Jump Start # 2126
Jonah 4:2 “He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.”
Once more, we look at lessons from Jonah. Our verse today contains a prayer of Jonah. It’s his second prayer. The first prayer, from the belly of the great fish, was offered in fear. Now, out of that trouble, on dry land, mission completed, Jonah prays in anger. He is so upset that he wants God to take his life. He’s seen enough.
Consider some thoughts from our verse today:
Praying in anger. This is what Jonah did. Prayer is talking to God and when life throws all kinds of things at us, we will have various emotions. I can understand praying to God when scared, confused or unsure. But we must be careful about praying angry. God was doing what Jonah didn’t want. God was going to forgive Nineveh because they repented at the preaching of Jonah.
Mad at God can happen because things do not go as we want them to. Prayers are not answered the way we wanted them to be. Doors of opportunity closed before we could take advantage of them. A loved one dies. A job is offered to someone else. A prodigal won’t come home. A broken friendship won’t be healed. Our hearts are broken and our emotions are angry. We feel God could have done things differently. He didn’t. He feel God could have helped us out, but it seems He didn’t. And, in anger we lash out at God. Some blame God. Some just want to get things off their chest and they unload on God.
It seems that we can easily cross some lines here that can bring disrespect towards God and can view and treat God as one of us. He is not. He is always God. His ways, we remember Isaiah saying, are higher than our ways. Telling God off, isn’t something that is good for our faith nor our relationship with Him. God doesn’t work for us. He is not our servant.
Second, Jonah claimed that he knew God. His prayer includes, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God…” If you knew God is this way, then why are you angry? God is acting just as you expected. This is His way. He is loving and merciful.
Jonah appears to believe that God belongs to Israel and exclusively to Israel alone. There is no room for compassion in Jonah’s heart for Nineveh. His dream and wish would be for God to wipe Nineveh off the map. Now, that would put a smile on Jonah’s face. Destroy them, not forgive them. His actions indicate that he really did not know God.
Now, this brings us to how well do we know God? The God of the Scriptures is the true and accurate picture of God. So often, we can hold on to a concept of God that cannot be supported by Scripture. We want God to be a certain way. We just know that God is this way, when there is nothing to base that upon. This is seen everyday at funerals. Jesus said, unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins. He said, unless you repent you will perish. But everyday, across this land, families are convinced that their departed loved one is smiling from Heaven. They just know God has them. They say this knowing that the departed never had a spiritual thought in his head for decades. He never worshipped. He never read God’s word. And, any time he said God’s name, it wasn’t in a prayer, but a blasphemous comment abusing God’s name. But try to point these things out and you will unleash a holy war and have the fight of your life on hand. I know dad is in Heaven, they declare. God needs him and God wants him.
How well do we know God?
Yet, another thought springs from this prayer of Jonah. Here, the prophet of God, a preacher, stood opposite of the very nature of God. Jonah was God’s spokesman, but Jonah wasn’t like God. God was kind. Jonah was finished with Nineveh. God was willing to forgive and offer a second chance to those foreign people. Jonah felt like he should never have preached to them.
And herein, lies a great concern. The people of God, even the preachers of God’s word, can act and behave so differently than God does. Jonah was given a second chance. The Lord could have left Jonah inside that giant fish. God could have allowed Jonah to be digested and that would have been it for the prophet. But He didn’t. He gave Jonah a second chance. Yet, Jonah could not give Nineveh a second chance. Years later, Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, brings us to the older brother who remains outside the house and unwilling to grant his reckless brother a second chance.
How many times do you think God has forgiven you in your life? How many times? A hundred? A thousand? A million? Nearly every prayer asks God for our forgiveness. Yet, there is that person who gossiped about us. We are ready to declare, “off with their head.” God can forgive, but we won’t. God is compassionate and His children can be judgmental. God can offer second chances and His children want to close the door on people. God loves and His children hate. It has baffled me through the years how the very people can sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus,” but their comments afterwards and during a Bible class sound so insensitive, cruel and hurtful. The people of God can act so unlike the God that they follow.
Someone messes up and makes some sinful and wrong choices, and the first words out of some mouths are, “Withdraw from them.” Why are we so quick with that? We pull that expression out like an old Western six shooter. We fire at will and hope the problem goes away. The father in Luke 15 rushed out to greet the prodigal. Many of us would be waiting in the doorway, watching him crawl. The father ordered sandals, ring, robe and a feast. Many of us would order an explanation. We want to know why we were put through all this mess. We’d be more concerned about ourselves than the sinner who wanted to be right.
And, then there’s all the whispers that take place when a person goes “forward” in church. What did they do, is on everyone’s mind. Did they confess all? Was that enough? Or, the trials that can take place in our hearts. Guilty and ready to execute, never realizing that Heaven is rejoicing because a sinner has come home. Like Jonah, you and I can be so unlike our God.
The world sees God through us. Our harsh comments. Our negative responses. Our critical complaining. Our judgmental spirit. And, is it any wonder that friends and family stay outside the church doors. If God is like us, they want no part of that. If the church is like us, who wants to have to run through that horror chamber each week. Eyes staring at you. People whispering. Some turning away. The church may not even be close to any of that, but if we are, that’s their assumption about the church.
Can you imagine going to a church full of Jonah’s? Can you imagine basing your concept of God from Jonah’s attitude?
The great writer Philip Yancey tells the sordid story in one of his books about a young mother, so strung out on drugs that she prostituted her young daughter to afford drug money. She was ashamed and broken. She had broken so many laws. In trying to help her, Yancey suggested that she go to church services. Shockingly, she replied, “Church? Why would I ever go to church, they will just make me feel worse.” That line has always stayed with me. Instead of finding help, hope and comfort among people who have tasted forgiveness, she feared judgmental spirits and shunning because of the mistakes she had made. The church will only make be feel worse.
We must be like God. More than just holy, as Peter declares. More than just worshipping as Paul instructed. We need to forgive, love and accept as God does. The Pharisee crowd to which Jesus told the prodigal story to, were upset because Jesus was eating with sinners. They were too good for such things. Even when Jesus was anointed at Simon’s house by a sinful woman’s tears, Simon was bothered because of who she was. He was judging and never saw a heart that loved the Lord.
We become like God when we fill our hearts with His word and treat people as He would. If Jonah really knew God, then you’d think Jonah ought to find some room in his heart for Nineveh.
Are you like your Heavenly Father? The children of God need to act like God.