“I have but one passion: It is He, it is He alone. The world is the field and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can be most used in winning souls for Christ…I am destined to proclaim the message, unmindful of personal consequences to myself…Preach the gospel, die and be forgotten.” Count Zinzendorf
The dusk of the day closes around a solitary figure on the rooftop of a faraway city in a remote land. There she sings, alone and unknown. There is a dying in this hiding. There is a death when they forget. Jesus bids us to choose loss, and being remembered is the cost.
We have arrived at a point in the long march of time when day or night we can reach into our pocket and with a few strikes on a screen we can grope for the world to remember us. For most under 25 years old, not a day goes by without numerous appeals for someone to take notice of what they are wearing, what they are eating, what they are doing, and what they are thinking. The alternative – the prospect of being unknown and forgotten – is becoming incomprehensible.
In Revelation 12:7 we are told of those who will not love their lives even unto death. The horizon of the final frontier of missions is filled with the blood of martyrdom. Yet long before this climactic display of sacrificial love for Jesus, there lies a long path filled with a crucible that may even be more difficult for the next generation to embrace. It is the crucible of hiddenness.
Labor among the unreached unfolds upon the shadowy plains of obscurity. To be His friend in the fields of the pioneer means a slow death to notoriety and agonizing acceptance of ignominy. Days spent plodding on foreign soil seem to crawl forward while life at ‘home’ hurls ahead with dizzying rapidity. Seasons change, holidays are celebrated without you, and milestones are missed. Acquaintances post pictures of their wedding, your older sister has another baby who won’t grow up knowing you, and your best friend from college just took the job as associate pastor at that big church. All of this while you stammer like a child in a language only strangers will ever understand in a place your cousin doesn’t even know where to find a map. The world that defined your existence until the moment you stepped on that plane with a one way ticket begins to pass you by.
In the nations where the gospel is most desperately needed, a social media presence is more dangerous than advantageous. Most of the details of your life can’t be shared outside of the small team of comrades who serve alongside you. You no longer have the freedom to espouse your political views and offer your commentary on the issues of the day. There is no ministry platform to ascend to, there is no applause for your supposedly edgy insights to garner, and being gifted means hostility rather than popularity.
Who would sign up for this life? What do we say to a generation for whom self-expression and constant attention is the very air they breathe? Why would a young, promising worship leader choose to forego conference invitations and iTunes to write songs in a strange tongue for small bands of believers huddled in apartments? How could we ever convince a gifted preacher to forsake the impact of speaking to an audience of thousands so that a few dozen might know that precious Name for the first time? What would compel someone to choose the dying in the hiding of life in the nations?
The answer is not to gently massage the culture of narcissism and pretend like this crucible should not be part of missionary life. The Lord of the Harvest doesn’t need us to apologize for the cost of obedience by erecting a facade of romanticism in front of the enlistment office for the Great Commission.
So how do we recruit volunteers for a life of hiddenness? We can at least begin by proclaiming the truth that no one actually has a choice. For those of us in the West, when a time of searching for employment, awaiting marriage, or being overlooked in ministry comes upon us, it might lead us to say we are in “a season of hiddenness”. What is implied in this language is that there is going to be a point in the near future when our full potential is realized, the truth of our identity recognized, and we step into the ‘destiny’ of our ‘calling’ in the Lord. This is a fantasy. And it is keeping people off the mission field.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4
According to Paul, our “season of hiddenness” is the entirety of our life in this present evil age. We have died with Christ and been raised up with Him. Jesus has been exalted to the heights of the heavens and right now we can only behold Him by faith. Since our very life and being are bound up in Him, the only way we can discern the truth about who we are is also by faith. The reality of our existence will never be evident to our own observation or the perception of others. No matter how close we are to our family, no matter how much our ministry flourishes, or how many godly people might applaud our accomplishments, we will never be truly understood in this age.
Jesus was and is the most misunderstood Man who has ever lived. The fullness of who He is will not be known or understood until every eye sees Him and every tongue confesses the truth of His matchless identity (Phil. 2:6-11, Rev. 1:7). Even the most mature saints only perceive the majesty of Christ dimly. He has a name that no one even knows yet (Rev. 19:12). John the Beloved had spent over two years walking closely with Jesus on a daily basis, but when that aged apostle saw a glimpse of Christ unveiled he fell down like a dead man (Rev. 1:9-20). If this contrast of recognition is true of Jesus, then why would we expect it to be different with us? Is a servant greater than their Master?
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:1-2
Our path to being known and seen in the way we yearn for is through the lonely corridors of hiddenness. The deepest things of our heart will never be fully realized, and some of our most precious dreams will go with us to the grave (cf. Heb. 11:13). The true meaning of our lives, the everlasting significance of our decisions for love, and the greatness of our identity in Christ will not be manifested until our Beloved appears in His glory and makes all things new. Then, and only then, will we shine like the stars and receive the reward for the treasures forged in the secret chambers of our souls (Matt. 13:43, 1 Cor. 4:4-5).
Missionaries are not to be pitied. They are indeed the hidden ones, but they are simply living out vocationally and circumstantially what is true of every Christian spiritually. If we are all destined to remain hidden throughout this pilgrimage, then why not just stop running? Instead of pretending, just shatter the illusion of self-actualization and embrace the truth about your life. Pioneers are simply those who have seen the wisdom of this path and embarked on it.
What if those songs you are writing could be the first anthems of love ever sung to Jesus by a people group that is currently unengaged? What if losing your life meant finding it in the age to come? What if your choice to be hidden meant that others would find Jesus? And what if your decision to be forgotten will be remembered forever? Go find out.