In 1541, Francis Xavier was asked to go lead a mission to Asia, He replied, “Good enough, I’m ready,” and left within 48 hours, never to return.
That’s an amazing response, but when you look a little into Xavier’s background, you see that he had been well prepared to make such a response. Xavier was a Jesuit and best friends with Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. These guys embodied a readiness to cross the world at a moment’s notice in full-hearted pursuit of a good opportunity. They had a willingness to work without a script, an eagerness to dream up new approaches to problems. They were encouraged to live with “one foot raised,” ready at any second to act or go.
This makes me think about how we go about planting churches. As a rule, we tend to choose our ministry opportunities carefully. We look for places where we want to spend time—where we can picture ourselves doing ministry (or where we can see ourselves enjoying warm weather year-round). And we picture ourselves with the people that we want to pastor, people we immediately like, and who like all the same things we do.
But I wonder if we’re missing out. Actually I quit wondering about this long ago. I’m convinced we are missing out. I do wonder whether or not we become so independent and careful that we no longer trust our leaders (like Loyola) to point us toward opportunities that God is inviting us to take, whether they are small adjustments, or radical changes of direction. What if we did trust God to speak like that? What if we let him come face-to-face with us through the words of a leader he has placed in our lives? If we let God speak to us through others, we let him confront us so that we have to decide, “do I make this decision based on my desires, or do I allow God to direct my steps?”
Let’s go back to Francis Xavier for a minute. His immediate response was “I’m ready.” He was obviously able to turn on a dime when God asked him to. If we are going to follow his example, it comes down to trust. We have to trust that God’s plan is a good one. It’s the kind of trust that allows the Jesuits to say that when we are with God, “the whole world becomes our house,” or Dallas Willard to write that, since God is in control, “our universe is a perfectly safe place to be.
When Jesus was challenged about his unorthodox ways of doing ministry, he responded that he was only doing what he saw his Father doing (John 5:19). He was completely at home in a world where his Father was the ruler and creator. He seemed less concerned about what option would be the most fun, comfortable, or even productive. He just watched his Father, and imitated what he saw, even if it meant changing course or pausing in the middle of something else to lean into what God was doing at a specific moment.
The Jesuits taught their priests to “preach, hear confessions, and use all other means to help souls.” Basically, to be actively looking for ways to bring people to Christ and Christ to them. What is our version of “preaching, hearing confessions, and using all other means” today? I think part of it is to always be ready. To be willing at any moment to proclaim and demonstrate God’s Kingdom. To use any opportunity to gather people and to help them become disciples or students of Christ.
This is the challenge and the call that could be so easy to miss in the middle of our carefully constructed plans—to become “little Christs,” who bring God with us in a form that is recognizable to the people we meet. To go to where people are (wherever that might be) and introduce them to Jesus. To live among them, to put ourselves on their level, to be in their world. In short, to bring the reality of God’s kingdom incarnationally. Just as Jesus made God accessible to all of humanity by becoming God Incarnate, we bring the gospel incarnationally by putting it in the language and culture of the specific people we are going to, whether that is close to home or as far away as Asia for one Francis Xavier who was living in Rome.
This isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap. It will cost us our lives (but isn’t that what following Jesus is all about?). We have to be willing to let every part of our lives speak of Jesus. This will mean giving up our own preferences and tastes in favor of whatever will let Jesus be seen more clearly through us. This will mean saying “yes” with joy to opportunities that are hard or dangerous or uncomfortable. It will mean that, like Jesus, we only do what we see the Father doing.