It’s time to check the gauges when…

I have never been much of a mechanic, but my father taught me the importance of changing the oil and filter. Not paying attention to that simple instruction could lead to a potentially exorbitant expense.

My son was reminded of that when his car began to make strange noises. He took it to a mechanic who said it would cost $600–800 to fix. A college student, he didn’t have that kind of money, and neither did his parents. The mechanic eventually asked my son when he had last changed the oil in the car. Change the oil? Oops! Good thing that was all that was necessary. Cost—$62.

It is so easy to let the seemingly little things slip and go undone. But how quickly those minor things can turn into major expenses if not dealt with appropriately.

Likewise, when it comes to maintaining our own well-being and health, we need to pay attention to the built-in gauges God has provided to warn us of impending dangers. Pay attention to those gauges now, or suffer the consequences later.

There are many aspects of “health,” but I will focus on spiritual, emotional, physical and relational.

Spiritual

Missionary work is primarily spiritual work. God is passionate for his people. His desire is to be worshiped, not only corporately, but also in one’s significant personal time with him. Time with the Lord ought not be mere duty or something to be checked off on a list of tasks, but rather a joyful and life-giving opportunity to reconnect with the One who knows and loves us deeply. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures evermore” (ESV).

We build up our spiritual health as we intentionally pursue our relationship with our heavenly Father. Jesus regularly met his heavenly Father. His power and endurance were restored by his connection with the Father (Mark 1:35). Through that connection, the Spirit of God flowed through Jesus so that he could do the Father’s will. Likewise, those who are most effective in ministry are those who serve out of the overflow of the heart. Remember: we cannot give what we do not have.

Check your spiritual gauge when:

  • Your time with the Lord seems more a chore than a delight.
  • Your prayer life has diminished to a few short phrases.
  • You don’t remember the last time you took a Sabbath rest.
  • You aren’t experiencing joy.

Emotional

Having a variety of emotions or feelings is part of what makes us human. While sometimes fickle, our emotions often indicate what is truly going on inside of us.

When challenging situations and circumstances confront us, we should ask, “What’s going on inside me? Where is this fear, disgust, doubt, anger, or uncertainty coming from? Could there be issues from the past that have yet to be resolved?”

Check your emotional gauge when:

  • You become angry or very frustrated at the slightest provocation.
  • You are discouraged to point of despair and want to escape.
  • You become overly sarcastic and cynical.
  • Your motivation for ministry seems to have shriveled up and blown away.

Physical

God’s Word tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). However any number of factors can hinder our health, such as illness, disease, and injury. One unexpected factor that may also sap our health is stress. While most missionaries are well aware of culture shock, many might not fully appreciate the toll ongoing cultural stress has on the body.1

Stress can take a toll on a person’s body, and we often have a diminished awareness of what is going on in our bodies until significant problems develop. Studies show that physical manifestations may include ulcers, hypertension, heart disease, sleep disturbances, some cancers, thyroid problems, allergies, autoimmune diseases, weight gain, and obesity.2 The development of physical problems is frequently the first indication of untreated, chronic stress.

Check your physical gauge when:

  • Your sleep patterns change—you’re not feeling rested or unable to get to sleep or stay asleep.
  • You seem to be more prone to infections.
  • You find yourself relying on “comfort food.”
  • Your energy level has diminished for no apparent reason.

Relational

Human beings were made for relationships. The intimate community found in the Trinity is our pattern for loving, caring relationships as believers. As the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit trust, love, and dance together in intimate relationship, we are invited to do the same with others in our lives. We grow and find healing best as we journey through life in close connection with others.

Unresolved conflict is one of the most significant reasons missionaries give for leaving the field.3 Understanding others’ different gifts, abilities, interests, and patterns for living will help diffuse potential conflicts that arise. How we handle disagreements makes all the difference in the health of all our relationships.

Check your relational gauge when:

  • You find it difficult to love the people with whom you work.
  • Others irritate you over minor things.
  • You increasingly want to isolate yourself from other people.
  • If married, you find it difficult to relate well to your spouse.
  • You have an increased amount of conflict with co-workers or family.

Check your gauges

As a missionary care facilitator, my prayer and desire is to see God’s global servants become more aware of these important gauges, so that they may live in healthy ways and better fulfill the ministry God has called them to.

If you sense that any of these gauges are at the warning level in your life, please find a trusted friend, spiritual advisor, or counselor with whom you can unpack what may be going on inside. Better to deal with the issue at the $62 level than let it get to the $600 level!

  1. Culture Stress is defined here: http://www.missionarycare.com/brochures/br_culturestress.htm
  2. Yeaman, Jan, “Stress and coping: Learning how to be resilient,” in Enhancing Missionary Vitality: Mental Health Professions Serving Global Mission, ed. John R. Powell and Joyce M. Bowers, (Palmer Lake, CO: Mission Training International, 2002), 110.
  3. Teague, David, Godly Servants: Discipleship and Spiritual Formation for Missionaries. (Mission Imprints, 2012), 167.
About Alan Steier 1 Article
Alan Steier served as a missionary to Japan (1978–1980; 1984–1989) with North American Baptists, Inc. He was local church pastor (1990–2002) in the US and is currently on staff with Barnabas International with Judy, his wife, in North Dakota.