Not to long ago our pastor spoke on taking up our cross, so I found it interesting when my personal studies at the time took me to the book of Jonah.
Back in Old Testament times, there were specific people called by God to be prophets. These guys heard God’s voice plainly (how I long for that!) and everyone knew it– being a prophet was their occupation. As a prophet, they said “no” to self and gave up their Right of Ownership to their own lives. Prophets received plenty of rejection, from kings, political leaders, and people in their community. They knew it wouldn’t be easy to be a prophet, and they knew they wouldn’t be the most popular person at times. Prophets surrendered all they had to God.
Jonah was a prophet in spirit and occupation. But, one day he decided to quit…
Imagine you have a vile, mean neighbor. For some of you that may not be too hard to imagine. This neighbor kicks his dog, screams at his children, let’s his trash blow into your yard, and calls the police whenever you have company and your guests park in front of his house. We won’t even talk about the language he uses, the pictures he has in his garage (which is often open) or the type of trash that is blowing into your yard.
One day, during your quiet time, as you read your Bible, a thought occurs to you: “Tell your neighbor about Me.”
“Tell your neighbor about Me.”
“Oh, Lord, anything but that! I’ll serve in a soup kitchen, I’ll paint the homeless shelter, I’ll even pass out tracts on the street corner, but don’t make me talk to my neighbor!”
“I love him, just like I love you. Tell him about Me so he has the opportunity to repent.”
“Love him? Lord, are we talking about the same guy?!”
“Tell him about Me.”
And so the conversation goes, with you giving excuses and God persisting in His command to tell. Do you talk to your neighbor, or do you avoid the chair where you were sitting the day you heard God’s command?
Jonah chose to run away. Nineveh was full of evil people. I haven’t looked into it, but it’s been suggested that the people of Nineveh would partake in the destruction of Israel at a later time–Jonah knew this and wanted God to condemn them now so they wouldn’t have the chance to destroy Israel.
No, Jonah didn’t like the people of Nineveh. He didn’t want them to have the opportunity to repent and be saved. He was so full of hatred for them he failed to see them through God’s eyes. God loved them. He didn’t like how they lived, but he loved them nonetheless. He wanted them to repent and be saved, and He told Jonah to go and cry out against them.
You know what happens next. Jonah flees. He quits his job as prophet and hops a boat for Tarshish. But, God wants Nineveh to hear of Him, so He whips up a storm. Jonah does a little repenting himself and offers himself as a sacrifice to the sea. He’s thrown overboard, and the waves calm. Jonah sinks into the depths of the waters… probably thinking, this is my punishment–death. But God still wants Nineveh saved, so he sends a fish to swallow Jonah and thus begins a three day “time out.”
Can you imagine the conversation Jonah has with himself in the belly of that fish?! When he realizes he’s alive, he probably figures he’ll get out of the fish real quick. As time goes on (and remember, there’s no light in there, so he has no way of keeping track of time) and he realizes that he may be in the fish for awhile, perhaps he started bargaining with God.
Eventually, Jonah gets it through his head that he is a prophet, a job given to him by God. He cannot run away from God. When God wants something done, He makes it happen! Thus Jonah came to the point where he surrendered his life–again–to God. He submits to God’s will for his life, and after getting out of the fish he goes on to Nineveh and the people repent.
Are you waiting for a fish to swallow you? What has God told you to do lately that you just don’t want to do? Perhaps God has asked you to give of your time to a particular church ministry. Perhaps He wants you to pray daily for the participants of a mission project. Perhaps He wants you to get involved in the lives of those in your Sunday school class, or your children’s Sunday school class. Perhaps you play an instrument or sing and He wants you to join the worship team.
Maybe God just wants you to smile at somebody. Smile, say “hello,” and be Jesus to someone. Maybe it’s your neighbor. Maybe it’s someone at work or the store. Maybe it’s someone you’ve never seen before in church.
Take that step. Reach out. Because if God wants you to do this, and you don’t do it, the step you take in the opposite direction could lead to a fish!