Most people know the story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish. While many choose to look at it as an imaginative object lesson to teach obedience and the futility of running from God, in actuality, God has done stranger things than to allow a person to be swallowed alive. No one I know would sacrifice his/her only son for the world’s population to save them from their own bad choices. But God desired restored relationship with His creation. So even before His perfect timing brought Jesus to Earth, God appointed prophets to encourage people to repent of their sin and to turn to Him. That was Jonah’s assignment. Preaching to Jews who knew God was hard enough, but ministering to pagans that Jonah thought deserved God’s wrath was tortuous. So, instead of boarding a ship that would take Jonah to God’s assigned destination, he found a ship headed a completely different direction.
Before being too hard on Jonah for the ridiculous notion that he could hide from God, how many of us have chosen to believe that God doesn’t see and know everything we’re up to? If we actually believed that God was standing right beside us, we would probably be very careful with our words, exercise more self-control over our actions, and try hard to eliminate complaining. In light of Jesus’ forgiveness of us, we could not justify any reason for not forgiving others… even if we knew they would just hurt us again.
But here at the beginning of a new year, there is another big lesson to take to heart. For those of us who like Jonah want to serve God, we must understand when He trusts us with a particular responsibility, we are duty bound to carry it through. Should we have the hubris to protest God’s direction for the work, His question to us becomes, “Would you like to do this the easy way or the hard way?” Jonah’s example should be sobering. By boarding a ship headed the wrong direction, Jonah faced a life-threatening storm (the way our circumstances feel), the real possibility of drowning (collapsing under the weight of our hardships), only to be trapped in an ordeal that seemed worse than death. He was isolated, the dark was penetrating, cold and wet– very scary. He felt forgotten. Even as he prayed, three days seemed like an eternity, each terrible minute promising no hope of survival. But all that time, the fish was swimming like a guided missile to God’s original destination. Jonah did not calmly disembark his ride, but was vomited out, complete with dripping slime and atrocious smell. What a way to introduce yourself to people you don’t know!
If we’re wise, we will approach the possibilities of this new year with the openness before God that says, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8) Unfortunately, we often miscalculate the complete trust necessary to carry out that statement. Our shortfall gets exposed by certain people that are honestly difficult to love. The next complication is the plethora of things we feel totally unequipped to do. Topping it off are all the versions of worldly truth creating confusion to throw us off course. In spite of doubts, it is important to know that when God has an assignment for us, He will accomplish it one way or the other. If we will humble ourselves to His plan regardless of our personal feelings or doubts, we will find His equipping, enabling, and that He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20). Are we willing to trust Him to buoy us up even if we’re not good swimmers?