There’s a race that we inevitably sign up for when we answer the call to mission work. Whether we like running or not, we find ourselves a part of a marathon. The race goes on for many years, and it’s all GO, GO, GO. We are careful to live as good Christians. We are careful to follow God’s commandments, communicate clearly and be a living example of His love. However, the commandment we often forget is His commandment for us to rest. This is both a right and a MUST for us as missionaries. We have given up our lives, died to our own desires and taken up the cross to follow Him to another country or culture, but resting is one thing that God has NEVER asked us to give up. Sure, we might get a chance to lie down in all the busy-ness of ministry, only to have someone turn up at our door who needs to talk. On a daily basis, we do need to give up our right to rest when we want to rest. The Holy Spirit will often convict us to go out and love. However, when looking at the big picture, God does not ask us to give up our right to rest in Him. In fact, He commands us to rest!
I have lived in a community-based culture since 2007. I got married in 2008 and my husband and I have lived in community with others since marriage. How do we find rest when living as missionaries, while many of us are probably living in a community-based culture, and how do we feel resting while people all around us are calling out for God? It is HARD to take a break! However, it is absolutely necessary for us to break if we want to function physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Let me share with you seven ways I believe can help you see that you need a rest, or a Sabbath break. If you can relate to any of these signs, you might benefit from a longer break than one day per week.
1. You feel stressed daily.
Why do so many missionaries struggle with stress and stress-related problems? Many of us enter the field with high expectations. We expect to save lives, to rescue, to make a difference. In fact, this isn’t really our job. There is something more important than living as a missionary, and that’s living as a child of God. God has called us into His work because He loves us and wants us to be a part of His (our Father’s) work. He doesn’t call us to missions because He demands we give ourselves to save the world. That’s His job.
2. You are often irritated with your family.
What many of us forget all too often is that loving our family is the first ministry. If we are out “serving” God all day and come home tired and stressed, what message is our partner going to receive? What message are our kids going to receive? Being a missionary kid is HARD, and children need their parents’ love to get through. More so, children need their parents to be in love with each other in order to feel secure. God calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and wives to respect their husbands. If you are on the mission field with your family, then your family is who God is calling you to love. As you love your family, the way you live your life will touch the people around you.
At the end of the day, you can be replaced in your ministry. However, no one can replace your role at home. No one can stand in as partner or parent for you. When you move to the field as a family, God is calling your whole family into a new lifestyle – not just one member of the family. If being in missions means that we are often irritated with our family when we come back home, then it’s time to look at our priorities again. What does God want for our partner and children, and how can we have a part in that?
3. You feel better about yourself when you’re busy with ministry.
This is a red flag, and definitely something I’ve struggled with over the years. As missionaries, we often find ourselves worshiping our ministry rather than worshiping God. When we stop doing ministry, we feel like we have nowhere to go. Our value diminishes. In reality, however God would rather we stop doing ministry for a time so we can sit at His feet and listen to Him. Jesus Himself took long breaks from ministry to spend time recharging His battery. If the very Son of God couldn’t spend hours and hours on end with people without taking time out with His Father, why do we think we can do it? Why do we feel like God is calling us to do it? Our value does not lie in what we do, but it lies in who we are: Children of God. Our Father just wants to spend time with us.
4. You’ve been in the same place for many years
When we stay in the same area and focus on the same kind of work for years on end, it’s hard to see life from a different perspective. However, with our commitments and responsibilities it’s often hard to take a step back or get a change of atmosphere. But if we are willing to take a step back, in God’s timing, there are so many love-filled lessons God wants to teach us in doing so. He wants us to see that our ministry is not our own. He wants us to see that our ministry can go on without us. He wants us to see that ministry is not the most important thing. If we can’t step away for a month or even a week, we need to be asking ourselves why. Remember, God doesn’t need us to do His work. He chooses to use us because He wants us to have a part. However, He doesn’t want work to fulfill us – HE wants to fulfill us.
5. You feel like you’re not growing spiritually.
This is another red flag. If we aren’t growing spiritually when doing mission work, then something’s wrong. We spend our whole lives stepping closer to the perfection that God has for us in eternity, but why is it that the more work we do, the fewer steps we take? When we try to make things happen, we go dry. When we try to get numbers of believers and baptisms to report back to supporters, we go dry. When we stay in the same place for a long time and do the same kind of work, it’s easy to go dry. Sometimes I feel like God calls us to the mission field in order to do something in OUR lives, to bring us a step closer to humility and love. If we are on the mission field and aren’t growing spiritually, adjustments need to be made. Spiritual dryness is NOT a cost of discipleship. It’s a season we all walk through at times in our lives, but it’s NOT a cost we have to pay to be missionaries. Being spiritually dry does NOT make God happy with the sacrifices we are making.
6. You’ve lost your passion.
God does not desire for mission work to cause us to lose our passion. He calls us to do His work as His children because when we do it His way it will bring us a special kind of joy that we can’t experience when doing work in our own strength. We learn about ourselves and others through doing mission work. Most importantly, we learn more about who God is in our lives, and when we lose our passion for God or the people we are reaching it is a sign that we aren’t taking enough time to just be with God and sit at His feet. Losing our passion for Him is a symptom that there is a greater issue inside. Priorities need to be realigned. How can we run back to God if we have lost our passion? No, the question we should be asking ourselves is: How can we run to God if we are facing our ministry and our backs are turned to Him? If we find ourselves losing our passion for God, we need to turn around.
7. You are often unwell (due to minor illnesses).
I’m not a doctor. However, I’ve lived through years of transitions, living life in constant community and experienced multiple (minor) health problems. As someone with no history of mental health problems, I’ve experienced anxiety attacks which have woken me up in the middle of the night and stalled me in my tracks. I’ve experienced unexplained fatigue (starting from when I did youth ministry at 16 years of age) which comes up in times of stress. I’ve had multiple health check-ups for worrying symptoms only to find out that everything is fine. At the same time, I’ve had infections and inflammations at a younger age than I should.
I learnt that God didn’t desire for me to sacrifice my own health to “serve” Him. Don’t get me wrong, His call sometimes takes us to dangerous places where we are exposed to diseases and death. This IS a cost of discipleship. However, He doesn’t desire for us to fall into all kinds of illnesses because we’re too busy serving Him that we don’t eat properly, or because we need to be affirmed as a “good missionary” to the point where we volunteer to eat or drink exactly how the locals do. It’s about where our heart is. I learnt this the hard way. Sometimes, we have no choice, and in those times we take what we have and pray for protection. But other times, we have choices and the freedom to choose to take care of our bodies.
Whether we can relate to these signs or not, we need to come to a point while doing missions where we ask ourselves, “What drives us to do God’s work?” Do we do it because we feel that He will love us more if we do? Our answer to that question will tell us whether it’s time to take a step back. His love for us is unchanging and not dependent on what we do. God desires intimacy much more than He desires sacrifice. In our hearts, He belongs above the ministry. Are we willing to lay down the ministry, for a time, for the sake of our personal relationship with Him? Ministry is work, and it will one day fade away. An intimate relationship with God is life, and it has the power to touch the people around us in more ways than we know. We need to remember how precious we are to Him. When we allow that realization to sink deep into our hearts, that in itself will become a ministry orchestrated by the hand of God.
Karis Piawong is an Aussie who moved to Thailand in 2007 to find her future husband waiting for her there. They were married two years later, and as a family they currently work to raise up future Thai leaders through worship, family, training, and sports ministries. When Karis isn’t rounding up their two wild sons, she can be found writing, playing keyboard, eating chocolate, or dreaming of Australian desserts. Karis has previously written three devotionals in the Darling, Be Daring! Devotional book. She is currently publishing their family’s first book about her husband’s transformation from a gang leader to a devoted Christian, titled Because You Chose Me. You can find out more about their story and work on their website.