When Missionaries Starve

It’s something that’s caused the rise and fall of kingdoms. It’s confused the most erudite of the educated and been understood by the most childlike of children.

It’s been cherished and treasured by some, burned and ridiculed by others, and it’s absolutely necessary to your emotional health while living and serving abroad.

It is the Word of God.

The more pastoral counseling I do with cross-cultural workers and missionaries – and the more I get to know myself – the more I believe in the Power, Beauty, and absolute Necessity of the Word of God.


Many of us study the Bible as part of our jobs. We read it, parse it, argue about it, and teach it. But sometimes, in the middle of all of that, we forget to eat it.

We end up trying to feed ourselves with yesterday’s manna, and we starve.

We need to return to the slow chewing of the Word. For our own sustenance.

We need so much more than yesterday’s manna, so much more than the gorging of conferences or the regurgitations of famous teachers.

We need time with God and his Word. Today.

Each bite will not be Instagrammable. Each bite will not be magnificent and earth-shattering and memorable, and that’s as it should be, because sometimes you just need the calories.

Regular, non-crisis reading of the Word may seem to make zero difference in your life today or even tomorrow. But I promise you, in a year or ten or fifty, the consistent ingesting of the Word will make all the difference.


The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.
Psalm 119:130


So let’s remember what we already know: the Word of God is Powerful, and Beautiful, and Necessary. And after that, let’s consider a couple of cautions.


The Word of God is Powerful
An American friend of mine recently visited North Korea as a tourist. I don’t know if you read the news much, but North Korea and the United States aren’t exactly buddy-buddy.

He told me he brought his Bible with him, and you know what? They let him in. They let him in with his English Bible, but they inventoried it at the border, and they made sure that he knew that when he left North Korea, that Bible better leave with him.

Why? Because they recognized what we often forget: the Word of God is powerful, transforming nations and families and hearts. The Word of God empowers the weak and gives hope to the hopeless. And hopeful people are dangerous people.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
Hebrews 4:12


The Word of God is Beautiful
It is beautiful because it shows us Christ. The Scriptures reveal the heart and mind of our glorious Creator. In the Scriptures, we see his character and his wisdom. And through the Scriptures, our Father reveals his plans from ages past and into eternity.

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.
Isaiah 40:8


Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Matthew 24:35

The Word of God is more desirable than USD and sweeter than high-fructose corn syrup. It magnifies his magnificence, redirecting and refocusing us on the Almighty.

Imagine what would happen if we consistently opened the Word and invited the Spirit of God to show us the mind of Christ and the heart of the Father. It would be amazing. It would be absolutely beautiful.


The Word of God is Necessary

The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living.
Psalm 19:7-8

Too often, when we want revival or wisdom or joy or insight, we don’t look to the Scriptures. In fact, the Word is typically the last place we look. If we’re looking for wisdom or insight, we’re likely to Google something. If we’re looking for refreshment or joy, we’re likely to ogle something. (And I’m not just talking about porn; there are many, many other things we stare long at, believing that “that thing would solve my problems or at least make me feel a bit better.”)

But there is a better way, and Jesus knew it.

Jesus spent a lot of time in the Hebrew Scriptures, directly quoting from every book in the Pentateuch, and many others besides.

In what seems to me to be a fascinating move for the Son of God, Jesus refused to solely rely on a direct connection with the Father for “fresh revelation.”

Particularly during the hard times, Jesus relied on the Scriptures. This is sobering.

You know the story, Jesus is tempted three times, and three times he responds, “It is written.”

 “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:4


The Word is Necessary because God loves to echo himself
Have you ever heard people use the God Card? I think it happens a lot in our line of work. Folks say, “Oh, God told me to do this,” or “God wants me to do that.”

Sometimes, God really does lead people (amen!) and speak to people (praise God!), and sometimes, people hear him wrong. In my pastoral counseling practice, I often lead people in listening or healing prayer, where we bring issues before God and invite him to speak truth and healing to their specific situation. But how can we be sure it’s God?

It’s a valid question and it’s one we must ask. I answer my clients by telling them that we’re listening for the echo. We’re asking, “Where has God said this before?”

Here’s my simple two-part test in determining whether or not God has spoken:

  1. Is it Biblical?
  2. Is the fruit good?

If there is Biblical support for what the person thinks God just said, and if the fruit in their life (more peace, a desire to forgive, increased love, repentance, etc.) is good, then I’m ok with saying they heard from God.

But before we can answer the question, “Is it Biblical?”, we’ve got to spend some time in the Scriptures. Before we can say, “Yeah, this sounds like God,” we need to hear regularly what God sounds like.


CAUTION: Two things to watch out for
Some folks read the Scriptures without the Holy Spirit. Others want a relationship with the Holy Spirit but without the Scriptures.

Both are dangerous.

I grew up in a tradition that was all about the Word. We taught it and knew it and loved it, but I don’t think I ever heard anyone mention the Holy Spirit. That’s an absolute travesty!

On the flip side, I come across folks who are desperate for a prophetic word from God, passed down through a prophet or gifted teacher. They’re hungry to hear from God, but they’re not opening their Bibles. That too is terribly sad.

So can I just say this, if you’re hungry for a special word from the Lord, but you’re not spending much time in the Word, you’re not as hungry as you think you are.


Like newborn babies [you should] long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may be nurtured and grow in respect to salvation.
1 Peter 2:2 (Amp)


The Scriptures teach us what God sounds like. They help us to hear his voice, see his hands, taste his wine. The Scriptures show us his character as Warrior and Lamb.

The Scriptures, while certainly not a fourth member of the Trinity, help us to know and love and serve the God who Is.

May we be a people who praise God for the gift of the Scriptures. May we be a people who view the words of the King with deep reverence and overwhelming joy.

May we be a people, a diaspora even, who love to come home and sit together in the Father’s house, under the Word of God, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, through the blood of the Son.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Published by

Jonathan Trotter

Jonathan is the co-author of "Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker." After serving in Cambodia for eight years, he relocated back to the States and now provides online pastoral care and empathetic coaching to global workers through Seeing the Hearts of the Hurting. Before moving to the field with Elizabeth and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years and as an inner-city ER/trauma nurse for three years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. | www.trotters41.com | facebook: trotters41 | instagram: @trotters41

Discover more from A Life Overseas |

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading