Today’s article in our Flourish series is based on a training session by Steve Baker, SEND’s Director of Personnel Selection & Training. Steve is an adult MK and also served as a pastor before joining the SEND team.
Here’s the challenge:
Missionaries need to figure out how to feed themselves spiritually. Even if a missionary moves to a place with an existing church, it probably won’t offer a regular intake of God’s word in a language that the missionary understands. Sermons are FULL of lessons for the new missionary — but they’re grammar and vocabulary lessons! And many missionaries move to contexts where there simply aren’t other believers, so spiritual growth through Body life is not an option.
Missionaries need to figure out how to feed themselves. Literally. At the same time that the missionary has left his comfortable church community, he also has entered a place where he doesn’t yet know how to live. Daily errands can stretch into weeklong errands as he figures out where to buy all he needs, how to pay for bills, and how to get to the places he needs to go. There are registration processes to deal with, new friendships to build, and old relationships to try to maintain from afar. It’s a busy season.
Last week, we covered Sabbath and busyness. As missionaries know, daily life in many cross-cultural contexts is simply more time consuming. But we must protect against this busyness becoming an excuse for not communing with God. Devotions, quiet times — no matter what you call it, this practice is how we stay connected to the vine.
We can’t offer everyone directions to the closest grocery store so that they can feed themselves literally, but we can offer a few suggestions for creating a deep, rich devotional life.
1. Figure out your time of day.
If you fall asleep when you try to do devotions in the morning, try the evening. If you doze off in the evening, maybe lunchtime is the time for you to set aside time to meet with God one-on-one?
2. Have a plan.
A classic approach is to read through the whole Bible in a year — but there are many ways to tackle this reading. Some plans do a little bit of Old Testament, a little bit of New Testament and some Wisdom literature each day. Others take a chronological approach or present the text in the order it was written. Still others have you start at Genesis 1:1 and read straight through to Revelation 22:21.
3. Shake it up.
If you’ve read through the Bible so many times that it’s feeling dry, here are a few other approaches to consider:
- Do a deep dive study of a particular book, or even of a particular verse.
- Study a theological theme as presented by a particular Bible writer (e.g., “light” in John’s writing, “grace, mercy, and peace” in the Pauline epistles, “wisdom” in Solomon’s books).
- Read the same passage in different translations — maybe even include the language you are learning.
- Do a character study of a person in the Scripture.
- Piece together how the Pauline epistles fit with the historical narratives of Acts, or how the prophets fit with the history of Israel.
4. Put on your earbuds.
Listen to an audio version of the Word, or (if you have decent internet and don’t live in a security sensitive region), listen to sermons online. (And be thankful that you don’t have to wait for cassette tapes to be mailed to you, like in the olden days.)
5. Pull out your pen (or your keyboard).
Keep track of what you’ve read and what you’ve learned. Journaling doesn’t have to be great literature; it’s just a way to capture your thoughts and recognize what God’s teaching you before the cares of the day threaten to crowd those lessons away.
6. Stay attentive to the Spirit.
While it’s very helpful to have a plan, try not to get overly attached to your plan. If you’re aiming to read through the Bible in a year, but get captivated by a particular verse, consider studying deeply that passage. Feel free to follow the Spirit down holy rabbit trails!
It doesn’t matter so much WHAT you do for devotions, but that you ARE doing them and staying connected — abiding — with our Lord. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NASB)
More in the Flourish series
- Step 1: Honest evaluation — Spiritual self-assessment isn’t about guilt. It’s a starting point for growing in intimacy with God.
- Developing a prayer life that goes beyond ‘popcorn prayers’ — On the field, a missionary learns the value of boldly praying God’s Word for confession, spiritual growth, protection and salvation.
- Sabbath: A gift that helps us set boundaries on our busyness and adds rhythm to our weeks — ‘Setting boundaries can be particularly hard for missionaries, because we’re also called to sacrifice. Sabbath helps us regain perspective.’
- To connect with the Lord, you do you — Recognizing your spiritual temperament — and realizing it might not be the same as those around you — can make for a closer relationship with the Lord and with other believers.
- Your body, your soul: The health of one affects the other — Seeing health as something that includes the spiritual, the emotional, and the physical helps us correctly prioritize caring for our bodies so that we can serve.
- Why it’s better to store God’s Word in your mind, not just on your iPhone — Even in this digital age, Scripture has more potential to transform, guide and encourage when it’s committed to memory.
Banner photo: John5199 (Autumn Garden) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons