Straight ahead – in the wrong direction

(August 26, 2012) – Reading the book of Jonah for the first time troubled me. Not the miraculous aspect—I easily digested the man-gets-swallowed-by-fish part. But Jonah’s stubborn response to God bothered me.  I couldn’t relate to the prophet’s attitude—until I found myself following his example.

Wednesdays meant prayer meeting at our church on the edge of Albuquerque’s high mesa. My husband, Jim, led the opening worship. I attended the hour-long service too and supervised the church nursery.

When our young daughter felt sick one Wednesday, I made arrangements for the nursery so I could stay home. But God seemed to have a different plan.

After dinner I went out to pull weeds in the front garden while Jim washed his car on the driveway nearby. As I sat down on the porch, I heard the Lord speak to me. His silent words were crystal clear:  Go to church tonight. I want you to tell someone about Me.

Instructions from God! I couldn’t have imagined it.

I stood up to wait for Jim’s attention before telling him what happened.

“What would you think of staying home tonight while I go to church?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said.  “I’ll call someone to take my place.”

At church later, I took a seat toward the back, where I could see those arriving. I wondered what God had in mind.

Half-way through the service, I checked on the nursery, but the workers had taken the kids to the playground. I crossed the courtyard to remind them to come back inside before dark. As I headed back to the sanctuary, I silently questioned God’s instructions.

Just then I noticed a group on the smaller playground next to the church. Two children enjoyed swinging, while a woman watched them from a bench—her back to me.

I kept walking, even though sudden but clear direction came again:  That’s who I want you to talk to. Straight ahead, without hesitation, I returned to the sanctuary—to argue with God.

I thought you would bring someone into the service, Lord. . .  I can’t talk to someone who’s not asking questions!  . . . What would I even say to her?  It would be different if she came inside.

When God’s silence grew too loud for me, I rose up with Jonah-like enthusiasm and made my way out to the small playground. I came around the bench and sat down beside the young woman—only a teenager. She looked startled to see me.

“Is it alright for us to use the playground?” she asked.

“Sure. I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” I answered.

During an awkward half-minute, I realized how much the girl reminded me of my former sixteen-year-old self. I plunged into a short testimony, beginning with something like:  “When I was your age, I prayed and read the Bible sometimes.”

The girl’s eyes grew round, but not alarmingly so. I kept talking.

“I didn’t really know God. I knew that Jesus died on the cross, but I never took that personally—that he died for my sins. Some school friends helped me to see that I needed to confess my sins and ask Jesus to be my Savior. That changed my life in an amazing way. I think God wanted me to tell you that.”

A single tear fell from the girl’s cheek. She only smiled and thanked me.

The church kids came running across the courtyard as the final rays of light drained over the horizon.

The day was done.

Patti Richter

Blue Ribbon News special contributor Patti Richter works as journalist, writing news and feature stories, book reviews and more for many Christian publications. She lives in Heath with her husband Jim. 

Read more by Patti Richter:

Heat and Ice: God’s Hot-Cold Therapy for Spiritual Stiffness?

God’s not-so-random acts of kindness

Of Snakes & Pumpkins: even a perfect fall day is made better with prayer

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