By Rev. Canon Dr. Mark Pearson
From our early days in Sunday School many of us have been fascinated by the story of Jonah. You’ll recall how God called him to preach to the wicked city of Nineveh. Because they were the enemy and Jonah did not want them to be forgiven by God he hopped a ship in the opposite direction. His presence had a profoundly negative impact on the ship and its crew leading to Jonah going overboard. He was then swallowed by a great fish. (I know, we were taught it was a whale, but that’s not what the text says.)
Chastened by this experience, some aspects of his attitude towards God changed and he’s vomited out onto land. No doubt afraid of what might happen to him if he again disobeys God’s call, he went to Nineveh and preached. His message was flat and his style not very good. It’s unlikely anyone would be converted by his preaching, but a miracle happens and the city repented. You’d think Jonah would be ecstatic. God used him in one of the greatest revivals in history! But no, Jonah went outside of town and sulked. While he may have obeyed the letter of God’s command to go preach to Nineveh, his heart was still not in it because he was still bigoted towards them. God used a few natural occurrences to show Jonah how important people — even disobedient ones — are to him.
There’s a wealth of lessons in the story of Jonah appertaining to our walk with and our work for God. Before we delve into them, I would encourage you to put this Newsletter down and go read the book of Jonah. It’s only four chapters long. What can we learn?
1. God calls people as He wills.
Don’t be surprised He called you! I know how much I fail to be like Jesus even after years of spiritual growth, and I know how much worse a Christian I was years ago. And yet, God used me (yes, I marvel, me!) even then. Don’t wait until you are a spiritual giant before you start serving God and telling others of Him. God will use you — yes, you — even now! Dare to serve Him. Dare to tell others of Jesus. Even now!
2. Do not try to run away from God.
He’s been called “The Hound of Heaven.” God won’t let up in His desire to capture us for His glory and for His service! At first, this seems terrible. After we’ve reflected on it for a while, our attitude should change to, “Thank you, God! You love me so much you kept pestering me! You kept sending people across my path and you kept sending circumstances, some pleasant, some not, until I surrendered fully to you.” Since God does this, we might as well give in to him — now!
3. Our sin involves others and society, every time.
Jonah’s disobedience put others at risk and so does ours. There’s a nonsensical opinion we often hear expressed: “What I do as a ‘consenting adult’ and what I do ‘behind closed doors’ is my business and the business of no one else!” What nonsense! What we do affects who we are. Bad (sinful) actions worsen our character so when we do interact with others we will not lead them in a right direction, but either give them a pass on their wrong behavior or even lead them into something worse.
Here’s two examples. First, suppose you go out on a Saturday night and party to excess. You’ll probably not go to church the next day, and, therefore, you will not serve others in the ministry God gave you and others need from you, showing them a better way of living, you give them a pass. You think to yourself, “Who am I to speak to them about that, since I do other things not in accordance with God’s will?” You think you’re being “tolerant,” whereas, in fact, you are being enabling. Not good!
4. God gives second chances but do not presume on this.
God loves us so much that when we blow it He comes back to us again. Wow! But while this is true, do not presume upon it. There’s no guarantee God will give us more chances! And, even if He does, if we’ve become so accustomed to blocking hearing His voice, we may not hear that additional chance should He give it.
5. God can use our fumbling efforts but don’t presume on this either.
Jonah’s half-hearted preaching led to a great revival. How often do we fumble at serving Him yet wonderful things happen nevertheless? Bless God for that, but don’t presume upon His grace. Paul’s exhortation to young Timothy is also meant for us: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved…” (2 Timothy 2:15). Study Scripture. Learn how to pray better. Take classes in how to turn your Godgiven gifts into fruit-bearing ministry.
6. Since God is doing something in your life, walk in obedience with Him and you’ll have much more joy than if you don’t.
Wouldn’t it have been better for Jonah if he was “with the program”? God used him but he derived no joy from it because God used him in spite of, not because of, himself. God has given you gifts. The Bible tells us that to each is given manifestations of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). “To each” means you! “How do you want me to serve, Lord?” Ask that directly of God, ask your clergy, ask mature fellow Christians. Pray for grace to serve, submit your ministry to your spiritual leaders, and get training to serve effectively. What a joy to put your head down on the pillow at night and hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (see Matthew 25:21).
7. What about you?
We’ve read the story of Jonah, “the reluctant prophet.” Are you like Jonah or are you ready to serve God wholeheartedly?