10 April, 2012

8. How you maintain spiritual zeal

Somehow this is a topic I shy away from. It feels like I'm blowing my own horn, the opposite of humility. I also believe that there is no single way to do this. God gives each person their own style and I shouldn't suggest that the way I do it is any better than anyone else's. But anyway, I've committed to answering these questions here in a public forum, so I cannot shy away from this.

However here is the disclaimer: I'm no spiritual super hero. These are just the ways that God has enabled me to stay close to him, and really, it is more to do with him holding me close than me clinging on to him.

(This is the eighth in a series of questions I'm answering for a friend's Bible college assignment. You'll find links to the other answers in the series here.)

David and I have read the Bible and prayed together in bed before breakfast for our entire marriage. We don't just pray for ourselves and our family, but this is our main prayer time for all that (and who) we've committed to pray for. I'm not saying that we always do a great job (I fell asleep in the middle this morning, awoken by David saying, "I have to go and make breakfast now, I've prayed for the bottom four things on the list, you have these..." Yes, we have a prayer list, a somewhat complicated one actually, that helps us cover lots of territory (including all our prayer supporters) over a month. We use Our Daily Bread as a reading guide (you can check it out here, but we use the paper version).

I read a lot, as I said last post in this series. I try to not just read fiction, but also non-fiction, particularly edifying types of books. This is not easy, particularly as I like to read to wind down at the end of the day and edifying books aren't always easy to concentrate on when you're winding down. In the period leading up to Easter I forgo fiction altogether and try to devote myself to spiritually-building-up books entirely (again, not always successful on this count).

I'm trying to read all the way through the Bible. I've actually never done this cover-to-cover before and I'm finding the discipline hard. I've been at it since last January (having been significantly derailed by last March's disaster).

For cross-cultural workers, church is difficult, particularly those like me who don't have a great grasp of the language. Listening to a lengthy piece of soliloquy is a very difficult linguistic skill. I am thankful that we go to a service that has simultaneous translation and I frequently take advantage of that. There – I've admitted it! Without the translation, listening to a sermon in Japanese for me is more of a linguistic exercise than a spiritually helpful exercise. I try to hear vocabulary that I know and connect that to the main points on the screen (which are often bilingual).

I go to lots of prayer meetings. Our monthly OMF prayer meeting, monthly class prayer meetings for each of our boys, and weekly CAJ parent's prayer meeting. I find it really helpful to pray with others, it keeps me on track. I get to lead sometimes too and that makes me delve deeper.

Lots of people pray for us. Do you realise what a privilege this is? Do you have 300+ people praying for you and your family? Only in heaven will we know the true extent of this privilege. I count it as one way that God is maintaining my spiritual zeal, by answering all those prayers. I'm also sure some people think how terrible it is to have to rely on others for our financial support, but the truth is, it is a blessing, because we see ourselves as waiting on God to supply our needs and that is an amazing journey.

In the same way we are very often cast upon those prayers when we run into difficulties that are too big for us too manage. I remember being absolutely desperate in a Japanese hospital with my middle son when he was 11 months old, I had no family around to help, they were thousands of miles away. He had pneumonia and wouldn't go to sleep the night he was admitted. I rang someone on the last few yen of my phone card, asked them to pray for us. He fell asleep straight after that call. Just one story of amazing miracles that God has done in our lives as we've relied on him. Last post I talked about the various stresses that we've encountered, but I didn't mention that these things cast us on God's strength again and again. Having to cope with difficulties like this strengthens and deepens your faith.

The last two years I've also done an English Bible study with some other missionary women. We've used Beth Moore studies so no one has to lead, and yet we have preparation work to do ourselves for it during the weeks between meeting. And yes, these seven or eight week Bible studies have taken us months to complete due to incompatible schedules! It has been most refreshing to do these studies. It isn't easy, as a missionary, to choose to spend your time like this. It feels like you should be ministering others instead. However, I'm glad that my friends persuaded me to do these studies.

Last month I mentioned a retreat I went on, as well as an OMF conference. Both of these are annual spiritually refreshing times.

And the less frequent one is home assignment. Different people have different understandings of what a missionary does when they are in their "home" country. One of the reasons is to maintain their spiritual zeal. Spiritual refreshment and renewal after pouring oneself out in another culture is very important. Unless you've lived overseas and worshipped in another language for lengthy periods, you'll not realise how much of a privilege it is to worship in your heart language. We miss it, often playing worship music in English in our house and singing to our boys.

That brings me to something that I particularly notice when I'm in Australia. Something that often sets missionaries apart from those who remain in their home country and that is being proactive about maintaining spiritual zeal. You need to be a self-feeder. Spiritual passiveness just won't carry you through as a missionary. I don't believe it does anyone any good, actually. Actively pursuing a deeper relationship with God is not an easy task, but one of great value, one that God honours.

I now have two questions left in this series, again neither of them are easy.

9. What are the positive and negative aspects of your relationships with other missionaries?
10. What are the positive and negative aspects of your relationships with national Christians?


April said...

I've really enjoyed reading through this series. Thank you for sharing.

KarenKTeachCamb said...

Thanks Wendy.

Wow, those last two questions are doozies. I'll be looking forward to reading them.

Our Daily Bread is one of the things that helps keep me on track too! Like you I use the printed version which has successfully been received here in Cambodia from Thailand for a number of years now. What a blessing it is.

I love that you use English worship music in the home. There's something about worship music that can put a yukky day right again.

Thanks Wendy.

-J said...

Yes, yes, yes to sermons being a linguistic exercise. I found (find) it hard to sit down and listen to a sermon online at another time during the week, and find that listening to one *while* doing other tasks is not as beneficial.

And praying with others definitely keeps me more on track, too! I've actually had more experience with that here (than there). When one of us (my prayer partner or I) is out of town and we miss a week, I really feel it.

Thanks for sharing so honestly. Ever thought of publishing this mini-series??

Karen said...

Thanks again Wendy, I've had to go back and read a few of your earlier posts (I'm in assignment-marking avoidance mode this week...) and they are all so good.

Love J's idea of publishing them somewhere for more people to see. It's been so enlightening for me to read them, I'm sure that others would find it helpful too :)

Wendy said...

No, I hadn't thought of publishing it. What on earth is the unifying theme of all my ramblings, I cannot figure it out? Any ideas.

Karen said...

Being a missionary? Or is that too simplistic, do you think?
Sorry, my brain isn't working too well this week either, but at least the assignments are (slowly!) being marked.