Columnists > Soul Food

Peace, if not safety

What if the path of Christ leads to danger and discomfort?

Issue: "The Jonesboro puzzle," April 11, 1998

When the apostle Paul thought about the resurrection of those who die in Christ, he wrote, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" Those words have comforted the saints throughout history as they have faced persecution and death. Missionary Timothy McKeown wrote recently about the three missionaries held hostage in Columbia. His letter, like Paul's to the Ephesians, reminds us not to fear the suffering that can glorify God:

I am a missionary in Colombia, South America. As you might expect, I receive lots of questions and comments related to security and safety on the field. Someone once said that "the safest place to be is in the center of God's will," and I frequently hear this expression in missionary circles within Colombia as well as from some of our supporters.

However, after studying Scripture and ministering in this context for many years, I have felt compelled to modify this saying for my own use: "The most fulfilling, joyful, and peaceful place to be is in the center of God's will." But it is not necessarily the safest.

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It seems to me that the Bible is full of examples of God's people often-not occasionally-being placed in unsafe, uncomfortable, and dangerous situations. Take the life of the Apostle Paul. He was shipwrecked at least twice, almost drowned, unjustly imprisoned for much of his Christian life. He received multiple floggings almost to the point of death, was stoned and left for dead once, mobbed and let down over the wall in a basket at night. He was afflicted by a bothersome "thorn in the flesh" and was even bitten by a poisonous snake while trying to dry out by a campfire after a shipwreck! And if you accept the extrabiblical accounts, he was eventually and unjustly beheaded.

And then there is the case of our Lord Jesus, who was betrayed by his own disciple, taunted, ridiculed, beaten, and nailed to a cross on our behalf.

I was present at a missionary meeting held within days of the release of the two missionaries who were kidnapped in Colombia about 10 years ago and held for some 60 days. The main message that these two brothers in Christ communicated to us after having read the whole Spanish New Testament to each other over and over again (five times if I remember correctly) during their captivity was the overwhelming amount of danger and suffering experienced by God's people in the Bible. They expressed "surprise" at the way this "new" message jumped out over and over to them during their captivity. And these men were neither novice missionaries nor new Christians.

I often hear people pray for my safety and that of my family despite the fact that I have repeatedly asked that they not focus so much on our "safety" but on our "faithfulness" in whatever circumstances our Sovereign God might call us to minister. Most prayers in Scripture focus not on the personal safety and benefit of believers but on the power, majesty, testimony, and victory of God over his-and, of course, our-enemies.

I do not advocate foolish and irresponsible "risk taking." In fact, I encourage and insist that all missionaries for whom I am responsible receive training in personal security if at all possible, and that they take the issues of personal security and safety very seriously. However, biblical reality dictates that there are, indeed, times in which God will lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where our prayer needs to be for faithfulness as reflections of his light and saltiness in this needy world.

I pray this prayer for faithfulness for the three New Tribes Missionary hostages, their mission, their leadership, their families, and for those who advise them. In my heart I hope and pray that Mark, Dave, and Rick are alive and well, but much more than that-that they and their families will remain faithful in all circumstances to our Commander in Chief.

As a Vietnam veteran, I know firsthand the anguish of the friends, families, and supporters of those listed as MIA (missing in action). I want to salute publicly these missionaries and their faithfulness to our wonderful Lord. They have ministered to a world of believers through their faithful testimony.

And I want to urge my fellow Christians to use extreme caution in allowing the infectious and deadly "health, wealth, prosperity, and personal comfort gospel" to become our motivator in seeking his will for our earthly lives. The Lord calls us to obedience in spite of the "costs"-not to personal comfort and safety! Oh, how I pray for the Lord of the Harvest to raise up more laborers to go into his fields no matter what the personal costs might be.

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