Much effort goes into careful planning of mission, as we seek to determine God’s plan, we pray about who to send where, and we set up, train and support teams.  Few would argue that this diligence is excessive, and we would be rather scornful of those who don’t plan carefully.  We expect them to have all sorts of difficulties, and when they do, while we don’t rejoice we may have a smug ‘I-told-you-so’ moment.

Yet it seems that much mission does in fact happen by accident.  I’m 20 years into my life as a mission worker, and I just intended to take a year out.  I’m sure the same is true of many others.  Noah was probably just getting on with his life when God made him a ‘preacher of righteousness’ (2 Peter 2:5).  Lot would appear on the surface to have been only interested in his cattle (Genesis 13:11-12) but he ended up being a missionary in Sodom (2 Peter 2:8 says he was a ‘righteous man tormented by their lawlessness’).  One of the Bible’s most successful missionaries, Jonah, even tried to run away from his new calling.

In the New Testament, Philip was minding his own business when God sent him to tell an Ethiopian about Jesus (Acts 8:26), and Peter was on a ministry trip visiting the church in Joppa when he was invited to preach to a Roman centurion (Acts 11).  Barnabas and Saul were in a worship meeting when they were spontaneously sent (Acts 13:2).  Paul and his friends had to walk through Turkey trying out various options before they realised where they were supposed to be working (Acts 16:6-10).  And in the modern era, many of our famous mission workers didn’t end up where they thought they were going to be, or just went, like Jackie Pullinger, on the prompting of the Holy Spirit and got on with it when they arrived.

The point I am making is that (to paraphrase John Lennon) mission is what happens while you’re busy planning your mission.  Mission is how we deal with the people we sit next to on the train on the way to our mission meeting, or the people who want to talk to us when we are too busy planning.  Mission can take place in a variety of settings.  While you are sitting all day in a government office waiting for the man with the key to return from a funeral, are you just getting frustrated or is this God’s way of using you to be a witness to those around you?  When you are kidnapped, has your mission been derailed, or merely diverted?  Is this God’s plan for you to be a witness?

Mission is taking the opportunity to reach out to people wherever and whenever we are and all it requires is for us to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to prompt us (like Philip in Acts 8:26) and to be ready to tell our story (1 Peter 3:15).  It often happens spontaneously and unplanned, or so it appears to us, but in all those scriptural examples above, God was at work and it was all part of his plan.  It just wasn’t part of the people’s plans.  This is the essence of Mission Dei – that God is already reaching out to the lost and graciously allows us to help .

So when we are making plans for our mission, it’s worth remembering Proverbs 16:9 – We make our own plans, but the Lord decides where we will go.

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