By Drew Zuverink
"And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me - the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace."
Many missionaries can relate to Paul's words here in Acts 20. To this day men and women across the globe do not know what will happen to them because of their outspoken faith. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ face daily the inevitable reality of prison and persecution.
What causes countless numbers of Christian's to risk their life by preaching the gospel in hostile countries? What causes a young man to trade in his life of safety in America in order to reach unreached people with the gospel? What causes men and women to smuggle Bibles into countries where if they're caught they'll face prison or death? Is it fearlessness? Is it courage? Are they braver than you and I?
I'm not sure it's any of those things. The apostle Paul was a man with fears like us. When he writes that he doesn't know what will happen to him, I think he was afraid. In other letters he says as much. 1 Corinthians 7:5, "For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but were harassed at every turn - conflicts on the outside, fears within." But, like us, Paul didn't have just one desire - he had multiple. Sure, on the one hand he was afraid and desired safety, but on the other hand he desired to complete his God given task of preaching the gospel.
The reason that Paul and other missionaries today risk their life is not because they don't experience fears and it's not because they are abnormally brave. They have the same desire for safety that all humans do. The reason that they can say with Paul, "I consider my life worth nothing to me," is because their desire to testify of the goodness of Christ is stronger than their desire for safety and comfort. Paul truly believed that entering into hostile cities and preaching the gospel would be better than protecting his own life. He viewed his desire for safety as a competing desire that would hinder his mission for Christ - and so he resisted it.
As human beings we will always have competing desires. We will probably never be free from the desires to please people, to lust, to get revenge, to get the last word, to acquire great wealth, for safety, for comfort, for a life of ease and pleasure, for fame. Even when a person becomes a Christian, those desires are still there. However, the indwelling Holy Spirit brings with him new desires. Desires to please God, to put others before ourselves, to tell people about Jesus, to risk our comfort and reputation by taking a stand for truth. And whenever we are faced with a decision, we will have many of these desires competing against each other. And do you know what will be the deciding factor in which desire wins? Whichever one is strongest in that moment. Human decisions are caused by their strongest of many competing desires.
So what desires are strongest in your life right now? And are they godly desires or are they desires of the flesh? Is your desire to please God strong enough for you to lay down your life and say to God, "Take my life, all of it, and use it however you'd like, so long as it's for your glory." Or perhaps are your fleshly desires too strong for you to echo Paul's words, "I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to complete the task Jesus has given me."
Desires can be starved and they can also be fed. If your selfish desires are your strongest right now, starve them out. Remove yourself from certain things if you need to, and those desires will shrivel and weaken. Similarly, if your self evaluation reveals to you that your godly desires are there, but they're weak - feed them, and God will help them to grow.