If you’ve paid much attention to advertising, you’re familiar with the old “bait and switch” tactic. You know the scheme—the ad in the paper features a hot used car for a ridiculous price, but when you show up to buy it, you learn that it was “just sold”—but here’s another one, only a bit beat up and for a lot more money than you’d planned to spend. Would you like to go for a test drive?
That kind of advertising is dishonest, and often illegal. But I’ve noticed that God seems to pull a bait and switch on us with disturbing regularity. The only difference is that in God’s case, all the alternates are much better than the original bait!
For example, Pete and a co-worker were invited to attend a missions meeting in Guatemala. Tickets to Guatemala aren’t cheap but we felt they were to go, so they made the arrangements and went. The meeting turned out to be fairly insignificant—if he’d known ahead of time, he never would have attended. However, while there they met a ministry leader from another country—a strategic connection that led to another, much more fruitful trip.
Would Pete have gone if he knew that he was flying all the way to Central America just to meet someone? He might not have considered that a sufficient reason—but God obviously did.
God’s little shenanigans often show up in ministry-related travel. Friends of ours bought tickets to a country in Asia, in order to attend a large conference. Just before they were to leave, the conference was canceled. Since the tickets were not refundable, they went anyway—and God met them there with a whole different list of opportunities and connections.
Of course, we know that God’s plans far exceed our own, and we do best to let him lead us on as convoluted a course as he deems necessary. Putting that knowledge into practice can be a challenge.
When things don’t go as we expect them to, our initial reaction is often to get frustrated, even angry. We want the bait, and totally miss the fact that it’s a better substitute he offers us. Besides, it’s hard to let go of our control and leave the outcomes to someone else, no matter how loving and trustworthy he is. What if God’s ideas don’t jibe with mine?
My favorite bait and switch came over 40 years ago. I was a freshman in college, a devout atheist with a weakness for cute blond guys. Not only wasn’t I interested in religion, it never even crossed my mind. However, the guy upstairs, well, he was another story—friendly, smart, and definitely cute and blond. He also happened to be a strong Christian. When his mother came to visit, of course I’d be happy to give you both a ride to church. And you want me to come with you? Sure! (I’d love to sit next to you for an hour or so.)
I can just picture God sighing, considering the lengths he had to go to—but how else was he doing to get my attention? It hurt when, shortly after I became a Christian, Cute Blond Guy announced that he had a serious girlfriend, and it wasn’t me. I see now that my relationship with God was far more important, and a boyfriend would have been a distraction I didn’t need right then. Cute Blond Guy married his girl—I haven’t seen him in decades—but God and I are doing fine.