Most people are familiar with the story of Jonah and the big fish. God tells Jonah to go somewhere he doesn’t want to go and preach the gospel. Jonah says “nope” and starts a hide and seek game with God. Of course God wins and Jonah spends three nights and three days in the belly of a big fish. In the end, Jonah reluctantly obeys (and then complains) but God uses this reluctant servant to save a nation. Now that is a VERY condensed version of the story of Jonah, and while we may not all get swallowed by a big fish; don’t we all say “no” to God -- all the time? Don’t we all start our own hide and seek game with God? And then throw a tantrum when things don’t go well? How about Luke 15?
God talks about the Parable of the Lost Sheep, where a man loses one of his one hundred sheep. The man leaves his ninety-nine sheep to find the lost one and when he does find his lost sheep he celebrates! Luke 15:7 says “Just so, I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” This is a clear picture of God as the shepherd, and us as sheep and an assurance that He will look for us, that He will pursue us, even when we do not know (or worse, don’t care) that we are lost. In my personal life, I saw God’s love through His constant pursuit of my heart in college. I went to a Christian college, foolishly believing “Christian” meant the same thing as “safe”. I quickly got wrapped up in the social events, homework, new friends, and FREEDOM—no parents, no siblings, pretty much--no accountability. I stopped doing devotions, I stopped listening to my prayer leaders, ignored accountability partners, and separated from the good influences in my life, choosing instead to be entertained by the bad. I found a highly questionable group of new “friends” and started down a destructive path made smooth by a false promise of “fun”. Right when I was on the edge of making some seriously foolish –even dangerous--decisions that could easily have ruined my life, God showed His grace and rescued me—he saved me—from myself.
It started with a simple phone call. My best friend was leaving for Northern Ireland for six months to work in ministry and invited me along. I almost laughed at the idea, thinking “NO church wants me, I am a mess!” My friend, one of the few good influences that refused to leave my side through all the bad decisions, insisted the pastor would actually love to have me on the trip. I was intrigued – it sounded interesting, maybe fun—traveling all over a country that I knew only two things about: 1) There’s a lot of green grass and 2) There’s a whole lot of sheep eating that grass. A phone call with the pastor in Northern Ireland, in which I told him very clearly that I was not the ministry type, found him insisting that if I was willing to learn, he was willing to teach. So the decision was made! I was going to Northern Ireland. I packed up, put college on hold and left—fully planning to return in six months and pick up where I’d left off. In Isaiah 55:8-9 it says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thought.”
Those six months saved my life. It hasn’t been until now that I can look back and truly realize God’s hand in my life. Every time I hit rock bottom and assumed, “I have this” God was behind me saying, “No, I have this”. Every damaging decision I could have made, and did make, God had a better plan. A plan for restoration. A plan for redemption. Make no mistake – I didn’t receive a “get out of jail free” card. In God’s love, mercy and justice, I did suffer the consequences of my many actions and bad decisions-- I have scars from the results of those decisions. There has been a lot of repair work to do in my relationships and it has taken time and effort to earn back lost trust, but I will never forget the LOVE God poured over me when He relentlessly ran after me, even when I didn’t want to be pursued. In Luke 19:10 God says “And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those who are lost.” The only response I can give to a verse as comforting as that is, Thank you, Father, for Your wisdom, unconditional love, and the pursuing of lost hearts. Thank you, Jesus, that You came to seek and save the lost—and you used a land covered in sheep, to show me.