Running, but which way?

Tags: Exploring Missions, Story, US Office

By T.E., US Office

Why do people run from God? Better yet, why do Christians run from God? I can sort of understand why someone who doesn’t know God would run—fear of the unknown, just want to live their own lives, etc.  I get that. But why someone who knows God, knows that they are loved by God, still chooses to run is the greater mystery. 

Recently, I read a blog post by Shane Bennett in Mission Catalyst called The Jonah Juxtaposition. The post asks: Why does Jonah (and why do we) run from God’s purposes? For most, our immediate thoughts about Jonah are of the guy who was swallowed by a “whale.” But this story is really about how much God loves the nations and how the one guy who “followed” God professionally refused to obey him. In fact, he ran as far as he could in the opposite direction.

When I read Jonah’s story, I often think, “I would never do that.” And yet I can look back on different times in my life when I headed more the way of Jonah than the way of Jesus. Why? Why do we struggle with God and sometimes run from his purposes? 

As a mobilizer, it’s my privilege to work with all sorts of people who feel God is leading them into missions. Yet, most of the people I work with don’t go. For some, it really isn’t a good fit. For others, they are running the path of Jonah. They know what God wants from them, yet they take off in the opposite direction.

Shane, in his blog, gives two lists: reasons people run away and reasons people run toward God’s purposes. Take a look:

“Reasons to Run away from God’s Global Purposes

  1. I can’t learn a language.
  2. I don’t measure up.
  3. I’m really happy here and don’t want to leave what’s comfortable.
  4. I’m engaged in ministry locally.
  5. I can’t (won’t) raise support.
  6. I don’t understand what it looks like. No role models.
  7. I don’t really care.
  8. I don’t like foreign stuff.
  9. Life is so full and crazy, it’s all I can do just to get by.
  10. I don’t see the need.
  11. I didn’t know God was into that stuff.
  12. It feels so imperialistic, intolerant, and non-pluralistic.

“Reasons to Run toward God’s Global Purposes

  1. I want to obey what the Bible says.
  2. I feel compassion for people in need.
  3. I sense an opportunity for adventure.
  4. I honestly think I can help.
  5. I want to join in what God’s doing.
  6. I want to live a life of purpose.
  7. I believe God is worthy to be followed by all peoples.”

Do any of these things ring true for you? When I was beginning to think about missions, learning a language and public speaking were huge obstacles for me. I told God that I would follow him but that I just couldn’t do those things. That’s just the way he made me.

Once I admitted this to God, he began to work. First, he brought me to Urbana where I was challenged to take my next step toward global missions. For me, this step was befriending an international student on my campus. I didn’t know of any international students so this was “safe.” But when I returned to campus after Christmas break, Hiro, a Japanese student, moved across the hall. A quick friendship began and before I knew it, he was teaching me Japanese. After Hiro left, Chinese students started coming into my life. They stretched me with new foods and late-night questions, and encouraged me to learn some of their language.

From these simple steps, God continued to stretch me until one day, years later, I found myself preaching in Chinese at a new church plant in Taiwan. God took me by the hand and slowly walked me through my various struggles.

If you are struggling with something and beginning to see your feet move away from God’s purposes, I want to encourage you to do a couple of things:

  1. Be honest about your struggles and talk to God about them.
  2. Talk to someone who’s been through these struggles and has come out on the other end. Mobilizers, pastors or missionaries are great people to talk to.
  3. Spend increased time in God’s word. God will use this to strengthen you and help you realize that he really can be trusted.

When you are tempted to run away from God’s purposes, I hope you’ll stop and commit to taking just one step in his direction. And who knows, years from now, you may find yourself in an incredible place where you never expected to be.