The following post comes from Tim Keesee’s blog. It is a great look at the realities of what it means to struggle with obeying Christ’s command to go and preach the gospel to every creature. It also offers some very helpful tips for the journey “out of the shire.”
After a tumultuous disruption of his quiet evening by a bunch of unruly dwarves, Bilbo Baggins is called upon to join them on a journey of great importance—to rescue their people and their home. However, he also discovers that there is a risk, a deadly risk—a fire-breathing dragon, to be specific. Furthermore, this grand quest would require upsetting his pleasant, predictable and respectable life. After considering the magnitude of the offer, he briefly loses consciousness, following which he is seen sitting in his large, overstuffed chair and discussing the situation with Gandalf.
Gandalf: You’ve been sitting quietly for far too long. When did doilies and your mother’s dishes become so important to you? . . . The world is not in your books and maps . . . it’s out there!
Bilbo: I can’t just go running off into the blue . . . I’m a Baggins of Bag-End.
Gandalf: And you’re also a Took . . . You’ll have a tale or two of your own to tell when you come back.
Bilbo: Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: No, but if you do you’ll not be the same.
Bilbo: That’s what I thought.
This scene haunts me. The grand but highly life-disrupting commands of Jesus inspire us in our 20s, but somehow by our 30s and 40s the cost of those commands makes us want to sink into a comfortable armchair and conjure up other less-costly paths of obedience. How does a 22-year-old so passionate about reaching the nations morph into a 48-year-old who cannot imagine living abroad for the King? With so many well-attended conferences, frequently-read blogs and well-written books, why isn’t a higher percentage of the young Christian population actually going? And for those of us who end up overseas, why do we so rapidly become disenchanted with the work and begin to long for greener pastures?
At age 20, the world seems open and exciting. We’re eager to launch out and try anything, and we long to bring words of Good News where it has never been heard. There’s fresh zeal and joy, a willingness to be inconvenienced and little care of the potential losses because of the joy of the potential gain for eternity.
In our mid-20s, our good desires meet their first roadblocks, and we begin to feel the weight of all that is working against us. We get our first real job, our first real bills and start to feel the weight of survival in a world of broken health, car accidents, soaring insurance costs and the uncertainties of raising children. Along with the new stressors come new joys—having a nicer car, a modest little house that we’ve painted and decorated and a few pieces of new furniture. Before long, we develop some hobbies, get a comfortable circle of friends and fall into a predictable routine.
By the time we hit our 30s, we have quit dreaming and are just hanging on as we change diapers, put food on the table and peel the mac-n-cheese off the floorboards. Our biggest life dream is simply to get one night of uninterrupted sleep. To make matters worse, we realize that we aren’t the super Christians we thought we were in college; so we get discouraged. And we see that we can stay busy in effective ministry right where we are (which may be true); so why inconvenience ourselves when we can serve Jesus right here at home? Maybe we even start to rationalize about all the problems of imperialistic mission work in the past and conclude that missionary work is better left entirely to locals. And so, Jesus’ command to go is suffocated by our logic.
The path out of the Shire is steep and treacherous.
As one who spent several years waiting to go and now has lived full-time overseas for a number of years, I’ve spent lots of time with folks preparing to go. This letter is a plea from my heart to those with a desire to work overseas but who have a few more months or years ahead before that can become a reality. Below you will find some practical tips that I hope might guard you on this journey.
1. Fight against the desire to put down roots. Don’t buy your dream car. Don’t buy the nicest set of dishes. Buying stuff isn’t wrong, but you have to consider the strong and subtle power that stuff can have over your heart.
2. Anticipate that a day will come when what you feel so strongly and are utterly convinced of now may seem more like an overly-optimistic childhood dream. The real world is hard—bodies break down, financial stresses are great and simply surviving in a real-world job can be all-consuming. People—good people—will try to talk you out of going. Or they’ll try to talk you into doing something else. You might feel guilty—there are people who need you here in the States. You might begin to question whether you really had a “call” in the first place.
3. Don’t become so intellectual about the whole process that you talk yourself out of obedience. We live in a generation of witty bloggers, inspiring authors, great conferences and encouraging podcasts. It’s easy to feel good about all the information we are accumulating, the writing we are doing, the ideas and authors we can talk about—but never get around to obeying the very commands that we have exegeted ever so cleverly. The world doesn’t need more writers making radical comments about Jesus from the local Starbucks; the world needs people who humbly love and obey when it hurts.