I was challenged by the book of Jonah this week as I read of his response and subsequent actions following God’s call on his life.
You may know the story already – Jonah is called by God to go to Nineveh and declare God’s judgment on the people for their sin, however Jonah chose instead to flee from God’s presence and board a ship headed for Tarshish.
While aboard, God causes a great storm to rise up around them, stirring up fear in the ship’s crew while Jonah sleeps below. Eventually, upon waking, Jonah admits he’s the reason this storm has arisen and tells the crew to throw him overboard. They reluctantly do so and the storm dies.
Following a 3-day appointment with a big fish, Jonah hears God’s voice a second time and this time heeds the call and travels to Nineveh to finally deliver God’s message to them. The people of Nineveh believe God’s message instantly and repent.
“Phew! PTL! The people of Nineveh are saved!” Jonah should’ve shouted. But instead he goes in the huff.
Can we be like Jonah sometimes?
First, Jonah tried to run away from God’s call on his life. Why? Was it too difficult for him? Too scary? Not exciting enough? He just couldn’t be bothered? The Bible doesn’t say exactly why but it does tell us what happened next…
As Jonah fled in the wrong direction, God sought his attention by raising up a storm around the boat he had found refuge on. What interested me here was that the ship’s crew first drew Jonah’s attention to God’s part in this storm, not the prophet himself. But this is exactly why the storm was necessary.
Some of the most significant God-moments in my life have been during or directly following difficult seasons. It is in those sink-or-swim moments that I have called out in desperation for God to hear me, answer me, save me, direct me. And He has. He does.
Jonah had been fast asleep, remaining undisturbed by the wind and waves raging around him while the pagan crew feared the storm and the God who had sent it. But Jonah can ignore the storm no longer and surrenders himself to the storm, to the big fish, to God.
Then the story appears to have a happy-ever-after ending – Jonah delivers God’s message to Nineveh, the people repent, God grants them deliverance from His wrath, and Jonah is as-happy-as-Larry.
Following the peoples’ repentance, Jonah is not pleased that the lives of many are saved, he is angry at God for being too merciful! Hypocritical, much?! God had shown Jonah mercy through his disobedience but he doesn’t now seem to think that Nineveh deserves the same.
I’m beginning to realise that the challenge of our faith is not always during the storm, but often after the storm. We may surrender to God as the waves toss us to and fro but what happens to us once calm is restored? Is our faith stronger or are we simply relieved that the danger has passed? Are we more intentional in our relationship with God or do we return Him to our spiritual First Aid kit ready for the next emergency?
Jonah appears to have forgotten his repentant heart, evident in chapter 2 when he is in the belly of the fish, and returned to his arrogant self, disputing with God over the outcome of his mission. Yet who are we to stipulate the outcome of God’s call on our lives? We are simply called to hear and obey, and let God be god.
There’s no doubt about it, God is in the right job! He knows it all, has power over it all, and has a love for us that we could never fully appreciate. We may be disgusted at Jonah’s thoughts and actions – I know I was when I read it over – but he simply illustrates the attitudes we can all be guilty of at times. So despite Jonah’s disobedience, his indifference, his selfish nature and judgemental attitude, God still used him to not only save the people of Nineveh, but the ship’s crew as well.
My point is this – God is God and He is infinitely better placed to navigate the outcomes of our every situation than we are. He welcomes a dialogue with us, even the doubts, questions and concerns we hold, but then we must release it all into God’s hands and leave the storm, the struggle, the situation with Him. If He asks us to do something, we obey because He is absolutely trustworthy.
I’ve lived in Germany for a week now; a good first week, no doubt about that. It’s been surprisingly easy to settle in and feel at home (a reassuring sign that I have correctly heard and obeyed God’s call) but I have also had to regularly remind myself (already) that I am here for His purposes and not my own. Having taken that initial step to move here, there are suddenly pressures to make plans for what comes next.
“How long are you here for?”
“Where will you work?”
“How long will you attend language school for?”
“Which church will you attend?”
The truth is I don’t yet know what God wants next. I need to stop and ask Him. I need to take one day at a time and allow Him to gently steer me as I exercise wisdom and discernment. I could so easily start making long-term plans – it’s what comes easiest to me – but I must be careful to make plans in line with God’s will, not just implement my own good intentions and ideas.
I don’t feel like I am in the midst of a storm just now – far from it – but I must be careful to not let indifference creep back into my walk with God while I live in (and enjoy) this season on the mountain-top. God has something to say in every season and I must choose to consistently surrender to Him. At every junction in life; every trial, change or challenge, we are responsible for making decisions – all decisions have consequences – so lets make decisions based on God’s Word and His will for our lives, and trust Him with the outcomes, not carrying the God-sized responsibility ourselves.