• JWool

Life on Mission

You’re probably not living on mission. Even if you think you are, you probably aren’t. I don’t say this to be pessimistic or judgmental. I say this because I desperately want you to see that God has infinitely more for you than the life you currently live.

I thought I was living on mission throughout high school and college. I would have told anyone that I was. But in reality, this was far from the truth. I had the “living” part down, but I hoped the “on mission” part would sort of work itself out naturally. My idea of living on mission was that I could go about my life business-as-usual and hope to intersect with the mission occasionally. Now when I say, “the mission”, I mean making the name of Jesus known to those around us and to the ends of the earth. This is the core mission of God as described in scripture, and it involves sharing the gospel, making disciples, planting churches, and reproducing leaders. Many of us say we are “living on mission”, but what do we mean? It is typically no more than empty words, and it breaks my heart to see so many genuine followers of Jesus intending to live on mission but not actually doing it. We are often like a bunch of chickens running around with their heads cut off. We are aimless and unintentional, and our identities are rarely rooted in the mission of our Lord.

Another way of describing the mission of God is “fishing for men”. Jesus called some of his first disciples in this way:

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Mark 1:17

The statement flows logically: Following Jesus will result in you becoming a fisher of men. But applying that same logic in reverse order, what if you are not fishing for men? Can you really say you are following Jesus well?

Let’s dive a bit deeper into this fishing illustration and examine our own missional living through that lens.

Think about how the disciples felt when Jesus called them out of the boat to follow him and become fishers of men. He was not just calling them to come do an activity. He was calling them out of one identity and into another. They were known for fishing and spent most of their time doing it, so this was their frame of reference when Jesus called them to come be a different type of fisherman. Think about it in terms of a teacher switching jobs. If you work Monday-Friday teaching 7th grade math and decide to accept a position at a new middle school, you probably have an expectation that the time and energy you dedicate to the new job will be similar. You don’t expect to arrive at the new school and only teach math on Tuesdays. It was the same with the early disciples whose time and energy was devoted to fishing. When Jesus told them he would make them become fishers of men, they likely understood it was not a call to recreational fishing or occasional fishing trips. It was a call to a new focus and a new identity. This is also your identity if you follow Jesus. You are a fisherman. But how often does a fisherman fish? I enjoy going out to the ponds in Tennessee with my relatives to fish every couple of years, but that does not make me a fisherman. A fisherman wakes up thinking about fishing. He plans his life around fishing. He may not know what next week holds, but he knows he will be fishing. When he meets up with old friends, they ask him how the fishing work is going. It is his deeply rooted identity. Is this how you would describe your life on mission as you fish for men?

Perhaps you have a “pond” that you consider to be your mission field. Your pond is likely your workplace, your family, your friends, or some other place where you spend a lot of your time. Maybe you are a full-time missionary living overseas, and your new country is your pond. I want to make one thing clear: Being at the pond does not make you a fisherman. I am not sure who to attribute this quote to, but I heard it first from Jeff Sundell two years ago and made sure to write it down: “Presence does not equal proclamation.” Being with the fish does not make you a fisherman. It has occurred to me that for many believers, the pond is not where they go fishing. It has become a place to go swimming with all the fish while having no intention of catching any of them. Can we refer to such an activity as “living on mission”? Is that pond really a “mission field”? “That’s my mission field” is often just a popular Christian thing to say about our own personal pursuits in which there is no real mission taking place.

We often carry on with our lives as is and hope to live out the mission during “everyday life”. In theory, this is exactly what we should be doing. If you are truly living on mission in everyday life, that is phenomenal. But in most cases, “mission in everyday life” is just a façade. I have unfortunately seen this phrase become a justification for spending all your time and energy on things other than making disciples. It is often a self-affirmation that what you devote your life to is somehow part of the mission of God. It is usually an attempt to hold on to a normal, ordinary life and still consider yourself “on mission”. Jesus calls us to abandon all else for the sake of the gospel, but we often want to see how much we can hold onto and still be involved in his work. It’s almost like we are searching for a scenario in which you can serve two masters, bury your dad first, or put your hand to the plow and look back. We do not want to change anything or give up anything, so we search for a different way to live on mission other than the ways prescribed by Jesus. We let everyday life dictate our schedule and behavior instead of letting the mission dictate, and we just hope that the mission somehow intersects with our everyday life. It may intersect sporadically, but this is not life on mission! Getting into the mindset of “I’m on mission wherever I go and whatever I do” is good, but we usually determine where to go and what to do outside the context of the mission. Getting into the mindset of “God’s mission determines where I go and what I do” is true life on mission. Why are we always wanting to see how much other stuff we can do and still be able to weave in some mission? Why not go the other way? First see how much mission you can do, and then weed out the cares of this world that get in the way. If we want to truly live on mission in “everyday life”, then we must elevate God’s mission as priority number one and filter in our everyday life activities to the extent that they help us to fish for men.

Many believers have good intentions to live this way, but they just don’t know how. Essentially, they show up to the pond without a fishing pole. They’re just hoping a fish jumps out of the water at them. At best, they are diving into the pond and attempting to grab fish with their bare hands. Maybe they have a pole, but they are not using it. There is no intentional plan to make disciples. How can someone expect to catch fish in this manner? It doesn’t have to be this complicated! You do not typically catch fish on accident. There is an intentional plan to go and do it. You go to the pond, get out your pole, choose your bait or lure, decide on an approach, and start casting your line into the water hoping for some bites. And you don’t just cast out your line one time and quit when nothing happens. You persevere because you know there are fish in the pond, and you are a fisherman. Does this describe your missional intentionality with your neighborhood, workplace, friends, family, city, etc.? Is there an intentional plan to catch fish? Making disciples is not as complicated as we make it out to be. Jesus models for us exactly how to do it and then sends us out with authority. He entered areas, shared the gospel, made disciples, gathered them together, and multiplied them through developing leaders. Do you have a simple, reproducible plan to do the same?

Lastly, a fisherman is bought into the entire process and knows where it is heading. He knows the mission he is trying to accomplish. What he chooses to do with the fish he catches is based on the end goal he is working toward. Can you say the same for the mission of God? Do you know where it is heading? You may know you are supposed to fish, but it’d be helpful to know if this is just a never-ending treadmill or if there is an end goal. A mission moves toward accomplishing an end goal. If there is no end goal, you can probably better describe it as an activity rather than a mission. Be careful that the mission of God does not get reduced to just another activity. I’d like to deviate from the fishing analogy for a moment and turn to hockey. The end goal of an NHL hockey team is to win the Stanley Cup. There are several smaller goals along the way – they must score, keep the other team from scoring, win enough games during the season to make the playoffs, win four games against an opponent in each playoff round, win three playoff rounds to get to the final, and win the final playoff round to be crowned Stanley Cup Champions. “Living on mission” in the context of an NHL hockey team is focusing on doing whatever it takes to win the Stanley Cup. A successful team is full of players who are united around this same goal and are committed to seeing it happen. But what if a team had no idea what the end goal is? It would be hard to rally together and intentionally work toward winning the Stanley Cup if they didn’t know that is what they are trying to do. The team could still win some games during the season, but it would be random without a single thought given to the overall mission. Motivation levels might taper off, and the players might want to quit as they encounter hardship or injury. When they keep their eyes on the prize and realize they are part of a larger purpose, they are spurred on with a “win at all costs” mentality. They know that the end goal is worth every ounce of pain they feel, every bit of effort they give, and every sacrifice they make. Is this how you view the fulfilling of God’s grand mission? This is where it is heading:

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Habakkuk 2:14

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10

There is coming a day when this mission will be accomplished. Jesus will return to a complete bride that consists of people from every tribe, nation, and language. “Living on mission” means aligning your life to do whatever it takes to fulfill this end goal. It is the mentality that Paul shares with the Ephesian elders:

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24

For a more complete summary of where God’s mission is heading and how to align yourself with it, check out one of the previous blog posts entitled “New Paradigm”.

I realize that much of this may seem like an overly negative outlook on things, but I do not wish to sugar coat reality when it has been over 2000 years and there are still more than 3000 groups of people who have not yet heard of Jesus. People are perishing every second while we comfortably affirm our ordinary lives as “living on mission”. The problem is not with the harvest! It is plentiful, but the laborers are few. We say we are living on mission, but we do not do anything intentional for it. We don’t train for it. We don’t set a time for it. We don’t hold each other accountable for it. We don’t focus on it. And we don’t take any practical steps toward accomplishing it. Is that really a mission? We fail to take ownership of the task God has given us, and we form our identity around everything else. Thankfully, there are ways to change this! God is stirring up the hearts of believers all around the world to engage sacrificially in making Jesus known. I am far from perfect in living this lifestyle, but God is continually conforming me to the image of Christ as he is with all who call on his name. There are many things that consistently spur me on toward true “life on mission”, but I want to share two of them with you:

1. Setting aside consistent time on the calendar to intentionally “go fishing”

2. Discipleship patterns that hold me accountable to live on mission

Commit to these things, and you will soon see how simple it is to train others to do it too. I would love to help you learn how to do this and practically live it, and I know plenty of others who would say the same. In other words, come learn how to fish! Shed off everything else and make the purpose of God the purpose of your life. As I stated previously, I desperately want you to experience all that God has for you as you join him in his work. He is inviting you to live a new lifestyle. Don’t say yes to me; say yes to Jesus! Live only for the day that you will look into your Savior’s eyes!

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