This week's Bible Study - August 23, 2009
Are You Running From God's Will?
Quote of the Week:
“I once sent a dozen of my friends a telegram saying 'flee at once - all is discovered.' They all left town immediately.”
-- Mark Twain
What are some things that we run from? I was in Vancouver in the past week and there was a Cougar Sighting sign that was on the corner a few houses away from where I stayed. Some of the guidance makes sense - Never approach a cougar. But, others would surely go against our instincts - Do not run, back away slowly. Do not turn your back, face the cougar. Do no try to hide from the cougar. The instinct may be to run away as fast as you could - which could be a problem. When we are running from danger, our adrenaline kicks in and we generally run faster (but probably not as fast as a cougar!). Generally, running away involves some danger, or something that we see as being bad for us.
There are some things that we are told to flee in Scripture. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 says to flee immorality. In Genesis 39, we are told of how Joseph fled from Potiphar's wife, as she was trying to seduce him. Even in the story of the birth of Christ, we are told of how Joseph was told to take his family and flee to Egypt, because of what King Herod was going to do. In many places, we are told to flee works of darkness. But, we're never told to flee God's will. It may sound odd to run from God's will, but there are many people who seem to think that God's will puts them in a bad place.
As believers, I would suggest that most of us want to know God's will. We say that if God's will is made known to us, we'd gladly follow. However, we often have our own idea of what the will of God should be, as applicable to our lives, so many only follow if it lines up with what we're thinking. We pray for decisions that we must make, but are we always seeking God's will? Are we willing to follow God's will, regardless of what that might mean? Or, might we run?
The word of the Lord came to Jonah. As stated before, we'd all like the word of the Lord to clearly come to us. We'd like an email each morning, or a newspaper on our doorstep or in some other tangible manner. We think that if we just had that clear personal revelation (suited just for us), we'd gladly follow. However, this wasn't the case with Jonah. Jonah was told to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness had come up before God. Jonah obviously knew of the city, and he was not too keen about having anything to do with them.
In the Scripture, we often hear of God telling a person to go, without specific instructions of where to go or how long to be gone or even what they would be doing. In many cases, we hear that, even with little prompting, they went. We all would like to say that is what we'd do. Abraham was told to go to a land that God would show him. He went - we would too, right? However, Jonah decided to run away from the Lord. He headed for Tarshish; a city that was in the other direction and sailed away to flee from the Lord. Have you ever been there? (Not Tarshish, but fleeing the Lord?)
The Lord sent a great wind that threatened the integrity of the ship and greatly frightened the sailors. Jonah was sleeping like a baby. The captain went to wake him, so that all of them could call on their gods. Through a complex system (drawing lots), they determined that Jonah was the problem and when he said that he worshipped the God that made the land and the sea, they were terrified. Jonah asked to be thrown into the sea, but the men were reluctant, as they didn't want to incur the wrath of Jonah's god.. Finally, they threw him overboard and then Jonah would find his peace in drowning.
However, rather than finding his death in the deep sea, the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. While this certainly is not the lap of luxury, God did provide a place to save the life of Jonah. Apparently, being in a fish gives someone time to think. He didn't have all those other pesky distractions that we face, such as the light of day, people to talk to or anything like that. He only was able to experience darkness and the rumblings you would expect to hear in the belly of a great fish. As he had time to reflect, Jonah came to his senses and began to earnestly pray to the Lord. He vowed to do what the Lord had called him to do, so the Lord commanded the fish to vomit him up onto dry land. I can only imagine how pleasant of an experience that must have been.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. He was told once again to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim the message that God would give him. This time, Jonah appeared to learn his lesson and he obeyed. The city of Nineveh was very great and very wicked. It was written that it would take three days to completely visit the city, so to adequately get the message across, you would have thought Jonah would have had to spend some time.
Jonah stepped into the city and proclaimed that Nineveh would be overturned in forty days. He didn't give any hope for the city and was very callous in his remarks. This was not the most persuasive argument and was not shared with all of the city's inhabitants. There were no flowery words, appeals to change, jokes, illustrations or anything like that. Can you imagine a speaker coming into your church and just saying that God was going to destroy everyone and then sitting down? Would that illicit movement in people's hearts to turn to God? However, God used Jonah's words and they believed God. The people declared a fast and began to repent of their sins.
Although this isn't the point of this lesson, it bears some thought. When God calls you to do something, it isn't necessarily your stunning prowess that he wants to use. He just wants you to be faithful. All the flowery speech in the world will never change hearts, if God's hand is not involved. If God is involved, even your feeble attempts will bear fruit. Realize that you are relying upon Him, and He'll take care of the rest.
Jonah's persuasive words reached the hearts of the Ninevites. They shared with one another and the king issued a proclamation of repentance and seeking the Lord. They were to give up their evil ways and their violence and turn to the Lord. Perhaps then God would relent from his fierce anger and they may not perish.
God saw the response of the city and he had compassion on them. Although Jonah had said that they would be overturned in forty days, God decided to not bring upon them the destruction that had been threatened. We can be thankful that God has compassion on each of us and that we do not get what we deserved.
You would think that Jonah would be happy that he had played a part in getting this wicked city to change. He had been faithful to God and God had acted. However, Jonah was very displeased and became angry. Why did God relent? Why was God gracious and compassionate? Jonah would rather see the Ninevites all die rather than to see them saved. Now, maybe we cannot relate directly with what Jonah was thinking, but I would imagine that there have been times when we just thought that so-and-so needed to get what was coming to them. God would handle that. Although we like to see people come to Christ, sometimes we just may think it's not fair. The Lord was not very happy with Jonah and God is not happy with us when we would rather wreak judgment on others than show compassion.
Jonah went into a major pout mode. Effectively, he wanted to take his ball and go home. He went out and sat down at a place east of the city. Perhaps God would still destroy the city and he had a good spot to view the destruction. He made a shelter and sat in the shade, waiting. With the sun beating down on him, this shelter was not the ideal place to be. It provided some relief for a while, but not much. So, God provided a great vine to grow up over Jonah so that his discomfort would be eased by its shade. Jonah must have thought have God had 'come to his senses' and was indeed pleased with his servant. Destruction would come, and God was going to make it comfortable for Jonah to watch. Jonah was happy.
Early the next morning, God provided a worm that chewed the vine that had been previously provided. The vine withered and the shade was gone. The sun rose, and a scorching east wind provided even more heat and the sun blazed on Jonah's head. Jonah became faint to the point of wanting to die. He thought it would be better to die than to live. Poor, pitiful Jonah.
God asked Jonah if he had any right to be angry about the vine. Of course, Jonah said. Did God not understand his situation? Jonah was angry enough to die. God had asked, so he told him. The Lord said that Jonah had become so concerned about the vine, though he did nothing to tend it or make it grow. It was only around for a short period and then it was gone.
On the other hand, Nineveh was a large city with over a hundred and twenty thousand people who could not tell their right hand from their left. (Driving would be difficult in that city, right? No right turns on red… what is a right turn?) God was basically saying that these people had no idea of right and wrong, so they had gravitated towards their own way of living. You may recall the book "Lord of the Flies". It was about a group of British schoolboys that were stuck on a deserted island who tried to govern themselves with disastrous results. It doesn't have to be British schoolboys. Any group of people that try to govern themselves without a foundation of right and wrong will end in disaster. God made it clear that although Nineveh was a messed up city, he still had compassion on them.
You can think of many groups of people in our society today that have strayed from the truth of God. He is certainly not pleased with the behavior, but he still has compassion on those people. We need to be careful about taking a stand such that we effectively write others off, while God is still concerned for them.
Although there are many lessons that could come out of this story, let's circle back to the main point. God called Jonah to do something specific. He ran. God gave him some time to think about it, so Jonah did it. However, his heart was not in it - he just went through the motions, with a heart that was dead set against what he was asked to do.
If you are like me, you can probably think of times in your life that God had called you to do some specific thing. Unfortunately, if you are like me, you can probably think of at least a time or two where you decided not to do what God called you to do, or you did it without really being focused on the task.
This is part of a series of lessons regarding finding and following God's will. In earlier lessons, we have talked about seeing the big picture and realize that God has a plan that ties things together. We have talked about finding our place and how God sometimes can use signs. God does have a big picture in mind, and when he lays something upon your heart; it is for you to do those things. Honestly, God doesn't really need any of us to do anything. He is more than capable of making things work without us, but he wants to use us in accomplishing His will.
When God lets you know what it is that you need to do, the appropriate response is to accept it and move forward. The place he wants you to be is the place where you will find peace and joy. As you deny his will, you will get exactly what you are looking for, and it will be nothing like what you think it will be. Jonah could have answered God's call and rejoiced at the change in Nineveh. It would have given him joy that is beyond measure. Instead, he ran. Then, reluctantly he did what he was called to do without really being in step with the purpose. Don't be Jonah.