“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me’” (Jonah 1:1-2).
It’s hard for us to grasp how shocking this must have been for Jonah. In Jonah’s lifetime there was one world superpower: the Assyrians. The Assyrians were known for their brutality. They had refined the art of torture in a way that is recorded in history. It would make your hair stand on end. They were the terror of Jonah’s time.
Nineveh was one of the major Assyrians cities. The prophet Nahum describes it as “the city of blood, full of lies, full or plunder, never without victims” (Nahum 3:1). This was not a place you would want to visit. If you saw that in a vacation brochure “city of blood, full of lies,” you would not go there.
The Word of God came to this successful prophet. He was highly esteemed in Israel. His wonderful prophecies about extending the borders of the Promised Land came true. He was settled and secure in what he was doing for God. Then God said to him “Go to Nineveh!”
Suddenly, the music stops in Jonah’s life:
“Lord I am really happy in the work you’ve called me to do here in Gath Hepher.”
“I want you to go somewhere else.”
“You want me to leave the ministry I love?”
“Where do you want me to go?”
“That’s in Assyria. There are terrorists and torturers there. What do you want me to say?”
“Preach against the city, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
“That’s not surprising. Their wickedness is notorious! And if you judge them now, it will be a big relief to all of us!”
Put yourself in Jonah’s shoes: This man has a successful ministry among God’s people. He was known for prophesying good things like extending the borders of Israel. He has a good life in a good place, doing good work. And now the Word of the Lord disturbs his comfortable life.
Our culture says “live your dreams,” but God has a way of disturbing our dreams. We all have hopes and dreams of what our lives will be. We plan our families. We plan our futures. We plan our finances. Then God breaks into the plan: A child is born, a loved one dies, the market crashes, you lose your job, and suddenly your life is not going according to your plan.
When God stepped into Jonah’s plan, his heart was revealed. Jonah’s self-centeredness was hidden under the surface of his successful ministry but his “I want a comfortable life, God,” was exposed when God called him to leave something old and to start something new.
You can avoid it by running after your own plans
“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” (Jonah 1:3).
“Jonah ran away from the Lord.” Jonah was a prophet, well-schooled in the Scriptures written during that time. He knew that God is present everywhere. Jonah would have known David’s words:
“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
…if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10).
Jonah knows he can’t escape from God’s presence. What he is running from is God’s call. That’s the issue here. When he gets in the boat, he is giving up being a prophet. He is resigning from the work God called him to do. He is saying, in effect:
“There are other things in life that I could do, besides bringing the Word of the Lord. I’m quitting this ministry and I’m going to make a new life in Tarshish.”
Jonah is dodging a God-centered life: He planned where he wanted to live and what he wanted to do. When God disrupted his plan, he quit.
If your plan becomes more important than God’s plan, you cannot live a God-centered life. What if God wants you in another place? What if God wants you to do another kind of work? What if God has another purpose for you for the sake of people who need to hear the Gospel?
Refining your mind
Recognize that whatever you are doing now is only for a time
The world wants you to believe that everything is stable, secure and permanent. But it is not so. The home that you live in is yours for a time. The work that you do is yours for a time. The people you love are yours for a time.
One day, others will live in your home. One day, others will continue your work. One day, others will have your money. James says:
“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
“Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Whatever you are doing in your life, hold it lightly because it will not be forever