The trap

Sometimes, being a missionary can be like being the hero in an adventure movie. People wish they could be you. You get compliments and admiration for the path you’ve chosen and the work you do. You’re considered a spiritual hero. That all feels pretty good.

And then, sometimes there’s this crushing silence. You feel alone, and stuck in a figurative snow drift, car wheels spinning. Sometimes you wonder if anyone even knows or cares you’re out there doing what you’re doing. That all feels pretty terrible.

My wife and I (Jim) just came off a week where we experienced both extremes: three days of tremendous affirmation and energy infusion, then three days of dead silence and inertia. We were praying together the other night, and the thought hit me: When we place too much significance on either the emotional highs or the lows, we start to think and act like this is all about us.

Consciously or subconsciously, my motivation for reporting on God’s work around the world cannot be to garner bylines and compliments. That can be a major trap in a highly visible profession like journalism. Seeing your work in print and online feels pretty good – especially when you also can see the stats about how many people are reading it. Those nice comments – “great story!” … “wow, what a picture” – really do build confidence.

Likewise, one negative comment at the end of a story can be devastating. It’s risky to put your work on display in the public square. You really, really hope people will like it and respond positively to it. When they don’t, it can shake your confidence – especially when they’re right.

That’s a tricky balance for anyone working in ministry, too: doing God’s work in a very public setting, but not overemphasizing the importance of how people respond. Certainly we listen and welcome constructive criticism along with the compliments. But that’s not where we find worth and motivation. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day missed out on something monumental, the gospel writer John points out, because “they loved human praise more than the praise of God.” (John 12:43)

My motivation has to be all about bringing fame to God and to engage his church. If one person reads a story I reported, and decides to pray more, give more or go there – even if I never know about it – then the number of website visitors or comments really doesn’t matter. The emotional roller coaster evens out.

If there’s any personal fulfillment to seek in all of this, that’s it: Do the best work I can do, ask God to use it however he wants, and give him all of the credit.

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