Lord, be with us now as we come together in Your name. Help us to lay aside all that has happened in this past week and allow Your Spirit to draw us close to You. And all this we ask in Jesus name. Amen…
Read Jonah 1:1-17
At some time in our lives we have all perhaps felt God’s call upon us to do something or to go somewhere but have declined the invitation, so to speak. Often we might do so because of the sacrifice we would have to make or because of the hardships we envisage we might have to face…
But that’s not quite the case with Jonah in our passage this morning. You see, Jonah wasn’t running away from any sacrifice or hardship that this mission entailed. At least not in the way that we might think of that. Jonah was running away to save his life.
You see, the prophetic word that God gave to Jonah to take to the people of Ninevah meant that he might in fact be putting his life on the line.
On the one hand, should Ninevah refuse Jonah’s message, there was a good chance that he would be taken captive and then put to death. But if they listened to him, Jonah would have to go back to his own people and effectively say…Good news, the people who conquered us are now God’s friends – and their king is under God’s blessing…
To us today that might understandably seem like a no-win situation. And given the options that potentially faced him, we might sympathise with Jonah for looking for excuses not to answer God’s call. And who knows, faced with the same options, we too might have behaved as Jonah did.
But here’ the thing, was Jonah simply making excuses or was there something else going on here. And where do we stand on this – what are we like when it comes to making excuses to avoid doing as God calls on us to do.
It’s possibly fair to say than many do think that Jonah was indeed simply making excuses here. He didn’t want to do as God asked, he didn’t want to speak, to preach or to be some kind of missionary. But there was much more to it than this.
Jonah didn’t want to go because he hated everything about the people to whom God was sending him. He didn’t want to go because they weren’t his people. He didn’t want to go because he didn’t actually believe that these people deserved God’s mercy. I suspect all of these thoughts were in Jonah’s head.
But ultimately what all this boiled down to was this. Jonah didn’t want to go because he believed he knew better that God Himself did. And so he set off in the opposite direction altogether. He runs away from his responsibility and instead of heading East, Jonah heads West.
Whenever I think of the story of Jonah I think of Psalm 139…Where can I flee from your presence……..And at the heart of the story of Jonah is the simple truth that we cannot outrun or hide from God. And God’s plan for reaching the world with his message of love is to use his people – us, each and every one of us. And there is no plan b…
So, what can we learn from Jonah…..
One of the most common questions asked at times such as this, is…how do I know for sure when it is God who is calling me. There once was a missionary who served among the lowest caste people of India and did so for many years. He said that a calling from God isn’t always a passion which arises from one specific event or experience – although it could be.
But more often than not a calling from God is a persistent, nagging sense that you feel you cannot do anything else but that which you believe God is leading you too. And that persistent voice of God doesn’t leave you when the emotion of the day is over but rather continues to lead you forward. Until you eventually find yourself at that place God wanted you to be at. As to who God does call?
People – ordinary, everyday people, even those who might want to refuse to go. People like you and I. We are all God’s people. We are all God’s voice for this world today. We are all part of God’s plan for this world today. Yet, like Jonah we so often feel ill-equipped and ill-prepared and so our initial reaction invariably might be…God can’t possibly use me…
But here’s the thing. God loves those who know they lack the adequacy to serve Him. Because when we do answer the call, we have only one on whom to rely.
During the first half of the twentieth century many missionaries went from different churches here in the UK to different parts of the world. Often to the most inhospitable places imaginable and to people who hadn’t asked them to come and who at first did not care for their message. Why did they go? To places such as this, for a life of danger and hardship, not even sure that their mission would make one bit of difference.
The only reason I can imagine that anyone would do something such as this was because God called them and they answered – they could not say no…..
Today we are called to serve God in this way, to be his missionaries, if you like – but perhaps not to go to such distant shores. Because the sad reality is that there are so many here in our own land, in our own communities, who still know little of the love of God. Yet God’s love for the world has not changed – but nor has His desire for you and I to answer his call to serve Him in this way.
Today it is you and I that God calls upon to be His hands and feet and to be His voice. To share with others the Good News of the Gospel message and to let them know of the difference that knowing Jesus can and will make in their lives. And more than ever, with all that we have been going through, it is important that we do so. Yes there will be times when we will find that daunting and feel out of our depth. Yes there will be times when we will have questions and doubts.
Jonah’s story is one of hills and valleys, of webbing and flowing waters, of waxing and waning moons. He says no to God and then he says yes. He praises God in times of great calamity, yet curses Him in times of great mercy. As an individual he certainly had his doubts and his concerns, and other issues too. So much so that we might then ask, what kind of Disciple of God was he.
Indeed, we might then think that he is not the kind of Disciple whose example we might like to follow at all. We would rather be like one of the twelve that Jesus called when he began His mission and ministry here on earth. But remember, they too were not without their faults. James and John arguing who might be the best Disciple, Thomas with all his doubts – and even Peter, the one on whom Jesus would build His Church.
Following Jesus as His Disciple never has been and never will be the easy option and the path we take on that journey will never be the same for any two of us. As it was with Jonah it’s a journey that will contain many high points and many low points and a journey that will have moments of sadness as well as moments of sheer joy.
However the one, sure and steadfast rock that we all have in our own respective journeys, no matter where they lead us, is that our Saviour will be with us, every step of the way. And we know that he is more than up to the task of leading us and supporting us on our journey, for it is a journey that he Himself has already made.
He will never compromise on His message and ideals. He will never fail to stand up for what is good and righteousness. And most importantly for us, He will never weary of being by our side as He calls on us to follow in His footsteps.
The only question is, how will we respond? Will we be like Jonah and run a mile? Or will we learn from Jonah and come to accept that there is no where we can hide from God….Let’s Pray…
Almighty God in Heaven, we bless You for the assurance that You are now here with us, our God, waiting to bless us Your people and to bring to our living such a sense of joy, and peace, and purpose that nothing or no-one else can give. Yours is a faithfulness that does not change, or diminish with the passing of the ages and we thank You for Your continued presence with us each and every day.
In Jesus Christ all things become new, the promise of the Spirit’s enabling power is ours and we can thus face life with gladness, offering You our grateful hearts and our willingness to work for Your Kingdom. Yet still we are conscious of so much need in this world today and we would ask for your intervention in those situations where it is needed most. Look to all who are suffering and in pain and give to them that healing that only You can. Grant peace and comfort to those who are ill at ease and be with all who are worn down by heavy burdens, assuring them that You are there by their side. And we think especially of our own land, our own communities, our own families and ask that they would know Your hand upon them.
So be with us in the week that lies ahead. Help us to walk with You as You have called us, to bear witness to Your love at all times, that through this witness others too may come to know Your Son. And all this we ask in Jesus name. Amen.