No reserve! No retreat! No regret!
William Borden knew he would be an heir to a large estate. And when wealth came his way, he also knew he would give thousands of dollars to missions. In 1904, at age 16, he graduated from high school and took a year off to travel around the world. It was during this trip that his purpose in life jelled, and his vision for the future took a sharp turn: He accepted God’s call to be a missionary.
A little later, Bill’s father died while he was still in college. The family hoped Bill would take over the family business. But he had already made up his mind. He was willing to give up wealth and fortune—even fortune that could be used to God’s glory—in order to follow God’s call. Decision made, he wrote on the flyleaf of his Bible, “No Reserve.” When Bill graduated from the seminary his friends and family suggested an alternative. Why not stay in the United States and serve God as a pastor? Surely as a pastor he could make a big difference, and train and send out many others as missionaries. “Why throw yourself away on a foreign field?” they pleaded. Bill prayed, and added to the inscription in his Bible, “No Retreat.” Bill’s constant prayer was that God’s will might be done in his life. He left for Egypt with his family’s blessing. “We were all so sure he would have a long and useful ministry,” said his mother. But within four months of his arrival in Cairo, he became sick and died.
Some of you who read this article have responded to the call to service right where you are. Some of you are still waiting to hear God’s call. Some of you may be running from, or avoiding, God’s specific call. The reality is that all of us are called, in one way or another, to the apostolic task, the task of planting Christians and churches where there are neither, of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.
As William Borden knew, this is the essential task of the church. Everything that we do as Christians must focus on and make possible this apostolic task.
Ministry of grace and mercy
In 2 Corinthians 4:1-14, Paul reminds us that all ministry is a matter of grace and mercy. None of us has anything of which to boast. We are all cast in the role of “‘worthless slaves...[who] have done only what we ought to have done!’” (Luke17:10, NRSV). In spite of our usual high self-esteem, God does not really need us. But His mercy enables us to be involved in His calling. The fulfillment of the apostolic task is not our responsibility, but God’s, and we can be continuously amazed that God is willing to use people such as we are. He never calls any of us to be successful, only to be faithful. Success is His responsibility, not ours.
So we have nothing personal to defend, only Jesus to proclaim. Like William Borden, we can be swept up in an apostolic passion for unreached peoples that matches the apostolic task.
The original conditions of missions were very rigorous. Commitment meant, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, readiness to lay down life. Mission cemeteries around the world are mute witness to this. Occasional furloughs were subject to international turmoil and unpredictable transportation. People worked in frontier conditions, with no established compound or station, no radio contact or phones. Communication could take three to six months, and few, if any, locals spoke the missionaries’ language. There were few or none to welcome them and soften the blows of arrival.
Mission conditions today are far different. Most missionaries have pleasant homes and are frequently surrounded by other missionaries. They have e-mail and other forms of instant communication, and there is considerable ease and speed of return to the home country. The improved conditions do not necessarily mean improved commitment. Some of us have lost the sense of apostolic passion, the deliberate, intentional choice to live for the worship of Jesus in the nations—being committed to the point of death to spreading His glory; being on fire for Jesus, dreaming of the whole Earth being covered with the glory of the Lord.
Developing apostolic passion
Floyd McClung reminds us that “Human enthusiasm cannot sustain apostolic passion. When God invests His passion in you, you must develop what God has given you in order to have His name glorified among all people.”* Four things will help:
Apostolic abandonment. Too many of us want the fruit of Paul’s ministry without paying the price the apostle paid. This strong-willed messenger of the gospel knew that he must die to self. He knew that in his flesh he couldn’t generate the revelation of Jesus, couldn’t sustain the heart of Christ. So he died to self and surrendered his life completely to God’s will. We live in a world of competing passions. If we do not die to self and fill our lives with the consuming passion of the worship of God, we will end up with other passions.
Apostolic focus. The greatest enemy of the mission to see Jesus worshiped in all the nations is a lack of focus. We can run around expending energy on all sorts of good ministries, and not get one step closer to the nations. God’s people are involved in many projects and ministries around the world, and these ministries are important. But the church has a specific apostolic mission. God has called us to a particular mission to the nations. Upon this we must focus, or we won’t be obedient to the true mission.
Apostolic praying. We may get into heaven without a lot of prayer. We can have a one-minute quiet time every day and God will still love us. But we won’t hear a “well done, good and faithful servant” from one-minute, hasty, conversations with God. We can’t make it on that kind of prayer life in the hard places where Jesus is not known or worshiped. Mission to the nations requires deep, abiding, continuous, intercessory prayer life. An absence of prayer life is a sure guarantee of a failure in missions.
Apostolic decision-making. This step requires a passion for God’s glory in the nations, then asks: “Where shall I serve you, Lord?” Most people do the opposite. They ask the where-and-when questions without a revelation of His glory in the nations. All kinds of lesser desires can be holding us captive. We might never realize it. Gordon MacDonald is right when he states that he has learned to say “No” to many good things so that he can say “Yes” to what is excellent.
Loving, lovable mission
Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus need kind, loving, and lovable Christian neighbors. Think what might happen if hundreds, even thousands of loving Christians moved to countries within the 10/40 Window, took employment and remained there, simply being loving, compassionate, and forgiving, demonstrating Jesus in their daily, observable lives, living as deliberate, intentional Christians, praying for their non-Christian neighbors and co-workers.
Long before our Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist neighbors will ever seriously meet Jesus, they will have to meet at least one genuine, believing, loving, and lovable Christian. And sharing Jesus with Muslims will never be accomplished fully by technology or even with the written word. The barriers are too high. The animosities are too strong. The misunderstandings and emotional wounds are too deep. It is imperative and essential that Christians work first to heal the wounds, to replace the animosities with genuine friendship, to dismantle the walls erected over the centuries.
Pray for non-Christians! Pray fervently for them! But be prepared to put hands and feet on your prayers and personally engage the world of Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism both where you live and in their homelands.
Enjoy their friendship. Spend time together. Do things together. Work together for the good of the community or the world. Have fun together! This is what friends do.
Share your faith. Do it easily. Do it as questions are raised. Do it without insisting upon instant agreement. Do it as you understand clearly that what you believe is of life-and-death importance to you. Do not do it as a precondition for continued friendship. Friends don’t do that!
William Borden’s corpse was put in a pine box, his Bible laid on his chest, and the coffin sent home to his family in Chicago. In the Bible his family saw his initial response to God’s call, “No Reserve”; then his commitment, “No Retreat”; and finally, his resolve—the day before he died, Bill had written, “No Regrets.” That’s serving God with apostolic passion—a life with “no reserve,” “no retreat”, and “no regrets.”
Bruce Campbell Moyer (STD, San Francisco Theological Seminary) teaches world mission at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Ber-rien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A.
* F. McClung, “Apostolic Passion,” in R. J. Winter and S. C. Hawthorne, (eds.), Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 3rd. edition. (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1999), pp. 185-187.