My youngest child is leaving soon for a mission trip with her youth group. In my morning walking/praying routine I was thinking about her upcoming experience. I prayed for a lot of things during my walk, but the one thing I did not pray for might be surprising the reader—
What didn’t I pray for?
As a former youth pastor, I have led trips and participated in local mission for decades. In those years I tried to anticipate every possible scenario and account for them. I made sure each student was properly supervised by a loving and patient adult. I made sure every seatbelt was clicked before we departed. I made sure everyone was properly immunized. I made sure every power tool was safely used. I made sure each work crew had liquid Benadryl on hand (long story-but a good one). I made sure those with special diets had something to eat. I made sure that everyone got proper rest. This “list” was endless really (Read between the lines here parents and hug your youth pastor) but I did those things because that was the correct and prudent thing to do.
When Jesus sent the disciples out to do ministry he sent them with this admonition, “Be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).”
In essence Jesus was saying, “Be smart. Be aware of your surroundings and the cultural norms of where you are in ministry. But, don’t let your focus on your preparations and desire for safety close your hearts off to the needs of others and to what God might be doing in your heart as well (author paraphrase).”
As a youth pastor I made every effort to properly care for other people’s children. I wanted their bodies taken care of (wise), but on some level I wanted their little hearts to be well…broken (innocent).
That is not something you tend to drop into the recruiting materials for your trips.
Go with me here for a second. My limited understanding of building muscle is that during a workout the muscle fibers actually tear. The reason one rests a day or more between workouts is in order for each tear to heal so that you can tear it again and in the process build muscle.
When I encounter someone who is fit and obviously muscular I don’t assume they are genetically blessed, I assume they had to endure struggle and discomfort.
Our souls are not dissimilar.
The saints I have been blessed to encounter and deeply respect literally glow with personal piety. But, when you listen to their stories you find commonalities—pain, struggle, suffering, doubt, but through it all a deep and abiding faith rooted in a dependent relationship with the living Jesus.
And so, as my youngest departs on her inner city mission trip, I pray for her to struggle. I want her to have awkward encounters and conversations with the homeless. As she settles into her air mattress at night I want her to shed a tear for the child her age that came through the sandwich line. I want her to stand toe to toe and eye to eye with someone who asks why this little girl from the suburbs cares about them.
I want her to know that faith demands something of us.
Until our hearts hurt for others, we cannot advocate for them. Until we struggle with our “blessed-ness,” we will not share. Until we are exposed to overwhelming need, we cannot express a faith that blurts out in desperate prayer, “God, help.”
Bob Pierce (of Youth for Christ and World Vision) famously said, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”
THAT is what I wanted for our students in the youth ministry and it is the prayer I pray for my youngest as she departs on her trip.
I want her to grow in her faith, so I can no longer pray a prayer to God to “keep her safe.” Instead I pray that wherever she may find herself, that she encounters God there and her soul is found safely in Him.