By Stephen Cartwright Missionary to Africa 

This question plays on the minds of many who feel called to the Master’s service at home or on the foreign field. Some have sought to answer this question according to the wisdom of the natural man, thinking that “the need is the call,” and have launched out in ministry without the necessary equipping of God’s Spirit. The end result, sadly, is a discouraged, disheartened “missionary” who returns home with a broken and often bitter spirit, disappointed hopes, deflated zeal and the age-old question to plague the mind, “Did I miss God?” But, is this God’s plan? Is this what He intended when He sent out the seventy-two disciples, bidding them take “nothing for their journey…” Did He have this in mind when He uttered those timeless words; “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature…” Surely, in His infinite wisdom, He knew that the  perceived “need” does not necessitate the “call,” and that in order to truly accomplish anything for God, one must go by the way of the altar to be a vessel forged by the Master’s Hand in order to be of any real use to Himself or anyone else.

Much has been preached in days gone by about consecration to God. The holiness of God was lifted up in such a way as to make hearts truly long to be of service to such a One as they saw in Scripture. Of course, these men were then made aware – often painfully - of their utter inability to accomplish anything for God in the flesh. They then made a consecration of themselves to their Maker – with no strings attached - and God received their offerings. These were the John Wesley’s, Hudson Taylor’s, and George Fox’s of their day. They knew they could only fulfill God’s will by a complete death to their own wills, desires and abilities. They prayed – no, more than prayed – they LIVED in the spirit of prayer and consecration to God. They had made a complete and total gift of their lives to the Loving Saviour who did far more for men than they could. And such lives yielded eternal results. So, again the question is asked, “What makes a missionary?”

 “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch and Saul.

 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” Acts 13:1-3

There seems to be a heavenly pattern set forth here. The disciples had already received the command from Jesus to “pray ye the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into the harvest.” They had already “tarried in the city of Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high,” and now here they are. The lot of them are fasting and praying. All are present in the prayer meeting, all have experienced Pentecost, as far as we know, and all are desirous of doing something for the Lord. However, the Lord had a purpose for Barnabas and Saul that was only realized as they sought the Lord. The next verse says, “So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia…” God Himself sent them forth. They didn’t step out on someone else’s good idea. They didn’t just sign up. They were chosen by God as they presented themselves to Him in fasting and prayer. That is where every true missionary is called, and unfortunately, that is what is lacking in the missions thrust of our day.

Not only are missionaries called in the closet of prayer, they are sustained in that same place. Paul says in Galatians 1:6, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you…” There is a great tendency in mortal man to try and take things into our own hands, thus removing them from God’s. Why we do this is a baffle. “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect through the flesh?” You might well ask, Brother Paul. How many missions programmes, organizations and missionaries themselves have fallen into this snare of the enemy? If it takes prayer and fasting to begin a work, does it not make sense that it will only continue by the same measure of prayer and self-sacrifice? Many and varied have been the failures of men and missions who have been truly called of God, but have missed this very important element in the building and sustaining of the work. Surely in this day and age, there is a glut of “helps” out there for the “struggling” church or pastor or minister. What is needed is a sincere acknowledging that “our help cometh from the Lord” and “vain is the help of men.” How quick we are to remove ourselves from conflict, when often the Lord has ordained that particular trial to purify the vessel so the work will be untainted by human resources. When He only is the builder, the work is truly “marvelous in our eyes,” and the fruit WILL remain.

The true missionary has received the Words of Christ to his own heart “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he may give it you.” John 15:16. He realizes that the only way to bear lasting fruit is to be in constant communion with the Father, asking what is needed, in the name of His Son. That is what God is looking for. A man or men who will not only go forth at His call, but build the work at hand according to the principle of abiding, child-like dependence upon Christ, will be the bearer of true fruit. He may not be the richest, wisest or most popular with men, but God will be pleased and his soul will be satisfied. Is not that the ultimate purpose in the life of anyone professing Christ? When the focus shifts from this simple vision, trouble begets trouble in the life and work of the child of God. This need not be, however. God has literally given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” when He gave us His Son. Why should we seek any other source?

Finally, this subject cannot be addressed without the grande theme of Love being considered. First in the heart of every God-called man is a red-hot love for God Himself. This love “constrained” the Apostle Paul. This love is the very life blood of the Gospel message. Without love for God, men and ministries fall prey to heresies, divisions, diversions and ultimately spiritual death. Love for God will keep a man in the altar. Regard for Him will guide a man in every decision of life. Desire for God will compel a man to leave houses, lands, father and mother. It has and will cause a man to lose his own life also, if called upon to do so. Love for God is THE paramount motive of the true missionary. Second to that all-consuming love, is true heart-felt love for one’s neighbour. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” 1 John 3:16. The heart of a missionary is moved with compassion from the perspective of Christ. There is a deep appreciation for the redemptive work of Christ on Calvary because of the personal forgiveness he has experienced. That appreciation moves the man to action as God empowers him with His love to do the work set before him. Love kept in proper order will cause God Himself to attend upon all the details of life. Any man desiring to “do something for God” MUST be filled with His love. Other motives will fail to sustain in the irksome, tedious toil of the heat of the day. But, Oh, how wonderful! God allows men to love Him wherever they are and under any circumstance of life. That alone will stand the test of time and enable God’s man to endure to the end.  

So, what makes a missionary? God does. Now the question remains, are you one?

Stephen & Hilary Cartwright

Stephen from Manchester England is the School of Christ International Director for Africa. He runs regular schools in different nations and regions of Africa as well as overseeing local Directors.


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