Jonah: Nope

Have you ever heard God speak directly to you? Odds are that you haven’t. I would say that most
people don’t.

If you did, how would you respond?

The closest I’ve come to hearing God speak to me happened when I was just out of my freshman year of high school. I was fifteen years old. We were at church camp that summer. It was one of those super emotional nights where a bunch of campers were thinking seriously about their lives. We ended each night with a time of singing. That night so many youth ministers and counselors were busy talking with teens in need that they turned over the song leading to some of us young guys. I got up in the middle of everyone and led a few songs. In that moment I could see and feel the Spirit of God at work in the lives of my peers. In that moment I felt/heard God tell me that this was what I was meant to do with my life.

From that moment on I began to pursue my calling to youth ministry and worship leading. I’ve been doing that full time for the last eight years. It hasn’t always been easy or fun or glamorous. But I can’t see myself doing anything else.

If God were to speak to you, how would you respond?

The Bible is littered with stories of men and women encountering the divine. The most common reaction is terror. They fall down in fear (Isaiah, Peter, Paul). Some of them choose to test and argue with the divine (Moses, Gideon). Others “gird up their loins” for a wrestling match (Jacob!). Still others willingly submit and obey (Samuel, Mary).

And then there’s Jonah.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:1-3)

Jonah quietly slips out the back door without saying a word. He doesn’t protest or argue. He doesn’t try to bargain with God or air his grievances. He simply makes like a tree and leaves.

Obviously, Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh. But when does God ever call us to something we already want to do? I guarantee you that God will never call you to pursue a promotion, a bigger pay check, more exotic vacations, a larger home, a nicer car, a more respectable position.

NOPE!

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” God called Moses to confront his past and lead an unwilling slave population to freedom. God called Gideon to face down an enemy army with just 300 men carrying trumpets and torches. God called Isaiah to speak out against the evil kings and governments. God called Saul/Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles, literally saying, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah thinks Nope! and runs the other direction. Jonah was totally cool with the stuff that benefitted his own people and his own standing among them. Jonah would prophesy all day long about how Israel would increase and their nation would become great again. But a mission trip to Nineveh? The enemy? No thanks, I’d rather not.

When I look at the state of the church in America, I am saddened to see so many people walking out the doors never to return. I’ve seen people leave our church without saying a word to anyone. They don’t want to have that confrontation, so they simply leave. They escape silently like Jonah rather than stick it out through a tough situation.

I also see certain churches thriving and growing at an unbelievable rate. Then I hear what their pastors are preaching and I’m sick to my stomach. They make it seem like following Jesus is always an easy and #blessed life. Follow Jesus and you’ll get that promotion. Follow Jesus and your family will be perfect. Follow Jesus and all that you want is within your reach.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re never guaranteed and easy life in the here and now. But we are guaranteed that God will be with us no matter what we go through.

God would have been with Jonah every step of the way on the 550 mile journey to Nineveh. But Jonah would rather go to Tarshish without God than to Nineveh with God.

Still Nope!

And here is one of the great ironies of the story. **Spoilers** The wind and the waves obey God. The gentile, pagan sailors obey God. The fish obeys God. The people and king of Nineveh obey God. The plant obeys God. The worm obeys God. The only player in the whole story who doesn’t obey God is the prophet of God!

If God were to speak to you and call you to a mission, what would you do? Creation has no choice but to obey the sovereign Word of the Lord. But humans have the ability to say Nope! and move on. God always gives his people a choice. You are always given a choice.

What’s your Nineveh that you might be avoiding?
What good but difficult thing might God be calling you to do that you would rather not bother with?
Are we really any better than Jonah?

Tell me, have you ever heard God speak to you? What did God say? How did you respond? Let me know in the comments, and subscribe for email notifications so you never miss a post.