“I don’t want to go.”
This is a statement that parents sometimes hear their children say. They don’t want to go to bed, to school, to a family function, or some other event. But this phrase is also at times used by adults.
Grownups don’t want to go to a job interview, to work, or to some other gathering. Although they don’t always use the exact same words that I used above sometimes God’s servants have expressed this same sentiment. They have told God that they don’t want to go.
One such person was Moses. He was a very significant figure in biblical history. Today we view him as a hero, a great servant of God, who was mightily used by the Lord. Moses has an impressive list of accomplishments which include leading the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, and being used by the Lord to write five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. He was a great leader. However, at the beginning he was a very reluctant one.
In Exodus 3 when the Lord spoke to him about going back to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of that land his response was less than enthusiastic. He responded to the Lord’s directive with a question (Exod. 3:11). His response indicates that he did not feel he was the right person for the mission.
He then went on to ask what he should say if people ask him what God’s name is (Exod. 3:13). Next he asks what if the people do not believe him (Exod. 4:1).
At this point Moses stops with his questions and makes a statement, he says that he is not a good speaker (Exod. 4:10). Are you getting the idea that he really does not want to go? If you have any doubts about this Moses clears that up in Exodus 4:13 where he says
“O Lord, please send someone else to do it” (NIV).
Why didn’t he want to go? I believe there were a number of reasons.
- To begin with he was probably afraid. It was a large task and he was called to go and stand before the leader of Egypt.
- He also didn’t feel qualified, “who am I” (Exod. 4:11 NIV), his statement that he could not speak well also indicated a sense of inadequacy.
- And, in addition to these reasons he had tried to liberate the Israelites from Egypt forty years earlier and it did not work out (Acts 7:23-25, 30-34).
In spite of the fact that he initially did not want to go back to Egypt we know that he did return and did lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
Another person who pretty much told the Lord “I don’t want to go” was the prophet Jonah. However, we don’t find him having an extended conversation with the Lord about why he did not want to go.
The only statement that the biblical text makes which might have been part of an early conversation that Jonah had with the Lord is found in Jonah 4:2. In this verse Jonah makes reference to something he said when he was back home. He knew the character of God and was concerned that God might forgive the Ninevites, this is part of the reason why he did not want to go to Nineveh.
As the book of Jonah opens the prophet quickly puts feet to his lack of faith. He did not head toward Nineveh, instead, he headed for Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). What was true in the case of Moses was also true here. The Lord was not going to quickly accept a “no” from His servant. He intervened in Jonah’s escape plan by sending a storm and a fish to intercept Jonah. Once he became a captive audience in the belly of the fish he prayed. The Lord heard him and released him from the belly of the fish. Then the Lord repeated His order and Jonah went to Nineveh.
I believe Jonah initially had a number of reservations about accepting the call to this ministry. It would be quite normal for him to be afraid to do what he had been told to do. He was going alone to preach an unpopular message (a message of judgment) to a sizeable city.
These things along with the earlier mentioned graciousness character of God caused him to shrink back from his call. But, when he did obey he had a successful ministry (though he was not happy about it-read Jonah chapter 4).
The third individual that I would like to call your attention to is the apostle Paul. You may think I am going to focus on his experience on the Damascus road but I am not. Paul’s “I don’t want to go” moment was a bit different from those of Moses and Jonah.
In Acts 22 Paul recounted his encounter with the Lord Jesus on the Damascus road. After speaking about this he told his hearers that he returned to Jerusalem. While he was there in the Temple he fell into a trance and the Lord spoke to him and told him to get out of the city. Paul’s response was in essence “I don’t want to go.” Paul evidently planned to stay and minister in the city, he believed that he would be an asset to the Lord there.
I say this because in Acts 22:19-20 he tells the Lord why he should stay in Jerusalem. So he initially resisted the directive to leave. We know from the rest of the book of Acts that Paul did not do much ministry in Jerusalem. The Lord did indeed send him “far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21 NIV) and he had a very profitable ministry among them.
As the experiences of these biblical characters demonstrate sometimes God’s servants resist His directives. They draw back when they hear His voice. This was true in biblical days and it is true today. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes it is fear. This can be due to either the size of the task or the danger involved in doing it. Sometimes it is due to a sense of inadequacy. At other times it is a sense that we are qualified to be where we are.
As the stories of these three men make clear, God knows what He is doing. All of them had productive ministries-when they obeyed. The Lord knows the right time, the right place, and the right people for His work.
He knows all things. The Lord has something for you to do; you have a part in His plan. If you hear His voice will you resist Him or will you obey Him? Will you go? Or will you say “I don’t want to go”?
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Zion Bible Institute, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and has twenty years of pastoral experience.