Jesus has a way of messing with people. With their plans and their pride. With their confidence and their assumption of autonomy.
I have a sense that Jesus is messing with the World Mission Prayer League. A number of workers we’ve sent into the harvest fields have found for various reasons that they’ve needed to leave their countries of service and return to North America. In other countries where workers are needed, we’ve learned that the required visas are increasingly difficult to obtain. As workers on our home staff ready themselves for retirement, we wonder who will take on their responsibilities. Things simply don’t always go as we might plan or wish. Is Jesus somehow messing with us? Maybe you’ve wondered if he’s messing with you. If so, please believe me when I tell you: that’s okay. Jesus messes with people he loves, and when he messes, he blesses.
Recently I was given the opportunity to share a message based on one of my favorite accounts in all of Scripture, the conversion of the Apostle Paul, who, as you probably know, was previously called Saul. You’ll find this story recorded in Acts, Chapter 9. This awful Saul, “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,”(NIV)* was traveling to Damascus to arrest them when the ascended Jesus suddenly enveloped him in light and spoke to him. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” he asked. Jesus loved awful Saul. That’s why he messed with him. He messed with his plans, fully disrupting them. He messed with his pride, knocking him to the ground, very possibly, and literally making him fall off his horse. He messed with his confidence, directly countering so much of what he had believed, and also severely limiting his capabilities by dramatically striking him blind. He messed with the autonomy that this man of esteemed authority assumed was his. “Enter the city,” Jesus told him, “and you will be told what you are to do.” He was led by the hand into the city.
This wasn’t the last time Jesus would mess with Saul. He continued messing with him after he became the Apostle Paul. He somehow prevented Paul from entering certain fields where he had planned to do his mission work (see Acts 16:6-8). He allowed him to suffer a menacing physical ailment, a “thorn in the flesh,” answering Paul’s prayers not with healing, but with “my grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Repeatedly Jesus permitted that Paul would be severely persecuted, even beaten nearly to the point of death. Paul never planned on or welcomed fleeing for his life, being imprisoned multiple times, or being shipwrecked.
In describing these experiences to the Christians in Corinth, he wrote: “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. But,” he declared, “that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Paul knew from his very first experience with Jesus that when your Savior messes with you, he does so to bless you. After Paul despaired for three days of darkness in Damascus, Jesus sent Ananias to him to restore his sight. He could see again! More than that, he was forgiven. He was baptized. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was transformed from the inside out and introduced to a whole new community. He was taught to trust and rely upon God in a way that he’d not previously imagined. He was strengthened and given a new purpose. He was blessed! Jesus loved Paul and wanted to bless him. This is why he messed with him. The same will be true for you and me and for WMPL. If it appears Jesus is messing with us, we will do well to trust that he is also blessing us. However, we also must understand that when Jesus messed with Paul he had a far greater purpose than to bless Paul alone. Upon sending Ananias to Paul, Jesus explained: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). In messing with Paul, Jesus was acting on his desire to bless the whole world! He had a role for Paul in his global salvation plan, and even through many sufferings he would sustain him in that role. Paul came to know and trust this deeply, and so he willingly bore the perplexing trials that came his way.
Jesus does nothing without the desire for “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). This is his purpose. In all that he does, he has in mind this grander vision for the nations. That’s why he went to the cross, and that’s why he messed with Paul. Friends, that’s why he messes with us, too. Let’s be open to the messing and the blessing. And then let’s ask: “How, Lord, will you use us to bless others and even the world?
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture ESV.