Snap ... snap ... snap ...
A missions leader stands before me, snapping his finger loudly, rhythmically – awkwardly, even – all the while peering into our souls. Finally he says, “With every second that passes, someone is going to hell.” This is an illustration I’ve heard countless times. It’s a tool to engage our hearts with lostness. And it works.
But as powerful as fear is, it has never propelled anyone to perfect love.
We should feel a burden for the lost. It is true – many people at this very moment will die in unbelief. Their lives will be extinguished. They will spend an eternity apart from the Lord. There will be nothing to save them from this fate.
Allowing this thought to overtake us creates a frantic drive. It orbits missionaries around the most effective tools for reaching lost people. It keeps organizations launching strategies for conquering whole countries and regions. It even shapes business models aimed at expediting the kingdom of God.
But is this a burden God made us to bear?
When I served overseas, I sometimes burdened my disciples with the same fear that drove me. Because I had misunderstood who the mission belonged to, I taught them to do the same. That meant I enlisted their help to build my own kingdom in God’s name. They followed me blindly, as blindly as I had followed others.
We feel a burden for the lost, but what should it be founded upon? How do we get started on the right track? 1 John 4:18-19 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” If John is trying to motivate Christians to love, then he is not doing it with fear. In fact, he excludes its place altogether. This should inform our view of God’s mission.
If we fear the mission of God will not thrive without our work, we have held ourselves in too high esteem. If we fear that our standing before God will be in question without evangelistic drive, we condemn ourselves and others. When our fretting over the lost pushes us to share with them, we forget it is the Lord’s mission. He cares much more for the lost than we ever will.
So, let us ask Him to give us His own heart for the lost. Lord, put within us Your own desire for those who do not know about Your gospel. With this, we show ourselves weak to the task before us, and the burden for a dying world still remains on His shoulders. If we try within our own strength to bear this heavy directive, we will be crushed by its weight.
Why did Jesus tell us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19)? Because He holds all authority (Matthew 28:18). We were never meant to take on the impossibilities of this task without His authority. This is why he said, “You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:48-49). If He is with us in this great mission, and His words do not return without fulfilling their purpose, then perfect love has cast out the fear of the Great Commission. With him, we cannot fail.
Thus, it matters far less what methods or strategies to which we ascribe. With love as the heart’s motivator in our work, we will not be failures. When we have not seen anyone come to Christ in the places we are serving, when we want to pack our bags and get on a plane for our own homes, when our children are sick, when our visas are revoked, when we are not able to learn the language, we must fight to remember that our contribution to the work of God, though it is valued by Him, does not determine the success of the work.
So let us be motivated by Christ's love for us and for the lost. Let it sober our fears and efforts, just as it did for Paul, according to 1 Corinthians 13:1-13: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
We feel a burden for the lost, but what should it be founded upon? The motivation we start with is likely the motivation we will end up with. The thought of hell and the lost lives snapping into it, though real and terrible beyond belief, propels no one to perfect love. May it also not be that which leads us to the lost.