Unintended consequences

Unintended consequences. Life seems to be full of them.

What is that old saying? “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Our good friends at Wikipedia cite different interpretations for this proverb, attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

One of the meanings noted on the wiki site is that  “good intentions, when acted upon, may have unforeseen bad consequences.”

My life has been full of them, up until the present time. Probably the most galling thing to me though is that many of the choices which have led to negative effects were made because I intended to serve God through them.

I thought I was making decisions which would lead me to fulfill what I believed was God’s calling on my life. Since my early university days I truly thought God wanted me to go into missions.

Before I was 30 I took opportunities to pursue this calling. For example, I married a woman from another country. My love for her was not based on my pursuit of missions, but it was a nice secondary benefit.

When I found myself still stuck in my own country as I pushed toward 40, I left a good job to go to graduate school so I could get trained in a field that would lead me into overseas work. I was frustrated to no end that I was getting older and not making any progress toward fulfilling my calling.

I had no intention of making the field I studied a career. To me it was a “ticket” (so to speak) to doing cross cultural Christian ministry. It did eventually lead to this, but only indirectly. I became more of a facilitator for others to minister across cultures as I did my job. I still was not overseas, though, which was my greatest desire.

Finally, I had the opportunity to work in my career area abroad. I took it. While the years spent doing this work helped me professionally, it was a disaster in other ways. I was so caught up in the work and family issues that I had no time or energy for ministry.

Further, my marriage and family suffered. Things have gotten even worse since I returned. Since then my marriage has collapsed. This has led to all the family dysfunction that comes with that circumstance.

All those dreams from my youth are only a bitter memory, and believe me, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what went wrong. I thought I was making wise and honorable moves in my life. Because of the way things have turned out, I now second guess myself all the time. Things I want to do come under the microscope of this corrective analysis-of course covered with a fine veneer of “the Bible seems to say” or “God wouldn’t approve of this.”

In terms of my Christianity, I fit the description of the believer who Hal Lindsey calls “self marginalized.” Says Lindsey of these Christians, “They choose to sit on the sidelines. They work hard to make ends meet. Then in deep fatigue, allow themselves to be entertained into a thoughtless stupor by their television, Ipad, computers, vacations and games.”

Ouch Hal! I am guilty as charged, except for the “vacation” part. I can’t afford one.

Lindsey calls Christians of this kind i “oxygen deprived” because they are not in God’s Word and fellowship with Him.

“This results in sick and anemic Christians at the time when vigorous, bold Christians are needed most,” he says.

All I have to show for much of the last 30 plus years is a track record of work, work,work. I have managed to disbelieve and not act on Matthew 6:33 which tells me to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things (life’s necessities) shall be yours as well.” I used to believe this verse, but with life’s setbacks I have by my actions shown that I do not.

Thankfully for me, I managed to hear J. Vernon McGee speak on “The God of the Second Chance” the last couple of nights. McGee of course has been dead for about 30 years, but he speaks on through his recordings.

In “The God of the Second Chance” he tells of the failures of Jonah, David, Adam and Eve and then Jacob. Of the latter Rev. McGee says “this man Jacob did not mind dropping down to a low ethical plane…but for some strange reason God would not let him go. And he not only failed once, he failed twice, he failed three times. In fact he kept on failing so much that one night God closed in with him.”

As McGee relates, God wrestled with Jacob and broke his leg. “He was a success after that,” he says.

The focus of his message is Jonah. This prophet refused to go preach repentance to Israel’s archenemy Nineveh. Everyone knows what happened after that. (Think seafood.)

McGee rhetorically asks why God just didn’t tell Jonah that he has muffed his chance and he was going to get someone else. “He’s the God of the second chance,” he answers. McGee punctuates this by quoting the Scriptures which say “and the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”

What I get from the story of Jonah is that there is nothing wrong with God or His Word. I own the failures in my life. As indicated above, my biggest one is that I eventually put work ahead of everything else.

Why? Probably pride and unbelief that God would take care of us even when things were desperate. I did live that way for a while, but then I began to depend more on myself than God, while giving lip service to Him.

I think I was right the first time. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be yours as well” still applies. It’s God’s Word.

How do I get my second chance? McGee again gives some insight. He cites a verse in Jonah (3:10) which says that God “repented” of what He was going to do to Nineveh after the people turned to Him. He explains that the term is an anthropomorphism to communicate that God responded to the change in the heart of the Ninevites.

As McGee notes, God does not change, but people do. God is consistent. People are not. God isn’t a chameleon. I am.

Somewhere along the way I changed toward God. I stopped believing Him. My actions showed it. As a result, I have endured consequences I could not have imagined as a young man.

But I can change again and believe –really believe–what God says in His Word. I can stop second guessing myself, and God for that matter, and act on what He says.

The effects from my second (or third, or…) chance may be something I could never imagine, but at least this time around I expect them to result in circumstances where I can thrive and not just survive.

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