16. To Jonah

“God turned up” Meditations: 16 :  To Jonah

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 and headed for Tarshish.

Jonah has always appeared a bit of a joke figure to me. I’m sorry, but that’s just how he’s seemed. I mean, God turns up and tells him to go somewhere and hold an evangelistic campaign, and he goes off in the opposite direction.  He “ran away from the Lord.” Now it’s pretty clear that Jonah never read Psalm 139 or if he did he never took in what it said: “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.” (Psa 139:7-10)  Here’s a primary lesson that is worked out in Jonah – you can’t run away from God!

But perhaps the biggest question that might arise in our minds when we first come across a book like Jonah, is why did God choose Jonah when He knew he would be such an unwilling vessel. I mean the same was true of Moses! So why does God choose such characters? There may be a couple of answers.

The first one actually is very obvious. God doesn’t look on the individual as they are now; He sees what they can become and what they can eventually achieve. We look at ourselves and simply work on the limited resources that we consider we have and completely forget that when God turns up and is there for us, suddenly our resources are completely unlimited!  We look at ourselves and think we haven’t got the strength, stamina or courage to say boo to a goose, but God looks at us and, as the psalmist said, He knows us through and through and He knows that there is more in us (and especially with His help) than we realise. The truth is that both Jonah and Moses achieved the end goal! They may have objected bitterly, but they both got there in the end.

I think a second reason might be to do with what Paul alluded to when he wrote, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Cor 1:27-29). I confess I would really like to feel strong and wise, but much of the time I feel weak and foolish. If that’s how you feel, you’re the sort of person God wants to take and use. We’re just pitted jars of clay: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7) He is glorious and He delights in revealing Himself through vessels of clay!

There’s something else we perhaps take for granted in this encounter with God and it is hidden within those simple opening words of this little book: The word of the LORD came to Jonah.” I have to suggest that Jonah already was a man who had a relationship with the Lord and who also heard from God – and knew that he heard from God. That later distinction is important because, as I’ve often said in these meditations, I am sure many of us hear God but don’t realise it is Him speaking.

No, Jonah heard the message and knew it was from God which is why Jonah upped stakes and hot-footed it in the opposite direction. He wouldn’t have done that if he hadn’t heard God. We much prefer to just stay where we are minding our own business. But Jonah suddenly remembered somewhere else he needed to be and so caught a boat in the opposite direction. If you have never been aware of the Lord speaking to you, it is unlikely that He is suddenly going to call you to go on some hair-raising mission for Him. He builds up to stuff usually, and He speaks again and again to encourage you. Oh yes, Jonah knew the Lord!

But there is another big issue here to be considered. It is of God who brings nasty stuff into our lives to get His way, because that is what happens in this story. On his boat on the way to Tarshish, Jonah suddenly finds they are being buffeted by a major storm that threatens to sink the ship. He knows this is God getting his attention. It’s an amazing story because, grumpy little prophet he may be, he’s more concerned for the ship and the crew than he is for his own life – and perhaps he knows deep down that somehow – just somehow – God will turn up again to save him. And He does in the form of a big fish! What a taxi!

If God knows it just needs a little turning of the screw to get you under way and into the right place for blessing – He’s not averse to turning the screw! He’s more concerned to bless you in the long-term – and others as well. He won’t abandon you in it and His grace will still always be there for you, but He’ll still use difficult circumstances to get you to your potential! And when you get there don’t, like Jonah, grumble about it, just realise the wonder of what He has achieved.