Some of us are guilty of namedropping—casually referencing famous people we know to boost our sense of self-importance. Some of us are also guilty of “nation-dropping.” That kept happening in a coffee meeting I had with a college student recently. He was a twentysomething with a burning passion for Christ and a fine collection of exotic stamps in his passport. The conversation kept coming back to some other place he had been to serve the poor and the lost. Passport stamps are becoming the spiritual merit badges of our day.
But radical discipleship is not adventure tourism.
The eagerness to follow Christ to “the nations” may certainly evidence a surrendered life. Or maybe we are just bored, unconsciously horrified at the prospect of a monotonous life of normalcy.
I should know: I concluded my own college experience with a wild-hare jaunt to those beckoning horizons. Smitten with a fever of 360 degrees (my itinerary took me around the world), I had funds for only 180 degrees (I ran out of money somewhere in Southeast Asia). My weary legs made it back home, but not without having some dangerous myths and unconscious motivations exposed along the way.
For God to change us, we often tend to think we need to go somewhere. But the transient life is not more spiritually enchanted.
God may actually intend to transform us not by sending us on a plane, but by trapping us in the boring routines and mundane patterns of the daily grind. Our lives can only be lived in the here and now, not in the more exciting then and beyond. Jesus’ call to faithfulness in the small things shows the best way to prepare for the then and beyond may be to do our homework, clean our house and consistently show up on time for work.
Changing location can certainly change our souls, but the truth is many of us are in need of being transformed before we end up on distant shores spiritually ill-equipped and immature (as many missionaries accustomed to hosting quest-bound twentysomethings can attest).
I remember praying fervently in college for God to whisper a faraway nation in my ear. All I needed was a faint sense of where, and I was determined to get there. I told Him I would board a cargo ship as a stowaway if need be. Looking back, I now realize that underlying the prayer, “Lord, send me” was, “Lord, get me out of here.”
An escapist wanderlust and a disdain for the local came together under the umbrella of “radical discipleship.”
All ministry is inescapably local. Boarding inevitably means disembarking, and when we disembark, we have to interact with real people living on real streets. We should be excited about “the nations,” but not without recognizing the designation is vague and generalized. Those nations comprise individual citizens with names and faces. Discipleship is always specific, always in the here and now.
It can be hard when someone asks you what you’re doing for the summer and you have to respond with something as unromantic and un-exotic as “sitting at a desk doing web design,” or “landscaping” or “babysitting.”
No one wants an un-tweetable, unbloggable life. We want excitement and adventure conducive for really cool status updates, all conveniently captured with Instagram. But there is nothing romantic about bidding farewell to the family that reared you before climbing onto a plane. There is nothing romantic about the tedious years of language study required for having a sensible conversation about Jesus in an overseas café. There is nothing romantic about getting lost in some sprawling metropolis because you hopped off the bus at the wrong stop.
And there’s nothing romantic about running out of cash in Southeast Asia because you nobly gave up your day job months earlier to just live by faith. That’s what happened to me six weeks into that trip around the world.
My trip had been a cry for God’s attention. I had wanted Him to notice me and then to love me for my grandiose and sacrificial endeavors. I had deemed my radical itinerary prerequisite for divine favor.
No such odyssey was required.
That journey has already been completed by Jesus and on our behalf. His port of entry was the Incarnation, the points of departure the cross and empty tomb. Through the work of Jesus, we are more than noticed by God. We are warmly adored and beaming in the light of divine favor and delight.
The Gospel demands radical discipleship. But in our radical discipleship we can miss the Gospel. Nothing feeds wanderlust like the call to radical discipleship. Yet nothing infuses meaning into lackluster tasks like doing them in radical devotion to the One who penetrated the horizons of death and hell … and then burst out of the ground to end all futile journeys.