Do you ever find yourself running from God’s commands? I’m not talking about those who are living a life that is obviously full of sin and rebellion; I’m referring to those who call themselves Christian and yet choose not to obey when God calls them to something they just don’t want to do.
If the answer is yes, know that you are not alone.
Jonah 1:1 “Arise, go to Nineveh…and call out against it, for their evil [has been brought to my attention].
Jonah 1:2 “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarnish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it…away from the presence of the Lord.“
What a sad start to a story. Jonah is not only running away from his assignment, but from the presence of God. Yet even in his rebellion he finds victory. The remainder of the book tells of how deep God’s love runs for us and demonstrates the extremes to which he will go to draw us back into his presence.
If you don’t know the story, it goes like this: Jonah does indeed get on the ship and sail for Tarshish; while he is on this ship, a storm breaks out with such power that it threatens to break apart the boat. The travelers on the ship recognize that this is no ordinary storm and cast lots to find out who is to blame for this destruction. Of course, the lot falls on Jonah. Jonah admits that he is running from God and tells the men of the ship that the storm will only stop if they throw him overboard. The men, not wanting to be responsible for Jonah’s death but fearing for their own lives, throw Jonah into the sea. Immediately the storm ceases its raging. Jonah does not die but is swallowed by a great fish, where he lives in its belly for three days and nights.
Stuck in the belly of this smelly fish, Jonah realizes he has no recourse expect to cry out to God. We find his prayer in Jonah 2.
At times, God’s Word is so descriptive that it’s easy to get lost in the adjectives and miss the point. When that happens, as it did for me with Jonah’s prayer, I find it helpful to divide the story into parts and begin summarizing; although I do caution you to read through the text and summary several times to assure they match. Here’s the recap of Jonah’s prayer using that technique.
I cry out Lord and you answer me. My sin has caused me great distress and because of my poor choices I find myself drowning apart from your presence. It would be so easy to give up, but I remember all you have done for me. I’m crying out to you Lord. Hear my confession and bring me back into your steadfast love. I’m done with the way of the world and I want to be secure in you. I praise you God for you have saved me.
When God hears Jonah’s confession, he causes the fish to vomit, sending Jonah back to dry land. Jonah stays true to his word and heads off to Nineveh to warn of the destruction that will befall them if they do not repent from their sin. The people do repent and Jonah has the oddest reaction…but that story is for another day.
Just as God did for Jonah, he will do for you. If you continue to disobey, then don’t be surprised if God brings a fish to swallow you (circumstances of despair) until you are ready to confess, repent and obey. On the same token, know that God’s steadfast love for you has not faltered in the midst of your rebellion. He is waiting patiently for you to run back to him and act in obedience to his commands.