"1The Lord spoke his word to Jonah again and said, 2 'Get up, go to the great city Nineveh, and preach to it what I tell you to say.' 3So Jonah obeyed the Lord and got up and went to Nineveh. It was a very large city; just to walk across it took a person three days. '"
Jonah 3:1–3 NCV
Whenever the New Year rolls around, many people will make 'New Year's Resolutions.' Most people want some things to change in the new year. Some want to lose weight this year so the gyms are full right now. Some hope to get married. Others hope to be parents. Some hope to make more money or climb up that corporate ladder.
As you think about those things, are you serious enough about them to take the steps necessary to make them happen? In all these things, which are not bad in themselves, did you ever ask yourself, who is it all for? Is it all so that I will have a good year for me? Is it all so that I feel better or look better around others? If we are not careful, these 'good' things can become the main thing in our life and that becomes idolatry.
When something takes God away from being at the center of our heart, we begin to look to that thing to satisfy a thirst in us. The temptation to put other things in the center of our life will always be there. Are you aware that God has put US in the center of His heart? The real question is: Have we put God in the center of ours?
While I don't really do the whole 'New Year's Resolutions' thing, I do have a few things I would like to see happen or change with the year. While surfing the web the other day, I found a prayer that I have made my own for me and for my church: "Lord, I want to leave a little bit of you with everyone I meet so you will have something to work with in their lives long after I’m gone."
This prayer gives me purpose in everything I do. My job, my ministry, is to create a thirst for Living Water in every person I encounter this year. It also relieves a certain pressure in my life. See, I'm not called to save anyone. There is a already Savior. His name is Jesus. My job is to be so faithful that I leave something in people’s lives so that HE CAN USE THAT TO BRING THEM TO HIMSELF. I just need to do my part.
Where is that prayer from? It is simply the Great Commission from Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus was telling the disciples what their lives should be about after He leaves and before He comes. Jesus didn't save them so they can look pretty. He wanted to use them. He wanted their lives to be like His, which was about others and not Himself. Take a look at Mark 10:45 NLT, "45For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Seven hundred years before this command, we see God telling Jonah to do the same thing. The call came to Jonah to go to a godless, evil nation that would soon take his country into exile. He tries to run from it, but God intervenes in grace, reaching out to him to bring him to repentance. Jonah realized that God’s faithful love isn’t just for Israel, but for everyone. Jonah ended up saying, "Where you go Lord, I will go. I’m not going to live for myself anymore. I want my life to be about you now Lord."
Here is the first encouragement:
I. Our God is always a God of new beginnings
Look at Jonah 3:1 NCV, "1Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time:" The author doesn't tell us how long it was after the fish vomited Jonah out that God spoke to him. We are simply told that God spoke to Jonah the second time. And notice that there is NO mention here of God bringing up Jonah’s past failings. God doesn't even bring up the deliverance that was necessary because of the mess Jonah had made for himself. Notice that God doesn’t give Jonah any speeches. God is so gracious. Jonah was still the right man for the job. God simply tells Jonah to do what He had asked him to do from the beginning. And God is the same with us today. We confess our sins before Him and His mercies are new every morning. His blood covers our sin. He is the God of new beginnings and fresh starts.
II. God’s call is always the same
So God’s Word comes again to Jonah. What is God going to say? "Ok Jonah, Nineveh is too hard? How about you just pray for Nineveh then? Or go home and study about Nineveh so you can pray better? Is that too hard? Why don’t you preach to a small town then near Nineveh? Why don’t you invite Hosea to be a guest preacher for you while you stay home?" No, God doesn’t play "Let’s make a deal" with Jonah NOR does He play it with us! The call is the same in Jonah 3:2 NCV: "2Get up, go to the great city Nineveh, and preach to it what I tell you to say."
Let's take a brief look at Nineveh. It is called a "great city" three times in the book of Jonah. It is not great in God’s eyes, but the world’s. Nineveh was a huge city. The circumference of the city and its suburbs was sixty miles, with probably over 600,000 people living there. One wall of the city had a circumference of eight miles and boasted 1,500 towers. It was a powerful city of influence, but was also great in sin. They impaled live victims on sharp poles, leaving them to roast to death in the desert sun; they beheaded people by the thousands and stacked their skulls up in piles by the city gates; and they even skinned people alive. They respected neither age nor sex and followed a policy of killing babies and young children so they wouldn’t have to care for them. It was truly an evil city. Jonah 3:3 NCV, says that to go through the entire city and its outskirts, it takes three whole days. ["3…It was a very large city; just to walk across it took a person three days."] It was a huge metropolis for its time!
Since Jonah’s attempt to run away from this, nothing had changed, well, except maybe Jonah. The Ninevites were still as violent as ever. The task was still huge. The people were still evil. Nineveh was still east. The call was the same. The implications of what people might think of him back home were still there. I think Jonah still saw how impossible he thought the task is.
But notice God does not negotiate with Jonah to give him an easier task. And He never lowers the bar in our lives. We are His children. He wants nothing but the best for our lives. And if we are the center of our lives, we will quickly be disappointed and bored. One of the things we have to realize is that if we want to choose the easy and comfortable life, there are plenty of ships headed there, to our Tarshish. Our God is a God of new beginnings, but He gives us that fresh start with the same call that might still come with the same issues that caused us to run in the first place.
The call for the disciples to 'go and make disciples' is still there for us today. That call has not and will not ever change. We have to be willing to take some risks. We have to be willing to go where we never thought we would go. We can't stay just a little bit from the shore and keep hugging the land because we are scared? There are deeper waters, more fish and greater power for us to experienced still. There is still net-breaking fullness of the Lord to be experienced.
Here's a little secret. It’s not going to get easier for us in ministry. At least it shouldn't. There will be storms. There will be people rejecting us. There will be hardhearted stubborn unbelievers. But nothing should stop us from pouring out our own blood, sweat and tears for the lost. We should never want to look at His call and settle for halfway. And we can't do it merely by our own effort. We need to lean on God and the more we lean on Him we'll find that He is all the strength we need!
III. Our God always supplies for what He demands
Notice the first word of Jonah 3:3 NCV. "3So Jonah obeyed the LORD and got up and went to Nineveh. It was a very large city; just to walk across it took a person three days." Before, in chapter 1, vs. 3, it was "BUT Jonah…" Jonah had finally stopped butting up against God and stepped out in obedience. Did he know exactly where and who he should go to and how to do this completely? It doesn't seem from our text that God had it all mapped out for him. God simply said, "Be my ambassador and speak for me." It's not really important that we know all the details; we mustn't try to figure it all out. God will provide His resources for what He has called us to do.
Jonah finally simply trusted that God would take care of him. There were a million "what-ifs?" What if they impaled him? What if they don’t listen? What if they laugh at him? What if I don’t know what to say? What if I sound stupid? Get this...when Jonah arose and went instead of arising and fleeing, God blessed him…not a moment sooner…not a moment later. God is never going to show us the whole picture with every detail. If He did we wouldn't need faith. We would simply follow the blueprint and not the Lord.
I think Jonah received a greater blessing by trusting God and not demanding all the details of the plan. He received the presence of God. What a greater gift for us when God says, "I’m not going to tell how I’m going to do it all…how the fish will be caught…where the nets should be cast…how high and deep you should throw the nets. But what I will give you is My Presence. I will be on the boat with you. And as you get to know me, you will know how the details will all fall into place." Oh, my…what an awesome gift God gives us!! When will we learn that as we step out in faith, God will supply for what He demands. God supplied Jonah with all that was needed…AFTER Jonah stepped out in faith. We won't see the supply until WE step out in faith!
Consider these two prayers as you ponder your new year:
1st: "Lord, I want to leave a little bit of you with everyone I meet so you will have something to work with in their lives long after I’m gone."
2nd: God help me to sail into deeper waters, knowing that You will supply me with what I need for what You have called me to do as I take the steps necessary to complete the journey.
Let's live out God's heart of Mission. It has been said, "In the eyes of the world, it is not going to be our relationship to Christ that is going to count, but our resemblance to Him."