Every week my husband has the privilege of helping out with a ministry distributing food in the area to those who are in need. Usually, almost all of the food is given away without a problem. There are some days though (usually if there happens to be an excess of a certain type of produce people aren’t accustomed to eating or cooking with) when very few people want or take it. What happens in these cases, when possible, is it’s taken to other ministries in the area that have outreaches to the homeless, etc. Sometimes, because of time, circumstances, what has already been donated, etc. it cannot be donated and – as unfortunate as it is – those leftovers will get tossed in the trash because they are starting to go bad.
It was last year right around this time in which one of these circumstances happened. There was an abundance of tomatillos that people, for whatever reason, weren’t interested in taking. In lieu of throwing them away, my husband came home with said tomatillos – which needed attention sooner than later to preserve them from rotting and going to waste.
It hadn’t been on my agenda to preserve anything that week, but to avoid wasting the tomatillos I got to work: sorting the good fruit from bad, removing husks, cleaning the kitchen really well, washing the tomatillos, roasting the tomatillos, prepping other veggies in the salsa recipe, cooking salsa, blending it, sterilizing the jars for canning, and finally preserving the jars of salsa in the canning process. Needless to say, it was a bit of a labor intensive process – which stretched over the course of a few days for me.
For those that know me, they know I really enjoy canning. Sure, the process can be time consuming and exhausting, but there is something completely satisfying about seeing shelves full of colorful jars that have been lovingly and painstakingly preserved for the year ahead.
I love lining up the canned, cooled, washed, and labeled jars of whatever the last canning project was on the counter for one last look before they go downstairs for storage. It’s kind of like a picture of what hard work has accomplished and is very rewarding for me.
Then, after the gratifying feeling of that last glance, I want my kitchen back and don’t want to see the jars again until I need them to eat. In the past, I’ve typically loaded up a box or crate and asked my husband to take the load downstairs to where we store the jars. It was on this one such occasion where from the other side of the house I heard a CRASH. Immediately I just knew what had happened. First feeling: sinking. First thoughts, “All of that time. All of that work. Oh no, the mess! Oh no, it’s GREEN.” First reaction: calm, actually – I was not freaking out. First words, “It’s okay, honey. Kids, get a garbage can.” Post first word thoughts, “Oh no, oh no, oh no. It’s going to be such a mess to clean up! All of that work…”
After this untimely and unforeseen salsa verde catastrophe, the course of my day changed direction from what I thought it was going to look like and we now had to clean up broken glass and that green salsa off the stairs, basement floor, walls and even ceilings. Unless we wanted our house to forever smell of salsa verde, we HAD to rent a carpet shampooer. We just had to.
Since we already had the carpet shampooer to clean up the salsa mess, we figured it would be a shame not to get our money’s worth out of it and put it to good use on our “white” carpet (what started out as white when we moved in a few years ago anyway). 7 people (5 kids) and a dog later I was so done with our “white” carpet at that point and every time I looked at it just wanted to rip it out and put hardwood and tile in. Someday.
So, we tested out the shampooer and saw what skills she had! 3 DAYS later with blisters on my hands and a sore back the carpet was almost as clean as the day we moved in. Almost. It did do a great job (It?…I? Both. I mean, come on. I had to go over some sections like 9 times. We’ll settle for calling it a collaborative effort.) Anyway, it wasn’t a miracle worker, but man oh man, I felt happy with the results!
Did I want to spend 3 days of my life cleaning like a mad woman, while cancelling anything else that was on my agenda? Naw, but it had to be done. My trajectory had been changed.
That’s a silly example without life altering circumstances, but more often than not in life when we have a trajectory change we end up in a place that we didn’t plan on being in the beginning.
A challenge is usually issued to us in those times and we have to choose. Choose if we are going to keep on keeping on and forge ahead, making the best of it, figuring it all out (mess and all)…or are we going to freak out, give up, and get upset that things didn’t go how we had planned?
Psalm 37:8 says, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it only leads to evil.”
Paul says in Philippians 4:10-13 that he learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself in. And believe me, Paul was a man that had numerous trajectory deviations in his life.
Let’s consider the life of the Apostle Paul and what we know about him. It will help us appreciate some of these trajectory changes he experienced:
-In life, he started off with status and education, unlike the other 12 apostles.
–He was born a Roman citizen (which was uncommon for a Jew in his time).
-He was fluent in Greek, which meant he was versed in secular literature and was knowledgeable about the world outside his Jewish circle yet he saw himself as a devout Jew – a Jew of the Jews, if you will.
-His theology “teacher” in Jerusalem was famous theologian Gamaliel.
-He didn’t believe Jesus was the Jewish Messiah which was prophesied about in scripture. Because of this he wanted to get rid of anyone who was spreading what he thought to be heresy. Therefore he championed a movement to arrest, persecute, imprison and even put to death Christians because he believed they were blaspheming God by worshiping a man.
Read Acts 9:1-19. We see Paul in a radical and life-trajectory changing encounter with Jesus; an awakening, if you will. This encounter changed everything for him. He, in all of his pious religiosity and high minded pride was now humbled and spiritually awakened. The thing he hated most, Christians, he now became and ultimately committed his life to advancing the Good News of Jesus Christ. He had firsthand knowledge of how Jesus transforms lives. He was on one path full of murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples and after encountering Jesus had the trajectory of his life altered. Did Jesus have a call on Paul’s life before he encountered him on the road to Damascus? Yes. Did Paul have the vision (physical or spiritual) to be able to see it? No, it took him being physically blinded to hear what Jesus had to say to him.
What we can learn from this:
-Trajectory changes can cause an awakening.
-Sometimes trajectory changes can have a positive outcome (Paul was saved).
-The initial stages of trajectory change often unseat our ability to be in control and leave us feeling handicapped.
Read Acts 27-28. We see Paul as a prisoner aboard a ship heading for a destination of Italy. They had great difficulty along the way and ultimately shipwrecked. Throughout this trajectory change of his life as a prisoner, he was able to save all 276 aboard the ship, as well as share Jesus with all on the island of Malta, seeing lives healed and changed forever. We may not think of being a prisoner as the ideal situation in which to be “available”, but had he not made himself available, even in the midst of a pretty cruddy situation where his life had taken a turn, God wouldn’t have had that chance to be glorified in the lives Paul was able to come into contact with.
What we can learn from this:
-Trajectory changes can suddenly make you available. But we must choose to have that “I’m going to be available” attitude, despite our circumstances.
-Sometimes our trajectory changes put us in a place that we would not have opted to go to on our own.
Read Acts 16. We see Paul along with his traveling companions, Silas and Timothy, travel to the churches in Galatia and Phrygia. As they continue on Paul has a desire to preach the gospel in western Asia, but the Spirit of the Lord forbids him to go (Acts 16:6). So, they continue on their journey and Paul wants to go to east to the province of Bithynia, but again, the Holy Spirit keeps him from going (Acts 16:7). They end up in Troas, which is where Luke (the writer of the book of Acts), joins them and where God gives Paul a vision of a man in Macedonia begging for him to help. So, they change their trajectory to head that way, but along that journey end up eventually in Philippi preaching the gospel to a lady named Lydia. She and her entire household believe in Christ and are baptized (Acts 16:10-11).
What we can learn from this:
-Trajectory changes can reveal an assignment different from what we expect or think we understand it to be.
-Sometimes trajectory change allows us to encounter people through divine appointments.
-It doesn’t matter what you think your ultimate destination is going to be or should be, are we doing the work of God along the way? We have no idea what those divine encounters in which we choose to be available to share Christ with someone may do to impact people’s lives for eternity.
Read Acts 14:19-23. We see in this passage the account of Paul being stoned by Jews who hated the message of Christ being shared. They stoned him, thought him dead, and dragged him outside the city. Then we see a miracle happen as the disciples gathered around him – Paul rose up and reentered the city he was just dragged out of. The next day he continued traveling around preaching the gospel, making disciples, and strengthening and encouraging believers to continue in the faith saying, “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 16:22b)
What we can learn from this:
-Trajectory changes can cause adversity (aka – difficulties).
-Sometimes trajectory changes take us through adversity (Paul was stoned) on the way to seeing our assignment fulfilled.
-We can choose to have resilience in the face of adversity bearing in mind that we are not pitching a tent in the midst of it, but are going through it. For Christ-followers, even in the difficulties, misfortunes, and the “unfairness” of life God is undoubtedly “for us”. He is constantly working both for our good and to glorify Himself through us.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
So, whatever trajectory change in life you find yourself in, intentionally choose to keep your eyes on Jesus and learn to be content in Christ whatever your circumstance. Keep on keeping on when the trajectory has stirred an awakening, made you available, revealed a different assignment, or resulted in adversity. Do the work of Jesus both in time of need and of plenty. Do the work of Jesus whether starving or well fed. Do the work of Jesus, “period!” Love God. Love people. Be a disciple. Disciple others.
Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”