Filling the Missional Void
Do you ever feel like you were made to do so much more with your life than you are currently doing? Do you sense that God has something more meaningful and magnificent for you to accomplish? Many of us have felt this tension at various times in our lives, but it is a tension that is often suppressed. We feel a gap in our lives like something is missing, but we write it off as an attempt of the enemy to make us feel worthless in God’s kingdom. But what if this tension you feel is not an attack from the enemy? What if it is the voice of the Holy Spirit calling you to live out the fullness of your identity in Christ?
When I was about to graduate from college, I heard from numerous peers that every believer around my age would go through a crisis. Right on the edge of starting our careers and launching into the “real world”, I saw that crisis right in front of so many. It was the sudden realization that everything you were pursuing after had no true eternal impact. You may not even be sure why you were doing it. This was widely talked about in Christian circles, and the well-intended discussion would start when an individual would bring up the question of whether or not they should consider changing their life’s pursuits. Maybe they should take a year to go overseas. Maybe they should take seminary courses online. Maybe they should abandon their career path altogether and go work for a nonprofit or missions organization. Perhaps they could even find a way to bring eternal significance to their jobs by “being a light in the workplace”, which really meant nothing more than smiling and having a positive attitude. There was something important missing, but each person who felt this gap had no way of identifying what it was and no precedent for change. Inevitably, the life crisis would end when the individual’s friends and mentors would “talk them down”. The solution? Usually nothing changed. More times than not, the person experiencing the crisis just assigned eternal significance in their mind to whatever they were going to do. At best, they would find a way to weave some sort of meaningful mission into their life to fill the void. They would leave the discussion feeling affirmed that they actually are doing something with eternal significance. There might be an element of truth in the thought, but God has so much more for each of us! I don’t want to sound harsh, but I must tell it like it is: These discussions were not beneficial for God’s kingdom. Rather, these discussions were merely self-justification sessions that came to a resolution once the entire group became more comfortable with not living for God’s mission. More times than not, the voice of the Holy Spirit was suppressed. These were affirmation sessions rather than encouragement sessions. Encouragement pushes someone to be better by doing things differently; affirmation tells someone they don’t need to do anything differently to be better.
We live in a world in which followers of Christ often lack any eternal significance or impact. Some may not realize it. Others realize it and are ok with it. Others realize it and don’t know how to change it. But this is not the way God intended things to be.
When God originally gave you new life through his Spirit, he gave you a new identity. You were made a new creation and an ambassador to the world, entrusted with the message of reconciliation through Jesus.
Unfortunately, something changed. We chose to go our own way instead of God’s. We loved being a new creation but had our own ideas about being an ambassador, so we abandoned the mission that God intended for us. Maybe we did it consciously, or perhaps it was subconsciously. Either way, we find ourselves in a broken situation with no eternal significance. As a result of not living for God’s mission, many of us feel a gap in our lives like something is missing. We just know we must have been made for more than living a moral life, attending bible studies, making money, raising a family, and going to heaven when we die. Taking the mission out of the Christian life creates a tension because we do not experience many of the things we were created to experience. We have a sense that certain aspects of the Christian life are missing, so we attempt to experience these things apart from the mission.
For example, some feel the gap in a lack of persecution, so they assume that a business saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is a form of persecution. Some feel the gap in a lack of belonging in an eternal storyline, so they perpetuate conspiracy theories such as the COVID mask being the “mark of the beast”. Others feel the gap in that they are not working to establish a righteous kingdom, so they fight tooth and nail to get their preferred political candidate elected and claim he is “God’s chosen leader”. We sense something is missing, so we spend our lives attempting to fill the void with other things.
Many attempt to fill the gap by pursuing lesser missions. They are genuine and sincere about wanting to honor God with their lives, but they just don’t know how. Instead of looking at scripture to see what God’s will is for us as believers, they look to their experience. They may have never experienced anything like the book of Acts, so they assume it’s not for them. Instead they must find a different mission. They may ask the question, “What am I good at?” and determine a mission based on their perceived skills. But imagine if Moses had done that! He initially tried to debate his involvement in God’s mission when he examined his own skills, but God reassured him that it would be accomplished with or without him. Would he have ever led the Israelites out of Egypt if he chose a different mission for himself that suited his own strengths rather than simply obeying the voice of the Lord? Probably not. But we still do that today. For example, someone working a desk job might choose a mission of promoting moral and ethical business practices. A professional athlete might choose a mission of setting a positive example for younger athletes. Someone who is good with kids may choose a mission of serving and loving on kids at their church. Even when these pursuits are good, these are not the core mission of God. You were made for even more. Sometimes we perceive this higher calling and take our mission choice a step further. It may be an amazing cause such as social justice, feeding the hungry, or defending the orphan. Wonderful people devote their time and energy toward these causes, and rightfully so. These things are on the heart of our Father in heaven. But while these are significant and should very much coincide with the mission of God, they are not the mission in and of themselves. No matter how much good a cause may bring, it can often serve as a distraction when separated from the overarching gospel mission. It may even be an attempt at filling the missional void in your life.
In your attempts to fill the missional void, your desire to be a part of something meaningful can drive you to pursue a lesser mission than what God created you for. Maybe you devote your prayers, time, and energy to “ending corruption”, climbing the corporate ladder for God’s glory, or even “exposing the lies” of your opposing political party. If you aren’t careful, you may convince yourself that your mission is the mission of God. You begin to read scripture through the lens of your lesser mission, and you find yourself praying fervently that God would make it happen. You may end up twisting God’s mission to be something more to your liking. At best, it is just a mission of your own that is lesser than God’s. At worst, it is utter deception from the devil himself and you find yourself running after a lie. The energy you spend on these lesser missions is meant to be applied to the actual mission of your Savior which he gave to you in your identity as an ambassador. When this energy is misapplied, you may find yourself constantly looking for the next new and meaningful cause to embrace. The gap remains, and you may be stuck in a cycle of searching for meaning.
Fortunately, there is a way out. There is a solution to this gap we all feel! The only way out is to turn back to Jesus. I know that sounds cliché, but look at the life of Jesus and see what he did. This is the model we have. What did Jesus do? He came to seek and save the lost, and he stayed focused on that mission. His identity was wrapped up in the work God had given him to accomplish. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and implored his disciples to give up their lives to do the same. Jesus says in John 12:24-26, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” We see that our way out of insignificance is to die! We must repent and turn back, putting to death the things that keep us from his mission. When we return to the life of Jesus and the model he gave us, we find our eternal significance. Jesus was out proclaiming the kingdom of God to the lost. That was his mission. He said that his servant will also be where he is. Our only hope is to give up our own lives for the sake of his mission of uniting people from every nation to himself.
When we do this, many of our deepest desires are met. We desire to be on the winning team. We desire to be a part of an eternal storyline. We desire to share in the sufferings and persecution of Christ. We desire to establish a righteous kingdom and be servants of the chosen, righteous leader. These desires are met in the mission Jesus so mercifully entrusts to us. Instead of searching for significance in God’s kingdom and wondering what he may want you to do, you find true joy and fulfillment in doing the very thing you were created for alongside your fellow brothers and sisters. Instead of crying out to God on your knees for your personal mission to succeed, you cry out to God for his kingdom to come on the earth and for the masses to be saved. Instead of pursuing your own mission, you now find fulfillment in the grand story of history in which God uses you to unite people to Christ.
But that’s not all. You now get to go back to your fellow believers and cast vision to them, equip them, and launch them into the mission! The satisfaction of being an active character in God’s storyline is meant to be experienced by every believer, and you get to join the Lord in raising up more and more fellow laborers in his harvest.
In summary: Followers of Christ are caught in a broken cycle of kingdom insignificance. God didn’t intend it to be this way. He made us his ambassadors, but we chose to go our own way instead of the way he designed it. We feel the gap in our lives and try to fill it by chasing after an endless list of other missions. Good or bad, none of these missions fulfill us because we were created for one mission that is only found in the life Jesus lived. When we return to the mission he gave us and seek and save the lost, we find our eternal significance again. We can now help other believers to find the same, equipping them to be active in the game. In the end, there are two types of Christ followers: missionally void and disciple-maker. Which one are you?