“I feel like missions is in our future.”
As usual I was whispering to Josh during church; a very bad habit of mine.
“Haven’t you noticed that every time missionaries come visit we get all excited about missions,” I whispered in his ear. The couple at the front of the sanctuary were describing to us the conditions in the Russian town they minister in.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to go to Russia,” Josh finally whispered back, despite his hatred of my mid-sermon chats.
Laughingly, I agreed with him and went back to watching the slide show.
The couple had an interesting story about how they ended up in Russia.
The husband had spent years praying about Russia and had a heart for the people there. He described how God had actually called him to missions before he even was saved.
Then, while they were in the process of raising funds so they could minister in France, an opportunity presented itself for them to go to Russia. He said his wife wasn’t too happy about the switch in local; I would have felt the same.
Since I was young I have loved the idea of France: the language, the romance, the sights and the food. I dreamed of spending a year there as a foreign exchange student, which unfortunately didn’t happen. One thing I regret in my life is not overcoming my fears, and going there for a Youth with a Mission Discipleship Training School after I graduated from high school.
I want to be a missionary there, someday. I have an inexplicable love for these people, in this country I’ve never visited.
When I heard about God’s change in their plans, I could not imagine how I would have felt if God had pulled that switch on me. It made me realize that sometimes, God calls us to a service that is not our heart’s desire. Her choice, like mine, was France.
That’s what her plan was, that’s what she wanted.
God had something different.
Joking about the arrogance we Americans can have in our prayers and vision of God’s plan, the husband continued their story of their time in Russia. They had been praying for God to send people to their city to plant churches. They assumed the answer to that prayer was American church planters.
Years before, the couple had successfully planted churches in Russian, and for the first year of their return they assumed that God had brought them back to plant more churches. Instead, they discovered that God had brought a young man from Siberia to their city to start a church. Their role would not be senior pastors, but rather spiritual mentors. Today they minister to drug addicts and the homeless, they council engaged and young married couples, they support their pastor.
The life they had envisioned in Russia was different from what they found God leading them into. Their past experience was not their present reality.
This reminded me of the story of Jonah.
Jonah did not have a passion to see the people of Nineveh saved.
On the contrary, when God told him to go to Nineveh and cry out against their wickedness, Jonah hightailed it in the opposite direction.
After a storm at sea, being swallowed by a giant fish, spending three days in the fish’s belly, and being vomited onto dry land, Jonah reluctantly turned his face to Nineveh.
Even then, his message to the people of Nineveh was not one of compassion and repentance.
Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Jonah 3:4
Despite his lackluster performance, the people of Nineveh responded. From the greatest to the least, they repented as a city and fasted, crying out to God for grace and mercy.
When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. Jonah 3:10
As a servant of God, you’d assume that now Jonah would be ecstatic that his message was so well received. Once again, Jonah does the opposite of what’s expected. He lashed out in anger at God, saying he knew God would relent towards the people of Nineveh, and asked God to kill him, “for death is better to me than life.“
Two different attitudes, yet the same outcome.
The missionary couple, when called to a different people and a different role than they’d envisioned, followed the plan of God and made an impact on their city. Today, they have developed a love for these people that is evident in both their speech and actions. God used them to create change in others, and used others to create change in them.
Jonah, when called to the people of Nineveh, resisted the plan of God and was then forced into it. Regardless of his attitude, God made an impact on the city, but Jonah remained unchanged.
When our plans turn out different from what we’d anticipated, we can choose to reluctantly follow God’s lead or we can embrace what He’s doing and step forward in His reality.
Either way, God’s purposes will be realized.
But only one way will result in a positive impact within ourselves.
Has there been a time in your life where the expectation you had ran contrary to the reality God led you into? How did that impact your faith?