Are You Running from God?

Painting of ocean, whale and ship

Did you know that psychologists and doctors all say that the frontal lobe of a man’s brain is not fully developed until around the age of 30?  Which really must be true as I look back at my own life. You see, this part of the brain helps us make judgment calls and decide whether we should do this or that. Moms, this should explain so much about your teenage son. Most of my major epic fails all happened before the age of 25 and I have one more for you this morning.

I was 22 years old and it was the summer before my last semester of college. I had just finished working at Camp Tahkodah in Arkansas and had two weeks before my classes started up for the fall.  So, I went back to Nashville to spent time with my family and worked at a YMCA day camp on a Lake in Nashville.  When they hired me for those final two weeks of the summer, they had me working kind of as a “Jack of all Trades.”  I led Archery, ropes course, the climbing wall, and ski boats.  Well, one Saturday they were hosting all the employees and their families from Baptist Hospital for the day. The director said, “Will, I need you to give a tour of the camp and lake via our Pontoon Boat for the day.”  This pontoon boat could seat 14 people including myself. So, the first group showed up and we loaded up 13 people and I took them on the 10-minute boat ride/ tour.  On the tour there were 2 different moments that I would slow down and point out things about our camp.  When the second trip of the day was climbing aboard the boat, I noticed that there were a few people who I should have counted as 2 people each and reduced my number to 11 but I had already said we could hold 13. So, the boat was already at full capacity and then the 13th and final person climbed aboard and that’s when I began to sweat.  This man reminded me of Andre the giant.  When he stepped on the boat it literally lowered about 6 inches into the water and the only seat that was left was at the very front.  Now remember, I am 22 years old.  There is no way I can ask him to move to the back and possibly humiliate him.  So, I backed out of the slip and eased out of the No Wake Zone.  I got us up to a nice cruising speed and then came to the first place on the tour where I would slow the boat down and talk about our camp.  Well, when I slowed the boat down the bow of the boat went under water because of the weight at the front. So, I instinctively went full throttle to bring the bow back up and Praise Jesus it worked, sending 4 inches of water rushing across the deck and out the back of the boat, soaking everyone’s shoes. At this point I was internally in a panic but on the outside holding it together.  I by-passed the next point in which I normally slowed down and quickly headed back to the dock.  I thought we were in the clear until I realized I had to slow down at the No Wake Zone.  I started to slow down, the dock was only 50 meters away and sure enough the nose went under again.  So, I went full throttle again, only this time it did not work.  This time it plunged the boat deeper into the water to the point that everyone in the front of the bout was now sitting in water up to their chest. And that’s when I panicked and told them I guess you guys are going to have to jump out and swim. To which several women replied, “We ain’t swimmin’” Then, a wise father who was holding his 6-month-old child told me, son put it in reverse and hammer the throttle.  I did and it worked.  When the boat was back up out of the water, I quickly told Andre the Giant to get to the back to the boat!

I got everyone back to dock safe and sound only looking as if they had been swimming.  Thankfully, everyone was incredibly gracious because they totally understood the predicament this 22 year old man was in!

I don’t know if you have any epic fail boating moments but the guy we are going to talk about today has the most epic boating fail in the history of the world in my opinion.

His name is Jonah.

Here’s the opening line in the book of Jonah:

Jonah 1:1-2 (NIV)

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

Jonah was a prophet of God for the Israelite people and Nineveh was a great city in Assyria. God used the Assyrians to punish His people, the Israelites, when they had fallen away from Him.

The interesting thing about the book of Jonah is the pattern we see throughout the book.  Chapters 1 and 3 tell us about Jonah’s encounters with non-Israelites.  In both encounters we see a contrast between Jonah’s selfishness and the pagan’s humility and repentance.  In chapters 2 and 4 we see Jonah praying to God.  His first prayer is a prayer of repentance and in the second prayer, Jonah is full of complaints he has against God.  Let’s continue in verse 3 and see what we can learn about the heart of God through Jonah’s Epic Fails.

Jonah 1:3 (NIV)

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

It’s pretty epic to be a prophet of God and literally run the other way…We are 3 verses in and already  we see epic fail number one.

Fail #1: God said, “Go” and Jonah said “No”

God said go to this city and Jonah said no and then ran away.  Have you ever had one of those moments?  Maybe parents, you asked your kid to do something and they ran out of the room or said, “No I’m not going to!”  You get pretty fired up, don’t you?  I know I do.  But let me ask you this, have you ever had one of those Holy Spirit moments where you felt that nudge to act and yet you just said “No.”?

  • Maybe it’s at the red light and the guy comes up to your window asking for help and you avoid making eye contact and just lock the doors. Have you ever tried just talking to him?  Have you ever tried asking him about his life and praying for him?  That’s probably what he needs most.  Some semblance of being human, being cared for, being cared about.
  • Or maybe it was one of those moments where you felt the Holy Spirit nudge you to share something very personal at your small group, maybe to be vulnerable and yet you clammed up and said nothing. You knew in that moment you were disobeying God.
  • Or maybe it was that moment that your spouse finally, for the first time in your marriage ,shared something personal about his or her life that is really not very admirable and you felt the Holy Spirit nudge you to hug your spouse, hold them, extend grace to them but instead you responded with anger and resentment. Since that moment the distance between the two of you has only grown. There have been no more vulnerable moments like that, and you know it’s largely due to the fact that you, like Jonah, ran from God in that moment.

Those moments leave us feeling quite depressed and discouraged but after you disobey that Holy Spirit nudge over and over you can find yourself like Jonah, running with all your might, in the opposite direction of God’s desires for you.

Here’s where Jonah’s epic boating fail begins. Jonah and the sailors head out to sea and God sends a storm that caused them to think they were all going to die until they figure out it was all Jonah’s fault. Eventually Jonah convinces the sailors to save themselves by throwing him over board to his death.  They resist but eventually agree and when Jonah hits the water the storm stops.  These sailors repent and turn towards God as they learn from Jonah’s epic fail.  It’s better to learn from others mistakes than to repeat them ourselves.

In Jonah’s selfishness, he desired to die rather than obey God and go to Nineveh, but God sends a huge fish to swallow Jonah. You can imagine how this would get your attention if you find yourself not dead but in the belly of a huge fish for three days instead.  It got Jonah’s attention, so he turns back to God and God responds. Look at what it says: This is after Jonah has been thrown up on dry land.

Jonah 3:1-3b (NIV)

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.

God responds with a second chance.

I love this because just as God desires to give a second chance to Jonah, he also desires to extend a second chance to you and me.  Think about the 3 examples from earlier:

  • I bet before the month ends you will have the opportunity to help someone at a red light feel loved, known… like a human being that matters. By not running from the opportunity to simply talk to them and pray for them, you will experience the power of God working through you
  • I bet before the month ends you will have another chance to share what’s really going on in your life with someone in your small group and both of your will be blessed by the intimacy, help and healing that will come in time.
  • I bet that before the week ends you will have the opportunity to go to your spouse and tell him or her you love them and are sorry for the way you responded when they shared their true heart and struggles. The healing and intimacy that will follow will remind you of how much God loves you.

You see, God is the God of second, third, fourth and a thousand chances.  He loves you and desires you to trust and obey Him, to believe that His plans, as difficult as they may seem in the moment, are good for you and the expansion of His kingdom

Jonah’s story is not over yet.  His epic boating fail is over, but his epic fails continue.  Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches this incredibly inspiring sermon:

Jonah 3:4b (NIV)

“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

How would you like that if next you show up here and the whole sermon is – “You have 40 days to turn to God or die!!!!” Might get your attention but not very loving huh?

Well, what’s crazy is that the king and the entire city of Nineveh repent and turn to God, like 120,000 people.  You know that whole hell, fire and brimstone preaching of old might really be something we should consider going back to.  We could have the have half of our city saved in a week.

Okay, in all seriousness, Jonah’s lack of grace in his sermon actually gives us some light into Jonah’s true heart here.  Which leads us to:

Fail #2 – God said, “Go” and Jonah said, “I will go, but I won’t like it!”

Parents, have you ever had your kids respond that way?  Like, “Billy, tell your sister your sorry.”  And Billy says sorry but with an attitude of “I am not sorry at all…” Well, that’s Jonah’s attitude here.

Look at what happens next:

Jonah 3:10 – 4:3 (NIV)

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Crazy to see how much Jonah does not want these people of Nineveh to be saved.  Jonah obeys God basically because he figured out running was not working but his heart was still full of anger and hatred.

In Jonah’s defense, the people of Nineveh were mortal enemies of Jonah’s people, the Israelites. So, it at least makes sense.

How many of you remember the day the World Trade Centers came crashing down, killing thousands of people?  Do you remember how you felt about the perpetrators?  I remember filling anger, resentment, rage and even hatred.  That’s how Jonah would have felt about the people of Nineveh who had ravaged his people for years. Jonah tells God “I know how loving and forgiving you are and that’s why I did not want to come here and share any message of hope!”

You may feel that way about someone in your life as well.  I know for some of you in this room today you have experienced great atrocities that have been aimed at you specifically.  Some of you have experienced suffering that I cannot imagine, by the hands of people who were supposed to love you and protect you.  Some of you have a sister, brother, mother, or friend that has suffered greatly at the hands of someone else and you truly have hatred in your heart just like Jonah.  You truly do not want them to experience any form of hope.  You don’t want them to experience the love of God in any way and just like with Jonah, Satan uses your bitterness and hatred to steal away the joy of obeying God.

God is trying to teach Jonah and us another lesson here about His heart. 

God desires the heart of your enemy just as much as he desires your heart.

I may have just stirred up some things in you that you would rather avoid dealing with. You may be thinking, “Come on, does God really expect me to forgive that person?  You don’t know what they have done.” You’re right, I don’t know what they have done but I know it is bad. I want you to look with me for a moment at what Jesus said in:

Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

I know this is often easier said than done but look at what Jesus said some 2 years later.

Luke 23:32-34 (NIV)

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

In the last several hours alone, Jesus had experienced betrayal, abandonment and false accusations.  He’d been spit on, punched, slapped and whipped 39 times with a leather rope intertwined with glass and bone shards.  He’d been mocked, ridiculed, stripped naked and nailed to a cross.  In that moment, Jesus had every right to hate his enemies. But instead, he endured it because His heart was full of a forgiveness that makes no sense to you and me. We were his enemy and yet in that moment he prayed for us saying, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

I know most everyone in the room today probably has a category of person you cannot find it in your heart to forgive. You probably have the person in your mind right now. For Jonah, it was the people of Nineveh. I think God is calling you to look at them through the same lens Jesus looks at you and me through every time we fail in epic ways by saying, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

But what’s does this practically look like? What does it look like to forgive someone who you really hate?  Well, for starters it’s letting go of the vengeance. It’s releasing it to God knowing that is not your place.  It’s praying for them.  Not just one time but every time you feel that bitterness and anger toward them rising in from within. That means praying for them today and next week and 5 years from now when you feel that way.  It’s truly asking God to save their life and redeem them from their sin, just like he has with you.  This does not mean you will one day be friends, but it does mean that you need to remember that

God loves you and your enemy the same!

Jesus died for your enemy and you.  Your sin and theirs caused you both to need a savior.  Somewhere along the way, someone shared the love of Christ with you and so you are called to do the same.  I truly believe only the love and forgiveness of Christ can heal our broken hearts.  If you are reading this today and you have never experienced the love of Christ, will you hear me say this to you?  He loved you enough to take your past mistakes, your current ones and your future ones to the cross.  He paid the price for you.  He took the punishment that both you and I deserve on his shoulders to the cross.  He did this because he loves you and if you have never experienced that kind of love, forgiveness and acceptance, it’s because God is still working on the people in your life as well.  You can experience the love of Christ right now by accepting this free gift of love and forgiveness by praying a prayer to accept Jesus Christ as your savior.

So, today I want to leave us all with the same question God asked Jonah as he sat on a hill overlooking the city of Nineveh, wishing God would smite his enemies instead of forgive them.

Jonah 4:11(NIV)

11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh,(or the man that abused you, the wife or husband that cheated on you, the co-worker that betrayed your trust, the person who spread false rumors about you, your dad who was never there, and you fill in the blank) in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left

God was not giving up on Jonah or the Ninevites. God has not given up on you or me either.  Even though we fail in epic ways by not following that Holy Spirit nudge to respond or act on God’s behalf, He is still loving and forgiving and patient with us and always gives us a second chance!

By Will Tucker