Motivation for mission

Daisy chain

This story used to motivate me to reach out to my friends who didn’t know the Lord. It comes from Things as They are: Mission work in southern India by Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), a missionary from Ireland who opened an orphanage and founded a mission in Dohnavur. She worked for 55 years without a furlough, and wrote many inspiring books.

The tom-toms thumped straight on all night and the darkness shuddered round me like a living, feeling thing. I could not go to sleep, so I lay awake and looked; and I saw, as it seemed, this:

That I stood on a grassy sward, and at my feet a precipice broke sheer down into infinite space. I looked, but saw no bottom; only cloud shapes, black and furiously coiled, and great shadow-shrouded hollows, and unfathomable depths. Back I drew, dizzy at the depth.

Then I saw forms of people moving single file along the grass. They were making for the edge. There was a woman with a baby in her arms and another little child holding on to her dress. She was on the very verge. Then I saw that she was blind. She lifted her foot for the next step . . . it trod air. She was over, and the children over with her. Oh, the cry as they went over!

Then I saw more streams of people flowing from all quarters. All were blind, stone blind; all made straight for the precipice edge. There were shrieks, as they suddenly knew themselves falling, and a tossing up of helpless arms, catching, clutching at empty air. But some went over quietly, and fell without a sound.

Then I wondered, with a wonder that was simply agony, why no one stopped them at the edge. I could not. I was glued to the ground, and I could only call; though I strained and tried, only a whisper would come.

Then I saw that along the edge there were sentries set at intervals. But the intervals were too great; there were wide, unguarded gaps between. And over these gaps the people fell in their blindness, quite unwarned; and the green grass seemed blood-red to me, and the gulf yawned like the mouth of hell.

Then I saw, like a little picture of peace, a group of people under some trees with their backs turned toward the gulf. They were making daisy chains. Sometimes when a piercing shriek cut the quiet air and reached them, it disturbed them and they thought it a rather vulgar noise. And if one of their number started up and wanted to go and do something to help, then all the others would pull that one down. “Why should you get so excited about it? You must wait for a definite call to go! You haven’t finished your daisy chain yet. It would be really selfish,” they said, “to leave us to finish the work alone.”

There was another group. It was made up of people whose great desire was to get more sentries out; but they found that very few wanted to go, and sometimes there were no sentries set for miles and miles of the edge.

Once a girl stood alone in her place, waving the people back; but her mother and other relations called and reminded her that her furlough was due; she must not break the rules. And being tired and needing a change, she had to go and rest for awhile; but no one was sent to guard her gap, and over and over the people fell, like a waterfall of souls.

Once a child caught at a tuft of grass that grew at the very brink of the gulf; it clung convulsively, and it called-but nobody seemed to hear. Then the roots of the grass gave way, and with a cry the child went over, its two little hands still holding tight to the torn-off bunch of grass. And the girl who longed to be back in her gap thought she heard the little one cry, and she sprang up and wanted to go; at which they reproved her, reminding her that no one is necessary anywhere; the gap would be well taken care of, they knew. And then they sang a hymn.

Then through the hymn came another sound like the pain of a million broken hearts wrung out in one full drop, one sob. And a horror of great darkness was upon me, for I knew what it was-the Cry of the Blood.

Then thundered a voice, the voice of the Lord. “And He said, ‘What hast thou done, The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.'”

The tom-toms still beat heavily, the darkness still shuddered and shivered about me; I heard the yells of the devil-dancers and weird, wild shriek of the devil-possessed just outside the gate.

What does it matter, after all? It has gone on for years; it will go on for years. Why make such a fuss about it?

God forgive us! God arouse us! Shame us out of our callousness! Shame us out of our sin!

What do you think? The story is compelling and emotional; most Christians are “making daisy chains” in a spiritual sense.  Is this the right motivation for misson?

13 replies on “Motivation for mission”

I may be a heretic, but I must confess I don’t think this is a good motivation for mission, unless it is part of a conviction of the Holy Spirit. I do not personally subscribe to the theology that says those who don’t hear about Jesus are inevitably lost, and I don’t think that emotional anguish on its own is helpful, but more likely to lead to excesses. I think God created this universe and all the people, and I think in the end he carries the responsibility for the consequences for that, and I don’t. In the end I carry the responsibility for what I do and don’t do, and whether that is in accordance with God’s call on my life. Of course, that is what I think is true for me, and I don’t necessarily think it was wrong for Amy to feel this way.
I think we should be motivated by love of God, love for people and our desire to obey Jesus.

UncleE, in part I agree with you, definitely God has it better under control than I ever could! However, I see people “losing it” all around me…’Here I am Lord, send ME’.

I think Felicity has given us a post that’s hard to reply to. Maybe that’s why I’m only the third brave/foolish person to try!
I agree with unkleE and Trying – you are surely both right.
The dream is very powerful but there’s a danger some readers will either reject it or take a dramatic guilt trip. Neither reaction is helpful, there must be a better way to go.
Action as a result of guilt may be better than inaction as a result of rejection. But guilt is not the best motivation for action. Action can only rightly come from being called.
I’m not suggesting we should watch people go to their doom without compassion. But nor should we panic and rush about with sandwich boards saying ‘The End is Nigh!’ We need to engage the blind long before they get anywhere near the precipice (and the deaf and hungry and downheartened and sick and enslaved and imprisoned too).
But how to do that? We don’t need to be attractional but we do need to be attractive. We can’t make people listen but we do need to be worth listening to.
What we really need is authority, and that doesn’t come from position or training or our own cleverness or from correct doctrine or from a quality performance. Where does authority come from? It comes from knowing the Author.
We need to be leaky people, with Jesus seeping out of every pore of our being. Then the blind will see and step away from the edge because they will say, ‘Jesus is in this place and in these people’.

I’m interested that all of you have picked up on my problem with this kind of motivation. Basically the underlying message here is: “All these people are going to hell. You aren’t doing enough about it. You are guilty!” A motivation of guilt is not the best. Paul could say, “the love of Christ constrains me.”
Having said that, people that were led to the Lord when I had that kind of “notch in the belt” motivation, are still going on with Him. God’s thoughts are so much higher than ours.

I cannot figure out God’s big plan for saving people…..but I do not see the idea of a specific call to ‘go to the mission field’ in the Word. If some one can help me w/ this I would appreciate it. I do see the command to “go” however….. Maybe the size and location He sends us to is dependent upon our faithfulness up to this point… Ex the parables of the lord giving his servants talents to invest….

Paul also said that he was pleased to see the Gospel proclaimed, whatever the motivation (presumably as long as it was proclaimed accurately!) This is a very good point. God will work with what He’s got, and as He loves us, I’m sure that He’s pleased when His children desire to help one another.
But I hate this story. (And that’s not a word I often use.) It implies that all we need to do is rush to the edge and turn people away and they will be turned. Maybe in Amy’s situation, but that’s absolutely not the case where I’m planted. Do what we may, most of these hapless wanderers are only annoyed by a direct proclamation of the Gospel.
What’s more, it paints a horrible picture of our Father, that He doesn’t care enough to do anything about all these innocents falling willy-nilly over the edge, through no fault of their own. I don’t believe that God will allow anyone to slip through the cracks in this way. He is just and merciful and more importantly, He is LOVE. And He loves them more (not less) than we do.

Yes, we do need to proclaim the Gospel to the dying as well as to one another. But we need to do it in cooperation with God, not independently of Him because we see the need that He (apparently) doesn’t care about. With Him in the lead, good things happen. On our own? We fail.

The story is good in picturing the awful end of those who are blind and lost, so we don’t avoid thinking about it. But what can we do? Sow the seed abundantly, as the farmer does, knowing that not all will fall on good soil. I sure have seen that unless the Holy Spirit prepares the heart I can’t force or argue or chide someone into the kingdom – but maybe my words or actions will soften that heart. And when He does draw them, it’s gonna happen whether I participate or not. People will usually let you know how willing they are to listen, and we should be listening closely enough to hear that. This implies that we are intentionally cultivating all our natural relationships, listening well and “ready to make a defense for the hope that is in us”. Sharing my great hope is the way I look at it!
But it’s a tension between His work and ours, and I for one am still learning!

This is a fascinating discussion, and many thanks to all of you who are contributing. Cindy, your passage about Paul being pleased that the Gospel is proclaimed is very relevant here.
Paul, I agree that all are called to go, to be witnesses. Not all are called to cross-cultural missions.
One of the things that always strikes me when I see the IMB video “Like a Mighty Wave” (go to and search for the title under videos) is that one of the key things we see in a multiplicative move of God is “abundant Gospel sowing.” We here in the West have been part of a Christian culture for so long that we take it for granted that most people have heard the Gospel. So we relax when it comes to proclaiming Jesus. That’s certainly not true in India where this story takes place, and will become increasingly true in this country as we become more post-Christian. But as Janet points out, we need to respond to the Holy Spirit.

My sense is that Carmichael’s dream captures an anguish that is closer to that of the Father, Son and Spirit than we recognize and are willing to yield to. Isn’t it also easy to see that the church in its indifference and self absorption, as it’s depicted in the dream, is an apt portrait? I don’t see guilt-mongering here (i.e. “guilt” in the sense coined by contemporary psychology as self-hate), but I see an awareness demonstrated in the dream, that there is an accountability before God for His people to be proclaimers (1 Peter 2:9) — and glad proclaimers! Paul seemed to be aware of a judicial accountability upon him as a sentry on the wall, expressed in Acts 20:26-27 and 18:6, alluding likely to Ezekiel 33. Might the Spirit of Christ in us be much more “desperate” for the lost than we are sensitive to?

Jim, I agree. The picture of the church is a scarily accurate one. And I’m sure Amy’s motivation in writing this was to draw attention to the impotent state of the church as regards to mission. We are no different now. To me the big question is, are we motivated to mission by the thought of people going to hell, or are we to be motivated by the Father’s heart of love towards to the lost? Does it matter?

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