So, the unexpected then. We went to Amiens, expecting to look for and find long-term rented accommodation. A flat, a house, nothing special, not a palace, just enough for what we believed God wanted us to do there: share our lives with the people we would meet and share Jesus with them along the way.
After eight weeks, we had not found anywhere. The last couple of weeks it seemed to become increasingly clear that we were not going to find anywhere. There are human, natural, reasons for that. But the biggest reason seemed to be that God did not want us to stay in Amiens, at that time anyway.
What? Had we heard wrong? Were all the things labelled Amiens which fell into place in our lives a mistake? Was God saying one thing whilst we were hearing another? Nope, I don’t believe so.
We returned to London at the very end of February, knowing that Amiens was not the place for now. Maybe later? Who knows? God knows! There was a germ of possibility for spending a short time in another place, which we would explore to see if God opened a door.
Back here in London, then, a couple of days after finishing reading Acts again, as described in the previous post, I went out for a walk round the streets and parks. A pray-think-listen walk.
As I walked, I thought about what God had shown me about Acts, how He worked through the unexpected (to His people, never to Him!). For no particular reason, I thought I’d review the crisis times in my life since I became a Christian.
So I delved back into my memory to find the times when it had seemed to me that my life was at a real crisis point and thought about what had happened. Work crises, personal crises, ministry crises.
What I found was really interesting. It seemed to me that in each case I had been living my life according to a plan that I had worked out. At some point, the plan stopped working: the crisis point. My life moved on again, got back on track, when God brought along the unexpected: something which was never part of my plan and would not have happened without the crisis.
Obviously, some of the examples are rather personal. But let me share one from my work life. I had been working for myself as a computer consultant for maybe a few years. Things had been building up and the work level was OK, but then it seemed to plateau. The new work and new clients were not there. Money became very tight indeed. It was a really worrying time. My nicely worked out plans for my young business were failing fast.
Things got to the point where I could see no alternative but to stop working for myself and get a job. Ugh, bad news as far as I was concerned. OK, so I began applying for jobs. Very quickly I found that I was too old (a little over 30!) for many opportunities and I did not have paper qualifications for the jobs I had the experience for (in computing). The fact I could do the job with my eyes closed didn’t matter, the employer needed that piece of paper. Grrr!
Crisis time! I haven’t got enough consultancy work, nobody will employ me, what can I do? Where are you, God? What’s going on?
What happened? Two things. The first was that totally out of the blue, in a completely unexpected way, I got a new consultancy client. Not just a client with a little bit of work, but lots of work. And different work: design, training and database publishing, the last of which involved a lot more computer programming. A new direction. I was safe… phew!
The second thing that happened was that out of the increased amount of computer programming I was doing came an idea to publish a magazine for programmers. To cut a long story short, that worked out very well indeed, to the extent that I eventually gave up consultancy to concentrate on the magazine. It gave me a level of financial security that made lots of other things possible (including, eventually, going to France).
So, my careful human plan failed. I came to a crisis point. At my crisis point, God brought along the completely unexpected. And actually, the two-stage pattern of an immediate unexpected and temporary way forwards (my new consultancy client), followed by a longer-term and more significant unexpected way forwards (the magazine) has been repeated in my life.
All of this obviously made me think very hard about where we are just now in terms of God’s call on our lives to work for Him in France. We had a plan, it seemed to be the plan that God was leading us into. The plan failed — no flat or house in Amiens at the moment. We have a crisis point — what happens now? Does God really want us in France?
The first unexpected thing is that in a couple of days we are off to spend seven weeks in Clermont, in the Oise département, working with missionary friends of missionary friends who are planting a Church there.
What then? Who knows? God knows! I’ve tried very hard not to keep running lists of possibilities through my mind, I’ve tried hard to stop making my own plans. I think I should plan less (not that planning of itself is bad, but planning God out of the equation is not the way to go…), expect God to bring me to crisis points, see these as opportunities and not disasters, trust Him more… and expect the unexpected. Trust that God will show up and move things forwards in an unforeseen, amazing and powerful way.
Is it easy? No, very far from it. Is it painful? Absolutely. Do I often feel like doing a Jonah and running away? Definitely. I try and remember what God said to Joshua: be strong and very courageous. God can do this, I can’t, so I’m just going to have to keep relying on Him…