I hope that you won’t take what I write here too seriously. The thoughts are not completely fleshed out, so don’t take it as criticism of others, because I’m just thinking out loud. Who knows if I’ll believe half of what I write here when I wake up tomorrow morning. It’s just thoughts, not conclusions.
I believe, intellectually at least, that God’s love for us cannot be increased by our righteous deeds. Sin has consequences, sometimes terrible consequences, but the diminishing of God’s love is not one of those consequences. His love is solely based on grace, nothing else. And by definition, grace is not something that we can influence by right deeds.
This was most clearly revealed to me about 6 months before I came to the field, when I studied hard the book of Hosea. I suggest you do so, too. In it, I saw so clearly at that time that God loves us because He loves us, not because of who we are (dirty prostitutes named Gomer, according to Hosea). When you love a prostitute without having sexual relations with her (Hosea 3), you show that how she gained her love and worth and value in the past (through her body) will not work on you. You love her for an entirely different reason than how she was loved by others. That is how we are before God: filthy and loved dearly. For those who are saved, no sin can dimnish that love. No righteous deed can increase it. His love for us is by grace, and no performance of our own can affect it. He loves us because Christ died for our sins and the blood from His side cleans our filth away. We do not clean ourselves.
That is what I believe. In my head, at least. The other question is not just if God’s love for us is constant, but if it is enough. It was for Paul: in all kinds of suffering He rejoiced. The Father’s love was enough for Jesus to lay down His life as a sacrifice to purchase His people. It was enough for the rest of the apostles who were violently murdered for their faith. None of these people feared men-they did not fear anything-because God’s love was enough for them.
It is not enough for me. I need the praises of men. Well, not their praises so much. I don’t like being praised particularly; it makes me feel awkward. But I at least need their indifference. It’s their scorn I can’t take. God’s love is not enough for me to endure just anything for Him. It is not enough to face the burning shame (before men) of really walking with Him and being bold to proclaim His Gospel. I know that His love is unchanging and will never leave me, but it is not enough for me. I need other things. Therein is the root of so much sin.
Sometimes I feel like we as missionaries are so insecure in God’s love that we have something to prove through our ministries. Do we truly believe that God’s love in unchanging? And is it enough for us? Is the reason that we bury ourselves in ministry because we are mistaken in one of these? After all, if we are working blasted hard for Him, we can be assured of His love: We’re missionaries! And if we are insecure in that, well, we always have the work of the ministry to fall back on, right? In other words, is discontent in the love of God a motive for ministry? Is ministry a way of hiding in this discontent?
In a place like Mexico, where with just a good stare someone will repent and believe and jump into the nearest lake for baptism, I assume that it must be just great to hide in your ministry. It must be quite easy to avoid the unpleasant reality of your discontent in God’s love (if such a thing exists in you). In rural Japan, it’s a bit harder. This place is just HARD. You don’t see many converts. When you work in a place like this, resting assured in your work instead of grace isn’t so easy.
Ah, but we are clever, we sinners. If the work shows no results, we can work harder. Pass out more tracts. Teach more English classes. Pray more. Join another community activity. Whatever. We can work ourselves into the ground, because if we do so, dagnabit, God must be pleased with us, whether we see results or not.
We are Gomers every one, worthless prostitutes. We want to buy God’s love with our bodies. But we must take our joy and content that God loves us despite our prostitution, otherwise we get into absurdities. So, my theory is that some of the time, the reason we missionaries work so hard is because we either do not believe that God’s love will be with us no matter what or because we are not content in it. Praise God for those who work hard because they are deeply enthralled in His love. As humans, it is impossible for us to look at other humans and tell if they are working hard out of discontent or out of a genuine response to God’s love. So I’ll try not to look at other people and tell.
For me, I have the opposite problem because of my insecurity. It’s why I run when I should be bold. Were God’s secure and all-satisfying to me, I would have nothing to fear.
See, I have trouble “accomplishing things” in the ministry. I just… I want to rest in the certainty of God’s love. So when I encounter hard-working missionaries (whatever their motives, good or bad), I just can’t keep up with them. I like a slow pace of life. So when I’m around those hard-workers (God bless them for their sacrifice), I just want to cry “Grace, grace! Give me a rest!” I am a weak child who just wants to sleep in (I can be a pretty lazy sinner). I like to take things slow, and I want to spend lots of time with God. If I could have anything in this place of trial and hardship, this field of Japan, I would want to dance and play like a naked child in the tall grass with my Father on a bright day. I want to experience more of Christ and see His pleasure.
“That I may know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” That’s the purpose of my life: to know Christ. I would be just as happy to do it without the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings (like I said, I like to take it easy), but unfortunately, the two seem inextricably linked. I just can’t escape that. I want to know Christ. That’s why I’m here. He has chosen me to come here and to preach the Gospel. I wish I were better at it. But I want to see His love. I want to relish in it. I want the freedom to be an innocent child and to laugh and play and know Him more. That’s why it’s hard for me sometimes to work hard as others: I just want to see the smile of God, and I know I won’t see it by working myself to death for Him. But I’ll also be looking the wrong way when it comes if I fail in the tasks He’s set before me: I’m a steward of so much that He’s entrusted to me for a season, and I would be a faithful one.
But when all is said and done, I just want to play in the garden with my God. I want to be content in that and then do whatever good deeds that contentment drives me to. I wish I could be…
Japan is a workaholic culture. I feel out of my element here. Perhaps that workaholic spirit is part of the reason that we missionaries, too, are often workaholics. Finding a place in such a place is not easy.
Again, these are just ramblings and ponderings, not conclusions. Don’t take them as though I’ve figured any of this out.