Life very seldom turns out exactly as we plan. Think back twenty or thirty years. Back then, if someone had asked you where you would be in as many years, what would you have answered? Where did you picture yourself living? How many kids would you have expected? What kind of house or car would you have imagined? What jobs or achievements did you plan for yourself? It’s probably safe to assume that those ambitions of our past contain significant differences from the reality of today.
Take the same audit spiritually. Some here had no interest in the gospel a few years ago. Others would never have considered being part of a congregation that did not exist at the time! Most of us would have never envisioned seeing a congregation split. The roads we take are unexpected, with many unseen turns and surprise destinations. We may have plans for where we want to go in life, but the real test is what we do when we reach those unexpected destinations.
In the late Douglas Adams’ book, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, the author writes, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” I know that I never envisioned myself as an elementary school music teacher while I was growing up, but I’m more and more convinced that I’m exactly where I should be – whether I really wanted to go there or not. We may not have planned to be where we are right now, but we might be exactly where God needs us.
Abraham travels all over the map shortly after we are introduced to him in Genesis 12. The resources he has access to indicate that Abraham (know then as Abram) is a relatively wealthy individual. He lives comfortably with his family in Ur, an important Sumerian city. However, God comes to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-4 and tells him to uproot himself and go to an unknown land called Canaan. Even though he is seventy-five, Abraham leaves with his wife and his nephew, embarking on a journey that would contain many unexpected destinations and events.
Hebrews 11:8-12 commends Abraham’s faith in his decision to follow God. I don’t know what Abraham’s plans for his own life were, but chances are they did not involve a long pilgrimage, his barren wife giving birth, and his subsequent son being asked for as a sacrifice (whom God would spare). However, because Abraham allowed himself to be led by God, look at the results. The nation of Israel is born and all nations would be blessed through the arrival of Jesus – a direct descendant of Abraham.
Joseph has some more concrete and immediate benefits resulting from his misadventures, though his patience still was tested. In Genesis 37:6-7, Joseph certainly dreams of great things, and he’s happy to share those dreams with his twelve brothers. However, would Joseph had actually wanted his position if he knew what he would have to go through to get there?
In Genesis 37:12-36, Joseph’s brothers turn on him, and they plot to kill him. Reuben intercedes, though, and he is merely sold off as a slave instead. He is packed up and taken to Egypt where he becomes a respected servant in the house of Potiphar by Genesis 39, but more unexpected twists come when Potiphar’s wife accuses Joseph of attempted rape, resulting in an imprisonment that lasts at least two years, perhaps more.
Finally, though, due to his accurate dream interpretations, Joseph ends up in Pharaoh’s court where he is in a perfect situation to save his family when a famine ravages the land. I doubt at any point in his life, Joseph anticipated the terrible events he would endure or his employment with a Pharaoh of Egypt, but those unexpected roads put Joseph exactly where he needed to be.
Peter was a simple fisherman with a family to support when Jesus came into his life. How could he know that he would one day walk on water in Matthew 14:28-29? He stands up for Jesus. He denies Jesus, and ultimately remains faithful – even knowing that Jesus reveals to him the death Peter’s faithfulness would bring in John 21:19. Peter’s steadfast loyalty to Christ would have broad implications.
We see Peter delivering the first gospel message in Acts 2, and compels thousands to convert to Christianity by his words. Moreover, Peter is the first minister to the Gentiles in Acts 10 when he preaches in Cornelius’ house – a person he had every right to hate by secular standards. Tradition holds that Peter was eventually crucified, but, prior to his death, he had a large impact on the beginnings and the spread of Christ’s church, achieving things he had probably never imagined himself doing before he met Christ.
Paul persecuted Christians and strove to be an upstanding member of the Jewish community. He describes his past in Philippians 3:3-6 – an upright observer of Jewish law, a Pharisee, a blameless individual by his prior standards. Do you think he ever imagined leaving all that behind? Could he have ever pictured himself converting to the faith he had dedicated himself to destroying? I’m sure Paul imagined a future for himself on the Sanhedrin as a member rather than before the Sanhedrin as a criminal.
Yet most of the New Testament is written by Paul. After his conversion in Acts 9, he throws himself into his new life. In Philippians 3:7, he says that he was willing to put his great career as a Jew and Pharisee behind for the cause of Christ. Like Peter, Paul dies in the service of Christ, and he endures to the end. How different might our Bibles look today if Paul remained on the course he had plotted for himself? His life took some unexpected turns, and Christianity benefited from them.
We could probably cite many additional examples like Mary and Joseph, Noah, Moses, Matthew, Rahab, Jeremiah, Esther, and more. God’s word is filled with people whose lives took unexpected left turns. His plan is not accomplished when we go where we intend for ourselves to go, but when we end up where He needs us. We may not live in our dream homes or have our dream jobs. Our life may be completely different from how we might ideally picture, but we might be right where we need to be.
Instead of worrying about what “might-have-been,” we should be making the most out of where we are right now. Who can I be an encouragement to? Who can I help? What lives and events am I in a unique position to influence? How do I fit into God’s will with where I am in life? I may not be where I ever intended to be, but God might need me right here. It’s up to me and it’s up to you to be the best Christians we can with the lives we have.