God in Christ is always at work to make life better – more loving and more just – for all of us. You have just listed what you are doing to make life more loving and more just. This means that you are already one of Jesus’ coworkers in his mission. You are already on mission. You just may not have realized it.
Our fields of daily life are really our daily mission fields. These are the places in life where we can act as Christ’s agents or missionaries. How can we be sure that what we are doing is really God’s work? Each action that you listed in Activity I has these five characteristics in one way or another if it qualifies as a mission.
1. A mission is centered in love and justice. The action in both deed and word is centered in love and justice. This is the most important characteristic. Will your mission improve the daily lives of those people you are close to? Or will it benefit people you don’t even know? Either way, a mission centered in love and justice has a positive impact on a person or a group of people – sometimes many people. Remember, we love face-to-face, and, when we want to express love in the wider world, we do it by being just.
2. A mission is specific and, therefore, calls for specific actions in what you do and say. A possible mission might be to comfort a friend who has just lost a spouse by visiting and being ready to talk about God’s presence to strengthen and to guide us during these times. Another mission might be to support low-income housing in your neighborhood against its opposition by speaking out that you believe that we are made as one human family and are called to care for all members of the family regardless of economic standing.
3. A mission costs you something. You spend yourself, your time, your energy, and your various resources to bring about something better. You are choosing to turn over your possessions and yourself to God’s work. And risk is involved. Think of situations like the parent who risks a teen’s anger to teach healthy, life-preserving values or the whistle-blowers who risk their jobs on behalf of honesty in business or government.
4. A mission can only be carried out with God’s help. Our capacity to bring greater love and justice by ourselves is limited. By ourselves, we are even more limited in our capacity to help in broken or wrong situations. Further, the best of our intentions and actions can be infected with self-serving and self-righteousness. Our attempts to love and to be just always need God’s help to keep us centered on the needs of others rather than on our own needs. This is why we say a mission can only be carried out with God’s help.
5. A mission brings joy. You are sharing in God’s work and seeing that what you do bears fruit as love and justice grow. You’ll have a sense of rightness about what you’re doing, almost as if you’re getting in line or realigned with God’s priorities. For example, suppose, as your mission, you take on helping a friend who is undergoing cancer treatment. The help and comfort you offer are part of God’s help and comfort. Your friend’s gratitude makes you thank God for working through you. Another example might be when you see resistance decline as you work for low-income housing in your community. Here too, you trust and give thanks that this is God’s work through you and not, simply, the impact of your own skills of persuasion. Such experiences have a very special kind of joy. Finally, when there seems to be little response or change in whatever you are doing, you will still have a joy “that passes understanding.” You sense that God is there with you and trust that God will overcome someday.
Remember that the mission you work on today may not be what you work on next week or, perhaps, even tomorrow. Missions change. As one is completed, a new one will take its place. You may also find yourself adjusting how you work on a particular mission. For example, you may need to try several times before you are able to really talk to a hostile coworker. Consider his or her situation; pray about it; and take your cues from the leading of the Spirit. Then, you may change your whole approach. As you sense being called to a new mission or to adjust an existing one, feel confident in making the change. God will give you the help you need to get the mission done.
The grand name for Christian work
You may be surprised to call what you are doing a “mission.” You may just see it as “helping out my buddy at work;” or “talking my daughter through a breakup;” or helping an elderly widow find a better apartment; or writing that letter to the local newspaper supporting a candidate for state legislature who emphasizes working to protect the environment for future generations. But these seemingly small things that we do every day really are missions and not to say so robs these actions of their meaning. God’s work is sacred even when it seems mundane. Any action that meets these five characteristics is a “mission”: it is loving and just, specific, costly, done only with God’s help, and brings joy. So do more than just take your friend out for an occasional round of golf when he’s down. Pray for him and ask God to give him what he needs. Pray that, over the weeks, your presence and your words will help and heal. The time you spend with him can mean so much more when you pray that you are being used as an instrument of God’s care. This applies to all of your missions.
Beware of how the best of intentions – what you are tempted to call a “mission” – can be self-serving. You call on God for help with a friend and then you’re tempted to expect something in return. Or you might overestimate your own ability to counsel your daughter and then be led to act or talk in ways that don’t respect the complexity and range of the emotions she may be experiencing. Or you might recommend any first apartment that comes along to Elsie so that you can be done with showing her around. You need God’s help to center on the other’s needs rather than your own. Even the simplest of missions are carried out only with God’s help. While your missions may never be done perfectly, you can be sure that they will be done better the more open you are to God’s leading and help as you do them.
There is still more to referring to what we do to make the world better as “missions.” Many times, we are called to confront some wrong – some lack of love or some injustice – and to correct it. Coping with wrongs calls for words as well as actions. We need to talk about what we believe God wants to be corrected and how God might help us to do it. “Mission” carries that two-fold meaning of word as well as deed.
“Mission” is the grand name for Christian work. All Christian actions – large and small – that are deeds and words of love and justice or increase love and justice are grand actions and deserve to be called “missions.” God’s mission on Earth is to overcome evil, sin, and death through the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our missions are the specific actions we undertake, with Jesus’ help, in the various fields of our daily covenant.