I know… it’s been a while. My apologies.
When I got home from church on Sunday, I felt led to reread the story of Jonah, one that I’m sure you’re very familiar with.
Jonah is a short book, doesn’t take that long to read. I always considered this prophet somewhat immature and very stubborn, but on Sunday afternoon I began to wonder if I’m as different from him as I imagine I am. I see more just how wicked it is to run from something God has called me to do or be. Here are a few reasons why.
1. Running is foolish (Jonah 1:1-3).
I don’t know much about Jonah’s background except that he was the son of Amittai and was a prophet. He was probably just going about his merry way when God said to him, “Arise, go to Nineveh.” Pretty much like everyone is when God calls them.
What did Jonah do? He rose up “to flee to Tarshish, from the presence of the LORD.”
I looked up a map showing the distance from Nineveh to Tarshish. God was already convicting me about my Jonahlikeness, so I needed to be serious, but I still couldn’t help laughing. Nineveh was 500 miles away from where Jonah was. Tarshish was 2000+ miles away – in the opposite direction. This was definitely a calculated escape. But what makes it even funnier is Jonah knew the Lord, as we can tell from the fact that the word of the LORD came to him (meaning he recognized God’s voice), and as we see later in Jonah 1:8. He must have known that there was no way he could flee from the LORD’s presence (Psalm 139:8). So what was he doing?
It’s the same thing we often do. We think, as we run, that we are so creative, that our plan is so perfect that nothing can upset it. But it’s impossible to run from God. It is so foolish to attempt it. It’s like an ant on a tabletop, trying to run to the furthest corner of the table so that I don’t see it. Makes no sense! And yet how many times have I tried to be like that ant?
2. Running causes a storm in the lives of those around us (1:4-16).
And the storm just might not cease until we do what we’re supposed to. Jonah got on a ship, determined to make it to Tarshish. God Himself sent a mighty tempest. One of the things I love about the Lord is that He is more than happy to inconvenience a few people for the sake of just one person. He caused this storm for Jonah’s sake, and ultimately also for the sakes of the Ninevites. Because of Jonah and the Ninevites, mariners got to know about, and worship, the True God.
Everyone on the ship panicked and began to pray. But wait a minute: where was Jonah? In a corner, asleep. This was not the Jesus-asleep-in-the-boat (Mark 4:35-41) kind of sleep. Jesus had decreed that He and the disciples would make it to the other side. He could afford to nap. Jonah, not so much.
Running from something God has called us to do or be will be a bother to others, at best, and will destroy them, at worst. If you are not where you’re supposed to be, you’re a) going to be wasting time and resources, because someone is probably covering for you at that location and b) putting others in trouble, because i) if you’re not where you’re supposed to be and they’re with you, then they’re not where they’re supposed to be and that means the need they’re supposed to meet is not being met (2 Samuel 11), and ii) those who need you to be where you’re supposed to be are not getting what you were sent there to give them. It’s a huge waste, all around.
We are not indispensable. God can replace any soldier. But He created us so uniquely that nobody can ever do it the same way as that soldier would.
The men woke Jonah up. “Are you serious? Dude, wake up and pray to your God!” They finally decided to cast lots, and figured out that Jonah was the reason for the storm. I have a feeling Jonah knew it all along. They men were upset and asked him what to do.
3. Running makes people do irrational things (1:10-15).
Running, technically speaking, is irrational in and of itself. Technically. But it gets worse. Look at Jonah: “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you.”
This part is a little confusing to me. Jesus said that Jonah was a type of Himself (Matthew 12:40). We also see later that God had already prepared a fish to swallow Jonah (1:17). So we can definitely see His will working here. It’s fascinating to me that even our horrible decisions can be turned around in this way. Many people see Jonah’s request to be tossed into the sea as an unselfish act, and in many ways, it is, but reading on and seeing the way he reacted to other things makes me wonder if indeed he just was not thinking or if he just was so bent on running that he decided he would rather be tossed into a sea than go to Nineveh.
God forgives the repentant, so why didn’t Jonah say something like, “Turn the ship around; I need to get to Nineveh,” or even “Drop me off at the next port; I’ll find a way to get to Nineveh from there.”? The men were so desperate that I am certain they would have agreed to whatever he requested. I could be wrong (and please correct me if I am), but it seems like Jonah was just so bent on running that he was actually willing to cause these men to shed blood.
And that’s what running does. People who run get so caught up in running that they do things that are so avoidable and so unnecessary. David committed adultery, then manipulated things, one after another, until he ended up committing murder, just because he was bent on running.
4. Running causes people to forget that they have options (1:17, 2:1).
The men prayed and tossed Jonah into the sea. The Bible says, “Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD His God out of the fish’s belly.” (Jonah 1:17, 2:1, emphasis mine.)
Really? I always pictured the fish’s belly the way it was drawn in our Bible story books – Jonah, inside a neat, little hammock made up of ribs, continuing his nap, I believe even with a blanket but maybe I just added the blanket in my head. But in his prayer we see that he had weeds wrapped around his head and so forth. How many chances did he have to pray from the time the storm began, to the time he was tossed into the sea, while he was sinking, and when he got into the belly of the fish? He did not pray through all this, plus three days and nights. Did he literally forget that he could pray, like I sometimes have? Was he just unable to face the God from Whom he was fleeing? We only find ourselves unable to approach God for His mercy when we forget the truth about Him and His goodness.
5. Running only delays what God has decreed must be done (3:1-2).
God heard Jonah’s prayer, and caused the fish to spew Jonah out of its mouth. Like the patient Father that He is, He then said, “Alright, Jonah. Wanna try this one more time? Go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it.”
This time, Jonah did as he was told. Nineveh repented. He could have spared himself all that drama if he had just done it the first time. I know that there are things that were delayed in my own life only because I thought I was too big or too small or too busy or too unqualified to do what God told me to do or go where He sent me. Thank God for His mercies and for His restorative love.
6. Running is extremely selfish (4:1).
God heard the Ninevites’ prayer, and forgave them. Jonah was incredulous. He could not believe it. It displeased him “exceedingly” that God had forgiven Nineveh. He actually became suicidal.
“Is it right for you to be angry?” The All-Knowing God asked a question. Whenever God asks a question, we know we need to stop and ask ourselves what He wants us to see about us.
Did Jonah understand what was going on here? He was upset because people turned from their sins and their lives were spared. He was angry because he had known that God would be merciful – and because he was right. He forgot that not too long before this – probably just hours before! – he was in the belly of a fish for his own disobedience. He was no different from the Ninevites!! Even sadder: technically, he had been a successful preacher! When was the last time an entire city repented after you preached? Of course it is all God and never us, but how could he be mad about this? Why not rejoice and be humbled because God had used him in such a mighty way?
I’ll be honest – sometimes, like Jonah or the Prodigal’s brother, I’ve thought it unfair that after the things people have done to me or others, all (see? I’m calling it “all”!) they have to do is repent, and things begin to go well for them. Plus, as I read this book on Sunday, I realized that if Jonah had existed today, I would have probably thought he was a false prophet. What else would one think after a man walks around saying “The city will be destroyed!” only for it to still exist several years later?
7. We cannot outrun God – or His mercy (4:1-11).
Jonah headed out of the city, sat towards the east, and made himself a booth to see what was going to happen. He found the situation so unbelievable that he said, “Hmm, wacha tuone.” I can picture him, sulking; pouting, intently watching the city, possibly hoping some disaster would strike it suddenly. Perhaps each time he heard a sound, he got up excitedly, thinking the earth was rumbling and the Nineveh-destroying earthquake had finally arrived.
The sun was scorching hot, so God created a gourd to protect him. This time, Jonah was “exceeding glad”. I would not be surprised if the only reason for his exceeding joy was the fact that this was something that benefited him.
But God wanted to show him something. He caused a worm to make the gourd wither. His comfort stripped from him, Jonah got upset again – and suicidal, again! He adamantly declared to God that he was right to be angry “even unto death.” Thank God we have a God who is not afraid to let us express ourselves honestly to Him.
Thank God for His patience. “You wanted the gourd to be spared,” He said to Jonah. “It just existed for a day. You have no idea how it came about – you didn’t create, plant, or water it. You’re upset about this gourd, but how much more important are the lives of the people in this city?” (Random: God was actually also concerned about their property!)
We see God’s mercy continue many books later, when Jesus used Jonah as an example in a sermon – comparing the Son of Man to Jonah. Only God would do something like that turning ashes to beauty in such a profound way. Jonah, despite his running, is included in a book of the Bible, nestled respectably between two other prophets, God refusing to strip the title “prophet” from him.
I’ve been trying to run from something, and I’m convicted. The enemy taunted me recently. I was not concerned about any Ninevites or trying to get far away from God’s presence. My reason for running was simply that I do not feel like being called; I want peace and quiet and to mind my own business and have a few friends and live a private life. James 3:1 scares me. 1 Cor 9:27 makes me uncomfortable. I was faced with my imperfection, and yet God was telling me my sins were paid for on the cross and that He actually chose me. Maybe you feel the same, or maybe you feel like Jonah, or maybe you’re running for your own reasons. But what if this whole deal is about more than just ourselves and our little private corners? What if it’s about cities, “wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand”? How selfish would it be for us to refuse to be used by God, the God who will never leave us or forsake us, to draw people to Him? Do we truly love Him, or them, if this is the case?
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