For a long time I’ve identified with the prophet Jonah. There was a point during my studies to be a pastor when I felt like giving up. I even applied to enter a completely different program at a local community college. But every time I tried getting off the path to ordained ministry, God nudged me back on it. Sometimes it was a well-timed word of encouragement to not give up; other times it was a door closing in an alternate direction. You could say that there were occasions I veered in the wrong direction just as Jonah attempted to.
In the past while, however, I’ve come to realize that, even as a pastor, I’m still a lot like Jonah. Jonah, being a good Hebrew, knew God’s Word and God’s voice. Jonah never doubted whether he really heard God’s command or not. His prayer from the belly of the fish echoes the poetry found in the Psalms. He had the right head knowledge and perceived God’s will in his heart. Yet he did the exact opposite of what God commanded him anyway!
That sounds like me more often than I’d like to admit. I know God’s will – that I love the Lord and love my neighbour, walking humbly with my Saviour and doing justice to the people around me. I’ve even graduated from seminary for crying out loud! So I know in my mind and in my heart what it means to obediently live for Jesus. But there are a lot of times when I steer off in the opposite direction – envying what someone else has, speaking in ways that hurt rather than heal, indulging in a little impurity, turning something good into an idol, wanting the approval of others more than of God… you name it! Jonah is not unique in his ability to run from God.
Thankfully, God has not changed since Jonah’s day. The God who gives Jonah a second chance offers me the same! When I suddenly find myself sinking in the depths of sin or despair, God listens to my prayers for help and rescues me. Every time.
So it turns out that the story of Jonah is not just a throwback to the past. It’s continues to be part of my story today.
Artwork by graphic designer Mark Retzloff. I had applied for the graphic design program at that local community college, something that I still dabble in on the side!