Who would have thought as we began to study Jonah that it would refine and challenge me in the way it has. Like most of the folks in our church, and probably most anyone, I felt like Jonah was going to be a quick, easy walk through a story from my Sunday School days. The whole (and only) point: Don’t run from God! Or so I thought.
Hidden inside this crazy story about a man who got swallowed by a fish are LOADS of deep spiritual truths that hit directly at the heart of who I am and what I truly believe. I would like to discuss a few of these.
1 1) God is in control.
This one might seem pretty obvious (storm, big fish, vomiting), but there are some more subtle ways in which God reveals himself here that I believe are just as important. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim judgment. What must Jonah have been thinking when he decided to hop the boat to Tarshish (in the opposite direction as Nineveh), “OK, so I know God called me, but I really would prefer not to proclaim judgment to these people, it just spells trouble. How about I just happen to get on this boat to Tarshish and see if maybe God will not notice and give me a new job once I’m far away from Nineveh?” Yeah, that didn’t work out too well for good ol’ Jonah. But before we give him too hard a time, let’s think about ourselves. How often have I heard clearly from the Lord about a decision, a relationship, a task and I’ve procrastinated and let it fall by the wayside? Or have thought that I wouldn’t be able or capable of sharing with Jesus with someone so in the name of “praying for them,” never shared real words of truth? After I choose not to obey the Lord, I often find myself wondering why his presence is not as near, why I don’t seem to hear as clearly from him. I never connect it to the fact that I disobeyed him. As if the commands and callings of a Sovereign God were mine to pick and choose to obey! The consequence of my disobedience my never be as dramatic as being swallowed by a fish, but may I never forget that God is in control and He is serious about what he speaks to me.
2) God is merciful...in unexpected ways.
I don't know why, but I just keep coming back to this thought that Jonah is IN THE BELLY OF A GIANT FISH when he prays the beautiful, heartfelt prayer in chapter 2. His tone is thankful as he remembers the feeling of sinking toward the bottom of the ocean and the despair he felt in those moments that it's easy to forget that he's IN THE BELLY OF A GIANT FISH. But I think we've all been there, we've removed ourselves from God's presence by our willful disobedience and we've found ourselves sinking, looking around trying to find which way is up so that we might even cry out to God. And just as with Jonah, God rescues us in our desperation. He most assuredly hears our genuine cries of repentance. Only sometimes, like Jonah, the rescue comes in a form that seems, well, stinky. May we always have the wisdom of Jonah, to recognize God's grace, even when it doesn't come in the form of a sweet, cozy moment with Him or an emotionally charged worship experience (those things are beautiful but are not God's only vehicles of grace).
3) God uses broken people in the middle of their mess.
This thought will be continued further as we get further into Jonah, but for now, I want to recognize that God saved Jonah from the depths of the ocean for a purpose. We will see in chapter 3 that God's expectations of Jonah haven't changed one bit. I'm not sure if the best way to look at this is: "Thank you, God, for pursuing us when we run from you!" OR "Oh no, you mean that word from the Lord won't go away if I run from him and try to make myself unusable!" I guess we will have to wait from Sunday's message.
As we continue through Jonah, I will add some more thoughts. We welcome your impressions as well. How
is God shaping and refining you through this beautiful story?