change: to do things differently; to become something else; to transform
God had many prophets, but He sent Jonah to Nineveh. Their wickedness had come up before Him and He was sending Jonah to preach against it. I don’t know if Jonah disobeyed God because he was afraid of his enemies’ faces or because he didn’t think they deserved another chance. When you read Jonah 4:1-2, you can hear what was in Jonah’s heart – pride (thinking he was better than others), self-righteousness, and discrimination (unfairly treating a group of people differently from other people). It sounds like Jonah didn’t want his enemies to have what God had just given Him – grace, love and salvation. Yes, Jonah was called by God. Yes, he had the gift of prophecy, but he lacked one thing – love.
Jonah ran from the presence of the Lord. One version of Jonah 1:3 tells us that Jonah went to the dark hold of the ship to hide, but where could he go from His presence? When he was in the lowest part of the ship, God was there. When he was in the belly of the fish, God was there. Another version of Jonah 1:3 tells us that he made himself comfortable in the hold of the ship. That was the difference between Jonah and the people of Nineveh. When God sent His word to Jonah, he sought comfort, but when God sent His word to Nineveh, they sought change. When Jonah couldn’t find comfort – when there was no peace, he cried out to God. Not only did he thank God for sparing him and protecting him, but he told God that he was going to pay the vow that he made to Him. He was going to do what was required of him – and he did. Jonah obeyed God and preached in the city of Nineveh, but after God repented of what He was going to do to Nineveh, Jonah became angry.
What happened to the man that spoke all those beautiful words in the belly of the fish?
Here we see another distinction between Jonah and the people of Nineveh. Words versus works. God heard Jonah’s words, but He saw Nineveh’s works (Jonah 2:2; 3:10). When God said He was going to destroy the city in forty days, the people believed Him. They (from the king to the animals) immediately went on a fast and cried unto God. The moment they turned, God turned away from His fierce anger.
The people of Nineveh changed their ways, but Jonah held on to some of his ways. Sometimes we do enough just to get out of the ‘belly of the fish’, but we don’t do everything we need to do to stay out. I know what it’s like to run from what God said. I know what it’s like to cry and tell God why I can’t do what He told me to do only for Him to come back to me – the second time. The scary thing is I don’t know how many more times He’s going to keep telling me the same thing over and over.
When you disobey God, disobedience will take you places that you don’t want to go. A good example of this is found in John 6:66. The moment many of Jesus’ disciples decided to walk with Him no more, they went back.
I know a lot of times we tell people not to ‘go back’, but I can remember when God told me to go back. I was living in Charleston at the time. I had plans, but things weren’t coming together as I thought they would and I was too ashamed to return home. I felt like a failure and I was doing everything I could to make things work in Charleston. It seemed like doors were tightly shut. I couldn’t even find employment. I prayed less and less and when I did pray, I didn’t know what to say to God. But I could still hear his voice – and He told me to go back home. I acted just like the prodigal son. I fought it. I fought Him. Then one day, I got tired and I cried out to God. I surrendered. Immediately, doors (not one door) began to open for me. And you know what? The very thing I feared didn’t even happen. In fact, it was as if I had never left home. God took care of everything, but I had to trust Him. I had to leave my ways and try it His way. I had to change.
Remember when I told you earlier that Jonah was seeking comfort, but couldn’t find any? What you and I are seeking can only be found in doing the will of God. Until then, you will find yourself unhappy, unfulfilled and frustrated. Until you do what God tells you to do – until you change your ways – until you fulfill the will of God, fulfillment will not come to you or to those who are counting on you.
Someone is waiting on you to do what God has sent you to do. May God put His desires (especially the desire for change and to change) in our hearts.