Meet Jonah, Meet You
Last month, I had an opportunity to think out loud with some men about Jonah and his journey. Short book, but poignant. Jonah had an assignment, given directly to him by the mouth of God. But, he tried the impossible – he ran from God. Now, as a father of three toddlers and a teen, a husband of one wife, and a personal pastor to more than a dozen men, I feel the pull of trying to be in more than one place at a time. Imagine the futility of trying to run from a God who is everywhere at once?
And, yet, he ran.
Whether Jonah was trying to run from an omnipresent God or just the mission before him, he ran.
And, so do you. And, so do I.
Spotting the Lies
As I listened to the men around the room it became clear that we’ve all pulled a Jonah from time to time. The question was before us – “what line of thinking have you followed to talk yourself into doing what you want rather than obeying God?” Pride took many colorful shapes and sizes. Here are a few:
- “This is too small.” Either God had called a man to do something so simple, it seemed insignificant (“regular or unleaded?”). So, why would I obey that? God wanted me to pat someone on the back, let someone off the hook, skip a meal, take the neighbor’s teenager out for breakfast, whatever. And, now there’s a void in my soul because I know I left something undone… it feels like there’s… space… between you and God.
- “But, I’d rather do X.” How many times have you wanted to just veg out in front of some mindless TV before bed, when you know God was calling you to read the word to know something new about Him, read the word to your kids, read them a bedtime story, or just pray with your spouse? As you look back on what you spent that time on, you feel… estranged from God.
- “I was just following orders.” One guy shared the tension he felt over having shot men to death in Vietnam, all the while knowing God commanded us not to murder. Decades later, he still carries the guilt and shame. How often have we feared man rather than the God who created all men? It’s as if God’s voice were strained and far off while the voices of men were painfully close.
- “God will forgive me.” Many argue to this day that we are under grace, not law. They are correct when this is applied to salvation. However, does obedience play any part in our lives? I have two words for you: “Ananias” and “Sapphira”.
Or course, this is not an exhaustive list. But, the pattern the Lord revealed to me as I listened to the men around the room is this: we disobey God for one of two reasons: either we minimize the call He has given us or the consequences of disobedience. Minimizing the consequences says “I am more able than God to control/withstand outcomes.” Minimizing the call says “I know better than God/God clearly doesn’t see this with clear enough eyes.”
Jesus taught in the parable of the talents that when we are faithful with little, we prove our eligibility for greater responsibility. “This is too small” is not only a lie, but a barrier to moving forward in our assignment from God.
At any given moment, I can think of a dozen things I’d rather be doing… in the flesh. But, we are called to live by the Spirit (read Romans 8 exhaustively). So, there’s another lie to cast down – what I want to do and what I ought to do must be parsed, constantly.
Fear of man will prove to be a snare… (Proverbs 29:25) … but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. Understanding “safe” is important – it doesn’t mean we might not get fired by someone who commands us to do evil – they may be bent on evil and not to be turned around. Consider Pharaoh or Potipher’s wife or even Eli’s sons.
The most important word in the Gospel is this: repent. Turn around in your mind and head back to God. Repent. Repent. Repent. Yes, we are under grace. But, we are called to obedience nonetheless. Prohibitions against premarital sex, lying, murder, envy, and all other forms of disobedience are not nullified because of the cross. They are merely “covered”. There is an eternal price to be paid for disobedience, of which we’ve talked before – forfeiture of eternal rewards, in part or in whole. See 2 Cor. 5:10.
Here is our call – fear God and obey His commands. When we sin, repent – let’s be sure to quickly and sincerely change our minds and agree with God that what we did was wrong. And, then, experience His grace, forgiveness, and mercy. More importantly, restore ourselves to fellowship with the God of the universe, who invites us to call Him, “Father”.
The death of Ananias and Sapphira was the exception, not apparently the rule – otherwise the church at Corinth would have all been dead after Paul’s first letter, for example. Grace is available, but it doesn’t shield us from the consequences of sin, only the judgment against it. God offers great freedom, love, and forgiveness, but also a massive eternal 401K to those who overcome, obey, and repent. May you retire a bizillionaire to your Father’s house to hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant”!