Wars. They’re ugly. People die. Many more are wounded. Destruction abounds. And there are often many battles before the war is won.
Some wars can last years. In fact, America is still engaged in our longest war. We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, and many good men and women have died, and even more wounded.
Imagine for a moment the following fictional conversation between two soldiers, Bob and John:
“Hey Bob, we’re headed out again tonight on a secret mission. I’m told it will be very dangerous with the likelihood that some of us may not return. Are you ready?”
“Well John, I’ve been thinking about the mission and while it could be important, I think I’m gonna pass. I know how it ends. We win! They lose! Plus, I might be killed in the battle. So I’m gonna hang out back here, grab some pizza, and play my favorite video game: Call of Duty. But my thoughts are with ya John! And remember, “we win!”
Any soldier who would say something as stupid and cowardly as what Bob said above would be quickly shamed, perhaps even court-martialed. Imagine exchanging the real life and death battle that John was gearing up for, and instead choosing a fantasy battle, inside a virtual video game. Bob, our imaginary soldier, wouldn’t be fit to wear the uniform.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re a soldier. No, not a physical one with guns and bayonets. But you are engaged in a real battle that is part of a greater war, for all the marbles. Jesus is our Captain, in the war of the ages, between Heaven and hell, God and Satan.
Too often though, particularly in America, I hear many of the members of Jesus’s army exclaiming what Bob said above. We see the continued slide of our culture into the abyss and we exclaim, “we know how it ends.” We quote our favorite prophetic verses, believing that Jesus will just swoop down and pluck us out of this mess we call the world. So we slump into our comfy Lazyboys, and fancy ourselves Saturday night quarterbacks, for the Super Bowl on Sunday. We arrogantly believe we know how it will all play out. Meanwhile, the angels in heaven don’t even know!!
And guess what. You don’t know either. While we are told to watch for the return of Jesus, we don’t know when He will appear. For the last 2,000 years, believers have routinely reasoned that Jesus would return in their lifetimes. But can you imagine if the great believers of past centuries had all sat back and remain disengaged, citing “we know how it ends.” If they had, you and I might not be here today. Or at least, we might not know Jesus.
So, if you’ve ever said (like me) “I know how it ends,” what should you instead be saying and doing?
Thankfully, we have God’s Word to instruct us on the proper response a believer should have in the midst of a “crooked and perverse world.” One of my favorite passage tells us this:
“Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy.” Philippians 2:14-17
Additionally, if you’re a soldier for Jesus, the Apostle Paul has this word of instruction for you:
“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” 2 Timothy 2:3-4
From just these passages we see a few suggestions on how we should be living:Complaining or arguing is not an option.
➖Live clean, innocent lives
➖Shine as a bright light (in a dark world)
➖Hold firmly to God’s Word (which means we should be in it more than anything else)
➖Be joyful if you lose your life for God
➖Expect suffering if you’re serving Jesus
➖Don’t get tied up with the things of this world
Is this it? Not at all. But it’s a good start, particularly if you’ve fallen for the “we know how it ends” mentality. The truth is, the “end” that we like to refer to may not occur during your lifetime or mine. So do you want to be “tied up in the affairs of this world” or serving God wholeheartedly?
Perhaps we should live in the light of the fact that “our end” may come sooner than “the end.” Are we living in such a way that when we take our final breath, we will hear the words “well done good and faithful servant?”
If God has spoken to you about the importance of living for Jesus as if your very life, and those around you, depended on it, I would encourage you to read and mediate on the entire chapter of Romans 12. This one chapter perhaps encapsulates how a follower of Jesus should live, in a crooked and perverse world.
Growing up you no doubt heard the story of Jonah and the whale. You may remember it as a cute little Bible story about a man who was swallowed by a big fish and after he prayed, the whale spewed Jonah out onto dry land. But there’s a whole lot more to the story, and perhaps a critical lesson or two for you and me as well.
In the opening verses of this story, we see God directly informing Jonah of the mission He has for the prophet. However, unlike the movie Mission Impossible, there is no, “your mission, should you chose to accept it…” option. Rather, if God is your Heavenly Father, then He has placed a distinct call upon your life. No child is exempted. And while there may be some common missions that we all share, we all have a unique mission or call from God Himself.
Running from God
Notice though what Jonah did when God called him:
“But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord… hoping to escape from the Lord…” (Jonah 1:3)
Have you ever done what Jonah did… run from God? We may not physically board a boat, as Jonah did. But we may have a clear understanding as to what God’s mission for us is, yet we chose to set it aside, turn the other way, and we figuratively run from the God of the universe.
Imagine trying to outrun Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world. Attempting such would be absurd. Now consider how foolish it is to run from the God of the universe. Infinitely more foolish. Futile is how we might describe such an effort.
When Storms Roar
When Jonah ran, we see that God brought a hurricane-like storm into his life, to grab his attention and halt him in his journey to escape from God.
Invariably when we resist God’s mission for our life, He will bring pressure to bear on us, whether physically, financially, emotionally or spiritually, in order to get our attention and “convince” us of the priority of His call on our life. But how do we respond when God is clearly speaking to us through the storms of life?
Jonah was an interesting fellow. As the ship he was on was being battered about by the hurricane force winds, Jonah literally fell asleep. His apathy towards God, and the others on the ship, was so great that he could care less about the impending disaster that was facing him and his shipmates.
What about you and me? Are we so “asleep at the wheel” running from God that we no longer see the danger and threats that are posed towards us and our family, friends or even our fellow citizens? If so, note what happened next to Jonah.
Pagans Begging for Prayer
When Jonah’s shipmates were hopeless and feeling their lives were all but lost, they screamed out to Jonah, waking him and begging him to pray for them. They sensed calamity was near and they turned to the God who they themselves had yet to meet.
There was a moment in our nation when this happened from coast to coast. It was the first few days after 9/11/01. Hundreds of millions of Americans sought for some sense in the midst of our national storm. They could not make sense of the tragedy and they sought out a sleeping church, begging for hope, prayer and understanding. But it did not last long. And sadly, I believe we as believers dropped the ball, going back to sleep as quickly as we were jolted awake. We missed our call, corporately and individually.
Getting Thrown Overboard
When Jonah realized he was the reason the lives of his fellow travelers were threatened, he pleaded with them to simply throw him overboard. Jonah realized that unless he repented of his disobedience, not only would he die, but the lives of many others would possibly be lost as well. So the sailors, hoping to save themselves, literally threw Jonah overboard.
And the Storm Stopped
When we’re running from God, the storms He brings into our lives are meant to redirect us to the mission He has for us. And the storms will continue until we acknowledge to ourselves and possibly even those around us, that our rebellion is the cause of the storm. Sadly, in order for the storm to stop, oftentimes it requires the threat of our own loss of life. And the unbelievers around us are often all to willing to send us to a murky death.
The Big Fish
As soon as Jonah hit the water, the great fish swallowed him alive. And Jonah remained there for 3 days and 3 nights.
If you were drowning in the ocean, the last thing you might expect to save you is a whale-sized fish bearing down on you. But God is mysterious. His ways, thoughts and plans are beyond ours. And so what we may see as a threat, may in fact be our savior.
When we repent of our own rebellion, at times we may need a prolonged period of reflection, to reevaluate our past, reconsider our choices, and recommit our future to the mission God has for us. Like Jonah in the fish, God may place us in an obscure and even dark place in order to gain our undivided focus.
Once Jonah was back on dry land, after his period of repentance, reflection and recommitment, his face turned toward the mission for which God had called him. The mission was a God-sized one. By himself, Jonah stood no chance in achieving what God had ordained.
Whenever you combine those two words, there is no stopping what can happen next. Nineveh, a thriving but pagan metropolis, was facing imminent judgment from God for its utter rejection of God. But when Jonah simply obeyed God and imparted His message, the king of this wicked city repented and led his entire city to do the same. And God relented from destroying thousands.
When you and I simply obey God and pursue His mission for our lives, there is no predicting the outcome. The potential exists that an entire city could be changed and saved; or a family member might be rescued from the clutches of the enemy; or some other mission. But regardless of the outcome, God will work in you and others His perfect will and plan. Your purpose will have been fulfilled, and God will receive the glory.
So, are you Jonah? Or have you been? If so, when you’ve exited your dark time of repentance, reflection and recommittment in your “big fish,” turn your face towards God and never turn back. The best is ahead and the worst is behind. And God will sustain you for whatever Impossible Mission He has for you.