Summary: Failure is temporary; giving up is what makes it permanent. God never gives up on us, so why should we give up on ourselves?
Failure is Temporary
How many of you here remember the first time you tried to ride a bike? Did any of you hop right on and just take off without falling down, skinning up your knees, or worse? Probably not. You probably fell off your bike many, many times before you got the hang of it.
And your father, more likely than not, was running along right behind you, holding on to the seat, supporting you till you got that balance thing right. Maybe it was your mother, older sibling, aunt, uncle, whatever. Someone was supporting you. And when that person would let go and you would go for a little bit then veer into the bushes, did that person get mad at you, yell at you, tell you how clumsy you were, and claim you’d never get it?
No, of course not. They would pick you up, patch you up (if that was necessary), and away you’d go with them holding onto the bike. You may have fallen (failed) in that attempt at riding solo, but they were right there to give you another chance. Your failure was only temporary.
That’s what happened with Jonah. On his first attempt at following God’s instructions, his bike veered off the path, down the dock, and into the mouth of a big fish. Yet when God called Jonah a second time, in verses 1 & 2, if we didn’t know better, we’d have no idea that Jonah had “crashed and burned” the first time. God doesn’t say, “Jonah, go to Nineveh and proclaim the message I tell you, but let’s get it right this time.”
God gives Jonah a second chance to “get his balance”. And Jonah, to his credit, is a quick learner. How many of you got your balance and took off on your own the SECOND time you rode solo? Jonah had failed on his first solo, but his failure was only temporary.
There is a huge difference between “failing” at something and being a failure. And Jonah isn’t the only person in the Bible who “failed” God at some point. Let’s take a look at some of those others that failed and found that God didn’t give up on them.
Abraham: God promised him that his wife, Sarah, would give him a son. But what does Abraham do? He sleeps with and has a child by his wife’s servant. He “failed” to believe God but God didn’t give up on him. God made Abraham the “father of many nations”.
Jacob: Jacob lied to his father, stole his brother’s birthright and blessing. He “failed” to live as God intended him to live, yet God gave him the name “Israel”, representing God’s people.
David: God made David king. As king, David commits adultery with Bathsheba, then has her husband murdered to hide his “failing”. Yet, David becomes known as “a man after God’s own heart”.
Peter: Poor old Peter. The “Rock”. The man of whom Jesus said, “I will build my church upon this rock.” Peter, the one to whom Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan!” Peter, the one who swore that he would never deny Jesus, then denies Him not once, not twice, but three times in front of many people! Peter “failed” Jesus. Yet Peter goes on to become one of the greatest leaders of the early church.
Paul: Paul, or Saul as he was known earlier, spent his early life persecuting Christians. Then, through what you might call an “eye-opening” experience, Saul, the one who “failed”, became Paul, the greatest missionary in history.
These people I’ve just mentioned, along with many others have “failed” God at some point in their lives. But God DID NOT give up on them. God didn’t give up on them and He won’t give up on you or me. That is a wonderful truth we can learn from Jonah, Abraham, Jacob, etc.
“So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.” Jonah gets back on his bike and, with God’s support, travels across this “exceedingly large city” telling these arrogant people that they’d better get their acts together or, in 40 days, BOOM!, they were history!
Mind you, these people were arrogant because they were also powerful. They could have squashed ol’ Jonah like a bug for harassing them and telling them to repent. But God is right alongside of Jonah, holding onto the seat. God isn’t going to let Jonah fail again. And these powerful, arrogant, wicked people actually LISTEN to Jonah. This, if we read on into chapter 4, really ticks off Jonah. But that’s another sermon.
Verse 5 tells us, “And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on a sackcloth.” Did you hear that? “And the people of Nineveh believed God…”. Now, wait a minute. Jonah was the one warning them. But God wasn’t going to let Jonah fail again. He was right there supporting him and the Ninevites understood that.