On a recent trip to Virginia, I visited Calvary Chapel Roanoke. On the drive down, I had listened to the Pastor’s latest sermon and expected to hear more from him on the book of John. He was away that weekend with the youth group. The guest speaker gave an enlightening sermon on the book of Jonah. As I drove back to New Jersey on Monday, I tuned into Pastor Gary’s sermon from the day before. He too was preaching on Jonah. I had never really studied this book. I had heard it so much as a child, I tended to think I knew it well. But I felt the nudge to dig in and realized what a powerful message it contains.
Have you ever believed you could hide from God?
I imagine when we do this, it looks like a group of toddlers playing hide and seek on a playground. They stand behind poles or under a sliding board, or at the top of the rock wall. They believe they are hidden from everyone when they are clearly in plain sight. When we attempt to hide from God, we are just as unsuccessful. There is nowhere we can be out of His sight.
King David understood this. He expressed his understanding of this in Psalm 139:7-10.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
Have you ever told God you would do anything he wanted, but then not surrender to that particular call? As you turned and walked your foolish rebellious way, instead of on His path, maybe you convinced yourself you were headed in the right direction.
When we have deceived ourselves into believing these things work, and it is possible to hide or run from God, we lose true perspective and stand tall in a victory that does not exist.
The book of Jonah, the prophet, begins with his disobedience to God’s call and an attempt to run and hide from Him. When he fled to Joppa to board a ship headed to Tarshish, instead of heading to Nineveh, as God had commanded, he had no idea the turmoil he would cause for innocent people.
Jonah 1:4 tells us God sent a storm to destroy Jonah’s hiding place. The ship’s crew knew they would perish if it continued. They would soon learn that the only load they needed to let go of was their worship of false gods and disobedience to the one true God.
Their first attempt to save themselves was to remove all cargo from the boat. When that did not help, and devastation was still at hand, they confronted Jonah and found him to be the cause of their dilemma.
Fortunately for the crew, Jonah realized the effect his disobedience had on them. He admits it, but does not repent. He tells them to throw him overboard. He would rather die than give up his choice to disobey God. How many times have we dug our heels in and refused to admit to ourselves, another human or God that our actions were wrong?
We all have times in our lives when we need to rid ourselves of sin and repent. God will cleanse us and then direct our paths if we surrender to Him. He will also equip us for the tasks He gives us. And He has promised He will never leave us or forsake us.
At first, the crew chooses to try harder to save Jonah and themselves, instead of throwing him into the raging sea. This backfires, and the storm grows in strength, tossing them to and fro with a vengeance. They concede and throw Jonah in. Miraculously, the storm immediately ceases and they are safe. Struck by the awe of this. they “feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.” Jonah 1:16.
We don’t know what Jonah expected, except maybe to die, when he was tossed into that perilous water. I doubt he ever imagined he would land in the belly of a giant fish with nothing to do but ponder his choices and their consequences.
Finally, he agreed to go to Nineveh and deliver God’s message. The entire city of more than one hundred and twenty thousand people was brought to repentance. “So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast and put on sack-cloth, from the greatest to the least of them.” Jonah 3:5.
Can you imagine such an honor as being the instrument God uses to turn an entire city from their evil and violence and be saved from destruction? Wouldn’t you be overjoyed to have so many people come to repentance? But Jonah did not see it that way. He was angered by this. He did not want these wretched people saved. He admits, “I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant to lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” Jonah 4:2. He wanted revenge instead of renewal of heart.
God had shown the same mercy, grace and loving kindness to Jonah that he showed the people of Nineveh. Despite his anger, disobedience, running and hiding, and endangerment of others, God gave him a second chance to obey his calling. He participated in two of the most incredible miracles. First, an entire ship’s crew simultaneously repented and turned to God. Then the vilest of people did the same. Even then, Jonah could not soften his heart to God’s ways.
I identify with so much in this story. I too ran and hid from God many times in my sin and disobedience. I did believe I was getting away from Him, only to learn that was never true. I have been the victim of other’s sins. I have been guilty of not wanting others forgiven for their transgressions. I have even rejected God’s call on my life. I watched, with anger instead of delight, as others who I felt were undeserving, came to the Lord. I can relate to Jonah on many levels. And I suspect many of us can.
That was before I surrendered and made God the Master of my life. All the above has dissipated as I have succumbed to His Will for me. It has not been easy, nor have I always been successful. I have come to understand that the same Mercy and Grace and God’s promises are for anyone who chooses to turn and accept the salvation that comes only through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This brings me great joy and gratitude. And it will for you if you surrender your will to God.
James 1:2 tells us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” Don’t let the storms of your life drive you away from God. (Pastor Gary)
As the Psalmist Asaph says of the Blessedness of Trust in God; “But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Your works.” Psalms 73:28
When you face a trial you do not want, I pray you remember Jonah, who, in the end, became angry with God. Do not let your heart harden to the things of the Lord. Instead, heed these words, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
May the Peace of Christ be with you.