guilt to last

It’s been a week of missions, beginning with three days at the Global Missions Health Conference and followed by three more for Christian Missionary Fellowship board meetings. I was going to make it a holy trinity with a stop by the International Conference on Missions later this week, but I left Matt in Philly with half-done house renovations, catch-up work from lost time during the super storm, a (pretty short) list of things to do and two squirrelly middle schoolers. Sometimes the most Christian thing you can do is go home.

Anyway, I’ve been spending lots of time with missions organizations, missionaries, and mission-minded people. Which means one thing…….Missions Angst.

Anyone who’s grown up in a Protestant church in America has experienced Missions Angst—that gnawing guilt for having so much material wealth and good food while missionaries in foreign countries eat goat and wear discarded American t-shirts. We admire them, but we don’t want to be one of them, which we feel guilty about. We write a check once or twice a year, and know we could do more, but we don’t want to because we want some new stuff here, which we feel guilty about. Plus, the problems seem unsolvable no matter how much we give, because no one else seems to be doing very much, and we feel angry at the church about this, which we then feel guilty about. And as every 16-year-old church camper knows, secretly we’re afraid to commit our lives to Full-Time Christian Service out of fear that God’s Will For Our Life might involve moving to Bhutan, which we would hate, which we feel guilty about, but not enough to go forward at the invitation, which we feel guilty about.

Missions Angst is a complex thing.

And sometimes a little guilt can be good. In 2011, Americans spent over $1 billion on scrapbooking supplies. They spent another billion on the Facebook game Farmville and more than 100 times that on fast food. So there’s plenty of room for us to trim a little fat (in every sense of the term) and dedicate more money to God’s purposes.

But I don’t think he expects us to donate every dollar to missions (or that he has a specific will for your life, but that’s another post). We’re told to give, but we’re also told to enjoy our lives. The real question is when “enough” becomes excess, which—darn it—seems to be between each person and God instead of a one-size-fits-all-rule. The biblical principle that does seem to apply universally is that “enough” is “too much” when it becomes more important than obedience to Christ and the specific ways he’s calling us to sacrifice.

So now instead of feeling guilty, I focus on the real issues. I can’t help everyone and give to everything—what am I prioritizing? Why? What needs tug at me the most? Who’s having the biggest successes in those areas? Am I also willing to volunteer in some way?

Next time you watch the missions video, visit the missionary website or read about the great needs around the world, try asking yourself the same questions and let go of Missions Angst. Although I do think you should give at least as much to missions as you spent to scrapbook your short-term trip.

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