I’m writing this from a place of weakness, and you should know that right up front. My experience is inadequate, my knowledge is insufficient, and my competence is laughable. I don’t have what it takes to be a missionary.
Last week was a busy week of ministry and I didn’t get enough sleep. Predictably, I got sick (another proof of my weakness). Since I was too sick to sleep last night, I was reading Through Gates of Splendor. And I came across a startling confession from one of the five legendary missionaries to the Aucas. It was a journal entry by Roger Youderian right before he joined the other four in “Operation Auca.” Roger was ready to quit. He felt like he had failed as a missionary and didn’t want to waste his supporters’ money. “I wouldn’t support a missionary such as I know myself to be,” he confessed, “and I’m not going to ask anyone else to.” In poignant transparency, Roger bemoaned the fact that he had not seen more fruit.
I connect with Roger’s brutal honestly. I feel the pressure. My supporters want to see results (and to be honest, I need to keep fighting my fear of man). But I want to see fruit too. I want to know that it was worth it to drag my family halfway around the world and learn this beautifully frustrating language. I want to see fruit as I train my children to wholeheartedly follow God. I want to have a fruitful prayer life.
And truth be told, God wants to see fruit too. Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). God’s plan for me is that I bear fruit to the glory of his name.
But I’m weak. Just like Roger Youderian. Just like God’s servants throughout the ages. In searching for examples of weakness, I need look no further than God’s special people, the nation of Israel. God also wanted them to bear fruit, like a flourishing vine (Isa 5:1-7). But they blew it. They messed up so badly that God called them a “wild vine” (Jer 2:21). The nation of Israel and I have something in common. We’re weak.
There was a glimmer of hope that God’s vine would bear fruit once again. God sings of a “pleasant vineyard” that one day will bear much fruit (Isa 27:2). God promised, “In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit” (Isa 27:6).
How are God’s weak servants going to bear fruit? Jesus addressed this issue when he walked this earth, but he put a surprising twist on it. It would have made sense for Jesus to admonish God’s people, “Remember guys, you are the vine. Stop being a wild vine. Start bearing fruit!” But he doesn’t.
Jesus surprises everyone with these striking words, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). Yes, God’s vine will produce fruit once again, but it will happen through Jesus, the true Vine.
This is good news for weak servants. It’s good news for missionaries who, like Roger Youderian, are about to throw in the towel. It’s good news for believers who want to see more fruit in their ministry. Jesus invites me, weak as I am, to abide in him: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).
This is where weak Christians like myself find encouragement—in abiding in Christ.
Encouragement #1: Cultivate a dependent relationship with Jesus
Jesus uses an illustration, showing how he is the vine and I am the branch.
- The vine holds the branches firmly in place. There are times that my grip loosens and I feel like I’m slipping, but Jesus will hold me fast! He will keep me faithful to the end.
- The vine nourishes the branches. There are spiritually dry days. There are deserts in the Christian life. But in these times, I can turn to the Vine for the spiritual refreshment and nourishment that I need to press on.
- The vine produces fruit through the branches. When I am abiding in Christ, I will not need to be preoccupied with squeezing out fruit. It will come naturally through my connection with the Vine.
My value as a servant of God is not based on my output or accomplishments. Rather, I find my security, refreshment, and fruitfulness when I depend on Christ.
Encouragement #2: Cultivate an obedient relationship with Jesus
There’s another encouragement in the words of Jesus. Jesus highlights his relationship with the Father. This relationship was characterized by daily, moment-by-moment submissionto what the Father desired. The result was that the Father produced “works” in Jesus’ life (John 14:10). In the same way, when I abide in Jesus, the Father produces “fruit” in my life. Jesus loved the Father, so he obeyed him (John 14:31).
God is not impressed with how many churches I’ve planted or how regularly I send out prayer letters. My status before God is not dependent on the number of people I’ve discipled or the consistency of my devotions. But abiding in Christ is a relationship of loving obedience. He simply desires that I do what he commands me today.
Encouragement #3: Cultivate a Word-filled relationship with Jesus
Finally, Jesus promises, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).
I hear the words of the world all day long. It’s easy to be discipled by Netflix and indoctrinated by the media, which means the world is conforming me to its pattern (Rom 12:2). I must be transformed by the renewing of my mind through the Word.
To counteract the onslaught of the world’s words, I need to be intentional about abiding in the words of Christ (Col 3:16). I need to spend lots of time with Jesus in the Word. Abiding in Christ is a Word-filled relationship.
It’s Okay to Be Weak
It’s okay to be a weak missionary. In fact, it’s the only kind of missionary God can use.
Jesus promises that I cannot bear fruit on my own. It’s not about how much I can accomplish; it’s about how much I can depend on Jesus and what he can do through me. Fruit comes as I abide in Jesus—cultivating a dependent, obedient, Word-filled relationship with him.
Roger Youderian was so discouraged over his apparent lack of fruit, that he was ready to call it quits. But God worked through his weakness, bringing the gospel to an unreached people group, and inspiring an army of new missionaries around the world. God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
Put simply, I must stay close to Jesus. I am confident that “it is good to be near God” (Ps 73:28). Abiding in Christ is the only way to bear fruit for the glory of God. And this is great news for weak missionaries like me.
 Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor (New York: Harper, 1957), 152.
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