How many times in your life have you felt very sure that you knew what God wanted you to do in a given situation or move only to realize after you made the move or took the steps that you thought were right, that it wasn’t God’s voice you were hearing? I am sure that at times we are like Jonah when God clearly called him on a new mission. It wasn’t at all, hard to understand God’s call for him. “Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry out against it, because their wickedness has come up before Me.” Jonah understood the mission. He just hated the idea. In his mind it was such a wicked, godless place that Jonah saw no good reason to warn them of impending destruction because of their sins. He would much prefer that God simply rain down fire and brimstone on them to wipe them out. In Jonah’s mind they were so awful that even if they repented it wouldn’t be worth anything. Just destroy them. His view of their horrible lifestyle was so graphic that he wanted no part of even going there, much less preaching to them or offering them any kind of repentance. So, Jonah heard the call, understood the mission and ran in the other direction.
I do wonder if there had been those times in his life, maybe even recently, when he had humbly cried out to God to please show him what he wanted him to do. One of the most frustrating times in our lives is when we aren’t sure what God wants us to do. Think of those times in life when you have been involved in a ministry for God and you felt certain you were doing exactly what God was calling you to do. Then, as that mission came to a conclusion, you began seeking for the call of God for a new mission. I think of Paul when he was carrying out the plan to deliver a contribution from the Gentile churches to the Christians in Jerusalem to help with the poor among the people of God. He had been working toward that goal for some time, knowing that God was calling on him to do it. He wrote the church in Rome about his belief that God had a new plan for him after that work. He felt certain that God’s call to him was to preach in areas where the gospel hadn’t been preached before and thus not to build on another person’s foundation. Now, he felt that the areas where he had been working were being worked by others and saw God’s call for him to go to Spain. He told the Roman church he would come there on his way to Spain and spend some time with them and they could then help him on the mission to Spain. In Romans 15:30-33 he offered this plea about that whole work. “Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and relax in your company. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
He sure seemed clear that God was calling him to this new work and how it was all going to proceed. But, was that what God was calling him to do? Is that how things worked out in his future? Did he make to Spain? Did he get to Rome to relax with them and have them help him go to Spain? Actually, God’s calling for him was totally different from what he had dreamed. In Jerusalem he would be arrested. The religious Jews would try their very best to assassinate him. He would spend the next season of his ministry in Caesarea in jail. He would have opportunities to preach, but nothing like he had dreamed of doing. From there he would be sent to Rome where he would spend the next few years under house arrest, chained between Roman soldiers every day. Any preaching mission after this would be temporary and he would ultimately be executed by the Romans for his faith in Christ as God’s Son. Was this mission a failed one? Oh no! Paul would write from that Roman imprisonment to say that the things that had happened to him had actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ. He was able to reach people, write letters and encourage both preachers and churches from that prison in ways he would never have been able to do otherwise.Longing to hear God’s call in life to show us exactly what He wanted from us at any point in time is natural. It is natural for us to dream of callings that fit our vision of what we believe is our purpose and ability as His follower. But, it is often the case that we have a hard time hearing or seeing the actual call of God, because it doesn’t fit the vision we had for ourselves. Our challenge is to fill the role God opens without allowing our dreams of what should be, to hold us back.