip, God might be speaking to us.
A veteran missionary once told me that my desire to travel might be God’s way of directing me toward service.
Taking steps of faith in one direction can help us affirm God’s will as he either redirects us or confirms the direction we take. The Student Volunteer Movement taught that we all should take steps toward cross-cultural service until God called us to stay home: “planning to go, but willing to stay.”
While it is not the only star in the picture, it certainly shines brightly. God may use our knowledge of people without Jesus to compel us out. This certainly motivated Paul (Romans 15:20; 1 Corinthians 9:16-17) and many of the great leaders of missions history. When Cam Townsend met people who did not have the Bible in their mother tongue, God called him to learn their language and translate the Bible. He later founded what is now the Wycliffe Bible Translators.
8. Miraculous means
In her book on God’s guidance, A Slow and Certain Light, Elisabeth Elliot includes angels, dreams, audible and visible signs, and prophecies as ways that God guided in the Scriptures and how he might guide us today.1
As the big picture starts to get clearer, whatever the picture, we are all called to obey. But how do we get started? Three action steps may help us find out where God might be calling us globally:
1. Start Small
Malcolm Muggeridge writes, “Christianity is not a statistical view of life. That there should be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over all the hosts of the just is an anti-statistical proposition.”2 In other words, our little efforts do matter!
Todd and his friends decided that they could not respond to the more than 20 million people in Mexico City, but they went down to serve through Galo Vasquez, who ministers there, by offering collateral for a no-interest loan program designed to help break the cycle of poverty. Their efforts at the beginning affected two or three families at the most, but they got started. As their ministry grew, a micro-finance ministry—which is now self-sustaining (i.e., without assistance from outside Mexico)—developed. The English translation of the ministry name? The Good Seed. A small “seed” now affects hundreds of families.
Our small efforts do matter. We belong to the God of the “mustard seed,” who takes the smallest of actions and makes them significant in his economy (see Mark 4:30-32). Tom Sine writes in The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, “God has chosen to change the world through the lowly, the unassuming, and the imperceptible.”3
Start small to investigate how we might be used to serve someone else in our world.
2. Start Here
Involvement with internationals, serving other cultures in our cities, or developing a second language skill can all take place without going overseas. Yet God can use these efforts to prepare us for something international.
Mr. and Mrs. Anderson decided to start building their world vision right at home. Each night they watch the network news together, but their growing world vision caused them to add a new response. They listen to the news, taking special note of the international reports. During the commercial breaks, they turn down the volume, and they pray together for the country or the issue that was cited. After praying about famine needs in North Africa, God led them there on an exploratory trip with World Vision.
Dick and Karen—aged fifty-seven—decided they should start right at home to explore the potential of serving overseas in their retirement years. They spent a year getting trained in personal evangelism and another year getting training in cross-cultural adaptation. They have no firm direction yet, but they are making themselves available to God anywhere by starting here at home.
3. Start Now
“These are good ideas. I’ll have to try them out some day when I have the time.”
We will never find out where else God might have us if we procrastinate and never ask. If we are to grow in our vision of God, his world, and our part in it, we need to make it a priority. We need to start today.
The first action we can take is to submit ourselves daily to the Lordship of Christ. If we realize that we belong to him—“bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20)—we will desire to grow in our ability to see the world as he sees it. Our desire to understand and care for our world will arise out of our relationship with Christ.
Lou and Donna are starting now to ask if God wants them to serve in another culture. In spite of the pressures of being young parents, they tell others, “If we say, ‘Our lives are too hectic to evaluate where God might be calling us internationally’, we’ll develop a pattern of running from that question for the rest of our lives. Life will always be hectic, so we need to be opening ourselves to God’s worldwide plans for us now—even if we think we’re in no position to respond.”
Dr. Ralph Winter, the brilliant mission leader and founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission, stated, “Nothing that does not occur daily will ever dominate your life.” If we do not start now to open ourselves to God as his living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), we may never hear him call us into an exciting opportunity to serve him worldwide.
This article is adapted from How to be a World Class Christian by Paul Borthwick, (InterVarsity Press, 2009). Used by permission of the author.
1Elisabeth Elliot, A Slow and Certain Light (Waco, Texas: Word, Inc., 1973).
2Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1971), 81.
3Tom Sine, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy (Waco, Texas: Word, Inc., 1978), 23.