Jump Start # 2124
Jonah 1:6 “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”
Our verse today comes from the great book of Jonah. We all have heard and fallen in love with this story. It’s much more than something to tell the little ones about in Bible class. This is a book of prophecy, one of God’s books. A great storm, caused by God, led to Jonah being tossed overboard. He’s swallowed by a great fish and is in the belly of the fish for three days. Spit up on dry land, Jonah goes and fulfills his mission, preaching to Nineveh. The book ends with Jonah pouting over the cities repentance and illustrating that he was more concerned about a plant that gave him comfort than the salvation of thousands of people. Jonah is really about Jonah. It’s a preacher with a problem, an attitude. We aren’t told if he ever got his mind straightened out.
Early in the narrative, where our verse is found, a great storm has taken the pagan sailors by surprise. They fear the worse. They toss the cargo. They pray to their gods. The captain goes below to awaken Jonah and compels him to pray as well.
That one thought, that simple statement, uncovers a huge thought for us today. Often, people of the world are doing things better than we are. They can appear to be more Christian than the Christians. Here, they are praying and Jonah is sleeping. It’s easy to point fingers and talk about all the things wrong with pagans. They worship incorrectly. They worship the wrong god. They include idolatry. They have no foundation or written word to support their beliefs. They have no evidence that their god is real. Yet, there they are praying and there Jonah is sleeping.
Consider that same concept today.
Care and benevolence. Christians can be stingy at times. We find reasons not to help others. And, often, those who are not Christians run circles around us when it comes to helping out and compassion. I’m not talking about what comes from the church’s treasury, but what comes out of our own wallets. Jonah was sleeping and the pagans were praying. Interesting.
Enthusiasm. Contemporary worship services look more like rock concerts than a worship hour. Loud music. Fog machines. Multiple people on stage at the same time. And the audience, on their feet, jumping up and down, clapping their hands. Many are caught up in the artificial mood created by all these external things. Yet, from a distance, it really seems that that crowd is excited about what is going on. And, in our worship, yawns, bored, sleeping, lifeless singing. Not all the time, but it is there some of the time. Passionate. Glad to be there, rather than, have to be there. The pagans were busy tossing cargo overboard and Jonah was sleeping.
Preaching. It seems that some sermons can be more information driven than persuasion driven. There must be a basis and a reason for the persuasion, but sermons aren’t supposed to be college lectures. It is interesting, in the very first Gospel sermon, Acts 2, in the midst of Peter’s words, the crowd shouts out, “What shall we do?” Peter heard that. That prompted Peter to answer that question. He deviated from his script, we might say. The sermon connected to the audience. It stirred them and persuaded them. I wonder if our sermons do that today. We fill the head with facts, but do we put a fire in the heart for change. People leave knowing more, but will they become better. Will there be any change? Will they grow closer to the Lord? Will they want to walk in righteousness more than they were? Does anyone today feel so moved that he would shout out a question, right in the middle of a sermon?
While we may have the truth, it does not mean that we cannot look around and learn from others. It does not mean that we are doing everything better than all the rest. We can learn from the world. The pagans were doing things that Jonah should have been doing. Being a man of God, a prophet at that, we’d think that he ought to be the first to pray. He ought to lead the others to pray. He ought to be in the forefront with faith and courage. Instead, he’s down below sleeping.
It’s easy to point fingers and judge the pagans of our times. Messed up. Terrible values. Not following God. But in some ways, they can be in the forefront of things when it ought to be us. They can be more forgiving when we are ready to drop the axe in judgment. They can come and sit with a family at the hospital while we are too busy to do that. They can be the first to open their wallets, bring some food, offer a shoulder to cry on. There are just times when the world seems to be doing things that we ought to be doing. This ought to shame us a bit and motivate us to get back to what really matters.
I find that often our intentions are good, it’s just the doing part. The problem with intentions is that no one else knows what you intended. For instance, we intend to have that new family at church over for a meal. Before you know it, that new family has been there four years and they really aren’t new anymore. We just were busy. We intended to drop a card to one of the college students to encourage them. The next thing we know, the school year is over and they are back home. We intended to take some food to a family that had a death. But, now months have passed by and the need is gone. That’s the problem with intentions. Most of us have them and while we are wanting to do what is good and noble, we look around and our friends, many who are in the world, are doing the very things that we planned to do. They are shinning and we are stuck in the bottom of the boat.
The problem with all of this is that when there are needs and opportunities and we remain in the bottom of the boat, and the pagans on top of the boat are doing what we ought to, it makes some wonder. Some feel closer and more helped by the world than the church family. For some, that’s all it takes and they will gravitate to the world. Why not? It seems that the world cares for them more than the church does. Sleeping in the boat brings consequences that are not pleasant and questions that are uncomfortable to answer. Why were you not there? Why did no one come from the church? Folks notice. They remember. The pagans prayed and Jonah slept.
Paul told the Galatians, “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Opportunities don’t hang around. They are the expiration dates on a gallon of milk. You best use it in that time, or it goes bad. Opportunities do not wait until your days off from work. They come when you are busy. They come when you have other projects going on. They come when the ballgames on. They come when you are tired. This means you have to make sacrifices, juggle and rearrange your schedule and be willing to drop things and do what you can. Funerals come at inconvenient times. They aren’t put on hold. A person dies and a couple of days later he is buried. And very shortly after that, the opportunity is buried. You may have to rush to the store. You may be up at midnight making cookies. You may have to use your lunch hour to drop by the hospital. You may have to change your Saturday plans. I know this because I’ve seen Christians do all of these things. They were on top of the boat doing things, not down below with Jonah sleeping.
Opportunities—to let your light shine…to teach others…to do good. God gives us these opportunities. These are occasions to use our talents. But we must act. Storms pass. The door of opportunities closes. And while the world prays, we may be sleeping.
It took a pagan captain to remind Jonah of what he ought to be doing. It may take a pagan boss, neighbor or family member to do the same for us. Maybe we will do better. Let’s hope so. No, let’s do so!