Jonah: A lesson in obedience

The book of Jonah is a fascinating book that tells of a man who learned a very valuable lesson in obedience to God. The life of Jonah teaches us that what God desires is not always what we want. However, it is much easier to obey God and follow Him than it is to go our own way.

The first thing we see in the book of Jonah is Jonah’s Disobedience. Read Jonah 1:1-16. In the first chapter of Jonah we find God calling Jonah to a specific task. He wanted Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to preach a message of Salvation and Forgiveness. Nineveh was a very wicked place. The people did not worship God and they lived in sin. Because of the great wickedness of Nineveh, Jonah did not like them. He had no desire to go to Nineveh and no desire to preach to them. Jonah felt that the people of Nineveh deserved to be judged by God and that they should not be given a chance to repent. Instead of going to Nineveh, Jonah goes in the opposite direction and boards a ship heading for Tarshish. Jonah does the exact opposite of what God called him to do. He was running from God. Have you ever ran from God? Has there ever been a time when you knew there was something God wanted you to do but you ran in the opposite direction? Perhaps the Holy Spirit laid upon your heart the need to speak the truth to someone but out of fear or busyness you just go you’re merrily way and refuse to speak to them. Maybe you have felt the call of God on your life to work in full-time ministry. However, you have other plans and you decide to do your own thing instead. Maybe there is an act of faith that God wants you to take. Perhaps a decision needs to be made. You know what you should do. You know what the best thing is. But, you are afraid. Instead of trusting God and stepping out in faith, you turn away and take matters into your own hand. As a result of Jonah running from God’s call, he finds himself on a boat heading in the opposite direction. God sends a great storm to get Jonah’s attention. This storm that Jonah experienced was an act of God’s mercy and grace. When we experience the storms of life, we should ask ourselves the question, ‘what is God trying to show me’? Is there something I missed? Is God trying to get my attention? Even though Jonah disobeyed, God had a plan.

The second thing we see in the book of Jonah is Jonah’s Deliverance. Look at Jonah 1:17-2:10. In verse 17 we see Jonah thrown overboard and God sends a great fish to swallow Jonah. This may seem like an awful situation but in fact this is actually the grace of God at work. You see, when we disobey God, He always has a way of escape. God is a God of second chances. Those who are truly His children are kept safe in His hands and He will not give up on you. God has a plan and He will make that plan work one way or the other. Often times we complain about the difficult things in our life but it is those difficult things that God uses to save us from ourselves. When we get away from God’s plan for our lives He will use the circumstances of our lives to bring us back where we need to be. For Jonah it was being swallowed by a fish. Perhaps for you it’s the loss of a job, the loss of a friend, a rebellious child, financial problems, health issues; whatever it takes, God will use the difficult things of life in order to bring us to His plan. This is an act of grace and mercy. It is an act of love. No matter how many times we disobey God, because He loves us, He will always provide deliverance.

Thirdly notice, Jonah’s Decision. Read Jonah 3:1-10. After going through the ordeal of being thrown overboard, swallowed by a fish, and vomited onto the shore, Jonah finally decides to obey God. The Lord came to Jonah a second time and gives him the same instructions as he did before. There is a lesson to be learned here. God is a God of second chances. God was not through with Jonah. He still had a plan. The same is true for you. No matter how far you have gone. No matter how off course you go, God still has a plan and He still desires to use you for His glory. For me personally, I have been given many chances. God worked in my life in many ways to bring me to where I am today. The journey to God’s plan for me took over 10 years. Early on in my ministry I found myself serving as pastor in North Carolina at a very young age. While I was there I was also taking classes through Southeastern Seminary. In one of those classes, we were told of the great need for strong Bible preaching churches in the state of Maine. The thought of going to Maine as a missionary passed through my mind. One of the reasons for this; was that God brought my future wife into my life who just happened to be from the state of Maine. A few months after the seed of serving in Maine was planted in my mind, I found myself at my wedding in Maine. It was a cold January day with more snow than I had ever seen. I told my new wife at that time that I would never live up north. Time went on and I found myself once again hearing a call from God to leave the church where I was serving as pastor. At that time, the thought of going to Maine once again entered my mind, but I would have nothing of it. Instead I chose to serve as a youth pastor at a good sized church in North Carolina. The years I spent as a youth pastor were good years. There was a lot that I learned about ministry. However, after about 4 years I found myself with the desire to serve as a senior pastor. Once again, the thought of Maine entered my mind. I even went as far as speaking with my pastor about our family being supported by the church as missionaries to Maine. However, the lure of a stable pastoral position down south was too strong. I then accepted the call to pastor a church in Georgia. While in Georgia there were many ups and downs. The whole time we were there, my wife and I knew we were in the wrong place. One summer I received a call from my wife’s grandmother in Maine. She told me about a church in Maine (Spruce Head Community Church) that was looking for a pastor. At that time, I once again said ‘no’.  During the course of that year I began to search for other places of ministry. I even spoke with a different church in Maine. Then, through the frustration of no door opening, I finally broke down and said okay, God, I am yours. Whatever you want, I will do. We were on a family vacation in Maine when a relative came to me and told me about Spruce Head Community Church. The name of the church rang a bell. I remembered my wife’s grandmother telling me about the church a year ago. Almost reluctantly, I agreed to go and visit the church. As soon as we walked in the door I knew. I knew this is where God wants me to be. Less than three months after that day we are moving to Maine. I knew that God wanted me in Maine all along. He used the circumstances of my disobedience to get my attention and bring me back to His plan. Now for the first time in my life, I know I am exactly in the center of His will. I can tell you, there is no greater feeling of joy and peace than knowing you are where you are suppose to be. Now that I am where God wants me, I can expect that God will do great things and He already has! Just like in the life of Jonah, God is a God of a second chance. He can still use you if you will only obey. There are two things about Jonah’s decision to obey. The first is that it was a reluctant decision. Jonah still did not want to go to Nineveh. However, after what he went through, he had no choice. The lesson here is that God can still use us even when our attitude is not where it should be. God uses us in spite of ourselves. You see, God’s plan will be done whether we like it or not. He will get the glory from your life one way or the other. Even though it was a reluctant decision on Jonah’s part, it was also a blessed decision. Jonah went to Nineveh and preached, and the people responded and turned to God. You see, God’s Word never returns void. Even if we are not where we are supposed to be in our relationship with God, He still uses us to bring about His purpose.

There is a final thing we see in the book of Jonah and that is, Jonah’s Disappointment. Notice what happens in Jonah 4:1-11. After preaching in Nineveh and seeing the people turn to God, Jonah is very disappointed. He complains to God and becomes very angry. It is unfortunate to see Jonah respond in the way that He did. However, do we not do the same thing? We get comfortable with where we are. We say we want to see God move and work amongst us, but we don’t want to change. Then when God does move amongst us and good things begin to happen, we find reason to complain. When we discover that God’s plan is not what we want, we find ourselves complaining like a child.

God’s plan is usually never what we thought it would be or what we want it to be. God has a way of stretching us and forcing us to get out of our comfort zones. We basically have two choices. We can run like Jonah and have God use the circumstance of our life to get our attention and bring us into his plan. We can complain and have a sour attitude when we discover that God’s plan is not our plan. Or we can embrace what God is doing. We can obey Him and follow His plan with joy. Where would you rather be? Will you sit by yourself and wallow in your pity because you did not get your way? Or will you experience the joy of knowing you are in the center of God’s plan? Trust me, when you open your eyes and you embrace God’s plan, great things will come. It is much easier to follow God than it is to run.

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