Running From A God You Know

The first chapter of the book of Jonah simultaneously shows us how prone we are to sin and running from God. Yet, it also shows us in stark clarity how gracious and great God is.

If you look at every time Jonah is mentioned in this first chapter (this is not an exhaustive list), you get a portrait of a despondent runaway who knows how big God is yet continues to run:

The word of the Lord came to him, telling him to go to Nineveh and preach the gospel (v. 1)
He fled to Tarshish instead, which if you look at a map of this time period, was in the completely opposite direction (v. 2)
In the midst of a huge storm that was the result of his sin, Jonah slept in the hull of the ship (v. 5)
Despite all the stupidity that he exemplified, he was able to articulate to the other sailors that God was both the maker of all land and all the seas (v. 9)
Jonah knew that he was in the wrong. He knew that he was clearly disobeying the orders of God, yet he was more willing to face death than to face Nineveh (v. 12)

All of this paints a picture of a man who knew God yet wanted nothing to do with God’s salvation of a people that he himself hated (see Jonah 4:2). It’s easy for me to look at this story and say wow what an idiot, if I had a word from the Lord to go share the gospel with a specific person, I would NEVER run from that, subconsciously or otherwise. Yet, if we’re super honest with ourselves, this happens more than we’d like to admit.

You see, God has called us to our community. The one we’re in right now. The one you’re in right now. It’s easy to push aside our calling to share the love of God with our community by just saying that command is for a later date.

What I mean by that is it’s easy to say “okay, once I graduate high school, then I’ll live missionally.” That leads into ‘after college’, ‘when I’m more rooted with a family and job that I enjoy’, ‘when I’m not as busy with my family and my job’. There is always an excuse to be like Jonah and not be faithful to what God has called us to.

If we’re being honest, it’s easy to know a whole lot about God, just like Jonah, and still not live into the mission that God has called us to.

So I am encouraged that we see the story of Jonah in Scripture. Maybe one reason it’s in the Bible is to encourage us that sometimes we’re stupid and yet God is still good, great, and gracious.

Let’s look at how God shows up in this first chapter of Jonah:

He desired Nineveh (a wicked place full of wicked people) to be saved (v.1)
He’s aware of the wicked rulers and nations in our midst, so don’t lose heart (v. 2)
He controls the seas, powerful enough to bring a storm that scared seasoned sailors (v. 4)
He made all the cosmos, as testified about by Jonah (v. 9)
He is faithful to those who call on His Name. The sailors, though pagans, were saved from the storm because they put their faith in the Lord (v. 14)
He appoints everything in our lives (this may be a stretch to say from this one verse, but it was definitely intimately involved in Jonah’s life since he brought a big fish to this exact spot at this exact time (v. 17)

I am encouraged by the greatness and graciousness of God on display in this chapter.

His greatness. God heard the cries of the nations rising up to Him regarding the vile wickedness of Nineveh. This is encouraging to note given the fact that we live in a world saturated with evil leaders and governments. God hears the cries of the oppressed, and as followers of Jesus we are called to uphold those who are being oppressed as well, regardless of political leanings (I know current issues are complicated, but let us not become complicit in wickedness, our devotion is first and foremost to our God and King not whatever country you are reading this from).

God also shows His greatness via the storm that He sends to grab Jonah’s attention. Now, side-note here. I don’t believe that every storm and trial in our lives is a result of disobedience to the commands of God in our lives. Life is not black and white like that. That being said, sometimes that is the case. Let us be mindful of where we have run from God’s call, and let us be repentant (something we don’t see Jonah do in this chapter)

His graciousness. The grace-giving nature of God is all over this text. First, He doesn’t obliterate Nineveh off the face of the earth. Instead he sends a prophet to warn them of His coming wrath if they do not repent. God is slow to anger, abounding in love. What a wonderful picture of His mercy, just below the surface of this text.

Secondly, God saves the sailors. Sure, they all came into this encounter with the storm with their own gods. That being said, they respond in what I believe to be reverent, right fear of God after Jonah proclaims who he serves (again, hilarious since he’s blatantly running from Him). In verse fourteen they offer up what I believe to be a heartfelt and legitimate prayer to God, and then in verse sixteen they put their complete faith in the Lord.

Lastly, God saves Jonah. Now there’s far more to the story of Jonah then just what we see in chapter one, but it is clear to see that God was kind, patient, and gracious to Jonah by appointing (v. 17, NASB) a big fish to swallow him up.

When I look at the story of Jonah, I see myself. When I look at the story of Jonah, I see a great and gracious God.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Malnourished

Fast_food_meal.jpgI’m not the most healthy or disciplined guy. Those who know me are not surprised by that statement. My fiancé Jamie (that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that. So cool.) has been encouraging me to do better in that department. The girl has this well-oiled evening routine every night as she gets ready for bed. I just watch TV or read until I can’t stay awake and just conk out. I do run from time to time, and I’m making progress (albeit very slow) towards eating better than I used to. Jamie encourages me to cook my own meals instead of purchasing fast food or something like that.

When I’ve followed her advice, I have felt so much better. There’s something about cooking your own meal and going for a run that relieves stress and makes you feel better about your life. There’s something far more restful about going to sleep devoid of screens and distractions, instead thinking about the Lord and what He has been doing.

There is benefit to discipline. There is usefulness to exercise, eating healthy, a bedtime routine, and periods of screen-less time. But there is a type of discipline that is even greater, a type of discipline that yields even greater rewards. Look with me at a passage from 1 Timothy.

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. – 1 Timothy 4:8-10

Rewind to my time at OBU, and this is a topic I taught on at OBU’s Men’s Ministry. Now, I definitely did teach it with my heart in the right place, but there was an aspect of me that felt like I had it made in this department of my life already. I took this passage to the extreme and felt that as long as I was studying the Bible and learning more about His Word, then I was a disciplined man. I was wrong on two accounts.

First, Paul tells Timothy that physical training does indeed have value. I knew I needed to eat better and exercise more, but I traded those things in for Bible study and the like. I neglected physical discipline. I neglected fighting the sin of slothfulness. I neglected fighting the sins of gluttony and laziness. I’m not saying that not exercising or not eating healthy is explicitly sinful. Rather, I’m saying that for me those were a neglect of God’s gift of my life and health.

The second way I was wrong about my state of self-discipline is in the fact that my spiritual health was focused on one thing: the study of Scripture. To this day my favorite thing to do is to study God’s Word via commentaries, books on theology, Bible studies, or podcasts. That being said however, I have noticed recently how unhealthy my spiritual life has become due to that fact. Now I’m not a big weightlifter, but if you work just one type of muscle every single day you’re in the gym, neglecting the other muscle types, you’re going to likely be a bit unhealthy. And you’ll likely look really weird too.

The same goes for me in my walk with God. I’m prone to dive into studying Scripture, but if I’m not worshipping, praying, fasting, communing with others, or serving, I’m going to be one unhealthy Christian. My mind will be full of great truth, Biblical knowledge, deep understanding of Scripture, but I won’t know how to commune with God or others. That’s deeply problematic. I need every discipline to have a healthy spiritual life, a healthy walk with God, and a healthy walk with my church community.

I was wrong back then about my discipline.

I am not naive to my areas of spiritual malnourishment in the present day either.

I want to focus on one more aspect of this passage.

Paul describes this process with the language of laboring and striving. It takes effort. It takes dedication. This is true of any discipline. That’s why I’ve never actually made it to a half-marathon. At least once a year I fall short in this goal and this desire because I’m just simply not dedicated enough to keep getting up in the morning to run before work. It takes more effort to make food at home then to pick up some Chick-Fil-A. It takes more effort to follow an evening routing and put up our phones rather than just watch TV till our eyes born.

Effort. Laboring. Striving.

The same is true of our spiritual discipline. Here’s where it gets super cool to me though. Paul says that we labor and strive because we have put our hope in the Savior of our souls.

For me, partaking in spiritual disciplines reminds me that I don’t have the strength to do that very thing without the grace of God at work in my life. Every time I spend time studying God’s Word, or in prayer, or in church community, or in rest, I am reminded of God’s grace and I give thanks that God would lead me closer to Himself. The only way I’m able to labor and strive after Jesus is because Jesus has given me the grace to labor and strive.

I’ll close with this great quote by Richard Foster.

A spiritual discipline is an intentionally directed action which places us in a position to receive from God the power to do what we cannot accomplish on our own. 

It takes effort to be healthy, active, and properly nourished physically.

It takes effort to chase after Christ through the practice of spiritual disciplines. But it is worth it.

What are some of the reasons you grow undisciplined spiritually?

What spiritual discipline do you need to focus more on this week, and what can you do practically to grow in it?

Labor and strive, secure in the hope of Jesus.

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In His Name,

Nathan Roach.