“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”
In the United States, we live in a culture that promotes the self and the pursuit of things for the self. Marketing, advertising, movies, television, music, and so much more call us and seek to convince us to buy and consume for ourselves. Our iphones, ipods, Nintendo DSs, ipads, tablets, and laptops seek to consume our time with Angry Birds, Draw Something, and purchases on Amazon or iTunes. Author Don Miller sums it up nicely, “It occurs to me it is not so much the aim of the devil to lure me with evil as it is to preoccupy me with the meaningless.” Along with the focus of the self comes competition to acquire things or to become the superior. Elevation of the self is admired and promoted in our culture. With that said, I don’t mean to be completely anti-culture because many of these things are not inherently evil or bad, but it can be very easy to get settled into a mindset that focuses on our own needs and desires. Unfortunately, this mindset easily seeps into the church and our spiritual lives.
However, Jesus calls us to live counter to many aspects of culture; specifically here, Jesus calls us to live counter to the notion that the self should be elevated and promoted above others. We are called by the Gospel to live sacrificially to the benefit of others. In order to live missionally and to bear fruit in our lives and ministries, Jesus says that we have to be a grain that dies. To be a follower of Jesus, we must hate and give up our worldly lives. Those are some strong words!
When I traveled with a group to Ecuador a few years ago to work alongside my good friend, Cameron Graham Vivanco, she taught us about the importance of bearing fruit in our ministry and in mission. In discussing how to prepare ourselves to be successful in mission and create an atmosphere to bear fruit, Cameron introduced us to 4 challenges that we must overcome (adapted from Roberto Guerrero, Dominican Republic):
1) We must die to our Intellectual Prejudice. It can be easy for us to believe that we are intellectually superior because of our educational resources and experiences. However, we must resist the temptation that says we are smarter or know more than the next person, no matter their education or socioeconomic status. We must adopt a servant mentality and give respect to the wisdom, experiences, and intellect offered by each individual.
2) We must die to our Cultural Prejudice. It is somewhat natural for an individual to view their own culture as superior to another culture. It is what we know, after all. However, we must let go of our own cultural biases to fully engage the culture of another person. And it is not enough to simply say, “It is not right or wrong, just different.” Go the extra mile, take a humble posture, and seek to immerse yourself, embrace the new culture, and learn.
3) We must be willing to die to our Spiritual Prejudice. We often get caught up in how we like our liturgy or worship. We have our preferences and the ways we like to do things. But in the mission field, we have an opportunity to experience worship and spirituality in a variety of ways. We must let go of our preferences and allow ourselves to experience worship as a guest learning
4) We must be willing to set aside our Self-seeking Ambitions. Mission trips can be marketed like vacations. Many times we approach mission with our own goals and desires. We want certain things to happen, or we desire to have certain experiences. But mission is about following and orienting ourselves towards Jesus. Mission is about partnering with the Kingdom of God. We must set aside our own desires, and seek the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Following these practices and facing these challenges will not only help us bear fruit while on a mission experience, but they are completely applicable in our daily faith lives. We live in a country that is awash with different cultures, nationalities, and ways to express their faith. To meet our neighbor face to face as a true equal and a true child of God, we must die to ourselves and adopt a missional attitude based on the servitude of Christ.
And Lent offers us the perfect opportunity to humble ourselves before God and recommit ourselves to a life of service to Christ and his people. As a time of prayer, repentance, alms-giving, and self-denial, Lent is the perfect vehicle through which we can die to our worldly lives and take on practices that help us become better servants of Christ. Lent is an opportunity to die as the grain so that we can bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. And then, as followers of Jesus seeking to serve Christ in all that we do, we will honor God and his Kingdom.
- Dorian Del Priore