I still wish so badly that things had turned out differently.
My husband, Jason, and I took a thirteen-year-old foster son named Daniel into our home with the hopes of adopting him. We got to love him, pray with him, take him to school and cook his dinner for almost a year. Then . . . he was gone. Some adoption stories end with pictures of a smiling family. Ours did not. Our boy went on to a different placement with a different family. He is now in college, and we say “hello” to him once or twice a year.
God has taken me through layers of learning in the wake of that loss. First, God gently bound up my wounds. That part of the process took years.
But lately He’s been teaching me a deeper lesson about that season of intense ministry—it’s not my job to control the fruit. That’s the job of the Gardener. I am to be faithful to plant, water, nurture, and harvest when God tells me to, but it isn’t my job to control the outcome of my efforts for the Kingdom.
God has used Jonah’s story to hammer this point home. We all know Jonah. God called him to preach the message of repentance to the people of Nineveh. Jonah was not a fan of the Ninevites and so He tried to outrun God. Since you can’t outrun God, Jonah’s plan resulted in becoming the lunch of a big fish, hanging out in the fish’s innards for three days, and eventually repenting. When all of Jonah’s bitterness came out, it must have tasted bad to the whale, so he spit Jonah out on a beach.
Jonah eventually delivered the message God entrusted to him, but he held on tightly to the reins. He wanted to control how the Ninevites would respond. Even more grievous, he wanted to control God’s response.
I often do the same thing when I love others or seek to minister to them. I want to manipulate people to respond a certain way. and I want God to move on my cue. Specifically, I’d like Him to strong-arm people into loving God (and me) in my timing. I want loving others to work like an ATM. I give to them, and they spit out exactly what I request. Instead, it’s more like a slot machine. I never know what I am going to get in return, and sometimes I get nothing but Xs across the board.
But I am not the Gardener. My job is to obey God. My job is to love my neighbor as myself. My job is to treat others as I want to be treated. It’s God’s job to change hearts and lives.
Jonah’s ministry legacy is tragic. The entire city of Nineveh is spared, but Jonah’s story ends with him grumbling over the Lord’s compassion and sniveling about a plant (Jonah 4). It’s a wake-up call to check our own hearts and motivations and to ask God to help us avoid making Jonah’s mistakes.
Five years of hindsight has given me the clarity to know that having Daniel in our home for a year was a gift. As I think about him now, I hold on tightly to God’s promise in Isaiah 55:11:
“So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (emphasis added)
God brought Daniel into my life and asked me to teach and model the Word to him. I can hold on to the promise that that Word will not return empty and that it will accomplish what God purposes, which is not necessarily what I purposed for that situation.
I don’t have to manipulate or force the fruit of God’s work. I just have to be faithful to go when He calls, love who He sends me to, and surrender my own heart and life to Him.
What about you? Do you minister to others with an expectation that God will move a certain way? Do you love others expecting them to respond on your cue? Do you trust God to bring fruit where you’ve sown and watered, or do you want to control what He does with your efforts?
Sadly, no fish belly or cry of repentance could teach Jonah about God’s love. I don’t want to repeat Jonah’s mistakes. I will seek to love others well and minister when called and let God take it from there. Will you?