It has been so long since I’ve last posted on here. Things have been a little crazy in my house; mostly, I am working through the publishing process of my first Bible study, titled Impartial: A Journey through Acts 1-10. Of course, I am overwhelmingly excited about that, but it takes a lot of work and has taken the majority of my focus. However, today I am teaching on chapter 3 of Jonah and thought I would share my thoughts on here. I hope you are as inspired as I am through this portion of Jonah’s story.
If you don’t know the story of Jonah, I encourage you to go read the first two chapters; they are truly fascinating. Jonah is told by God to go preach a message of repentance to the Ninevites. Jonah, hears God’s command and books it in the complete opposite direction because he is not about that life. Jonah has no interest whatsoever in going to Nineveh because they are a murderous and vicious nation, and he doesn’t think they deserve God’s grace. However, as Jonah is sailing for a land in the direction opposite of Nineveh, God creates a violent storm and Jonah forces the sailors to throw him overboard (because he knows God is after him for disobeying). We are reminded that if we have called upon Jesus as our Savior, and God as our Father, we cannot oppose Him and expect to get away with it forever. There are always consequences to our actions, and when God expressly tells us not to do something and we do it, there will be grave consequences. In terms of Jonah, God asked Him to go do something and he did not do it – he actually went and did as much the opposite that he could think of. And he got ate by a fish. So Jonah 1-2 teaches us that we do not want to be like Jonah! More than that, though, these chapters are reflected in our own lives through those who surround us – specifically in work, school, in extracurricular activities, sometimes in our families – each of these can be our “Ninevehs.” And, like Jonah, God calls us to bring His message to those who surround us each day. So with that in mind, let’s dive right in to the next part of the story in Jonah 3:1-4.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
This is the second time God has told Jonah to go to Nineveh, and it would seem that being swallowed by a big fish has changed Jonah’s willingness to comply with God. It’s funny how often that happens! So many times we have to be hit with the consequences of disobedience before we figure out that life is so much better if we just do what God asks of us. I come from the school of “learn the hard way.” The question these verses raise is this: How many times do we have to bear the consequences of making the wrong choices before we realize that our lives will be 100% better if we listen to what God says the first time?
We return to Jonah 1 to see that Jonah did indeed do what God told him to do the second time, and he packed up and went on his way to Nineveh. Jonah’s journey was not a short one; it would have had to take at least 3 weeks from where Jonah is said to have lived in 2 Kgs 14:25 to get to the city of Nineveh.
Sometimes, teaching our friends or families about the God whom we call Father, is a long journey. It takes time to develop trust and relationships, to serve and to love someone. God places people in our lives for very specific purposes; you may be provided a very clear opening to share your testimony or the gospel of Christ upon first meeting someone, but most of the time, these conversations happen once you have befriended someone. And true friendships, true relationships often take time. The longer your journey with someone, the better the friendship. Some Christians are blessed with the gift of evangelism, where they are able to tell everyone they meet about God and the amazing things He has done for them; but many of us share our faith in different ways. We build up these relationships and then we are able to show them our faith in the way we live and love others. We share our faith naturally, through questions, and by sharing what’s going on in your life.
Sometimes, we make these relationships and our efforts in sharing our testimonies and loving and serving our friends in the name of Jesus lead our friends to a stronger, deeper relationship with God. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t. Here’s the thing; there will be people in your life that are long-term friends who will not accept Christianity. Thankfully, my friends, it is not your job to convert them to Christianity. Your job is to love and serve them, and show them that God loves them. That’s it. We are told in Rev 22:17 that it is the Spirit who invites people to be followers of Christ, we are simply there to encourage and testify to God’s goodness.
As we look back to the story of Jonah, we see that he finally gets to Nineveh and that it is a 3-day journey through the city. It could mean that it should take Jonah three full days to preach at the major intersections of the city to make sure the majority of the people heard the message. Verse 4 says Jonah goes out on the first day and says, “in forty days, Nineveh shall be_____.” Fill in the blank with the word from your translation.
This word (my translation says “overthrown”) is such a perfect word. It is the Hebrew word haphak, which has very similar meanings in the Assyrian language. It means, “to overthrow, a judgment, a turning upside down, a reversal, a change, a deposing of royalty, or a change of heart.” Jonah most certainly was using the word to denote physical overthrow, God’s physical judgment taking the form of destruction. However, the word itself is very fluid in meaning. Because then we see in v5, that the word haphak did indeed take place. There was a change, a deposing of royalty, and a change of heart:
5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
Verse 5 says that the people of Nineveh believed God and called for a fast and put on sackcloth. This was a huge change. One of the reasons that Jonah did not want to come here in the first place, was because this was such a violent, war-hungry place. It was known for murder and destruction. Yet at the very first call, they completely repent – as one nation.
Then, verse 6 tells us that is was not just the people were not the only ones to be repentant; the word reached the king and he made a royal decree of extreme repentance. Not only that, but he led by example. God did not have to remove him from his throne for there to be a deposing of royalty: the king lowered himself and made sure everyone knew that God and God alone had sovereignty. So, from royalty down to the very beasts, the king called for a fast from food and water, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, so that every person and animal would call out to God for repentance. I love that the animals had to fast too; have you ever heard the noises that come out of a hungry or thirst animal? Even the beasts would bellow to God in their misery. Maybe to us it sounds a bit ridiculous, but really, it speaks of complete and utter desperation and urgency. These people 100% believed Jonah’s words and moved quickly, completely, and urgently to change so that God might change His mind and spare them.
Here’s what we need to take away from this: just as Jonah knew the reputation of Nineveh, you know the reputation of others, or maybe you see the façade that each person wants you to see – and no further. You hear what others say about him or her, you see their posts on Facebook, you see the tweets, you see the snapchats, you see what that person wants you to see. But, you see no more than that. You don’t see what is going on in their family, you don’t see their heartaches and struggles, you don’t see what God is doing in their hearts. Hear this and hear it well: if God is calling you to befriend a person, or to love and serve a person, it is for a very specific purpose. If God puts someone on your heart it is because He has a reason for you to be in his or her life. God may have them prepped and ready to repent and call upon Him at the slightest urging. But He want you to be a part of His plan for this persons life and show them the way to Him. God blesses us with opportunities to take part in the building of His kingdom; in doing so we are blessed beyond measure in a multitude of ways. When we choose not to partake, we miss out and sometimes it is devastating for both us and the other person.
I had a client back in my personal training days who I loved, loved, loved: he was like my grandpa. I loved him as if he was family. We had family dinners together, we spoke on the phone, I trained him 2-3 hours a week, where we got to share life stories and really grow a beautiful friendship. He had adopted a son who was homosexual, and the church had rejected his son. They kicked him out of church. And because of that, my client and his family rejected church and the God that church supposedly represented. This man was very willing to listen to my testimony, my activities in church, and loved to hear how I was serving in church. He just loved to listen to the things God was doing in my life. But one day after I no longer trained him, I called to check up on him, and he told me his wife didn’t want us to talk anymore. Didn’t give a reason, but that she just didn’t want us to talk or do family dinners anymore. I was utterly heartbroken, but I had to be respectful of their wishes (because marriages always, always, always come first!). A while after that, however, I kept getting this strong urge to call him. I would argue myself out of it each time, letting my hurt guide me into fear of more rejection. For about three months I thought about calling this man almost every day. I never did. The urge stopped. About 3 months later I was talking to a friend who knew him, and asked how he was doing. She told me that about 6 months ago his wife had died. That was around the time I began to get the urge to call him. And then 3 months later he died too. Which was when the urge to call him stopped. I knew with utter certainty that had been God telling me to call him; God was giving me one last chance to pour both my love and God’s love onto this man before his time came. And I didn’t. I will never know if my friend ever accepted Jesus. I have to live with knowing that I didn’t listen to God’s direction, and that I missed out on something huge. When God urges you repeatedly to reach out to someone – take it. He may be leading you to the best friend you have ever had. He may be leading you to your future. He may be leading you to partake in bringing someone to Christ. You never know why God is telling you to reach out to someone, but I am telling you right here and now, you absolutely will not regret it. You may not always be successful, but you will never regret doing what God asks you to do.
The last verse of chapter 3 denotes the success of Jonah’s campaign:
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
Jonah did what God asked him to do. Just as Jonah was beginning to preach, just starting the process of warning them on day 1 of 3, the Ninevites were already believing and repenting en masse. You don’t know what God is doing in someone else’s heart. If He is putting a person on your heart and mind, to reach out to them, to share your testimony with them, you could be the one to lead them to accept God’s call upon their lives. Ask God if there is a certain person He wants you to reach out to, to serve, to love, to befriend, and then – no matter what their reputation is, no matter how mean they might be, no matter what kind of crowd they may run with – reach out to them. Love them. Show them what it means to love God and to live in God’s love. You have been called to be an agent of change. How will you answer that call?