Photo by Ray Harrington on Unsplash
Hi, how are you doing in your part of the world? I hope you are keeping safe no matter what.
My home church is doing a series on the book of Jonah and I had the privilege of preaching last Sunday as part of the series. After the preach, I felt the relief that comes with completing a task wash over me. I was glad that it was done! However, I could not shake off the inner witness that there was more to what I had gleaned so far in preparation for my preach. That I needed to go over what the Lord had already shown me and more so, to share them with you. Therefore, indulge me if you are already super familiar with the story of Jonah. The following piece is mixture of gleanings pre and post preach.
Straight off the bat, we are given clear directions where to find the story of Jonah. Jonah’s story is found in the book of the Bible helpfully named Jonah. Content page, Jonah, Voila!
Chapter 1: 1 starts with “the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai saying ……..” The Lord gave Jonah a message for the people of Nineveh, because their wickedness had come up to him. Jonah was a prophet, a man whose job it was to carry the truth of God to people who needed to hear it. But when God told him to go to the Ninevites, Israel’s cruel enemies, Jonah did not want to do it. Jonah basically said no to God and paid the fare to go on a ship to Tarshish in the opposite direction.
Ship to Tarshish, ship to Tarshish, ship to Tarshish, ship to Tarshish – try saying that very quickly, that is a tongue twister if ever there was one! This is to show us that we get our lives quickly in a twist anytime we run from God or what He has told us! Prophet Jonah was about to find out how quickly!
Jonah thought he had run away from God but the Almighty soon reminded him that the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in. Everything means everything. This includes seas, animals, people, the whole lot. The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and a great storm arose such that the ship was about to break up. The sailors became afraid, each man calling on his god and began tossing the cargo overboard in a bid to survive the storm.
Meanwhile, Jonah was asleep in the hold of the ship. Isn’t it funny sometimes that the people who are the cause of the turmoil we face are completely unaware of the trouble they have caused? After the captain sussed out the fact that indeed, not all hands were on deck, Jonah was grilled with twenty questions. In fact, they were just six questions, but it would have felt like twenty considering how rapidly the questions were fired!
Simplified, all the questions boiled down to just one – Who are you? Jonah responds “I am a Hebrew and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land” Jonah 1:8 This is Jonah’s identity, at the core of who he is. This is because storms do not define you, they only reveal what is inside you. Jonah knew who he was and whose he was.
Do you know who you are? Have you settled on your identity as a child of God? The Bible tells us of a God who delights to show mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness to sinful humanity. He is continually using all things (including storms) to cause us to come back to Him. And to those who heed his call, he gives a mission: help those around you to experience his grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. That was Jonah’s mission. This is our mission today, rebranded the Great Commission! However, if we do not receive the character of God with the mission, we are left with what Jonah had, his prejudices and piety!
We encounter and receive the character of God through the Bible – the Word of God. When we forget what the Bible says, we are liable to think and therefore act wrongly! Perhaps Jonah had forgotten what the Psalmist said in Ps 139: 7. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” Recalling that, ought to have made Jonah realise that his plan to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, was a non- starter! If Psalm 139: 7 -12 is true, are there non sequitur plans you are making or planning to execute? No wonder, not forgetting the Lord(or his words), the Psalmist writes elsewhere, thy words have I hidden in my heart, that I may not sin against you.
Not forgetting what God has said and what His character is, helps us to view ourselves correctly and the world with compassion. It is important that we have a correct view of ourselves in God’s redemption plan. Not doing so may impact your assignment as we saw in Jonah’s case when he ran the two thousand miles west to Tarshish when he should have gone just five hundred miles east to Nineveh.
Michael Todd, an American Pastor said, “the type of Leader who is called in this moment will consult their purpose before they consult their preference.” Or in Jonah’s case I might add before they consult their prejudices or fears. Jonah knew he was a Hebrew and feared the Lord God who made the sea and dry land, but he let his prejudices against the wicked city of Nineveh get in the way of his purpose – which was to be a prophet of God! He consulted his prejudice rather than his purpose and that led him to disobey God.
The only fear which should come with our identity is the fear of the Lord. Now, I confess I am more like Jonah, than I like to admit. Studying this book made me identify and relate to Jonah, a lot! And that, was an extremely uncomfortable and downright sobering feeling. He was reluctant to go when he has clearly heard God on what to do! I act based on my doubts and fears and limitations which I have placed on God. I tell God, but you know, I do not do well in that setting or I am not comfortable with going down this path or that. In the middle of April, I was wrestling with some of these thoughts as the Holy Spirit shone His light on them through Jonah’s story, I heard Him tell me – I have given you your personality, but I have not given you a spirit of fear! I know who I have made and what I have given you, but fear is not one of those things. That stopped me in my tracks!
Allow me to ask you some of the things He asked me, do you know your identity as a child of God? (If you do not know Jesus as a personal Lord and Saviour, this would be a good time to ask him to forgive you and come live in your heart). Have you accepted His call to share the Good News of His compassion for the whole world? Or are you making decisions or choices which speak to your fears or prejudices rather than a recognition of God’s compassion? Have you allowed your piety to be the standard for your living?
Jonah is stopped in his tracks when he finds himself in the belly of a great fish. After 3 days, the fish vomits him on dry land , right in Nineveh and the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. Thank God we have a Father, who gives us second chances. This time, Jonah goes off to deliver the message he had been given. The Ninevites respond to the messages of judgment of their sin by repenting and calling on God for mercy. The people and even the animals go without food and water. The animals? you wonder, what could they have done to warrant them fasting? I do not know why the animals had to go without food. Perhaps the more pertinent point is that, not only people suffer when we lead sinful lives. The Ninevites fast in an outward show of what is taking plan inside them. God sees their hearts and relents on the pending calamity. But Jonah is greatly displeased that God does not destroy the Ninevites.
This does not compute! The is the same Jonah whom God showed mercy when he disobeyed, who God did not kill the instant he decided to run for Tarshish. God preserved him in the sea and in the belly of a fish. God listened to his prayer for mercy as he rolled about inside the fish with seaweed wrapped around his head! That same Jonah was given a second chance. That same Jonah now mad at God for extending mercy to others!
If he had experienced mercy, should his heart not burn with desire for the Ninevites to experience it too? It is said that those who forget their need of mercy or experience of forgiveness are the quickest to withhold it from others!
You have read this far, thank you! So, let me jump to the end of the book of Jonah here – if you know the story, you already know what happend – the book of Jonah finishes by God asking Jonah an important question, one that the reader is forced to answer as there is no record of Jonah’s response. You may want to shout, Jonah please say to the Lord “ O Lord, of course you should have mercy! You have been so merciful to me! You have freely forgiven me! How can I not want the same mercy and forgiveness for others!” This, of course would be the right answer!
The question that remains whether it is the answer of our lips or whether it is the answer of our lives. Do we really want the same grace, mercy, love and forgiveness we have experienced for others?
I believe the book of Jonah ended that way, simply because, the answer is not meant to be us, just reading the account of a time in a man’s life but for us to seek to answer this in our lives every day. And in doing so, we prove ourselves to be truly disciples of Jesus.
Thanks for reading!