Jonah: When Saintly Hearts Sour

Jean Mazieres, NC-SA
Jean Mazieres, NC-SA

Jonah may be the most surprising person in the Bible to me. This prophet of God receives an order to preach repentance to Nineveh; instead, he opposes God’s mandate and foolishly attempts to avoid him. Then, after God mercifully delivers him and Jonah carries out his mission, he becomes furious with God for showing mercy to the penitent city.

I’m left wanting more each time I read the Book of Jonah. Its four chapters stir up so many topics. Moreover, Jonah demonstrates what happens when the godly disregard the significance of grace.

Check Yourself

A calling to preach or the desire to share God’s message is generally established on the hope of presenting people the truth of God’s reality and eventually converting them. And that’s usually rooted in the desire to share his love and amazing grace that freely pardons—enacted in the love by which we ourselves have been changed.

Now, where did Jonah lose some or all of this?

And having deliberately sinned, how was he so quick to forget the mercy shown to him? Yet when Nineveh repents, he explains, “That is why I ran away…I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God…You are eager to turn back from destroying people” (4:2). This is what happens when grace ceases being a mercy shown to us and becomes a right deserved.

That attitude expresses itself in many ways. When we devalue the grace of God, we’ll forsake examining our hearts and motives. Jonah seems to have lost his purpose for preaching; it lands him in the same sinful reproach as the people of Nineveh, yet feeling superior to them. But preaching for preaching’s sake means nothing. This is not about us; this is God’s mission. Further, we must pray earnestly for the lost. There is no way to do that before God and not be forced to have a right attitude about oneself, their need, and God’s heart for them.

I Am Nothing

pcstratman, SA
pcstratman, SA

We also encounter problems when we attempt to vindicate God or our own righteousness. I am too small—and full of hubris—to even think that I can be God’s protector. God can fight for himself and sinful defiance of him in the culture is no worry to him; and we shouldn’t worry about it either.

A bigger problem is to erect our own importance in the sight of God. Grace is God’s stage and we can sometimes forget that none of us deserves his kindness. So, forgetting that it’s a gift, we take it for granted. If we’re not careful our hearts will fume: “Well who are they? They’re not better than me.” “I deserve it more!” “If it were me, I wouldn’t tolerate…”

Like Jonah, we can follow God and be caught up in our own hype. We can wear an essential clergy collar in public, from home to work to play, and still make God and church feed our own image. And we’ll view ourselves as better than others—those for whom we should be praying to see the light and escape perdition. Instead, we take audacity and rail at God for being merciful to them.

God of Mercies

Jonah goes outside the city and builds a shelter. God causes a palm-like tree to grow and provide him shade. It is another act of mercy shown to Jonah. The next day, however, the Lord sends a worm to gnaw the plant down while causing a scorching wind to buffet Jonah. On cue, Jonah fumes.

The Lord says to him, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness…Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (4:10-11).

It is a profound statement. God makes it clear that mercy will come—and go—at his command despite what we may think of it. But lest we lose sight of grace and grow self-righteous, we will do better to see how much we are all, saint and sinner alike, in the same condition rather than to make ourselves the exception.

How We Hear God

Kenneth Spencer, NC
Kenneth Spencer, NC

Do you hear God’s voice? How do you know that you’ve heard his voice and not that of another or yourself? I think we’ve all been here, and many Christians are still perplexed on the matter. Hear Corrie Ten Boom from her book Not I, But Christ:

“If you want to hear God’s voice clearly and you are uncertain, then remain in his presence until he changes this uncertainty. Often much can happen during this waiting for the Lord. Sometimes, he changes pride into humility; doubt into faith and peace; sometimes lust into purity. The Lord can and will do it.”

“…In Divers Manners Spake”

God speaks. The comforting thing is all of us hear him. Knowing that we do and liking what we hear is something different. Also, God speaks in many ways. Let’s talk about these.

  • Scripture. This is the foremost way any of us hear God’s voice. We call it the ‘Word’ because it is the expression and full estimation of God’s mind, will, and heart for us humans. From it we draw conclusions about life. We should not only read scripture, but also study it, for by it we grow close to God.
  • People. We hear God speak to us through our fellowship with the body of believers and through sermons and studies. Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline discusses guidance and explains a rich but lost spiritual act of bringing our concerns and afflictions before small groups of believers and therein finding the will of God. Further, God can speak through anyone, not just believers. Have you ever prayed and the answer came from one you could never have suspected? God may be answering you.
  • Events and Circumstances. The doctrine of providence helps us see that nothing is outside of God’s control; so why can’t events and events in our lives be used to answer our prayers? Sometimes God takes us on a journey, one of applied faith, the outcome of which is a deeper trust in him. We discover that he only desires our best and is sometimes trying to build more in us than our meager need for a problem solved.
  • Inner Voice. Sometimes this is expressed in different ways—a godly conscience or impressions or a strong weighing on the mind and heart. This accords with a life of devoted study of the scriptures and a heart continually seated before God’s throne. Personally, should I hear something I’m not sure about, I have a habit of shelving these impressions until I get further clarity. Also, it’s never a bad idea to share these things with godly believers through whom Christ can direct you.
  • Visions and Dreams. Some people limit God’s voice to the Bible and perhaps personal impressions. Occurrences like prophetic gifts and personal revelations, like dreams, are out of the question. But I believe that these methods are still in operation, having experienced them myself. Nevertheless, we should be cautious. Most dreams don’t have a spiritual meaning, or any. I discourage most books that attempt to interpret things beheld in dreams. Visions can range from fleeting mental ones to open visions and heavenly rapture. A person should consider such experiences graces afforded to them by God.

The Goal of Hearing

Mathieu Jarry, NC-ND
Mathieu Jarry, NC-ND

After sincerely sharing our concerns with the Lord, we should listen and watch for his answer, like Corrie Ten Boom explains. We should discipline ourselves to listen because prayer is never just us speaking to him, for he desires to talk to us. So the fact that God answers is not special.

Moreover, prayer changes us in its process. I wonder if God purposely waits at times to get us focused on him before he responds, however he does. Ultimately, hearing God’s voice is about posture. The corollary of prayer is relationship. Prayer builds dynamic relationship and relationship enhances dynamic prayer. Brother Lawrence’s suggestion in The Practice of the Presence of God is right, indeed all the Christian devotional masters are, and we dare not miss it: spiritual disciplines and graces are but a means to an end, and that is God himself.