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I’m sure you’ve heard someone say something about God that logically should make sense but is biblically not true. For instance, someone will say, if it is of God it should be easy. Now when you pause to think about that you can see how it actually makes sense to some extent. You can even get verses to support that. I mean if the Almighty God is behind it who can challenge it and succeed? How can it be difficult if the good and gracious God is behind it? But we only need to turn our Bibles to look at Jesus, look at the prophets, look at Jesus’ first disciples, and realize none of them had an easy time.

Jesus about to execute his most important mission to save humanity faces a great deal of struggle emotionally and spiritually. Matthew 26 tells us:

38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

This was God’s own mission but it wasn’t easy. Actually, the life of Jesus, the son of God, was full of sorrow. It wasn’t easy trying to open his disciple’s eyes. It wasn’t easy being rejected by his people even his own family who thought he had lost it. If this is the one who calls us to follow after him then we shouldn’t expect it to be as easy.

Paul in 2 Corinthians 11 paints a picture of his life that leaves you wondering was that God’s mission or something else? It wasn’t an easy life for him yet his ministry is one that glorifies the Lord to date. I might go as far as saying that if it is of God it’s most likely going to be difficult because we live in a hostile world.

Perhaps you’ve heard this popular one that since God owns everything and we are his children, especially those of us in ministry, then we should have everything. To some extent again logically it makes sense. If you pause it there you’d say that can’t be wrong. I mean why wouldn’t the one who walks on gold not throw some of it down to his beloved people? Why wouldn’t the caring God heal his beloved children? How can he watch us struggle and not act immediately?

But our logical knowledge here is betrayed when we turn to the scriptures and look at Jesus, God’s beloved son, his first disciples, and all those Messengers God sent through Israel’s lifetime. How many of them came with private jets to deliver his message? How many of them lived in mansions? And if the son of man was the one who unlike the fox didn’t have a place to lie down why would we expect ours will be the easy life?

The problem here is we might actually have read our Bibles but closed them too quickly to make our conclusion. We needed to realize there’s life now and a life to come. We’ve not arrived yet and if we have comfort and something to spare here and now that’s by the grace of God, not the norm. Here and now we live in a hostile world like Jesus did. A poor world like Jesus did. A persecuting world like Jesus did. But his sure promise is to guide us to him by his Spirit and walk with us through it all.

Our riches are what we find in Ephesians 1:1-14. That we now have all the spiritual blessings in Christ, we are the most privileged people spiritually speaking. Our confidence is the promise Jesus made in the Great Commission to be with us to the end of the age, Matthew 28:20. And we have the assurance that he has gone to prepare a home for us so that where he is we might be there also, John 14:1-3.

Now the aim of this article isn’t necessarily to split hairs or make the Bible sound illogical. Instead, it’s to encourage us to always ask this question, what does the Bible and the whole Bible say about this issue. Logic alone won’t do here as often our logic stops where our comfort ends. We are also not to pick one passage and run with it. We need to ask what’s the context and what do other portions of scripture say about this issue.

We’ll be good disciples if we read more than our favorite verses. We’ll be better disciples if we humble ourselves before God’s Word to say, teach us Lord we who are simple. And a far greater honor goes to the disciples who don’t just do this exercise to win arguments but to live it out and help others gently and lovingly. How I pray that the Lord makes me that disciple. A disciple who listens and abides in what his word says even when it’s contrary to what I want for myself. A disciple who opens his Word in humility and his heart in obedience.

The first lesson as a human being ought to be that I’m not in charge. To know that I’m born to a world older than I and rest in the hands of the maker who brought me here. I’m not in charge of this world and I’m not even in control of my own fate. Yes, I would love to be in control. I would love it if I can guarantee my future and be in charge of my present. I would love it if tomorrow was mine to command and today mine to rule. But I need to know that though there are aspects of my life I can control yet there are many factors beyond me. I need to get it right in my mind that I’m not in charge before the world lies to me that I am.

Though he should choose to take us through the furnace of suffering his hand still would hold us. And I should say his hand is firm than mine.

But if that’s the first lesson for a human being. The first for a Christian ought to be that it is good and right that I’m not in control. Not in dismissive indifference but because our God is in control. Yes, given a choice I should always choose God to be in charge because he’s a better Father than any of us will ever be. He knows best and he who didn’t spare his own son for us will surely do right by us. Though he should choose to take us through the furnace of suffering his hand still would hold us. And I should say his hand is firm than mine. His mind has the best interests for his children and his heart knows best their weaknesses. If he wounds us the good potter will make good of his clay. If he should prosper our ministry I should remember it’s his work at hand, not mine.

But my problem is to know that my heart will even so constantly doubt his control. That there will be times I wish I was in charge and doubt he knows what he is doing. That you’ll find this clay ask its maker, what are you doing? What is wrong with you? This tells me that I need to intentionally and constantly let him take charge. If he’s the Lord of all I need to let him be my Lord indeed. I shouldn’t wait until he has to show me he’s in charge. By then I might hate him for it. I would rather know and expect him to take charge at all times. But I need help here because the idolatry of my heart will always compete against his sovereign hand. Many will be the times I take his seat and want to be my own lord and god. I need his help to know and believe that no other god not even myself will lead me better like our heavenly Father would.

At the heart of that first rebellion, we see our pride and the idolatry of the heart to take charge of our lives thinking we can do better than God.

Isn’t it interesting that the first man having everything given freely to him was tempted to set the word of God aside for the promise that he would be like God? At the heart of that first rebellion, we see our pride and the idolatry of the heart to take charge of our lives thinking we can do better than God. We read in Genesis 3:

4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Genesis 3.

How often do we follow in the footsteps of that first Adam to our ruin and heartache? So often the old serpent says you’d do better than God and we yield like we don’t know he’s been a liar since day one. But the redeemed are called to follow in the footsteps of the second Adam who we are told in Philippians 2:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! Philippians 2.

Jesus was happy in God’s charge even though he could have said he is equal with God. He taught us the path to glory is yielding and trusting in God’s charge. Trusting him in the good and the not-so-good times. It should therefore be the business of our lives and something we need to pray regularly for that our Lord would give us such an attitude of humility and faith in his sovereign hand. Whatever awaits us dear Lord teach us now to take comfort that you take better charge of us than we could ever do.

Here in Kenya, we are preparing to go to the general elections next year. I bet you’ll hear a lot about the kind of leaders we want or need. We will all hopefully get a chance to choose who to lead us. The problem is leaders can’t choose who to lead. Sure they can pick a constituency and position of influence but they can’t pick and choose the people. They can have the best manifesto and the most elaborate implementation plan but they can’t have the best people to lead. What’s worse is they’ll have to deal with those who already hold them with suspicion. People who don’t want to be led by them.

But what does that have to do with shepherding you ask? Well, everything. You see many of us think the problem with leadership is that we don’t have good leaders. And while we apply that mostly to political leaders we can also share the same attitude in Christian ministry. Get the right person and leadership works, we say. Everyone will be happy, godly, and prosperous. In truth, the best of leaders have to endure harsh criticism and opposition because people don’t want to be led. We enjoy the merits of good leadership but we don’t really want to be led even by the best of leaders. If we did Jesus would face no opposition from our world. People from every nation and race would gather around to serve him who truly cares for them. You’d think the best leader would have everyone following them and doing so joyfully.

But the word of God is unashamed to tell us who we truly are, that we are all rebels. We’ve all gone our separate ways when it comes to God and his authority on us.
Romans 3 says:

10 As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.
Romans 3 NIV.

We are all sinners who especially hate God’s authority and with it any other form of authority. The world heaps all kinds of praises and massages our ego but the word speaks plainly here. Where the world says we are mostly good but shaped by our environment the word says we are inherently wicked and that it is us who shape our environment that way. That’s the problem of leadership and shepherding. The problem behind every other problem we face is the problem of sin. Adam chose his way and likewise, we do the same. People don’t want to be led and leaders don’t want to be held accountable because they don’t want to be led either. Politicians don’t want to be asked questions and citizens don’t want leaders telling them what to do and how to live.

Back to shepherding and it’s the same problem in Christian ministry. You’d think the redeemed would celebrate good leadership and to some extent, they do as adopted saints. But the presence of indwelling sin in our hearts means we still are rehabilitated rebels. There will be occasions when we despise leadership even from the best pastor and youth worker. Moses was a great sacrificial leader, a Saviour and yet Israel made his life hard. Jesus came to die for his people and if you think perfect leadership none fits the bill more. But he was not only rejected by the religious leaders but the masses demanded for him to be crucified.

If we then approach shepherding thinking that if we do our best, that if we die for the people they’ll love and make it easy for us we are in for a surprise. And yet if we are not willing to die for those we serve we fall short of Jesus’ model and his call to be undershepherds. So how do we shepherd people who naturally don’t want to be led and do it sacrificially?

The first thing is to know we are shepherding among rebels and we too are rebels. It means we know people for who they are and our leadership surpasses mere appreciation to serve a higher goal. John tells us something striking about Jesus in his Gospel. In John 2 we are told:

24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. John 2 NIV.

What is striking is that Jesus knew us more than anyone else, he knew our deep-seated rebellion, and yet he came to die for us. This is shepherding that does not depend on the applause of the sheep. It’s shepherding that follows the way of the Cross. It says that God’s approval and recognition is enough for us. It gives the very best to people who may not naturally want to be led. Such realization will safeguard us from the idolatry of approval and appreciation. It’ll be to God that we look and not merely what we gain from the people. And when people do appreciate and idolize us, our hearts will be shielded from pride.

But since the condition of the heart is also true of us as Gospel ministers we need to ask ourselves if we are also responding similarly. You see it’s not just the normal congregant who has an issue with leadership, our Gospel ministers also don’t want to be undershepherds under the great Shepherd. We can’t lead if we don’t want to follow. How can we ask people to submit to our leadership and shepherding if we won’t submit to Jesus and those he’s entrusted with leadership?

We need to remember we are first his disciples before we are Gospel ministers, first sheep before shepherds, and only undershepherds. Before we murmur and complain of rebel sheep we need to survey our hearts. Would the chief Shepherd say the same of us? To shepherd among rebels, we need to kill our own rebellion and submit to our great Shepherd and those he’s given charge over us. If we desire leadership we must learn submission to godly leadership. If we would be undershepherds we need to obey and follow in the footsteps of our chief shepherd.

To the shepherds among us please remember these words from the apostle Peter:

5 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flockAnd when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5. NIV

We are now in December and you know what that means; Christmas is around the corner and the year is coming to an end. Praise the Lord for taking us through these difficult times. And how we hope and pray that next year will bring with it better tidings. As it is now it’s time to prepare for Christmas, the end of the year and for the new one. Guess what posters you’ll be seeing in the next few weeks? End-of-year night vigils and crossover keshas with all their interesting declarations. If you’ve not seen them yet you will see them soon. I saw one recently drawing to a special message by the man of God for 2022. You’ve got to be there to receive it. You need to be attached to this man of God they said so you can access the revelation of 2022. I wonder what your expectations are for 2022.

The man who says they have a hidden message from God and some special relationship with him seems spiritual. We are both drawn and afraid of such a man. The preacher who claims special revelation and anointing seems more godly. We revere and tremble when we come near him. The woman of God who claims to wrestle with God and get things done on our behalf looks special. Our theology and tradition might question her leadership but we’ll look for her in time of need. And in a country and a world of many pandemics be it disease, economic, or leadership crisis we need any help we can get out there. And when someone claims such ability our ears go wide open.

We are naturally drawn to people who exhibit or seem to exhibit hidden mystical powers and experiences because our natural theology and tradition sees God that way. To us, God is a mystical being who only reveals himself to those who are special and who have known the secret to finding him when he doesn’t want to be found. In truth though what we find here isn’t a blueprint of the biblical God but of the pagan gods of all other religions. Though we claim ours is the real deal we find all other religions do something similar. Such means seem to work for every other god out there they are just a bit different. They need special sacrifices, say the right words, roll a number of times and maybe just maybe they might show up.

The story of Elijah at Mt Carmel captures this very well. The prophets of Baal in their multitudes do all kinds of incantations, cutting themselves and any religious practices you can imagine. But all day long they search for gods that are not there, gods that don’t want to be found. We are told:

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. 1 Kings 18 NIV.

They looked for man-made gods that behave like the high men of importance in their aloofness. These gods demand special attention and special sacrifices as they hide from the common man, and only the most “spiritual” can awaken them from their indifferent stupor.

But biblical Christianity on the other hand says that God is the one who comes to us. That’s what Christmas is all about. The holy God who made us enters our wicked world to bring us to himself. In other religions, they try to seek and search for a god who doesn’t want to be found but in true Christianity, God seeks and searches for the man who doesn’t want to be found. He’s not hidden and secret only to be found by a few, he’s plain and visible in his word every day. He can be accessed very easily by his children anywhere and at any time.

Even in the old testament before the fuller revelation had come in Christ we find that God is the one who comes to Israel. He reveals himself and calls them to himself even when they are not looking and are constantly running away from him. In fact, God rejects the religious practices of the Gentiles that seek to search and appease the gods for what he had already clearly revealed to Israel. He’s to be worshipped on his own terms as he’s revealed in his own Word.

This is even clear when Christ appears in the New Testament. We realize the only way to know and hear from God is through his own revelation as he’s done in scripture. And in Christ, we have the full revelation of God. In the book of Hebrews, we are told;

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1 NIV.

In other words, if you truly want to hear a message from God for 2022 just open his word and genuinely listen to him. You don’t need a special man of God this year for you have Jesus who is the fuller revelation of God. Do you want a message from God for 2022? It turns out you can walk right to him right now. You can hear and talk to him any day any time. You don’t need to look for him like a man who doesn’t want to be seen. He’s right there in his Word and a prayer away. His Spirit is present at work in the believers and he dwells in the fellowship of believers like he did in the temple. His word is clear in the Bible if only we were to approach it genuinely wanting to hear from him; to hear about his Son and what he’s done for us, not just about ourselves and our sinful cravings.

Now I don’t want to discourage you from Crossover Kesha this year by all means go to one. I think it’s a great time to look back and praise the Lord for the past year. You and I know if it weren’t for the Lord we don’t know where we would be today. It’s a great time to recommit ourselves to the Saviour and his mission this coming year. To ask him to walk with us as he has promised in his word until the end of times. It’s a great time to commit ourselves, our families, our businesses, and everything we have to the Lord. And there’s nothing wrong with sending him our personal requests for 2022. God’s children are encouraged to bring all their petitions and prayers to the Lord. Don’t be ashamed to present all your needs to him. We also know we can serve him and his mission better than we’ve done this year. So it’s a great time to recommit ourselves to the great Commission.

But if truly this is your motivation and desire for 2022 then what you and I need as we prepare is God’s Word as taught clearly from the Bible. What you need this end of the year is a return to the unadulterated message of the Word. You don’t need someone to lie to you that they have some special message for you. You don’t need the deception of your heart that points you to yourself. You need the Word that reminds you of all that we already have in Jesus.

We need the Word that rebukes our complacency and the sin in our lives. We need the hope of the Gospel for 2022. We need to be reminded that we already have a better king in Jesus and he’s truly our hope, not the next president. We need the assurance that whatever happens next year the Lord will be with us and he is for us. It’s this God, the God of the Bible, the triune God, the God of our salvation that we need in 2022 and the future beyond. And if you want to hear him as we crossover then go where the Word is taught clearly and faithfully. Go back to His Word.

When you think about Gospel ministry I wonder what comes to your mind? What do you think a call to ministry actually means? Do you think there’s a chance God is calling you to ministry? I suppose most of us who are genuine and aware of our inner self think about what a noble and difficult task this is. We think about God’s word, about preaching to others and shepherding. We wonder how can I, a mere sinner help others in their relationship with God? How can a broken man lead others to the holy God? In this case, we think the call to ministry is something others can do but not us. No, we don’t qualify to lead others.

But perhaps your answer is different. If you’ve been serving elsewhere perhaps you do feel this is where the Lord is leading you. Your pastor thinks you can do it. You’ve led a Bible study before and enjoyed it. You’ve been involved in organizing for missions that went well and many souls were saved. And when you’ve had the opportunity on a Sunday to hammer the word people do seem to like your preaching. So it feels like yes God is calling you to ministry. You do realize it’s a noble task and you need help but you are largely convinced God is calling you to ministry.

Both of these are responses we hear every time we try to encourage people to do ministry. And there’s one thing that seems to drive these responses; if our heart is in the right place we think about the flock which is admirable. We ask ourselves can I serve God’s people? I’m I the right guy for the mission of God in reconciling the world to himself? Do I have the gifts and skills to pastor them? I’m I equal to the task of bringing others to the kingdom of God? Which I think is a very important question for anyone considering Gospel ministry.

The thing many of us forget or seem to miss is that a call to ministry though is actually a call first to personal discipleship before it is a call to disciple others. God’s call on his minister begins with the minister himself. He doesn’t call the qualified he qualifies those he calls. And to a great extent they never really qualify. No one is fit for that job. No one graduates to be a minister, instead, it is the student of the Word that leads other students in Gospel ministry.

But I know when I talk about ministry and mission the place that easily comes to mind is Matthew 28:16-20 which is the classic place we got to encourage people for missions and Gospel ministry. That’s where we get our job description. Now, I hope you don’t get this wrong but I think that’s the wrong place, to begin with, get me right I said to begin with. First, because if you read the Gospel accounts carefully as they should be read that’s where you end not where you start. Second, because when we start there we assume a lot about the people going for ministry and think very highly of them.

If you read the Gospels carefully you’d see how insufficient the men God sends are. This is especially clear when working through Mark’s Gospel. It should shock you that Jesus decides to send these guys. None of them qualifies. They want to be lords, not servants. They struggle to grasp what Jesus is doing, they are not A students. In the end, one betrays him, the other publicly denies him and they all desert the Saviour when he needed them the most. How can they qualify?

Now I’m not trying to split hairs and argue for the sake of it. Actually, I would still use Matthew 28 to encourage people to go to the ministry field and I think we don’t do this enough in our churches. But I do want to convince you why discipleship needs to come first before mission because even in the Gospel accounts it comes first. When Jesus called his disciples heres what we are told was to be their Job description:

14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach

Mark 3:14 ESV.

We easily get the second part of that verse but we miss the first. The first mission for the first disciples was Discipleship, to sit and learn from Jesus. He called them to be with him and he stayed with them 3 years before he could issue the Great Commission. And even at that point, I would say still these guys were not ready and they were not going to be ready.

Brothers and sisters what I’m trying to convince you and I is; that it’s only after we have been with Jesus when we are walking with Jesus when we are killing sin and striving for holiness every day that we can even think about Gospel ministry. In others words, the call to faithful ministry is a call first to be a faithful Christian. And it’s a daily call, not something that happens once in a dream. Not something that happened when they commissioned or ordained you. The Higher calling is not calling others but answering the call yourself first.

This is the case even when we think about the people of Israel. God’s call on Israel was a call to himself even before they could be a light to the nations. What does God say in Exodus 19?

5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Exodus 19:5 ESV

The call on Israel like the Christian call and to the Gospel preacher is a call to God first. The things we’ll do for God are great. The sacrifices we make for God are worthwhile and part of the package. The souls we’ll preach to and be added to the kingdom will glorify God. But if we miss the calling on our lives for the calling of others then the heaven we talk of is a place we’ll never set our feet on. Others will make it partly because of our ministry but Jesus will say on that day depart from me for I never knew you. If you think Gospel ministry is for you think about your devotion life. If you sense you’ve got the gifts for the job ask yourself if you have the heart for it. And if you feel weak and unqualified and yet see the need for Gospel ministers then ask God to qualify you and to do so every day.

Every year at iServe Africa we send out invitations to college graduates who are sensing a calling of God for ministry to do our one-year Apprenticeship program. This offers them an opportunity for training and testing the waters for ministry. The problem is often times when we talk about ministry they like us tend to think about preaching, going for missions, and discipling others. We think about ourselves as agents that God is sending to others so they can hear the Gospel which is partly right. But the thing we spend most of our time trying to convince our apprentices is that ministry is more about becoming than it is doing. For them, the year is more learning and unlearning than it is hammering the Gospel. It’s about discipleship before it’s about the mission. For only the faithful disciple makes a faithful Bible teacher.

The rebuke we need to hear friends for those of us in ministry is whether we are leading others where we are not following. There are extremes of those who are clearly leading others astray leading them to themselves and to the idols of their hearts. But if we claim to be faithful ministers we need to ask if we are faithful disciples. This is not aimed at guilt-tripping us or making us feel insufficient although that’s how we should feel. But to encourage us to go the Father so he can qualify us with his word. We ought to think the word we are preaching applies to us, not just the naughty teenager in front of us. We need to feed so that we can point others to where they can find pasture. For we are all sheep and we have one Shepherd, the Overseer of our hearts, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

If you are starting on in Gospel ministry or trying to make that decision I hope you can see where it all begins and stays. It’s a higher calling because God wants your heart before he can use your mouth, hands, and feet. Actually, I hope all of us can see that in one way or the other God is calling all of us for ministry. We may not have the gift set of a pastor but God is calling us to himself so he can send us to our neighbors. God is calling us to fellowship with him before we can go out for his mission. He’s asking for our hearts before we can give him our hands. Our heads before our mouths. Our life before we give him our gifts and skills. This is the higher calling.


We all have those moments when we want something so badly that we pray, hope and wish someone would step in and save the day. It could be for a good reason or just some human ambition that means the world to us. You have this exam that is about to dictate the rest of your life as you see it. This job interview which as far it goes you feel you must get it. A loved one is ill and at a point when we really need someone to step in. Maybe it’s something the world may not think is life changing but it means the world to you. Sometimes it’s just a sinful human craving. You’d be surprised the kind of situations people want God to step in and act on their behalf.

But let’s go with it’s a prayer for a good course however we define that. For those who believe in God he’s our go-to person in these situations and a last resort for everyone. It’s especially the case when there’s no one else who’d care enough and is as able enough to save the situation. And since we believe in God and for the most part we have tried to live up to his will it’s only fair he would step in for us. I mean which good father wouldn’t step in to save the day in such critical times? But then it happens that God doesn’t fly in to save the day. Sometimes he takes too long and other times we don’t see him come through at all. It’s the most lonely you can ever feel when the one person you counted most upon doesn’t come to your aid. Nothing is more disappointing.

I wanted to start by acknowledging this because that’s an undeniable feeling and a lot of us have been here before. Whatever answer theology has it’s a feeling that many have faced and we can’t deny it and shouldn’t undermine it. But this is only one side of the story and I hope you’ll stay put as I try to give you a Biblical perspective. You see it’s when we see God working in the bigger story that we appreciate his involvement in our story. I must tread carefully here though as this is bound to bring painful memories but I think there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. In the end we’ll see God is ever close in our suffering and he actually intervenes even when he is not sought after. If we open our eyes then I don’t think there’s a time we find God closer to us than in our weaknesses. Remember he has gone through suffering and faced our weaknesses in Jesus. He knows our pain, he sees the suffering of the whole world and is never indifferent to it. C.S Lewis said:

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

C.S Lewis

A good place to start is with the story of Israel. It starts with oppression, pain and anguish. These guys weren’t in trouble just for a weekend, not just an exam gone wrong, theirs was a terminal case. But when God intervened it seemed to get worse before it could get better as it feels for us sometimes. You see, it’s one thing to suffer and another to continue suffering despite calling on God who claims he’s available to help us in our time of need. It’s when you’ve been praying for a loved one and their condition seems to get worse that you feel most let down by God. And that’s how Israel feels after God sends Moses to their rescue only for Pharaoh to make their life even worse. Hope is a beautiful sound to a suffering ear but it can hurt even more when it doesn’t pay off. Moses the bearer of good news, the man who had told Israel that God had seen their trouble and sent him to their rescue is angry, sad and disappointed in God.

22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Exodus 5 NIV

In truth though the pain and hopelessness of Israel is undeniable even to Moses, God was acting even in this situation as we see in the next chapter. It’s always a difficult thing to see God’s hand when things seem to get from bad to worse. I mean who in a million years would have contemplated that our redemption would be born by the suffering and death of Jesus? How can good come out of what seems so evil? How can a good God do anything other than quickly step in and save the situation for his beloved? But from this story we learn that where God seems so absent or powerless and indifferent actually he’s very much involved.

C.S Lewis is right, God is shouting in our pain and we just need to tune our hearts to the frequency of his word to hear how loud he is. We may not always get God’s direct explanation and reassurance as he gives to Moses in Exodus 6. But Bible history from Israel to Jesus tells us we can fully trust in him even in this. It tells us he’s very much in the details and working tirelessly for our good, see Romans 8:28.

When we feel most failed by God what we need is a biblical perspective because the Gospel is his megaphone. Now, I know sometimes that’s the last thing we want, more Bible. I mean sometimes we are not asking for much just a small intervention we say. But I must also say if God was only good because he stepped in when and in the way we always want then he’d really not be above us. He’d simply be a genie with some good wishes. But the story of the Bible, the story of the Gospel helps us see that our story is knit in a bigger cosmic story.

Our problem is that we are inevitably all about our story and yet it’s in both stories that we see God truly act for us. The Bible tells us we need more than a quick fix in our situation. We need our environment changed but more importantly it enlightens us to see we are not as innocent in the grand story as we think. We ourselves needed to be changed if ever our problems are to go away forever. And that’s exactly why God stepped in through Jesus to rescue us from our sin problem and grant us eternal life in a whole new world without pain, suffering and death.

But still our problem is a personal one. We agree with the world needing change and sin being a serious thing. But all we are asking is God to step in now and help his children on the journey before he brings us to our eternal home. Is that toomuch to ask? I think this is where I love our God even more. Because he not only deals with the most fundamental problems we face but he’s actually very close to us and involved in our personal story through it all. In Jesus and by his Holy Spirit he says he’s walking our Exodus with us until the end of times, see Matthew 28: 20. God is very close, he’s with us and even closer in our suffering having lived in this world, suffered and died for us in Jesus.

When we pray to him we are calling on someone who not only is able but cares, sympathises and understands what we are going through, see Hebrews 4:14-16:

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4 ESV

It may not be the answer you are looking for in your time of need but it’s actually what we truly need. And you know what’s mind-blowing is that God makes good even of our suffering. He doesn’t waste our weaknesses, but through them he shapes us into the image of Christ. He helps us see life in a whole different way, he teaches us what it means to trust him in the good and bad times. And he helps us see that this world can never be home for us.

When we survey the grand story of our redemption as told by the Bible our personal story makes sense. When we feel let down and failed by God, in the Bible we see God is close and even closer in our struggles. And it’s never a waste of time praying to him because one way or the other he always answers our prayers. Actually he works even when we don’t see it and truly answers our prayers in ways that are best for us. We need the whole Bible story to truly appreciate God working in our personal story.

The powerful leaders of the world showcase their power by creating big armies, standing behind huge projects and big military investments. One, because they can and also because they’d love everyone else to see what they are capable of. But I think there’s something else that tells them they need to showcase how powerful they are. Perhaps it’s the reality of how fleeting power actually is and the need to enjoy it while it lasts. The big man needs people to see their might and in truth we are all drawn by a true showcase of power. We feel safe with a leader who’s strong and are reassured when we see his big army match infront. Human strength is measured by what we see and the methods at play. Power and wisdom is the true mark of human strength. At times you can even pretend to be powerful if you have the right gadgets. But those who are truly powerful don’t need to always showcase their power.

Our God is truly powerful, he made the heavens and the earth by a word and everything operates by his will. He doesn’t need to lift a finger to make things happen. But when it’s been appropriate to do so he’s proved to be able move mountains, to stop giants and change the course of history. The Bible story tells of a powerful God working for a weak people in impossible situations to save them for himself. So he doesn’t need to showcase his power everytime we demand it. Instead he usually shows his power not by a great show of might but mostly through seemingly weak methods. Here are 3 most powerful methods he uses which from a human eye looks so weak and ineffecctive: the cross, the Gospel and prayer.

The Cross
Think about the cross of Jesus. Nothing shows more weakness than the son of God dying on a wooden cross like a criminal. Actually that’s like the worst thing that can happen to someone who claims to be God’s son and the Lord of the world. Which powerful leader of the world would let his son suffer let alone die if they could rescue them? Humanly speaking you’d doubt the power of this God to help you if he couldn’t save his own child when he needed him most. But the Bible tells us it’s through this weakness that our salvation was born. God used weakness to showcase his greatest power and might at the cross. The power to deal with sin, to defeat Satan, the world and death. At the very center of the story of redemption, the very heart of human history is the weak sign of the cross.

But when it looked most weak, Jesus paid the ransom for our sins and won our eternal salvation. At the cross of Jesus we see God’s power most manifested. In Christ, a man deserted, denied and betrayed by his own is our victory won. At his death our penalty of sin is paid fully. And by his resurrection we are given hope for eternal life as Christ emerges as the firstborn in the new everlasting life. God used what looked so humanly weak for the most powerful act in history. He didn’t bulldoze his way but in weakness he did what seemed impossible. He didn’t call down angels to come showcase his might and force his way. Instead, he sent a man born in weakness to achieve the greatest act of redemption. The weak sign of the cross is the signature of the powerful God of the universe and the message we proclaim.

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1 NIV.

The Gospel
If you wanted the world to trust in your power and truly fear you you’d never go the Gospel way. I mean what would a bunch of weak disciples who’ve proved to fail so many times accomplish? Jesus wasn’t only entrusting the most important mission of the world to sinful men, he entrusted it to the most unlikely candidates. You ask any expert and that’s a mission bound to fail from the word go. And yet he continues to do so today using preachers and Gospel workers most of whom are uneducated, unqualified, weak and sinful. Why? Because they are just vessels for his life-changing message. It’s him and his word that does the work not them.

When this seemingly weak message takes hold of men it makes them do the impossible. Nothing changes people like the Gospel. Just look at the story of the 12 and see what God did through their witness of the Gospel. Through this message God is winning the world to himself and he’s been doing so all through history. It doesn’t always feel like it’s achieving much, sometimes we actually try to change and re-adapt it but when clearly taught the Gospel does the impossible. God works in unlikely ways, through weak unlikely people with a message that causes more offence than admiration to rescue humanity. I mean it’s a miracle that anyone would be willing to give up everything for the Gospel. But the Gospel captures, captivates and transforms unlikely people to believe and do unlikely things for God. Because the Gospel is God’s power and God at work. 

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.

Romans 1 NIV.

Prayer
One of the main reasons why we struggle so much with prayer is because humanly speaking it’s a very weak strategy. Here I am facing an impossible situation and someone has the audacity to say pray about it? Your friend is ailing in hospital and all you can do is pray? Here’s a deal of a lifetime and first thing you want to do is pray? It doesn’t even sound like a strategy it speaks more of lacking in options and of last resort. And yet there’s nothing more powerful for a believer than to commit themselves in the hands of the Almighty. The history of faith shows God working by prayer to achieve great milestones for the Gospel and intervening in impossible situations for his people.

When God’s people pray they are not saying we have no other option. Actually it’s by prayer that we open our options and access real help from our very able Father. Prayer says I can’t do it but I trust in the one who’s not only able but is available and willing to help us. Praying is calling in the big guns to come to our aid in a war we would otherwise never win on our own. Though seemingly weak, believers have never been able to achieve anything without prayer because without God we can do nothing. Any real Gospel progress has been born of God working through weak people by weak methods like the Gospel and prayer. That’s why we should commit fully to the ministry of the cross, the work of the Gospel by the power of prayer. Because the ministry of word and prayer is the power of God at work. 

1 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. 2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

Psalms 116 NIV.

There’s a saying that religion is the opium of the masses and where there’s great suffering and want, where reality is too cruel it seems people are most religious. In many ways our African continent can be described in those terms though not exclusively. We have always been a notoriously religious people and it doesn’t surprise many that we are the next global center of world Christianity. We’ve got the numbers and enough problems to run to any helping hand out there. But I don’t think this is necessary true of Christianity. No, here we have something completely different and the laws of demand and supply move in the opposite direction compared to our many other religions.

You see our African traditional religion and many religions of the world can be called the opium of the people because it’s people who seek and search for this drug. It’s the people who create the demand and religion supplies where no one else seems to have an answer.  It’s the people who ran and cry for help and turn to these gods in dire need. They are people driven and they changed as the needs of the people change because they have to keep up with the market. Our tribes turned to the gods in times of calamity, they sought them in famine and war. They kept them pleased as a guarantee for help in the day of trouble. They were an emergency fund, an investment in an uncertain future and the go-to where man’s strength failed. Man looked for the gods, kept them happy in the ways he knew how and went to withdraw favor when need arose.

It’s for this reason that I think the Christian God is so different. Because in the Bible we see it is God not man who made the first move. Here the direction of flow is completely different. Man is not trying to run after a rather indifferent powerful being to come to his aid. No man is running in the opposite direction and is the one who is indifferent, unconcerned and wouldn’t care less about this God. But he runs like a father towards his prodigal child and this time they don’t meet halfway rather he pursues him to the farthest end. Sure, our African need means we are open to any god out there who can help us. And yes for the most part we think this God is no different but when we look at him we realize he’s not a god we would run after in a million years. Actually he says he’s the one who does the running after.

In Genesis we find him as the God who seeks and calls Abraham and in Exodus he goes after Israel in Egypt. Now here as Africans we would think it is Israel who goes after God. They are facing pain and oppression and they cry out to the so called God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They do it for a long time and finally it wakes this sleeping God to remember his promise. In truth, we are not told which god they called out to only that like us they cried for help and were ready for help from anywhere really. But it was God, as he had promised Abraham who intervenes.  

23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

I think they were open for help from any god perhaps even the gods of Egypt. But it is God who steps in to rescue them and fulfil his Abrahamic promise. Actually if you look closely you realize God was already pulling the strings. He’s the one who increases them in Egypt and the one who preserves them despite all the plots of Pharaoh to cut out their name. It’s God who calls Moses. It’s God who fights Pharaoh for them. It’s God who carries them to Canaan even when most times they want to go back. And this story of a seeking God is repeated a lot of times in the wilderness and in the Promised Land under the Judges. Israel cries and God comes running to save a people who are not really after him and who don’t actually regard his Word and warnings. Israel like Africans want a God who helps when needed but a God who plays by our terms. They want a god they can manipulate to play by their tune. Help them in need but for the most part let them live their lives the way they want. But not so with this God. He’s a fatherly kind of God. He wants to be involved in the lives of his people.

This God seems too emotionally invested for us Africans to entertain. As an African man we can even say he’s a weak man. A true man has got to be powerful yes but also aloof and a bit distant to gain his respect. That’s actually how our gods operated. But this one is not like that and he doesn’t want to be treated like the other gods. He won’t accept just a cash in worship for a cash out favor when we need it. He demands everything and wants to be involved in everything. He talks about eternal life when we are just wondering where our next meal will come from. He says we face a greater problem than poverty, diseases and insecurity? And he says that problem is sin? He’s got to be kidding us. We don’t want that kind of God. He’s too close and too invested for us. And he doesn’t really offer us what the other market gods supply. Yes we want his help but we also want it in our own terms, that’s the tradeoff with any religion. But not with this one though, he says we have to play in his own terms because that’s what is good for us.

If religion is the opium of the masses this God won’t be getting as many customers. He doesn’t fit the bill and doesn’t play by the rules. But it is especially that he’s different that he is exactly what we need. Africa’s greatest problems might be perceived to be hunger, bad leadership, unemployment, corruption, insecurity and a bad history. But all of these are but symptoms of a greater problem that none of our gods have answered. Yes these are real symptoms and shouldn’t be undermined but if we really want a cure we’ve got to go to the root of the problem. And that’s the biggest problem that faces not only Africans but all of humanity throughout history. The heart of the problem is the human heart, See Mark 7:20-23. It’s sin that corrupts our world at the very core. And that problem won’t be solved by education, foreign aid, humanitarian projects or even religion. They help our society but won’t ultimately solve this problem. Only the seeking God of the Bible has an answer for man and with this a solution for Africa and the world at large.

That seeking God comes to a continent that trades with human gods. He calls out a people notoriously religious to the true light of the world. He begs the attention of a people lost in want, addiction and hopelessness and says here is the way. Here’s one who comes to seek and save the lost. Here’s a God who loves mother Africa and has come to save her and her children. He’s heard her cry and stepped in like he did with Israel in the person of Jesus Christ to offer her hope for the future. He deals with Africa’s entrenched problem of sin and liberates her from being the Dark Continent. Here’s a God we should all run to because unlike all our other gods this one runs towards us. This one deals not only with what we think is our problem but with the very heart of it and in him offers us the hope we crave for and that for eternity. Africa has a new God and he’s the seeking God of the Bible.

We are in the week before Easter normally called the Holy Week but more real to many Kenyans this is the week after a devastating weekend that has changed the course of life in our country for many. As Christians have done before, this week we’ll bombard you with Christian messages about the death and resurrection of Christ and perhaps you don’t feel like you want to hear any of that at this time. Easter is like Mini-Christmas to the world but is more important to Christians than that. It’s a time where Christians around the globe remember what Jesus accomplished for us at the cross. When we get a window to send those “Christian messages” and you are not allowed to shush us down. In our defense though, we believe every day is the Lord’s Day. So we feel we should remind each other about him, what he has accomplished for us at the Cross and how we are to live in light of that.

But I think this Easter is even more important at this time if you allow me to share. The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us for over one year and we now know so well how weak and vulnerable we are. Here in Kenya we are struggling through the hard grip of the third wave, with constrained health care system and a worse hit economy. As we are speaking countless people are looking at the next few days with little hope and we don’t even want to think about the future. Worst thing is we know we cannot even depend on our government. The majority are living in the proverbial times when unless the Lord comes himself to help us we don’t know how we’ll survive.

But this is precisely what makes this year’s Easter come with such great news because God has in fact come down to help us in Jesus as he prophesied. In our Utumishi training course here at iServe Africa we’ve been looking at the book of Isaiah and this is the beautiful news we see from Isaiah 40. The prophet begins this second half of the book with a message of hope:

1Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins
Isaiah 40

This message is in utter contrast to the first half of the book which paints an ugly picture of Israel’s sin and its effects which is serious purging judgement from God. God’s people have forsaken him, they live indifferent to him and his call through prophets like Isaiah and they don’t even care what awaits them. God in turn after being so patient with them declares through Isaiah that cleansing and purging judgement is inevitable. If you are a woke Israelite living when Isaiah is prophesying you feel something needs to happen to deal with injustice and callous leadership but Isaiah’s message scares you to the very core. So what we see here in Isaiah 40 is not just good news, it’s the best news in what is otherwise a very hopeless situation. It’s like what we are all hoping for, something like say the president declares tax relief and economy boost but even better.

You see what is prophesied to happen to God’s people is real and serious. Judgement is coming for them through a foreign nation and they will have no mercy on them. And the worst news is that it’s God who is behind this in response to their sin. Sin demands judgement and Israel deserves this. In other words the picture painted is one of hopelessness unless the Lord intervenes. And it’s for that reason why Isaiah 40 is so popular and so comforting. God is coming not to judge but this time to rescue, to lead and strengthen his people. This is exactly what you want to hear when in a crisis; that a helper is coming and he’ll will redeem you.

But as we continue in Isaiah we realize that the way God came through for his people is through his obedient and suffering servant looking at Isaiah 52:13—53:12. God fulfils his promise to deal with sin and redeem his people through the coming of his son. In him God wins us our redemption by his death and resurrection. He was crushed because of our sins and by our hope and knowledge of him we are made right with God today:


11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Isaiah 53.

I know what you are hoping for is something more practical to get you out of this crisis. You want someone to tell you here is the money to survive this lockdown or at least a way to maneuver around that. So I can understand why many might care less about the many Easter messages sent your way this week and instead look out for more political and economic news. But before you throw this to the dustbin let’s survey how this speaks to our situation today. As I said at first I think the message of Easter is more relevant and here’s why:

First, what we want now above everything else is hope that at least tomorrow will be better. We want someone to tell us that the crisis we are in is just temporary and good things are waiting for us ahead. I think if COVID has taught us anything it’s the value of the currency that is hope. And that’s what we need more than anything right now.

Well, that’s exactly what Easter offers us but better than wishful thinking or hoping in political leaders, Easter gives us real hope in someone who is fully trustworthy. Easter says what God promised hundreds of years has been fulfilled through Jesus and therefore we can have unwavering hope and trust in him no matter what happens. Easter gives us hope not only for tomorrow but that one day these diseases, the curse of unwise and uncaring leaders and even Death itself will be no more.

The second thing I know we are after is help here and now. It’s easy to dismiss the Christian message for something we’ll need later in life and argue that what we need is help here and now. We want some cash to buy bread, we want help to pay the bills, and we want a boost for our businesses and a cut on our taxes. We want help now and not stories. I get you and believe me I’m with you on that. But I don’t think the message of Easter or the Gospel for that matter only applies later in life when we come to our death bed. The Gospel hope that Easter reminds us of is what we need every day, pandemic or no pandemic.

As a matter of fact, I cannot for the life of me fathom how someone wakes up, goes around their business, and sleeps at night ready to face tomorrow without the hope of the Gospel. Through the Gospel Christians know that no matter what happens tomorrow to us or our loved ones God will uphold, keep and help us. It reminds me that in the most lonely times, when I’m struggling with things I cannot speak even to friends, Christ is ever present to listen and he promises never to leave me. Easter tells us he came to die for us, for our eternal hope but also that he lives with us by his Spirit helping us daily as we walk towards our eternal heritage.

When his people felt weak and hopeless he said don’t fear, I will help you:

14Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 41.

No matter how fragile our bodies are, regardless of how unpredictable the future is and how often we’ll seem to be alone in this crisis, God is with us and is working out everything for our good. Because of what he did on that first Easter we have hope for tomorrow and life without end. And even right now when we are unsure what will become of us we can look up to him for his ever present help. He will work out a way to help us whether he’ll use our jobs, the government, the church, our friends and family members or even strangers we don’t know. We only know he’ll hold us fast and whatever happens will turn out for our good. Praise be to him only!

But Easter also reminds us that the path to the glorious future was born through the suffering of God’s Son. As God’s children in this world we will face struggles before we come to our eternal future. What we are to do is put our trust in our Lord and Saviour and emulate him as we live for him here and now. Here’s a challenge then to share this Gospel message to a desperate world, a challenge to humility, obedience and to dying for others. The greatest leader won his people by becoming a servant, obeying God and dying to redeem his people. If we choose to lead and walk the Christian path we need to follow in his footsteps. This is a challenge for Christians in every sphere of life and especially those in leadership to look to Christ and emulate him in all we do and especially at this time. 

Someone asked me what will become of all the people zealous for their religion on that last Day? Think about the millions who try their best to live by the standards set by their religion irrespective of how enslaving that can be sometimes. The millions who try their best to observe the 5 pillars of Islam and are saving up for at least one pilgrimage to Mecca. Go back in history and reflect on the chains of indulgences under the Roman Catholic rule. What will God do with those who out of their blindness gave themselves fully to religion if Jesus is the only way to God? 

But closer home what do we do with those Christians who have done their best to earn God’s favor by their works, ascetism, giving up all their resources for the man of God, being monks and nuns? Are you saying without the hope of the Gospel they are doomed? That none of that will earn them heavenly credit?

In addition to this, add salt to the wound that undeserving reckless sinners like us who respond to the Gospel call gets to heaven by Christ’s merits. That any criminal who repents on the execution table and turns to Jesus will be with him and at peace in heaven. How unfair? What injustice? Religion costs some everything and yet they are locked out and we get in by faith? Surely God cannot be that unfair! What does the Bible have to say about that, my friend asks? I tremble a bit because I realize his question demands an answer and I’m not sure he’ll be happy with it. 

Now, most of us would be familiar with Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. I guess a lot of us on this side of the divide would rightly identify with the younger reckless brother and are drawn by his Father’s overwhelming love and grace. It makes for a great Gospel talk. But the story is actually about two brothers and our evangelistic efforts wouldn’t be enough if we ignored the elder brother. Our religious brothers might actually be abhorred by this kind of God who seems to embrace sinners and ignore the “righteous”. 

The prodigal’s brother (the elder brother) has tried his best to serve his Father unlike his younger rebellious brother who takes off and squanders his father’s assets. The prodigal’s brother has been laboring hard in his Father’s field. He checks his reputation so it doesn’t reflect badly on the Father. His Father’s business has really become his business and his life goals and ambitions are aimed at pleasing him. He’s probably even suffered at the back of his commitment to his Father’s cause. But what does he get in return? Not only is he rarely appreciated but his Father regards and crowns the younger son when he comes back to his senses not him. What a betrayal? What an injustice the brother feels! So before we judge his teenage mood swing try walk in his footsteps a mile.

In our recent onsite Ministry Training Course at iServe Africa we looked at the book of Jonah with our second years and we met what Tim Keller calls the prodigal prophet. By the way if you haven’t studied Jonah as an adult I would recommend you do that. It’s not just about a moody prophet and the big fish. Like with the prodigal’s brother we realized we needed to walk a mile in Jonah’s muddy shoes before making a judgement call on his attitude towards Nineveh. Jonah is angry with God’s loving kindness and the second chance he gives to the evil undeserving city of Nineveh. But like the prodigal’s brother, a “good” religious person, he’s more angry with God’s character:

2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Jonah 4.

Most of us get angry with God when he seems not to care and act in our misfortunes but Jonah is angry when God acts on behalf of those he thinks are undeserving of his love and grace. But like with the prodigal’s brother the story is meant to make us ask is he right in being angry? And on one hand, we should sympathize with him especially when we realize what the Assyrians will do to his own people. But when we evaluate his own heart we find he falls short and we realize God’s love and grace is not something to be earned but lavished because no one can earn it. Nobody comes even closer to a 50-50 deal with God. Jonah is angry with a forgiving God and yet he desperately need and want that for himself. The prodigal’s brother hates the Father’s love and consideration of the younger one but wants it for himself despite his own flaws. In this incidence, he treats the Father as an investment portfolio and his service merely is transactional. Both of them judge by their standards and yet they fall short of those standards leave alone God’s high standards.

But the Gospel that saves the younger son is also what the elder brother needs. You see his commitment to his Father’s religion and business makes us blind of his own flaws. First of all he serves because of the reward and his affection is merely transactional (my extrapolation). To him service means reward instead of being in this relationship because he loves his Father. It’s about what he gets out of it instead of commitment to the one who calls him to his love. He’s so blinded by what he’ll get in the end that he doesn’t stop to ask how this relationship affects the Father, what does the Father get? So if we feel God’s character and judgement is an injustice to religious people then maybe we need to walk a mile in God’s shoes. An even greater injustice is committed against God by those who disregard his Gospel call for human religion and still demand a share of his heavenly home.

Moreover, the Bible teaches us God is a relational being which is one big fundamental difference between the God of the Bible and the God of Islam and the other religions. God is not just after people pleasing him by following a set of rules which he rewards with paradise. God is after relationship with his people like a good Father wants from his children. We see this right from creation, the story of Israel and it’s the aim of the eternal future that awaits those who trust and believe in God through Christ. God dwelling in perfect peace with his people in his holy city. Those who focus on the inheritance and evading his judgement miss on the driving force which is relationship. The Gospel is nothing if not an invitation to this relationship now and in eternity. 

While I sympathize with my friend, the prodigal brother and Jonah, one needs only look at their own flaws and see things from God’s perspective. There’s no heaven without a restored relationship with God and that cannot be attained by religion however zealous. Only the Gospel of Jesus guarantees it. Only the son who left heaven for our redemption can lead us back to God. He died that through him we might live and in John 3 we are told this was the Father extending his love and grace to our world, to the religious and irreligious, if only we would receive him. John summaries this amazing Chapter with these words:

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3

Whoever means anyone and everyone. The Gospel calls the prodigal’s brother as it appeals to the young reckless one. It begs the attention of the deeply traditional and religious man just as it does with the indifferent 21st century guy. And the judgement for those who reject and ignore this call is the same regardless of how zealous they are of their religion. God won’t be hoodwinked by vain observance of religion. He wants the whole of you not just your hand and feet for him, he wants your heart and mind. He wants a relationship and that is only attained by listening to his Word through his Son by the Gospel.