Mirage or Oasis

by Jonathan Whitaker

I can confidently say that Bugs Bunny cartoons did not adequately prepare me for my deployment to the Middle East.  According to Looney Toons, the most reliable feature of any desert is the presence of a mirage followed closely by an abundance of magic lamps.  The cartoon bit was always the same.  Dying of thirst, dressed as Lawrence of Arabia, Bugs Bunny or Yosemite Sam would spot a palm-lined oasis in the distance, only to find their hopes dashed by a pesky mirage.  I have been here since May in the heat of the summer and I have yet to see a single mirage (or lamp for that matter).  It is worth noting that the defining characteristic of a mirage is that it promises something that it can’t deliver.

The expectations I set for ministry prior to my deployment and the things I would accomplish for God’s Kingdom were in many ways like a mirage.  When I arrived at what I thought was a palm-lined oasis, I quickly realized it was something completely different.  Maybe you have had this experience.  You resolve to do something for God, perhaps after hearing one of Aaron’s inspiring sermons.  Before you can realize this great vision, reality smacks you in the face.

I prepared and prayed for this deployment and I had an idea of what God would do through me in this place, an expectation of what that ministry might be.  Not gonna lie, I imagined I would be preaching and leading Bible studies, and if I could get my hands on a guitar… well you get it.  So far, that vision of ‘Middle East Billy Graham’ has been more mirage than reality.  Often we imagine how God may answer our prayers before we pray them.  Usually while we wait on God’s answer to prayer, our hope is that God will give us exactly what we asked for.  Our sin nature causes us to want to lead God to the outcomes we most desire, even in prayer, but is that how it ought to be?

Psalm 25 teaches that God leads and we are to follow: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” (Psalm 25:4-5) The problem I have experienced is, instead of marching toward a goal, I end up wandering in a desert (quite literally) toward a mirage of my own creation.  Meanwhile, I miss the gentle leading of the Lord, which is the very answer to prayer that I am seeking.  The solution to this problem starts when we stop looking for an oasis that meets all the desires of our prayer and start looking at Jesus.  Jesus was very clear about one thing in His ministry, we only harvest where He has sown the seed. 

John chapter 4 tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.  Because of the first century prejudice that existed between Jews and Samaritans, this interaction nearly scandalized Jesus’ disciples.  Jesus promised this woman (and us) living water.  This unexpected encounter (to the disciples), was actually a divine appointment that resulted in a multitude coming to salvation.  Jesus taught his disciples a very important lesson, “For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4:37-38).  Meaning, when we have success for God’s Kingdom, it is only because God prepared the way before we arrived.  

The Apostle Paul put this another way, “Paul planted, Apollos watered, God gave the increase.” (1 Cor 3:6).  God always reaps a harvest where he has sown.  Should we pray for God to lead us? Absolutely.  Should you have an idea or expectation of how God might answer that prayer?  You would not be a human if you did not.  The wisdom comes from discerning God’s answers to your prayer.  

So what am I to do?  The mirage has faded and there is only sand as far as I can see.  Satan has whispered in my ear more than once that I have failed.  I think it is time to look around and see the ministry that God has led me to.  It does not include a podium, a microphone, or a guitar.  I have already annoyed everyone at the Base Chaplain’s Bible study with my long theological rants.  So where does that leave me?  The answer is with the fruitful harvest that God has led me to.  I can’t wait to report to you what that is, once I have figured it out.  I remain willing as ever to obey God’s leading, but more than ever, I am also ready to get out of His way.

One last thought.  Between 1947 and 2005, Billy Graham let 417 Crusades, in 185 countries, on every continent except Antarctica. You and I may never evangelize to the untold millions to whom Billy Graham gave the Gospel, but as great an evangelist as Billy Graham was, somebody first shared the gospel with him.  Whether you are Billy Graham, preaching to millions, or the person who witnessed to Billy Graham, in both cases God sowed the seed, and God reaped the harvest. 

God probably won’t send you or me into the mission field we expect, but the mission field he sends us to is always the right one.  Learn from me; don’t keep wandering toward the mirage.  Look around you at the oasis God as already led you to, and share the living water with anyone who will drink.