Call me Jonah. OK, so maybe I didn’t spend three days in the belly of a whale (hopefully that would have merited coverage on page 1 instead of page 6). But I have been guilty of sitting in the shade and pouting while God does incredible things all around me.
I recently returned from a mission trip to upstate New York. By any standard, the trip by The Tower (the young adult ministry at Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City) was an unqualified success. More than 500 people showed up at a block party hosted by a local church plant, One Body in Christ Baptist Church; we cleaned truckloads of debris from yards and sidewalks in inner city Albany; we showed the love of Jesus each night during a backyard Bible club at the local Boys and Girls Club; we rebuilt three flights of stairs and two bathrooms, then hauled away nearly two tons of junk from a second church in downtown Schenectady; we were blessed by – and hopefully were a blessing to – a dedicated North American Mission Board church planter and his wonderful family. Last and certainly not least, we saw four adults and six children accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. It was a great, great week.
There also was the trivial stuff that rounds out the whole mission trip “experience”: The bonding and camaraderie, the late nights, the exhaustion and the incessant inside jokes (mention the non sequitur “platypus” to anyone who rode in my van during the trip and watch them burst into fits of unexplained laughter).
And finally, there were strained tempers, short fuses, and chinks in the armor which the devil used to sow dissension in the ranks. I’m ashamed to admit that at the opening of the trip, I spent much of my time mumbling to myself about how things weren’t perfect instead of listening for God’s plan for how I could be a blessing. Were things around me perfect? Nope, not even close. Was I missing God at work all around me? Absolutely.
Back to Jonah: We all know the story of Jonah and the whale, but often we stop as soon as he lands on the beach. Things got a little easier as he reluctantly continued his “mission trip” to Nineveh, but he still needed a serious attitude adjustment. When God didn’t deal with Nineveh the way Jonah wanted, he sat down and pouted. God saved an entire people despite Jonah; a great prophet and a mighty preacher missed out on one of the greatest revivals in history.
I’m no great preacher, and I certainly didn’t wash up on the New York shore smelling like a whale (although the scent of that fresh Maine lobster we ate still hasn’t washed out of my clothes). However, I was allowing my attitude and ego to keep me from participating in God’s master plan for the people of Albany. And just like Jonah, I had zero right to feel the way I did.
Thankfully, I was a fast learner compared to Jonah and was persuaded the Holy Spirit didn’t need my expertise to make it a successful mission trip. In fact, once I started going with the flow and listening for God’s voice instead of my own, I was moved by the amazing works of His hand. Five hundred people probably would have showed up at the block party regardless of my heart, and God could have easily found someone else to help haul out that old boiler from the basement at Harmony Fellowship. I’m guessing He would have saved those 10 New Yorkers irrespective of my attitude, too. But I sure am glad I got to be front and center to watch the whole thing.