The incredible beauty and gracefulness of ballet holds audiences spellbound in the story. But what are not seen are the hours spent relentlessly mastering the art of the dance. That price is paid by the ballerina’s feet, often hidden from the audience’s sight. The beauty and the pain go together.
They are inseparable.
I am drawn to this image, for in it, I see the price of what it means to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. While churches celebrate one’s public expression of obedience to the missionary call, there is a private price to be paid if one wants to dance the gospel ballet. Long-haul obedience to make disciples comes with a price and many are surprised by the cost.
Departing for missionary service necessitates the leaving of home. In many cases, family, friends, and fellow believers from church celebrate and consecrate the departure, the setting apart of “Barnabas and Paul.” And, like Abraham, we go trusting in God. Along the way, something mysterious begins to happen. Home is no longer home. Yes, loved ones and folks “back there” are eager to see their sent ones return, but returning is somehow not the same as before. Belonging now resides somewhere else.
For those cross-cultural sojourners who enter into the life, the language, and culture of the local people, incarnational seeds blossom: we begin to identify and to love a people not our own. Secure in who we are in Christ, we learn to freely serve others that they may embrace Jesus. Yet, the beauty of the gospel dance comes with the pain of dissonance in one’s sense of belonging.
Few enter into mission work understanding this change, yet the subtlety and force of it are real. So do not be surprised at a sense of homelessness. It is a blessing in disguise that uniquely reminds us that, as Christ-followers, our citizenship is in heaven and we look for a heavenly city.
The Apostle Paul writes repeatedly that as Christ-followers, we are all in a spiritual battle. Yet, it seems that spiritual attacks are often more intense for those who willingly give their lives for the cause of the gospel, and who rally others to be salt and light in very dark circumstances. After the final interview in the appointment process where we get pinned with a WorldVenture name tag, another unseen event occurs: it’s as if we have voluntarily painted a spiritual bull’s-eye on ourselves. If we are parents, then we have also painted those bulls’-eyes on our children. As we serve in places of great darkness where the people live in spiritual bondage, it’s as if we turn blinking lights on around those bulls’-eyes. It’s the same thing for those who step into any and all leadership that serves the cause of Christ.
“If we want to dance in the gospel ballet, we will encounter increased spiritual attacks in our lives and in our families.”
The Apostle Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Why then are we surprised when we do come under attack?
Perhaps, we didn’t really expect that it would happen to us. Few of us experienced this back home. The reality: if we want to dance in the gospel ballet, we will encounter increased spiritual attacks in our lives and in our families. Chronic illnesses, seemingly overwhelming temptation, pervasive discouragement, collegial discord, and overt attacks on our kids through nightmares, fears, and imaginary “friends” are some of the battlegrounds.
These are real battles. Look hard for them in the recruitment literature for missions, for they are rarely mentioned. You must turn to the book of Acts and missionary biographies.
A simple perusal of Paul’s letters to the Ephesian and Colossian churches shows us how we either live in bondage to the demonic and the effects of sin, or we live in a battle with the demonic and with sin. There are no sidelines. Battle or bondage: it’s your choice, only do not be surprised. Jesus sent his followers out as sheep among wolves. The world hated him. He was mocked. He was abused. He was crucified. We can expect the same. So do not be surprised and do not fear when spiritual battles erupt, because He has overcome the world. The bleeding and scarring of ballerina blisters are real. Yet, somehow, God transforms those battle scars into testimonies of His grace.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
The words roll off our tongue from memory. Our hearts acknowledge the theological veracity of the statements. We preach and teach the “oughts” and the “what nots” of such Christian living. And yet, a false mask of piety is too easy to wear–unless our egos are crucified daily, even hourly.
“The scarring of ballerina blisters and bleeding are real. Yet, somehow, God transforms those battle scars into testimonies of His grace.”
You see, most of us have pursued years of education, and we have intentionally sought opportunities to exercise and grow in our faith. In the candidate selection and support raising processes, we sometimes confuse our credentials and the great needs of the world with our identity. We fall for the temptation to believe that God and His work need us. Where our pre-field naiveté is fouled with an on-field superiority, we domesticate the cross for our personal benefit, making missions simply the vehicle. Paul has a title for such persons: “peddlers of God’s word” (2 Corinthians 2:17).
Missions is neither for the faint of heart nor for the lightweight of soul. “Who is equal to such a task?” Paul asks rhetorically. No one.
Thus it is that Paul declares: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). So do not be surprised that death to self becomes the daily norm, not the campfire invitation. For such are the men and the women who disciple the nations to Christ.
If you want to join the ballet, you have to expect ballerina feet. Loss of home, spiritual battles, and death to self transform normal feet into beautiful feet that bring good news. And beautiful feet dance. They dance the grace dance as our hearts pirouette with joy in proclaiming that God’s grace is sufficient. In the pain of ballerina feet, His power is made perfect. And once you’ve tasted the beauty of the dance, you don’t care what your feet look like.
What are you expecting?