Ever sing… “Dare to be a Jonah, dare to run from God”?
No, the ministry of Jonah just does not seem to be a ready resource for lyrics. The lessons that we learn, from the life and ministry of Jonah, are not lessons waiting on music. While Paul could say follow me as I follow Christ, Jonah’s biography does not call for such a parade.
But there is something about the book of Jonah that grabs our heads and pulls our view heavenward. The text forces us to look into the face of God where we see God who does His own will, saving who He has determined to save while making use of those He determined to use—even if they want no part in the work. We see the bigness of God, we see God doing His plan in spite of what might be the design of man. God will save those He has planned to save. He is a God of mercy. God will use who He wants to use when He wants to use them even if they have scheduled something else.
It is one of the most encouraging things declared by the life and times of Jonah and you do not need to be fleeing from God to find it encouraging. The revival that followed Jonah’s preaching was not the revival of methods or motivated speakers, but quite the contrary. Nineveh repented upon hearing the Word of God in spite of all the obstacles that our unwilling prophet threw in their way. The work of God is about God working. Which is not at all a call to “dare to be a Jonah”…but reason to hope even when all our flaws, limits, hesitancy and whatever well-intended or ill-intended obstacles seem likely to clog up the process. God saves by use of His Word preached even when preached by the grumpy prophet or those who preached the gospel to spite Paul (see Philippians 1:15). Our hope is in God’s Word not our getting it just right in our methods or our motives—though both ought to be attended to with a zeal for God’s glory. Here is great encouragement: God is a saving God and is in no wise limited by my limits. We have reason to hope for revival since revival is about the will and work of God, which He does making use of the weak and the foolish.
And there is more. There is encouragement found in the freedom that the text offers from the oppressive guilt feelings that may accompany our ministries, the condemnation that we feel because the revival we planned did not happen. When guilt is ours because we are guilty it is a problem that has an answer. It is a guilt that results from our having broken God’s law and can be answered by the substitutionary work of Christ. Such guilt feelings are a grace of God… for they chase us to Christ and find their answer in Christ. But false guilt that has no basis is a guilt that cannot be answered. This pretend guilt is like that monster under the bed of the 3 year old, a monster that is not subject to reason or reality. The work of revival is God’s work. So let us repent of our “Jonah-ish” ways when we are slow to move at God’s direction but let us also take care not to assume that we are or can be the cause of another’s salvation or renewal. This should keep us looking to God and guard us from looking for answers that are meaningless. God does the work and He has chosen to work ordinarily through those ordinary means such as the preaching of His Word…even when it is preached by a grumpy prophet that smells like the inside of a fish.
God, in surprising Nineveh and Jonah, banishes the notion that ministry is some quid pro quo, drop a coin in a vending machine and get something, formula. We may be guilty for not going or for not wanting to go but the doing of the work is God’s. Here we are relieved of the false guilt and reminded that it is God’s pleasure and God’s Word that create that perfect storm of revival. Spread the Word and Pray that God will do what only He can do. Enjoy the comfort of knowing He is in charge.