Summary: The amazing story of Jonah reminds us: 1) Don't run from God, 2) When life gets you down, look up, 3) Respond to God's second chance, and 4) Get God's heart for people. Like Jonah, we need to give up the "reluctant prophet" role and stay in God's will.
Aligning My Will with God’s
Prophets with a Purpose – Week 2
Do you ever feel like some people are beyond hope, that they are incapable of change? Or maybe you’ve felt like God wanted you to do something, but you resisted that urge? If so, you can identify with the prophet Jonah. We’re in a series of “Prophets with a Purpose.” Last week we looked at Samuel, the great priest of Israel, last of the judges and first of the great prophets, a maker of kings. And today we look at Jonah, the reluctant prophet.
One of Gary Larson’s “Far Side” cartoons depicts a bearded man standing at his front door. He is dripping wet and his clothes are in tatters. His wife opens the door. She takes one look at her disheveled husband and says, “For crying out loud Jonah! Three days late, covered with slime and smelling like fish. What story have I got to swallow this time?”
Yes, the story of Jonah is a little hard to swallow; some theologians treat it more like a fable. Yet, Jesus took it seriously enough to quote two or three times, so we will, too. The story of Jonah has some big lessons; in fact, you might say they’re “whale-sized lessons!” You can easily read through this short book in one sitting. Today we’ll highlight the story and contemplate a lesson from each chapter.
Life lessons from the book of Jonah:
1. Don’t run from God!
The book of Jonah begins with this Operations Order from God (Jonah 1:1-3):
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the Lord.”
Jonah ran all right. God said, “Go east,” and Jonah went west! He went the exact opposite of the way God told him! In fact, if you look on a map, Jonah went about three times farther west than God told him to go east. Isn’t it amazing how far and to what extent we will go to disobey God?
And the interesting thing is, even though Jonah ran in the wrong direction, he still could not outrun God! Listen to the prayer of the psalmist, recorded in Psalm 139:7-10: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
Jonah thought he was running from God; yet God was with him all the way. God sent a storm, and the sailors were scared out of their wits. When they drew lots to see whose god was angry, they drew his. So Jonah asked them to cast him overboard, to calm the storm. Finally, they did, and a big fish swallowed up Jonah.
The lesson? Don’t run from God! You can’t get away from him anyway. And you don’t need to; God really does know what is best for you. The second life lesson from Jonah comes from deep within the belly of the big fish:
2. When life gets you down, look up.
You might say, Jonah hit rock bottom. You find yourself inside the stomach of a big fish, it’s not a good day! So what did Jonah do? He looked up. He prayed. I’ve put the first couple of verses of his prayer on your outline:
“From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: ‘In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.’” (Jonah 2:1-2)??When life gets you down, look up. When you feel the seaweed wrap around your face, when the flood waters start closing in, look up! Even if it was your fault you’re at rock bottom, as it was with Jonah, reach out to God anyway. Confess your sin. Fall at God’s feet. Appeal to his mercy.
Billy Graham once said, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God, forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.’”
Isn’t it sad that we sometimes wait until we’re desperate before we talk to God? But God still wants us to come to him, even if it’s been a while. He’s like the father in the Prodigal Son story, searching the horizon, waiting for you and me to come to our senses and return to him.