Recently I’ve been inspired as I have listened to my grandparents’ recorded account of how spiritual revival ripped through the Congo over fifty years ago. The Spirit’s fire ignited both missionaries and the new Congolese believers alike. There were three key elements in this revival: focused prayer for a fresh touch from the Lord (don’t we all need that?), a clearer vision of Christ and intolerance for sin in their lives. The Old Testament prophet Jonah offers us good insight for when we blow it; as a “professional Christian” – a prophet, he should have known better than to do what he did.
You will recall that God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach repentance and grace. Jonah didn't like that, so he fled in the opposite direction, as if he could ever escape God’s call on his life. The things we do to avoid obedience! It comforts me to know that I’m not the only one who makes mistakes. The lessons learned from this short little account at the end of the OT are invaluable.
First, consider three truths you need to know about your obedience or lack thereof:
1) Consequences always follow decisions, and God is not soft on sin. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” It is not a matter of if, but when. Count on it. God is not only loving, He is holy. Jonah thought he could sail away from God’s requirements of him, but wound up getting a world class education on the digestive track of a great fish.
2) God can and will use you for His glory, even if you’re unwilling. What I love about this account is that when the men threw Jonah overboard, the sea was instantly calmed (this is the greater miracle, not the fish ingesting Jonah). Their response? They worshiped God! Here a group of sailors repent because of God’s dealing with Jonah’s disobedience. So given this – why not join God in what He is doing and be filled with joy on the ride? A guilty conscience only drains us in every way.
3) God is the source of grace and is always near. He knows our frame. He knows we fail Him, as sad as that is. But He delights in those who are broken, who know their own shortcomings. Don’t run further from God when you come to your senses – that is our adversary’s desire. Run to Him, and quickly!
So – what do you do if you are living in disobedience and, like the prodigal son, are ready to make amends? Three action points struck me from Jonah’s account:
1) Own your sin. Don’t blame-shift, don’t rationalize sin, and don’t make excuses. To be fair to Jonah, Nineveh was the seat of the cruel Assyrian empire, a people who inflicted cruel damages on people they steamrolled. But God delights in obedience, and never requires of you that which He cannot accomplish through you. Notice that when the captain woke Jonah up during the storm, Jonah immediately called the situation for what it is. He insisted that the crew throw him overboard, entrusting his life to the Lord.
2) Cry out to God! Once we call sin for what it is, we need to immediately orientate ourselves to Him. He is gracious and compassionate, and ready to forgive those who come to Him in repentance. Consider excerpts from Jonah’s prayer in Chapter Two: “Jonah prayed to the Lord his God…I called to the LORD…I called for help…I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you.” Run to God, not from Him.
3) Obedience, obedience, obedience! Action before feelings; if we wait until we feel something, it’ll never happen. Obey God in the moment, for what you know you need to do now. Chapter three sheds light on this. The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time (that’s grace!) and told him to “Go!” But interestingly, He also said to proclaim the message that “I will give you”. What’s the point here? Jonah needed to take the first step of retracing his steps towards Nineveh. The details would follow, and Jonah needed to trust God for those details. Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed with the pit we’ve dug ourselves into that we give up before the fight. Just do what you need to do in the moment, and trust God to guide you as you move forward. My grandmother always likened it to cleaning a house – if it’s overwhelming, begin with just one closet and go room by room. There are many points for obedience when we’ve erred, but God will make those clear to us. The beautiful thing here is that the Word of God says “Jonah obeyed”. And good thing – it says it took three whole days to travel around Nineveh…imagine who Jonah could have become overwhelmed with this task had he obsessed over it too long.
Plenty more drama unfolds in the final chapter, but that’s for another time. God gives us hope when we’ve lost our way and is graciously waiting for us when we come to Him humbly in repentance.
- Pastor Colin