Here’s an article from the Missionary’s Corner archives:
As I recently stood before a group of fellow preachers (mostly pastors), I presented a few biblical principles to help us face the often inconsistent, unstable and uncertain income that many ministers live on. These are realities that affect pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and many Christian workers. But my heaviest burden that day was for my fellow missionaries who at that moment were ministering around the world, some in remote places, having to face these challenges alone. It is for them that I want to share these thoughts once again.
The Apostle Paul penned some beautiful words to the Philippian believers as he encouraged this missions-minded congregation to continue its long-term involvement in his ministry (4:10-19). But in doing so he opened a window to shed some light into his heart and life as a minister of the Gospel. He allows us to see the truths that enabled him to face this kind of ministry life. Here is what we can learn from the apostle:
Contentment is not based on our level of support (vs. 11). Paul’s contentment did not waver in times of financial or material need – it was consistent. As missionaries we cannot be content when we have a good month, and discontent when we have a bad month. Our contentment cannot rise and fall with the giving of God’s people or the regularity of our supporting churches. This will lead to spiritual distraction, depression, discouragement, and even resentment. Our contentment must be consistent – by being rooted in the One who never changes.
Contentment is learned through experience (vs. 12). Paul had learned to be content. The circumstances had literally instructed him in contentment. The unstable circumstances taught him the “how to”s of ministry life: how to handle the good months and administer God’s provision, how to handle the low months without getting distracted, depressed or discouraged, and how to even be “abased” or leveled by a situation. We must remember that contentment is developed over time as we experience the ups and downs, abundance and necessity, fullness and hunger.
Christ is our Source of provision (vs. 13). It was Christ who gave Paul the strength and provision to face life – in the good times and in the bad. At times God’s provision came through the giving of God’s people. At times Paul’s hands had to labor in a personal trade. But he did not look to these things for provision – he looked to God. This kept him from becoming resentful if a church did not give much, or even dropped his support. This kept him from looking to his own skills and actions to get him out of a bind. As missionaries most of our income comes through the giving of God’s people, and sometimes as the result of a letter, presentation or sermon, so it is easy to look to these for our provision. But this will lead to a roller coaster ride of emotions because people don’t always give as they should, pastors do not always make the decisions we expect, and our own efforts are not always effective. Our focus must remain on Christ. He is our Provider.
Consider the mutual benefits (vs. 17). The Apostle had no reservations in encouraging the Philippians to give to his ministry because his motives were pure and he knew that they each had a role to play in the kingdom of God. Both sides benefited from their participation. When the Philippians gave, Paul could better carry out his God-given ministry, and the Philippians could better fulfill the Great Commission. Missionaries have no reason to feel like beggars as they seek to raise financial support, as long as they remember that they are seeking a relationship of mutual benefit. The entire work of God is benefited when God’s people give and God’s servants are able to carry out their ministry calling.
Perhaps you have been struggling with the financial ups and downs that come with missionary life. Let me encourage you through these truths to learn to maintain your contentment no matter what circumstances the Lord allows. Learn from your past experiences. Seek the advice and encouragement of veteran pastors and missionaries. But above all and before everything else, keep your focus on the Lord Jesus Christ as your one and only Provider. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”