Monday, May 28, 2007

Jonah is one of the shortest books in the Bible, and it’s also one of the funniest. It serves as an archetype of the spiritual life.

Years ago my first Jonah moment was when God called me to go to a 4x4-only accessible area of Nigeria for a short term mission right after having back surgery! I had a real hard time believing it was going to happen, but after months of reluctance it all came together. I'd love to be able to say as soon as I heard the request I was on my way, but it was more like God had to continually convince me that it was possible over a 4-month period.

Jonah 1:1-2
One day long ago, God's Word came to Jonah, Amittai's son: "Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They're in a bad way and I can't ignore it any longer."

God calls Jonah. God calls us. The greatest philosopher’s of old, like Aristotle and Cicero didn’t believe that. They spoke of the self-directed life. Usually it was an aristocratic life, too! Even modern philosophers, writers, and those cultural icons we look up to still speak of a self-directed, self-motivated, self-made pioneering kind of life. This is my life!

Not so with Jonah. And not so with us. God calls Jonah. We are called. We are passive to an active God.

Ephesians 3:20-21
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

When we surrender to this higher voice so much more is available. We don’t need our life to be about us!

Judge, lawyer, police, and security: allow God to work through you for justice. Justice is a matter very close to the heart of God.

If you’re a writer, journalist, teacher, educator someone who works to reveal truth, allow it to dominate your life and in doing so you place your will in the passive sense and God will work through you.

If you’re a nurse, a doctor, someone in the medical or compassion field, such as a social worker, allow compassion and grace to invade all that you do.

For the artist, musician, painter, who makes beautiful things you are responding to God’s call to create.

We’ve all been made for a definite purpose. Find it. Listen to it. It is as Jesus talks about, the pearl of great price. Sell everything you have to pursue it.

God’s mission comes to Jonah. What does Jonah do? “You want me to go east by land, well I’m going west by boat!”

Translation: “Screw you God!”

So Jonah goes to a far off place called Tarshish, our present day equivalent of Timbuktu.

This becomes the central drama of the spiritual life: What do we do with the call of God?

"I’m discovering that a spiritual journey is a lot like a poem. You don’t merely recite a poem or analyze it intellectually. You dance it, sing it, cry it, feel it on your skin and in your bones. You move with it and feel its caress. It falls on you like a teardrop or wraps around you like a smile. It lives in the heart and the body as well as the spirit and the head." Augustine

A friend of God, a saint is one who responds to that call, weekly, daily, hourly. They make it the central organizing principle of their life.

The rest of us get on a boat and head to Tarshish in one form or another. God’s call by definition and nature is hard. It’s difficult. God is love and listen to what love is from 1 Corinthians 13:

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn’t always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.

Jonah hears God, and heads the other way. He goes down into the ship and falls asleep. Uh oh. Falling sleeping is never a good thing in the Bible.

Think of the three closest friends of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14: ‘Couldn’t you stay awake for one hour? I’m about to die.’ When He checks on them again they’re sleeping like babies.

Falling asleep is a symbol for being unaware, clueless, out of touch. Up comes a big storm. These big storms would evoke a modern day slasher type of fear. The ancients were horrified of the sea. The disciples literally freaked out on the Sea of Galilee. Augustine in the 4th century was terrified of his trip from North Africa to Italy.

What caused the storm for Jonah? His resistance to God. When we resist God’s will storms break out in our life. Does it cause trouble just for Jonah? No, it becomes terrifying for everyone on the boat. So it is with our life and our storms.

When we do God’s mission we benefit others. Think of Matthew inviting his buddies to meet with his new life coach Jesus.

Similarly, when we resist, others experience it too. All of those earlier occupations I mentioned- when they’re on, great good can be done. When complacency sets in, or cynicism, or we get sidetracked looking for bigger houses and greener pastures, we lose and so do those we could have helped!

"The Half-Hearted Kamikaze" was a pilot who flew in World War II for the Japanese Air Force. He was still alive after fifty missions! A true kamikaze flies on one mission. He gives his life for it. There's no such thing as a half-hearted kamikaze.

How about a half-hearted Christ follower?

The sailors determine Jonah is the cause of the problem, and he very quickly acknowledges it, too. “I’m the one”, he says.

Anyone remember Herman Melville’s Moby Dick? Father Mapple kicks out a blistering homily on the life of Jonah just before they all head out.

The big lesson: there’s no running from God! Perhaps Jonah thought that God was a local deity, but such is not the case.

Psalm 139:7-18
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? To be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you're there! If I go underground, you're there! If I flew on morning's wings to the far western horizon, you'd find me in a minute— you’re already there waiting! Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark! At night I'm immersed in the light!"

It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you. Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my other's womb. I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking!

Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day. Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful! God, I'll never comprehend them! I couldn't even begin to count them— any more than I could count the sand of the sea.

And so a great big fish, a whale, swallows Jonah. Our will needs to be swallowed up by God’s will. God uses big fish to swallow up our own plans and desires. He’ll use whatever it takes.

In your will is my peace. Augustine

In the case of Joseph God uses slavery, false imprisonment, and betrayal to shape him into the man God desires. In the case of Moses, here’s a guy who lashes out and kills an Egyptian. A guy in full control of his emotions, right? He wanders 40 years in the desert but emerges a changed man.

How do we read the times where we’re swallowed up by the whale?

What do we do and say when things aren’t going our way?

Is it simply dumb suffering? Or is it the discipline of God?

Jonah prays form the belly. It’s always easy to pray in the good times. We need to especially pray when we’re in the belly. God spares Jonah and the whale spits him out. He gets a second chance at God’s mission.

The whole city turns to God. And Jonah is mad, so he goes and pouts. Do you ever pout when God is doing stuff? Perhaps because we don’t like this whole love and forgiveness thing as much as we think?

God then shelters Jonah with a vine, but then He sends a worm to kill the vine, along with a hot sun and wind to make things unbearable. How does Jonah react? If you haven’t figured it out yet he gets mad again. He reacts negatively: “It would be better for me to die than to live. I am angry enough to die.”

Now get this: it was the greatest revival ever! Jonah was mad at God for being a part of the greatest revival ever.

Jonah and negativity. Negative spirits will rob you of your God destiny. If you don’t listen to God your life will be filled with a spirit of negativism.

But notice how the little book of Jonah ends- God defends the saving of the city, but it doesn’t say Jonah was convinced. God speaks to us, He leads us, He draws us, but we always get to decide how much we’ll resist Him. Interestingly in the book of Jonah, everybody and everything obeys God, except for Jonah!

What is God saying to you?

Decide to do what you know God says to do- stop thinking about doing it and 'just do it'!

Undertake everything you do on God's behalf.

Colossians 3:17
Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.


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