I recently finished reading a book called Of Stillness and Storm, by Michèle Phoenix. It’s excellent, and I sincerely believe that every missionary—especially those who are parents or spouses—should read it early in their ministries, preferably before they even enter the mission field. 

It’s gotten me thinking again about our priorities. Our priorities as Christians. Our priorities as spouses. Our priorities as missionaries. We have obligations to God, and to other human beings.

And I think sometimes we get our priorities wrong.

Sometimes we equate God and ministry. But they are not the same, and if we treat them as the equal, we run the serious risk of not honouring or obeying God at all.

How often my memory returns to a conversation I once had with a fellow missionary whom I will call “Susan”, who had come to Okinawa to serve with her husband for several years.

At one point in talking about her work, she mentioned their growing exhaustion as she and her husband neared burnout. “We are called to be sacrifices to God,” she said, “so here we are, giving Him ourselves as burnt offerings!” She seemed pleased with her witty wordplay.

Stunned by her remark, I could offer no response.

As I considered her comment later, though, I recognized that this is a common theme in the minds and hearts of many missionaries, though it’s not often expressed quite so bluntly.

And it is wrong.

Completely wrong.

We are called to be living sacrifices, laying our lives down on the altars of submission and obedience to God. Here’s what the Bible says:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2

Notice that even within these verses, the idea of sacrifice is paired with the idea of transformation and renewal!

We do not serve a God who burns us up, who wears us out, who discards our shrivelled husks when He’s done with us. We serve the God of the burning bush, alight, but not consumed.

Our God is the giver of life, and when in our minds we transform Him to be like the Canaanite god Molech, who delighted in human sacrifice? We are worshipping an idol.

We are elevating our ministries above serving God—the One True God.

In the act of becoming spouses and parents, we sign on to a set of obligations. The obligation to care for, to cherish, to protect, to nurture our loved ones. These precious people have been entrusted to us—by God. We are their family. No one else can care for them the way we can.

The apostle Paul remarked on this in one of his letters to the Corinthian church:

I want you to walk free from worry about these things. A man who is not married can give all his time to please our Honoured Chief. But a man who is married will have to give more of his time to the things of this world in order to please his wife. It is the same for a woman who is not married, or for a young maiden. They are able to give all their time to our Honoured Chief, to keep their body and spirit holy and pleasing to him. But a married woman will have to give more of her time to the things of this world in order to please her husband.

1 Corinthians 7:33-34, First Nations Version

The Bible does not make these responsibilities optional. It takes for granted, as a foundational assumption, that once we are married we are obligated to please our spouses. 

And yet, how often do we revere people who abandon their God-ordained duties to their spouses and families in favour of serving their ministries?

In these cases, serving our ministries becomes the exact opposite of serving God.

The Pharisees were the evangelicals of Jesus’ day. They were conservatives, keen to do God‘s will even if it was difficult; willing to go against the flow of culture; and vigilantly anti-liberal, not wanting to compromise with the culture in their faith. [1]

Jesus chastised the Pharisees for tithing their herbs while neglecting the greater points of the law. He said, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” [2]

Jesus’ words echo through history to us, as well. If He were speaking to us as missionaries, He might say something like, “But woe to you missionaries! For you give up your culture and your friends in your home countries to go abroad and proclaim My good news to people in foreign lands. But you neglect to show the love of God within your own homes. These things you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” 

It is no exaggeration to say that there are more than a few children of missionaries who have come to hate Jesus for robbing them of their parents. These children have suffered the abuse of neglect for a perverted version, no matter how well-intentioned, of the Gospel.

Abandoned spouses have suffered greatly, have gone through mental health crises and perhaps physical problems that have been met by the dispassionate gazes of their mates.

For these suffering family members, the Gospel is not good news. 

And this has to change.

Lord God, I’m convicted by these words. I, too, have at times prioritized my ministry over my spouse. I’ve gotten tunnel vision, have become impatient with the needs of the ones I’m called to love and nurture, and have put them aside rather than treating them with the gentleness and nurturing spirit that they deserve as Your precious children. Please cleanse my heart and enable me to prioritize the things that You prioritize. Let me not turn ministry into an idol. Please don’t let me place my self-worth in what I can accomplish, but in the simple fact that I am loved and treasured by You. I don’t have anything to prove to my ministry partners, to my enemies, or to myself. This is Your work, and You have invited me to enter into it. But ultimately, it is Yours. So please enable to me to give You back the reins of this ministry, and transform it into something that is beautiful and pleasing to You. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen. 

Please feel free to use this prayer as a guided meditation for yourself and your own situation.


[1] Dr. Sean McDonough, “Partisan Piety”, New Testament Survey I, Lecture 4, Dimensions of the Faith, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, MP3, 47:59, accessed online October 23, 2017.

[2] Luke 11:42, ESV.