CHALLENGES TODAY’S PREOCCUPATION WITH SELF
We live in an era when selfishness has become respectable in society and even in the church. In fact a lot of the proclamation of the church today seems to be pandering to human selfishness. The church in Asia is also in danger being carried away by this emphasis, especially with the growing popularity of Prosperity Theology.
We desperately need models of people who show us what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). James Hudson Taylor is such a model. He and his early missionaries took several paths that would seem foolish to today’s selfish generation. But by doing so they showed us the glory of Christian discipleship. Let me give you a few examples.
This is an era of globalisation. People are talking about global cultures, and, because every second matters in business dealings, people are learning to be as efficient as possible. In this environment, the process of spending years immersing oneself in a given culture, learning its language and adopting its lifestyle before fully proclaiming the message seems to be a foolish waste of time. But Hudson Taylor and his missionaries showed us that this is the only way we can deeply penetrate a people with the gospel of Christ.
Even in today’s global culture you cannot go near to the heart of people without identifying with them. Those seeking to reach people for Christ today, whether in the mission field, the neighbourhood or place of work, should be willing to endure what looks like a waste of time as they attempt to identify with them.
Tentmakers have a powerful role to play in commending Christ to the world, and the history of the kingdom of God will show how they opened so many doors for God to act. But while they do their work they will have to patiently live with many restrictions to their activity and will not be able to send glowing reports to their friends back home who are supporting them.
Today, in discussions about Christian mission, there is a lot of talk about measurable results and receptivity. We are told to go to where the people are most receptive. The success of ones enterprise is measured by the numbers of those who have responded positively to the message. In this environment people sent to tough and resistant areas could become terribly discouraged because they would be considered failures by the churches or organisations that sent them.
Many of Taylor’s early missionaries worked in areas where the physical climate was hostile to the missionary and the people were hostile or indifferent to the gospel. Yet through their suffering they broadcast the seed of the gospel far and wide in China without seeing much visible fruit. I believe that this had an important role to play in preparing China for the explosive growth that has taken place during the past fifty years. In heaven these missionaries must know that what looked like a waste of their lives was a huge and highly productive investment in the future of the church; that they had performed a service that helped changed the course of history.
In today’s litigant society, greed or the desire for vindication on earth causes people to expend so much energy suing people who they think have harmed them. During the Boxer Uprising at the turn of the twentieth century Taylor’s mission lost 58 missionaries and 21 children and suffered much damage to property. After the uprising was over, compensation was agreed upon by the government. But wanting to demonstrate “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” Taylor refused to accept the compensation. This resulted in praise for Christ even from official Chinese circles.
But this was not just a foolhardy decision of reckless generosity. It was an extension of an approach to life where the peace and joy of God was so important that no earthly thing should destroy it. When we start fighting for ourselves without concentrating of serving God and others, we lose the joy of being freed from self. And this is what makes the life of total dedication so worthwhile. We have a sense of peace and joy, of significance and worth, which nothing on earth could give.
A person once expressed his surprise to Taylor that he remained at peace while he was surrounded by so many pressures. Taylor responded that for him peace was “more than a delightful privilege, it was a necessity.” He let nothing take away his peace and joy. And armed with that peace and joy he had the strength to take on untold hardship for the cause of Christ. John Wesley has called the peace of God “a pearl of great price.” Those who know it realise it is worth selling everything in order to experience it.
But when we follow the way of the cross not only do we have peace, we also have a sense of significance and worth. About five years before his death Taylor told a famous gathering of Christian leaders, “It is ever true that what costs little is worth little.” Taylor knew that he was dedicated to the greatest of all causes; he was in the service of the Lord of the universe.
After speaking about how the world and often Christians reject the call to self-denial and suffering because it is so unattractive to them, Taylor says, that “seen from a right point of view” our suffering for Christ gives “abundant cause for overflowing thanks and joy.” He says, “The early Christians were neither fools or madmen when they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, exulting that their names were cast out as evil, and that they themselves were counted worthy to suffer.”
It was an honour to be counted worthy to suffer for such a great cause. Being devoted to such a cause gives us a strong sense of significance and worth.
Today some people are seeking to retrieve their lost prestige or wealth by suing for damages. Many are striving to go up in society without caring for their spouses, their families and their neighbours. They do not have time or place for the principles of God and for the mission of God. And why is this? They want the satisfaction of having succeeded in life because they think it will make them feel significant and worthwhile. But human beings were made in the image of the eternal God. They are too exalted to be satisfied with mere earthly success. Only an eternally significant cause will truly satisfy.
When we take up our cross and follow Christ we take on a winning combination. We do what the world despises—live sacrificial, holy and dedicated lives—and gain what the world longs for—joy and peace, and significance and worth. Hudson Taylor demonstrated this through his life.
In the final analysis, however, many do not take on the way of the cross because they don’t believe in what the Bible says about God. If we believed that, all other paths would be seen as folly. And this is another secret of Hudson Taylor: he took God at his word and dared to act on this belief. Many were sceptical when he launched out into what looked like impossible projects saying, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.” But he did see God supply! In fact the stories of the wonderful ways in which God blessed his ventures of faith with glorious triumphs make very exciting reading today.
This is the stuff out of which heroism is made: believing in a great God and acting on that belief. Taylor once said, “All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them.”
May God use this book* to raise up hundreds of giants who, like Taylor, take God at his word and pay the price of commitment. And may they be so filled with the peace and joy of God that they will be a prophetic presence in the world demonstrating that through following Jesus they have discovered what the world is looking for.
*This article was originally written as a Foreword to a new pictorial biography of Hudson Taylor.