By Luke Sinclair, Mission Partner to Japan
How do you get from growing up in rural mid-Canterbury to Global mission in the megacity of Tokyo? NZCMS Mission Partner Luke Sinclair talks about the small steps of everyday discipleship that God can use to send each of us out on mission.
My first car was certainly no head-turner – a light blue 1989 Hyundai Excel granny-hatchback affectionately named “The OG-mobile” after the first two letters of the number plate. Yet the second turning point on my path towards Japan involved this car – both metaphorically and physically. The big change came about when I finally understood the second half of a single Bible verse.
The verse was 1 Corinthians 12:31 and the first half I understood well, “Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.” At High School, I had spent a lot of time reading this chapter and the similar passage in Romans 12 about spiritual gifts. I had tried to work out which ones God had given me and which ones I hoped he would one day give me. Although I would have said I’d be content with whatever the Holy Spirit gave, in reality, I wanted the more impressive, more powerful, more ‘spiritual’ ones. The gifts of serving or giving money described in Romans 12:7 -8 seemed like drawing the short straw!
But as I came back to following Jesus while at University, I spent time in 1 Corinthians again and began to spot things I hadn’t seen before. Previously I’d read chapters 12 and 14 as “Paul’s guide to spiritual gifts” – almost as if it was an instruction manual. But I’d never stopped to ask what chapter 13 was doing in the middle of them – that famous passage about love. Reading through the whole letter I saw how the Corinthian Church was full of the Holy Spirit and very gifted (1 Corinthians 1:5-7). And yet Paul said they were “still worldly” and “mere infants” (1 Corinthians 3:1). They were a church divided over many things, one of which was spiritual gifts that they appeared to be using to gain recognition, status and power. And so smack in the middle of his teaching on this topic in 12:31 Paul says, “Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” This way is the way of love. Not the romantic kind, but the love that sinful people at church are to show to each other and to build each other up to persevere in following Jesus.
All of a sudden my understanding of this passage was flipped upside down. In my eager desire for the most ‘impressive’ spiritual gifts, I was acting just like the Corinthians! I realised that rather than looking inward to ask “What is my spiritual gift?”, the most excellent way was to look outward and ask “How can I love my brothers and sisters at church one step more?’”
Around that time I had been helping with the church logistics team which set up and packed down the primary school we met in each Sunday. Rather than this just being a ‘good thing to do’ I started viewing this as one way the Holy Spirit had gifted me to love my brothers and sisters. And as I kept looking at what the needs were in front of me, I didn’t see any ‘impressive’ upfront roles, but I did see that the logistics team needed more leaders who could take on responsibility for the Sunday set-up. Not quite what I had imagined or desired (being a non-committal 21-year-old). I had wanted the spiritual gift equivalent of a Lamborghini – impressive and powerful! But God had given me a Hyundai. Literally. Yet this was the way to love at that time. So, I and the OG-mobile started turning up early to transport gear to the school and organise set up.
If you had told me back then that I would later become a cross-cultural Mission Partner sent overseas, I would have laughed. That was not something I wanted to do nor believed God had gifted me in. And yet, looking back now, I can see how that season of meditating on 1 Corinthians was a key turning point. God had transformed my mind by his Word to change the way I approached service, putting love at the centre. And by his grace I’ve (imperfectly) tried to keep asking the question and remaining open to God’s answer – “How could I love my brothers and sisters one step more?” Who knows where God will lead me, or you, next with such a question!?