Earlier this week I had the privilege of speaking to a wonderful group of 300 medical leaders from the Hendrick Health Care System. They asked me to come present some thoughts on what it looks like to live missionally – how to live with a clearer knowledge of the “why” behind the “what.”
With how busy life can get, it can be so hard to take a step back from actually doing the work to remember why God called us to it in the first place. Preparing for this event proved to be an amazing opportunity to take a step back myself, take a deep breath, and make space for God to remind me that he cares about my heart first, and my hands second.
Since this topic was so fruitful in my own life, and I hope the lives of those I spoke to as well, I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you! Whether you’re working full time, in school, retired, or working hard at home with your children, I think we can all use an opportunity for God to repurpose us for the work to which we’re called.
The format of the presentation I was asked to give was a “Top 10 List,” so I’ll follow that same format for you. If this is a little long for you, feel free to scroll around and find topics that interest you!
Here’s my top 10 thoughts around living missionally…
10: Discover Your Personal Mission
Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” (The Brothers Karamazov)
The first step to living missionally is discovering what is uniquely motivational in life for you specifically. Every day we have the choice of letting our task list rule us, or bringing our unique calling to those tasks. And discovering your personal mission is the defining first step in seeking to live on purpose, rather than simply getting by.
God has a unique calling for you, a true purpose behind everything he’s called you to. You are on this earth at this specific time and place for a real reason. And if you’ll create space for his guidance, God will show you who you are, how he’s made you, and guide you in accomplishing your purpose here.
*as an example, my personal mission is: To value loving relationship (with God, myself, and others) above all else, and to help others do the same. And you can find other interesting personal missions of some leaders you might recognize here.
9. Create Missional Reminders
Once you’ve identified your personal mission, the next step is creating consistent reminders of that mission. A personal mission is no good if you forget about!
The absolute best way to remind yourself of your “why” is getting time alone with God every morning. His love is a reminder of what life is all about. And as his children made in his image, there is no better reminder of our purpose than getting time in his presence.
But in addition to spending time alone with God, some great practical reminders could include:
- writing down your mission on a sticky note, and putting it somewhere you’ll see it every morning
- making your mission the background image on your computer or phone
- telling someone close to you about your mission, so they can remind you of it when they notice you “just getting by.”
8. Live Out Your Personal Mission
Once you’ve developed your personal mission, and created a system for reminding yourself of that mission, you now have the opportunity to live that mission out on a day by day, moment by moment basis.
The rest of the top 10 list will deal with how we can live out our mission, but as an overview, I would like to submit one thought to you that transformed my life.
In Henry Cloud’s book, Boundaries, he poses a system for deciding what you’re called to do that has forever changed the way I make decisions.
Throughout Boundaries Cloud works to empower the reader to value the “yes” and “no” they have in their heart. He writes, “Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our nos. They only love our yeses, our compliance. ‘I only like it when you do what I want.’”
God is not asking you to meet every need you see, or every request made of you. He values the yes that’s in your heart. And he’s not asking you to say “yes” with your mouth when there is a “no” in your heart.
Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I think that not only means that he will satisfy your desires, but actually fill you with the right desires.
So if there’s a yes in your heart to love someone, to do something, go for it! If there’s a “no,” then you either need to invite God to change your heart, and pay attention to the work he does. Or you need to say “no,” no matter how much someone else wants you to say “yes.”
7: First Priority: Love God
When asked the greatest commandment in all of Scripture, Jesus answered:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:36-40)
The best place to start when seeking to live missionally is to prioritize loving God above all else. If at the end of the day we can look back and feel like we loved God well, then we’ve accomplished the most important purpose for which we were created.
One practical thought in seeking to love God is to ask the question, “What does God find most loving?” We’ll have all of eternity to find the answers to that question, but it can be a great driving force behind seeking to love God as best as we can every day.
6: Second Priority: Love Yourself
Maybe the most forgotten command in Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22, is the importance of loving yourself. In Jesus’ statement we really see three great commandments, two stated, and one assumed.
Jesus says that loving God, loving yourself, and loving others are all connected. The second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” And he says that the second commandment is “like” the first.
I worry that as believers we’ve all but lost the value of truly loving ourselves. I’m not talking about feeding ourselves, buying ourselves things, providing for our own needs. I’m talking about something deeper. Things like: thriving mentally and emotionally. Creating healthy boundaries so we can commit only to that which God is calling us to, and enjoy fully every moment of our commitments. I’m talking about ceasing to believe the lies that the world or the enemy tells us, and choosing to believe only the truth of God’s perspective.
One of my favorite resources on the subject of loving yourself is Brennan Manning. Something about his failures with addiction and self-described struggles with seeking approval from man really equipped him to speak from an authentic place about needing to love yourself. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
- “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” (Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging)
- “Real freedom is freedom from the opinions of others. Above all, freedom from your opinions about yourself.” (The Wisdom of Tenderness: What Happens When God’s Fierce Mercy Transforms Our Lives)
- “How glorious the splendor of a human heart that trusts that it is loved!”
5: Third Priority: Love Your Neighbor
I like to think of these three priorities, loving God, ourselves, and our neighbors, through the metaphor of a tree. If loving God is the root system, and loving ourselves is the trunk and branches, then loving our neighbor is the fruit. It’s what is most visible from our lives, but is absolutely impossible to do without thriving in the areas of loving God and ourselves.
But once your relationship with God and yourself is truly marked by love, you’re ready and equipped to change the world in ways far greater than you could ever ask or imagine.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” You were made to love others around you. And until you walk out of your door every day equipped to love others well, you’ll never experience the abundant life you were made for.
The various ways you could love your neighbor practically are as numerous as there are people on this planet. Every person you meet has real, unique, and pressing needs. But one overarching thought I would like to put before you today comes from one of my favorite spiritual writers, Thomas Merton. He writes:
“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” (No Man Is An Island)
God is calling you and me to be so secure in ourselves, that we’re able to value others as they are. It is not your job to change people. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Your job is to see the inherent value in everyone you meet, and love them as they are. In doing so, you invite heaven to earth, and create a true pathway for God to come in. Because when you truly love, you work through the very nature of God himself which is love.
4: Develop an Interdependent Perspective
This point is probably an outlier on my top 10 list, but is something that has really been producing fruit in my life lately.
In regards to our perspective every day, we can either live independently, or interdependently. To live independently is to be focused on our separateness, to live in our own world focused on ourselves. To live interdependently is to recognize the deep rooted connection we all share to one another, and to live in light of that connection.
G.K. Chesterton wrote: “We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty.”
When someone around you fails, to some degree we all fail. When someone is thriving in life, it lifts us all. Scripture puts it this way:
- “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Rom. 12:4-5)
- “From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph. 4:16)
Developing and living with a perspective of interdependence is absolutely key in seeking to live missionally.
3. Learn the Mission of Others
This point is especially critical for leaders.
As a leader, your mission has to involve those you lead accomplishing their mission every day. And helping others to do that begins with learning their mission – seeking to discover their “why.”
Most likely, those you lead can’t even put words to their own mission. So maybe this process starts with sitting down with them and just asking some good questions.
- What are you passionate about?
- What do you feel are your greatest strengths?
- What are your greatest weaknesses?
- How has God used you in the past?
- What brings you the most joy?
Learning the mission of others is an incredible gift to ourselves as well. There’s no greater motivation in living out our personal mission than seeing the joy others we lead have in being empowered to live out their own mission.
2. Build a Missional Community
Once you’ve helped others close to you discover and live out their mission, there is an incredible opportunity in front of you. Second to being empowered by God himself on a daily basis, living in a missional community is the most critical step in living missionally at all.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” When someone experiences the overwhelming joy of living out their personal “why,” it’s absolutely contagious. And maybe that person to start it all in your community is you.
It takes courage and strength to live out your “why.” There’s something that feels safe about just doing work every day – letting others define your life for you. But true impact, true fulfillment comes from having the courage to make our “why” known, and live according to its truth.
My favorite resource on what it looks like to build a missional community is a book by Jean Vanier called Becoming Human. Vanier founded a movement of over 100 missional communities all around the world ministering to those with physical and mental disabilities, especially in areas too impoverished to give them what they need.
And the lessons he learned in his time working with these incredible people are absolutely life changing, and foundational to what it looks like to have a missional community.
1. Live Each Day Anew
I know that this idea of living missionally can feel like another whopping “should” getting added to your plate. But the reality is that you were made for this! God wired you the way he did for a reason. All your positive experiences and passions are there for a reason. And God wants to work for good any negative experiences you’ve had in your life. And at the foundation of it all is God’s ever-available, unending mercy and grace.
Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
No matter how you’ve lived today, and all the days prior to today, God’s mercies are new every morning. There is mercy and grace for you to live on purpose today.
And the choice is truly yours. I’d encourage you, the next time you have a moment, to pull out something to write with or type on, and start jotting down some ideas about your “why.” Begin to write out what gets you excited, where you’ve had the biggest impact so far. And then ask God to help you bring that “why” into your everyday life. I know the results will not only fill your everyday experience with more meaning and purpose, but produce fruit far beyond what you could ask or imagine.
For those that made it to the end…comment below your thoughts on what should have been in my top 10. I would love to hear how God has helped you live missionally.