I once heard one of our veteran leaders who was visiting in the mission field express his belief that we as workers ought to get into the "canning" business. He, of course, meant Paul's "canning" business of Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me." As a missionary, I believe what he said is true.
There is real danger that a worker laboring in a difficult field will imbibe the spirit of defeatism. After working earnestly over an extended period, with comparatively meager results, it is not difficult for one to arrive at a conclusion that things just "can't be done" in his field, and to accept defeat as his unfortunate but inevitable lot. His whole psychology then becomes permeated with the conviction that the field in which he labors is "different," and that therefore nothing can be done about it. To be quite plain, the worker loses his vision and becomes content to settle down in a rut, convinced that in his apportioned area of the Lord's vineyard things just "can't be done."
What a blessing to God's cause it would be if that phrase, "It can't be done," and the spirit of hopelessness that prompts it, could be forever banished from the experience of every worker. To how many young and inexperienced missionaries that very attitude has brought discouragement! How many strong and capable workers would be in mission fields today had they not been continuously reminded that things "just can't be done." How many fine, consecrated young people coming out of our colleges, potential mission talent of great excellence, have been deterred in making their decision to enter foreign service in a certain field because they have been led to believe that things could not be done there.
Sometimes things that "can't be done" are done right before our eyes. I remember in one mission field a certain worker was told very definitely that the lay members in that particular place could not and would not do anything in the Ingathering campaign. Records of the past were cited to prove this contention. Church members in the homeland could do soliciting all right, but in this field things were "different"! Experienced skeptics shook their heads and smiled sympathetically when the worker went ahead with a modest goal and launched the campaign among the lay members. Within the seven-week campaign period the goal had been quadrupled and the church had gone well beyond the American Minute Man goal. After three years of training that same church that "couldn't and wouldn't" do anything had a per capita Ingathering income of more than $27.
Similar instances in this and other fields, not only in Ingathering but in field administration, evangelism, and departmental activities, could be recorded that, demonstrate the desirability of at least giving new plans and new methods a trial. Just because a thing may not have been done in the past is not sufficient cause to conclude that it never can be done at any time in the future! Such an attitude would have nipped the new and unpopular advent movement in the very bud, and would lead us into a hopelessness today that would preclude the possibility of our ever taking this message "to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people."
I am not misled into believing that all fields are, or will be, equally fruitful. It is true that the environment, nature, and background of some peoples prepare them to receive the gospel more readily than others. It is also true that the messenger of the Lord has assured us that a "myriad of chosen ones" are to be gathered out from the very countries where the work goes so slowly. India,, China, the Near East, and other places where the evil one has so strongly entrenched himself in the superstitions and philosophies of the people's religions, will yield before the triumphant advance of the cross and the three angels of Revelation 14. This assurance ought to put us into the "canning" business.
We are living in days when we should attempt greater things for God and then expect greater things from God. It may be quite possible that the Lord will introduce new methods and new plans through new men in our fields. It may be that we shall need to alter some of the methods of the past that have not been too productive. At least, let us not condemn new methods until we have given them a fair trial.
For a worker in this cause to lose his vision is almost for him to lose his usefulness. Our whole movement has been built upon our vision of the imminent, triumphant return of our Saviour to this world. The foundation of this blessed hope has been laid in the conviction that the Lord will make Himself responsible, through His church, for the proclamation of this' message to every kindred, tongue, and people. Dare we permit our vision of that glorious triumph to become dimmed or obscured by obstacles that the Lord has promised to remove or to help us surmount?
Vision is that almost indefinable "something" within us that enables us to look beyond the present obstacles and discouraging circumstances, and to see what the enablings of God can do for us if we will only set ourselves to the task at hand. Vision includes that "something" that brings a holy discontent, makes us unsatisfied with current accomplishments, and compels us to undertake larger tasks for God.
In no place in all the world is a vision needed more than in the mission field. So much in the culture and customs of these heathen countries points us to the past. There is so much to surmount and to conquer, yet so many circumstances to perplex and discourage. To succeed demands that through it all we press forward undeterred, refusing to accept defeat, our confidence in God's ability to bring victory unshaken, our vision as clear as the day we set our hands to the plow. We "are never to think, much less to speak, of failure" in our work. (Gospel Workers, p. 19.) Our influence upon fellow workers in these difficult fields should breathe a holy optimism, born of a confidence in the promise of God to make Himself responsible for the success of our honest endeavors (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 363.)
The wise man, through Moffatt's translation, gives us this solid counsel: "Let your eyes look straight ahead, gaze right in front of you; keep a clear path before you, and ever make your footing firm; never turn to right or left." Prov. 4:25-27. Next to our consecration to God, one of our greatest needs is to lift our eyes above any present obstacles that might gender defeatism and keep them "courageously fixed upon the future. Thus we shall be enabled to behold what God will do through us to advance His work if we permit Him to use us.