Jonah and Midcourse Corrections
But in the Bible…This guy…Man, This guy he nearly missed it…But God was so interested in the people of this city. God was unwilling for this city to perish. As a matter of fact, God was so interested that he literally altered the geographic course of this prophet turned missionary. God used all of the resources necessary. And it took a lot because this guy was really stubborn, how many of you are stubborn. Spouses don’t elbow each other. He was stubborn and God literally used forces of nature, the animal kingdom and God even used unbelievers to get this guy back in the right direction.
The guy I am talking about is Jonah. And he was called by God to be a missionary. Jonah reacted with disbelief. Instead of going to Nineveh to preach to the sinners there, he ignored God and went in the opposite direction to a coastal town called Joppa. He must have felt he needed a vacation because he decided to take a cruise to Tarshish, a resort town on the Mediterranean Sea. He may have figured “out of sight, out of mind” and a little rest and relaxation would take his mind off God’s call to mission work. But God had other plans for Jonah.
You know, Jonah is one of the most ridiculed books by liberal scholars. The story of a fish swallowing a man and the man living sounds impossible, and since most liberal scholars deny the possibility of the supernatural, they reject the book of Jonah as anything but a fairy tale. But when you retell the story of Paul Galvin and Motorola, it also can sound like a fairy tale. Like a Big Fish Story… But that story is true isn’t it? Jonah is different than the other prophets because it is not full of prophecies by the prophet, it is instead, about the life of the prophet. But it does start off the same way the other prophetic books do because we see the phrase, “And the word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai, saying.” While most of the other prophets prophesied to Israel and Judah, Jonah’s task was to go to Ninevah and prophesy to them.
Let’s pick it up here:
Jonah 1:1-3; 3:1-5
1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.
1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. 4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
I love this…the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. How many times does the Word of the Lord come to you before you hear it and obey it? I think it is good that God understand our nature because he is often sending us the “Same word of the Lord” multiple times. I don’t know if that happens to you like it happens to me. But God understands that midcourse corrections are hard. Its hard to start a new career, its hard to start supporting missions, its just flat hard to start tithing, Starting over and starting are the hardest part, because we have no momentum. But once we get going the momentum will carry us. What’s more important going? Or going in the right direction? A lot of people are like Jonah, they hear God tell them to go and where to go but they just go. And they’re headed in the wrong direction…they are going to Tarshish when their life’s highest achievement is in Nineveh.
So how do we change directions, how do we realign, reinvent and reinvest ourselves?
1st listen to those “wake up calls!” They are often storms. These are easy to miss because they are happening when you have the wind and the waves all around you and you’re in the boat and it would seem to just be easier to weather the storm in the hull of the boat.
2nd, Evaluate what you have become. All of our choices both positive and negative have consequence on our future. We need to become balanced and make many positive choices create the momentum in that direction. Some of our decisions won’t be known to be good or bad until we enter into eternity and that’s why being people of the Spirit and sensitive to the Spirit creates an X factor for our decisions.
3rd, After you have evaluated and assessed your ready to risk in the right direction. This, this is the toughest part. Its easy to stand on the ship headed to your vacation destination but it takes some real guts to step up to the bow of the ship, and to ask the people your taking with you in the wrong direction to throw you over but if you going to head to Nineveh… that’s often what it takes. You can be like Jonah when he says in verse 12 of chapter one, Pick me up and throw me into the sea”
Dante Alighieri, a 14th century Florentine poet, was 35 yrs old when he gave the world The Divine Comedy, considered a standard in the repertorie of Western Literature. He wrote it during a defining moment in his life. Everything was in the state of meltdown.
Dante had been on the losing side of a failed revolution, and as a result he had been exiled from his beloved city of Florence. He knew that if he ever returned, he would be pull to death. The result? A life suddenly flooded with uncertainly, doubt, fear. For a man drowning in all of this he communicates through the pages of the Divine Comedy the statement., “I came to my senses in a dark forest.” This sounds like something of a personal awakening: eyes opening to things either forgotten or not seen before. Something like the words of Jonah in the bellows of a dark fish.Jonah 2:9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.”
Jonah and Dante both are telling us that they are preparing to rearrange their lives.
In his great book, Mid-Course Correction, Gordon MacDonald recalls a conversation with a man who was in a similar place with figurative fish guts and dark forests all around. The man asked Gordon if he might come and talk with him. When he arrived it was evident that he was highly agitated because a job he sought had been given to another. Gordon says, I gained the impression that he had persuaded himself that the job would be his. And now, that expectation had been shattered.
He recounted how he got the news, and as he did it became increasingly clear that larger, longer-term issues about his whole life, not just this job, were surfacing. This event was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. There wasn’t an ounce of vital optimism in him. Soon he was weeping; strong wrenching sobs and a great inner sorrow began to disclose itself.
He said, “I am so disappointed, so disappointed.”
Disappointed in what? I whispered. But deep in my intuitive self, I already knew the answer.
“In everything. I’ve had dreams and high hopes all my life. And nothing…nothing has ever turned out the way I expected. Jobs fall through, friendships don’t make it. I feel as if I’ve flunked as a husband and a father. My Christian life stinks. Nothing…nothing works. In a brief burst of words, he had offered up his perception of a whole life.”
Gordon MacDonald goes on to say that that man died soon after their talk and he believes of a broken heart.
I tell you that story now because I recently had a conversation with someone facing someone in our churches with a similar story who was disappointed with just about everything in his life: his lack of character and moral fiber, his career choice, and his apathy about the future. After about 30 minutes of this, I stopped and looked at him. The best thing I could think to say was. “I don’t know what to tell you except that you need one heck of a conversion!” In truth I long for a lightning bolt that would sear his interior life, eradicate his past, redirect his future.
Maybe that’s you today? Do you need a Mid-Course Correction: to reorder your broken world?
Are you willing to be thrown from the boat? That’s what life and what missions is about. Its about living life radically enough to make a true difference. You life will not be measured by what you received but by what you give away. Whether it’s a product you create that helps the world – like a radio or by the donate that makes some else’s life better.
Its about living life so radically large that you have enough to give it away. And do you realize that you’re never more like God when you give yourself away? because its only at the moment when you’re creating life and sustenance for someone else.
That’s why self-lessness is the most powerful force on earth. It is literally the most creative act because its actions literally cause creation to take place. In helping others we have re-created ourselves. This is the most noble human act. When we are selfless we are the most like God.