More than a decade ago my friend Clarence, with his wife, took a call to pastor a church in northern New Jersey. I see less of them now, but the news over the years has been worrisome. The church was shrinking rather than growing. Bette took a job in a nursery school to make ends meet, and Clarence finally got work as a night watchman.
That’s when the Lord began to really move. Since Clarence has always been irrepressible, it should not have surprised me that he continued to talk about God to everyone he met at the large office complex where he cruises the parking lot, alleys, and hallways, reaching more people with the gospel than he did behind the pulpit.
What you need to know about Clarence is that he has always been a very traditional—not to say rigid—man. He would never have thought of this career change himself. It is Clarence’s God who is the “out of the box” thinker.
This is the same God who thought it advancement, rather than setback, to have the apostle Paul thrown in prison rather than let him pursue a more expected program of evangelism. Paul came to appreciate the beauty of God’s itinerary change:
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14).
Who would have thought you could accomplish more by spoiling a guy’s plans than by granting them? And yet here we have God killing more birds with one stone than He would have if things had gone agreeably—not only does Caesar’s household get to hear the gospel (They join in the greetings to fellow believers in 4:22), but fellow evangelists who were timid before the jailing incident are somehow more fired up now.
Perhaps Paul was not so taken by surprise after all, having already experienced the redeeming of a disappointment in Troas, and seen the way God always comes up with something better than the original plan. Reflecting on that Troas debacle and the change of course, Paul said:
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ …” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).
And when all is said and done, I guess that is the idea—that it is not so much about location and smooth plans as about aroma. Which is something we can have anywhere. Let us trust the Lord with disappointments, failures, and changes of course. They may very well be the setting up of something better.