As a missionary, I am tempted to lie on a regular basis. It may or may not surprise you to read that statement, but it’s true nonetheless. What’s more, I find the temptation strongest when I’m talking with a coworker, partner, or supporter. It all starts out innocently enough; someone asks, “How is your ministry going?” or “What are you seeing God do among your people groups?” For some reason, it’s always difficult for me to know how to respond to these questions. And for some reason, I’m often tempted to offer a less-than-honest answer.
The lies that pop into my mind aren’t usually grandiose- I’m not talking about making up a church planting movement or a new great awakening. No, my temptation is to elaborate with, um, ministerial hyperbole the things that are actually happening. You know, for effect. Perhaps what I’m tempted to offer isn’t a lie, per se, but the result is the same. The only examples I share are those I’ve carefully selected. Certain details are emphasized. Some information is conveniently left out. Our small seeker group of four suddenly becomes a viable church plant of six. My casual interaction with national leaders grows into a full-blown partnership. I find myself taking credit for the successes of others by frequent use of the collective “we.” Everything suddenly becomes over-spiritualized.
The temptation isn’t limited to embellishing our successes. There’s something super-spiritual about suffering on the missions field, so I often feel the urge to overstate the modest struggles we face in Western Europe. Poor customer service becomes enemy opposition, and a hard time at the immigration office is persecution. If life here is too easy, my obedience is somehow less pleasing to God and fellow believers.
Maybe the temptation to stretch the truth is rooted in our performance-based culture that encourages us to value activity over identity. Maybe it’s my desire to be important or well-known. Whatever the reason, exaggerations and half-truths are trouble. Lying is one of those sins that tends to have the “snowball effect;” the liar quickly finds himself having to compose bigger, more elaborate, and (if it were possible,) more deceitful lies to cover the first one.
It occurs to me that a great deal of the misunderstanding is my own fault. How can I expect others to know and relate to my experience if I’m not being completely forthright? Besides, God’s constant and protection and provision for my life means that there is always a truth to be told.