A Better Class of Help
Among the most familiar of the stories of Scripture is the story of Jonah, God’s wayward, rebellious, stubborn prophet. You’d think God could come up with a better class of help, wouldn’t you?
God asks the man to go to Nineveh with a message: Repent or be destroyed. The Ninevites were not nice people! Jonah didn’t want to go so he decided to take a vacation and head in the opposite direction. Bad move.
I used to give Jonah the benefit of the doubt. The Ninevites were wicked people and perhaps the poor prophet was afraid of the reception he would get if he attempted to carry out the mission God had assigned to him.
The truth was, Jonah didn’t want the Ninevites to repent. They had treated God’s people brutally in the past and he was determined that they should get exactly what they deserved. He figured that if they didn’t get the message, they couldn’t repent, God wouldn’t forgive them, and they’d be destroyed. When he finally got to Nineveh, (despite his best efforts to be somewhere else) the whole city repented—and Jonah was annoyed! He says: “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” —Jonah 4:2, NIV.
So in a fit of pique, as the famous story goes, Jonah went out to the garden to eat worms or, more accurately, to have his shade tree eaten by worms. Now he was really upset. Nothing was going right.
“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” —Jonah 4:10, 11, NIV.
An ingrown toenail is painful, but that pain pales in comparison to the pain of eternal separation from God. Basically God tells His prophet to stop thinking about himself and get on with the things that really matter—kingdom business.
Have you ever noticed this odd phenomena in prayer meetings where more time is spent praying about transitory ailments and material things than is spent praying for those who are lost and bound for an eternity without Christ? Have you observed the rather frightening ratio between activities designed to comfort saints rather than confront sinners? Like Jonah we need to chuck our often self-serving agendas and realign ourselves with God’s agenda.
2 Peter 3:9 (NIV) tells us: that “…he [God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Whether I like them or not, whether it is convenient for me or not, whether they are “nice” or not, God is focused on whatever it takes to restore the family bond between Himself and lost mankind that has been broken by sin.
Case in point: Look at all the trouble God took to get Jonah back on track.
It’s hard to look beyond ourselves at times to gain a “God-perspective,” to understand that life isn’t all about us, it’s about Him and the redemptive mission He is on. "Time-out" in whatever passes as our “big fish’s belly” or under our worm-eaten tree is often God’s way of getting us to focus on the things that really matter.