RUNNING AWAY FROM GOD
A Study of JONAH 1:1-17
The news media bring us stories of child abductions, murders, conflict between nations, acts of terrorism, and a host of other unwanted events. The message that God loves all people is often eclipsed by these examples of human depravity. Still, God calls believers to be witnesses in the world and to communicate His desire for His creation to live in harmony with Him and each other. But not everyone God calls agrees to spread His message of grace, mercy, and peace. Some ignore Him and go their own way. God makes it clear in Scripture there are severe consequences for those who do this. God will keep up the pressure on us until we relent and do what He has called us to do.
Pastor Paul from the pulpit
The New Testament has been translated into more than 1,100 of the world’s 7,000 languages, according to a 2008 report by the Wycliffe Bible Translators. The entire Bible has been translated into almost another 500. Yet, as many as 200 million people get their information through one of 2,300 languages into which the Bible has yet to be translated. In other words, that many people among the world’s six billion have no access to the Bible in a language they can understand. Can you imagine if there were no Bible in English or Spanish? How would we ever come to know about Jesus?
In our text, God calls Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and tell the people about Him. Jonah decides he does not care for this particular assignment and chooses instead to go in the opposite direction, to Tarshish. The events that follow are instructive in terms of how God deals with defiance from His people, and how He demonstrates His love for all people.
The call of Jonah is symbolic of how God reaches out to the lost. It also demonstrates God’s response to those in need of the knowledge and presence of God in their lives.
In the Old Testament, God called and delivered Israel to be His communicating vehicle to the world.
The parallel between then and now is that, in the church, all believers are to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the world.
Of all the nations in the world, God chose Israel to represent Him, and to reveal Him to the rest of the nations in the world. God created them for this; it was their purpose and mission. God also separated out from Israel certain individuals whom He called to the specific responsibility of special ministry, the Prophetic office.
The collective responsibility of every Jew was to communicate God to the world through their lifestyle, worship, walk and experience with God. The individual responsibility of those called to specialized ministry, the Prophets, was to represent God and communicate what God told them to say.
In Christendom, believers are to communicate Christ to the world through their lifestyle, worship, walk and experience with Christ. God has also called and ordained certain individuals within the Body of Christ (the church), such as pastors, elders, deacons, Christian educators, and others in leadership positions to provide leadership in the church, ensure good order, and to edify, equip, and empower the Body of Christ.
Pastors are to shepherd the flock (1 Peter 5:1-2) and preach and teach the Word of God (Acts 6:4 & 1 Timothy 5:17-19). Elders are also to preach and teach and have the additional responsibility of overseeing the ministries of the church (Acts 20:28). The New Testament uses the terms pastor and elder synonymously. Deacons are church servants and charged with the responsibility of handling the benevolence ministry (Acts 6:1-6).
The people of Nineveh were culturally different to Jonah. They also worshipped a different god, and they were enemies of his people. Obviously, this was not a great assignment, but it was necessary.
Some of the assignments God gives us will not always be choice ones. But we do not get to choose our calling; God does the choosing and He expects us to comply.
Can you imagine if God checked with us every time He had an assignment for us? We would likely do few, choosing only the plum assignments, and leaving the tough ones to others.
Instead of going in the direction God ordered, Jonah chose to go in the opposite direction several thousand miles away.
In the book “Messages,” the authors write that people communicate on different levels. One level is in our actions. Our actions tell others how we feel about them. People know, without our ever saying a word, whether or not we share their concerns, feel their pain, or care about them.
In this case, Jonah was telling God that he really did not share God’s concern for other people. But why did Jonah run from God? We can draw several potential reasons from Scripture:
– He thought he had a choice and could do whatever he wanted to do
– He felt that if he did not do it, God would get someone else to do it
– God would understand that he was prone to being fickle and blow it off as Jonah being Jonah
– He did not like the people God was sending him to and decided they were not worth his time or energy
Jonah is not alone. He represents all believers at some point in their Christian experience. When I think of others throughout Scripture that God called, it helps me to put into perspective the reasons people run away from God.
Some people lack confidence: Moses, who had a speech impediment, told God He should get someone else who could speak better.
Some people are angry with God over some perceived injustice He inflicted upon them: Jeremiah swore that he would not speak in God’s name because of all of the abuse he endured serving Him.
Some people have lost faith in God, perhaps because they had prayed, but felt He did not respond in the way they had hoped: After Job lost his children, health and wealth, his wife told him to curse God and die.
Some people simply do not have a heart for the things of God, and want only to do their own thing: The prodigal son was tired of working for his father and felt he was missing something. So he asked his father for his portion of the inheritance and went his way.
Some people feel they are so busy with work, family, and personal commitments that they do not have time for God: When Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha, Martha had to finish her chores before she could make time to spend with Jesus.
Jonah, like all believers, found out the hard way that it is impossible to hide from God. God is omniscient, omnipresent, and sovereign. God knows all, sees all, and is over all of creation.
Realistically, where can we go that God does not know where we are?
As a child, I played hide and seek with my father, and he always found me. For a long time I could not figure out how he did this. As I got older, I realized he knew the layout of the entire house, and he only needed to wait for me to do something to give myself away, or flush me out by making scary noises.
God flushed out Jonah.
As Jonah’s ship was set to sail, a storm arose and almost broke it into pieces. Jonah thought he could defy God, and that would be the end of it. He had no idea God would pursue him.
When God has an assignment for us, He will pursue us until we come around to seeing things His way.
We must also recall that God has infinitely more resources to get our attention than we have places to hide:
– If you hide at work, God will increase your workload until you have no time for anything else.
– If you hide out with their children, God will cause them to give you so much grief there will not be enough Kleenex to dry your tears.
– If you hide out with your spouse or friends, God will see to it that, over time, you’ll come to feel that you want to be alone; that you are spending to much time with the folks you once wanted to be with 24/7.
The storm that God sent was to get Jonah’s attention. It is unfortunate that some storms accompany some of the people that enter our lives. Jonah compounded the situation by implicating innocent people. Now, people who are out of place in ministry and in life tend to create havoc for everyone around them. Jonah was out of place. He was not where God called him to be. He was where he thought he wanted to be, and, as a result, it created problems for those around him.
God has an assignment for all believers, and it may not line up with our expectations, wants, wishes, or desires. Anytime we are in a place other than the one God chose for us, we are out of place, and those around us will suffer.
As a career counselor for over a decade, I met some people who were looking for a career, and others who were looking for a job. Those seeking a career usually had a good idea of what their calling was. People who wanted a job were willing to take anything that paid a good wage. Every so often, I would see people who had few or no “people” skills taking jobs in customer service, and not lasting very long. If you do not enjoy talking and listening to people, customer service is not for you. You are out of place.
Jonah was nowhere to be seen during the storm, and when the ship’s crew later discovered him, they asked him who he was and where he had come from. Jonah came face-to-face with himself.
Before God allows us to deal with Him, He forces us to deal with ourselves.
God put Jonah in a position where he had to get honest with himself. Jonah thought he was running away from God but, in reality, he was running away from himself. The crew asked him,
– “What have you done?”
People who are honest with themselves do not run away. At some point, we must confront the reality that we are the reason things are the way they are.
It is easy to look outward and find reasons why something is not working. The challenge is to look inward and take responsibility for a situation.
Jonah was a tough nut to crack and, after confronting the role he played in what was happening, rather than repent, he decided he would take his chances operating on his own. He continued to resist surrendering to God. God allows a great “fish” to swallow the unrepentant Jonah.
Running from God usually leads to our running into something much worse. When we close our ears to God’s Word, we risk running into a dead end, or at least encountering unforeseen obstacles. Ignoring God’s activity around us can lead to despair. Closing our wallets to God can lead to financial difficulty. Nothing good can come from running from God.
Jonah represents every member of the Body of Christ – the individuals called to do ministry. God called Jonah to a non-glamorous ministry. It was not what he wanted to do, and he probably had a million reasons why he should not and could not do it. God, on the other hand, created Jonah, and knew what he could and could not do. God knew that Jonah was the right person for the job. That is why he called him. Of all the prophets God called, He only called Jonah to go to Nineveh. In other words, God knew the Ninevites would respond to Jonah’s voice.
God calls all saints to the ministry of reconciliation, which is proclaiming God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ to the world. He calls us because God knows we will reach the people we encounter along the way.
Knowing what we now know about Jonah, why would God have wanted to use this stubborn unrepentant Jewish man to minister to people he neither liked, nor have anything in common with? The answer is simple:
God loves all people.
God desires fellowship with His creation, and recognizes that we sometimes become indifferent to His work. Nevertheless, despite our lousy disposition, lack of concern for the lost, selfishness, and all of our “issues,” God knows that, if we allow Him, He can use us to reach a multitude of people – whether they be just like us, or different. Sometimes it takes someone different to reach people who have become comfortable with the familiar.
Has your heart grown cold to God? Do you feel indifferent about ministry? Has God spoken to you through your pastor, a friend, co-worker, or family member and you have ignored Him?
Do yourself and those around you a favor: Stop running from God.
God will not give up. Eventually He will ratchet up the pressure until you either give up or give in. People who run from God never truly experience Him. They miss opportunities for God to do powerful things in their lives and in the lives of those around them. Please, stop running today!
Perhaps, the reason you are running is that you do not know God, and do not have a personal relationship with Him.
The Bible tells us that the only way we can come to know God is through God’s son, Jesus.
We must first receive Him as our personal Lord and Savior. Jesus will then introduce us to God, the Father. If you do not know Jesus in the pardon of your sins, say this prayer –
I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.
You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and arose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.
I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.
In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer
Sunday 14 June 2009
May God Bless You