Monday, April 6, 2009

An Attitude Adjustment for Jonah

"From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God." Jonah 2:1

Have you ever had to have an attitude adjustment? It's not a pleasant experience. It usually means that God is going to take me through a difficult situation to help me see things with a little different (hopefully better) perspective. It's usually happens when I think I'm impervious to a certain sin or behavior or attitude. Like the time I thought I could just open my mouth and spout God's word like some sort of fix-all for someone else's painful situation. The problem wasn't with God's word or the application of it in their particular situation. The problem was with my arrogance and my lack of love and sensitivity to the other person's heart and problem. I was told so by the other party and it shot me down. But, I learned to be more of a listener and my attitude was adjusted accordingly.

Start today by reading all of Jonah 2 and also Jonah 3:1-4.

Jonah's time spent in the belly of a fish became the start of a major attitude adjustment. Jonah recognizes his time inside the fish as God's merciful deliverance from death and repents. When you read the 2 chapter of Jonah you hear in his voice the cries of someone who just can't feel any lower and realizes the depths (literally) from whence he came. "From the depths of the grave I called . . . You hurled me into the deep . . . the deep surrounded me . . . To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever." Jonah knows that the sea could have and should have swallowed up his life and I'm sure that he expected to die. But now, Jonah sits in the belly of this big fish and contemplates what just happened. I'm not certain that Jonah even thinks that there is hope beyond the belly of the fish, though I think he suspects that there might be life beyond his present situation because he plans to make good on the vow he's made to the Lord (whatever that may be). Jonah knows one thing at this point: he is alive. He offers a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord and makes a vow to Him. The Lord, in His mercy, commands the big fish to vomit Jonah out (nice image) and, conveniently, Jonah lands on dry ground.

Questions for reflection:

Have you ever been so thankful to God for His rescue from a difficult or frightening situation that you made promises or vows to Him in response? Think about what those promises or vows were? Did you follow through with them?

You can imagine that Jonah might lay there on the beach for a bit before getting up and moving on with life. If it was me, I might have laid there and re-capped what just happened, how I got in the situation I was just in. I might be trying to wrap my head around the fact that I just spent 3 days of my life inside of a fish. I would most certainly be considering my impending task ahead (the whole reason for my current situation). There was a lot that just happened in his life. Think about it. We've all heard this story so much that we easily take it for granted. But let's you and I recap. Jonah was just given a monumental task to do for the Lord. (A task he wasn't happy about and that made him angry.) He made the monumental decision to run away from God. (Never a good idea.) He was thrown overboard and given monumental mercy from God by being rescued from death. (There's that exquisite Grace again!) He was swallowed by a monumental fish! (Big, big Grace!) He sat inside the fish for 3 days of which I am sure was monumental torture. (I don't know if you've really thought about what that was like, but please do.) All of the events leading up to this moment lying on the beach are monumental.

Jonah must go to Nineveh. I suspect that that was the vow that Jonah made to God -- to follow through with what God had asked him to do. Although, let's not make the mistake of thinking that Jonah is any happier about doing it. He did indeed get an attitude adjustment -- enough of an adjustment to decide to be obedient. Not enough of one to be happy about what his obedience required. But, that's ok. We're not always happy with what God asks us to do. Some things are difficult. To say that we do all things with exquisite joy is not realistic. Jonah must go to Nineveh.

When he reaches the great city, he delivers God's message of impending judgment. Now, Jonah wasn't a missionary. He was a prophet. It's a different gift. (It was a different skill set -- just as important :).) A missionary would bring a message of salvation to everyone who would listen convincing them of God's love and grace. A prophet brings a specific message to a particular audience. You can tell by Jonah's message that he was not happy about being there. He says (half-heartedly, I'm sure), "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." (3:4, NIV) Count them -- 8 words. He did the bare minimum. He used the fewest amount of words possible. No call to repentance. No instruction about what God might want from them. No conviction of their sins. No convincing the Ninevites of the love of God. His message was short and terse. I'm thinking he knew the message would bring fear, but he also suspected that God was going to be merciful with them. God just doesn't play by our rules, does He? Jonah is conflicted and troubled and he probably just wants to get out of there.

Questions for reflection:

If you were to deliver that message to Nineveh, would it have been easy or difficult for you to add a measure of mercy and grace into that message? Do you think you would have tried to soften the blow by directing them towards repentance?

Next time:

How did the Ninevites come to believe Jonah's message?

If the Ninevites were so cruel to Israel, how did Jonah get away with giving his message without facing their cruelty?

We'll talk about these questions in my next and last installment of my thoughts and teachings on the Book of Jonah. Let me know what you think!


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