It has probably happened to you a number of times in the past. You were on a long drive in the car, and you were getting tired. The sun had long set, and the lights of the road were making your eyes weary. You weren’t really falling asleep, as much as you seemed “entranced” by the road ahead. The rhythm of the engine’s hum, along with the steady intervals of the reflectors on the road drew you into a stupor that settled in your mind as you saw the brief flash of one bright yellow lane marking line after another reflecting from your headlight. You had a good distance between you and that car in front of you, and you occasionally checked your mirrors to see the cars following you. The steady thump of the breaks in the road beneath you sounded like a drummer keeping time… thump, thump, thump. Just as you began to drift in your mind with the sound, there was a sudden change. The car in front of you suddenly applied its breaks. Like an electric shock that shot through your body, an adrenaline shock wave snapped you into reality, and your foot instantly moved from the accelerator to the break. For the next moment, the chemicals in your body brought a clarity that had not been there in hours. Even after the danger had been neutralized, you noticed your attention to detail on the road was significantly heightened. We may not like to admit how much of the time we are driving with much of our mind on something that has nothing to do with the road or the car. We float around the roadways, and often are fairly out of touch with the reality around us.
It isn’t only in driving that we lose track of the real and fall into a stupor, drifting along. Some of us have been doing it financially. We have been working and spending, working and spending… and suddenly some major appliance failed, and we got our neck snapped into the reality that we hadn’t been saving – and now the rains were falling on us. Maybe some of you can identify with the reality check you discovered when you pulled out a pair of jeans and realized that the only YOU that could wear them was twenty pounds ago! That brief encounter with the ghost of waistlines past brought a painful awareness to you – a change needs to come soon!
Our nation has rippled with a series of body blows that have left our markets shaken and our pockets emptier. The “tech bubble” was followed by the “housing bubble” and is now being followed up by the “government balloon”. While we continue to spend more than we make as a people, our country continues to take in more goods than it sends out each month, and our legislators slump into a stupor, watching the lights of the deficit numbers pile up without any sense that impending doom looms ahead. The same people that hunger for greater entitlements, grouse at lower paychecks, being somehow duped into believing that taxing a few thousand millionaires would pay all of our bills – and then the paychecks rolled out last week, and 77% of working Americans got a reality check. There aren’t enough dollars in rich hands to pay all the benefits to the rest of us. Reality is beginning to set in, but many are still watching the lights…
The problem with reality is that it is stubborn. No amount of emotional affirmation will change my waistline. The equation of truth is found in what I take in through food, and what I expend through physical exertion. The simplicity of the equation stubbornly insists that I take in less of what is adding to my girth and expend more energy in ways that will properly shape my body. Here is the truth: I don’t want to. I want dessert, and I don’t want to exercise. No matter what else I say – the issue comes down to the will. In our modern world, if you give a man something he wants to do, and he will find a way to do it; give a man something he hates to do, and he will work out a way to avoid it, make it sound tremendously complicated and somehow victimize himself in the process. He will claim metabolic rates as he scarfs down bacon burgers. He will do all he can to divorce his own chosen behavior from the outcome – making the problem intractable and out of his reach. Only when the red lights go on in his face, will the snap into reality surge through him.
Does the same problem of drifting from reality happen in our spiritual lives? Sure it does. Jonah the prophet from Gath Hepher in the Galilee, was a man who had drifted from spiritual reality. He was a follower of the God of Abraham. He knew God, and was known by his neighbors as a man that heard from God. He was not just an average believer; he was verbally called upon by God to accomplish a specific work. Yet, he was in desperate need of a smack into reality.
Key Principle: When I forget Who God really is, I live like He isn’t watching and doesn’t know what I am doing. Even as a believer, I lose track of reality and buy into the illusion that my life is my own.
The situation began with a believer who heard God’s Word clearly and understood how to complete the task.
Jonah 1:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
The issue wasn’t that God hadn’t spoken (1:1). This is why it is so utterly important for the world to try to carpet bomb the Bible with suspicion and attack. If God has spoken, then I am no longer a victim – I must choose to set aside my rebellious “do it my way” nature and follow Him – or face the consequences. Man would rather be a victim than have to stand before a clear choice of following God. He would rather say “truth is complicated” and “truth cannot be surely known”. He would rather philosophize and theorize than open his heart to the simple truth – the Creator has told us how we got here, why things are the way they are, and what He will do in us if we open ourselves to Him. Our response is our responsibility.
The issue wasn’t ignorance of God’s specific will and direction (1:2). God told him exactly where to go and what to do with his life. In point of fact, God’s Word is a blessing to the obedient, and an indictment to the rebellious. What has that to do with us? Consider this: God has made clear both the message of salvation for lost man, and the clear missive for those who desire to follow Him in a believer’s walk. His path is not so unclear. He may not have said “Go to Nineveh”, but is that the problem, really? Has he been unclear about your sensual desires? Has He made His commands unclear about honesty and integrity, so that you are unsure if lying or cheating is correct? I believe if you look with honesty at your life, you will find that God has been clear about the issues that are causing many, if not all, of the stir in your life.
- God’s will, clearly stated, is that we abandon all religious hope, and cling to the Cross for salvation alone. If you are trusting in anything else – a Sunday School pin of attendance, a past aisle walk of commitment to Jesus, a holy momma growing up – but you haven’t begun and followed a true, surrendered heart relationship with Jesus, you are kicking against God’s clearly stated intent.
- God’s will, clearly stated, is that we walk as believers in purity. If you are sneaking open a website to feed your sensuality, trying to find ways to cover your tracks so that you will not be embarrassed and caught – you are kicking against God’s clearly stated intent.
- God’s will, clearly stated, is that as an obedient and maturing believer, you deliberately identify your spiritual gifts, and faithfully be at work using them to their fullness for God’s work in this community. He hasn’t been unclear about that. Yet, many believers will file in and out of churches today, and think that because they punched the card for a hour, and because they gave a dollar – God is satisfied.
What I am saying is that we are kidding ourselves if we think that God has not been clear about most things we encounter. The principles of God’s Word, properly applied by an open heart that has been filled with God’s Spirit through trusting in Jesus Christ as Master and Savior confound walking in constant confusion. Confused believers are usually in one of three conditions:
• Rebellion: They are acting like they don’t know what God wants, but they aren’t truly open to His nudging, because they don’t like the implications of His commands.
• Ignorance: They are unsure of the content of the Word, and aren’t getting the principles that apply to their situation. They need prayer, study, and patience.
• Pain: They have been attacked by the enemy – some in an enduring memory of the past, and some in a powerful attack in the present. The confusion of war has fogged their view of truth. They need assistance, healing, and love.
The issue was the will to do what God said (1:2). The implications would have meant incredible sacrifice, offensive distinctiveness, and lead to less comfort and immediate satisfaction. Knowing what God said is helpful – surrendering to DO what God said is right. Far too many believers KNOW more than they are willing to DO.
The believer that didn’t truly recognize Who God is thinks an alternative strategy will work in life.
Jonah 1:3 But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
The verse revealed four critical errors in Jonah’s thinking in this verse (1:3):
First, there was IGNORANCE of God’s character and nature: Jonah didn’t take into account that you CANNOT flee God’s watchful eye.
Second, there was OBSTINANCE in Jonah’s heart: Jonah headed in the exact opposite direction of the stated calling of God – west instead of east.
Third, there was OBLIVIOUSNESS to his increased troubles: Jonah didn’t sense the catabasis of his life… “going down, going down, going down.” Jonah was slowly being digested by sin long before he was being slowly digested by a fish – he just didn’t see it.
Fourth, there was WITLESSNESS about his wallet: Jonah thought he could afford to “pay the fare” – but it was much more than he could ever afford! He thought a few pieces of silver were all the world would cost him. Mutiny from God costs everything. It will cost you an open relationship with God and replace it with guilt. It will rob your planned future by God, and replace it with a patched life of guilt at best or a broken life with a seared conscience at worst. It will cost your reputation as a faithful follower of God, and leave you stranded between hypocrisy and suspicion by those around you. It will imperil your very life – and it will give you satisfaction only for a short time.
The perilous troubles were God’s way of pointing the believer back home to Him – but a rebel is often too consumed with his own desires to notice.
Jonah 1:4 The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. 5 Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. 6 So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”
God isn’t willing to let people walk away easily (1:4). It is HARD to kick against God. People do it inside LONG before they do it on the outside –so we don’t always see how long it has really been going on. No man suddenly becomes base. No marriage suddenly falls apart. No one suddenly decides to lie, steal, or murder – these are but a symptom of an ongoing rebellious process already deeply rooted in the heart. The Bible is replete with examples that God brings troubles and personal afflictions to pull rebels back. For Jonah, the “great wind” was God’s doing. Enough of the pansy God that is the happy genie in the bottle preached across America today. If you are sick and you are running from God, I would like you to be open to the idea that sickness may be FROM GOD. If you are working harder and harder and falling more and more behind – I’d like you to consider that God may be trying to get your attention deep inside. Your wife or husband may not know the issue – but YOU do. God isn’t going to let you talk the talk and inside rebel – without fighting back FOR you, by positioning things AGAINST YOU.
My rebellion brings peril to those around me (1:5). John Donne was right: “No man is an island”. We live with the whirlwind effect of the rebellion of those about us – and they live in the effect of our rebellion. Our lives are intertwined. When a Sunday School teacher allows lust to develop in his heart, an adulterous or fornicating affair with another member is the fruit – but that is just one fruit. The broken hearts of the other students – something that may take years to unfold – are more fruits of the same tree. One of those very students may grow up to be a rock star that pulls the hearts of a generation from God’s Word in defiant rebellion – or maybe a President or Congressman that does the same. The mistrust that develops in the hearts of others in the scene will plague them and keep them from growing in Bible studies for years to come. Jonah’s fellow travelers were imperiled by his rebellion and his presence. Think about this: a rebellious believer in the presence of the world makes the situation WORSE than if they people never knew a follower of God. It is often much more difficult to reach people in a post-Christian west than in the still untouched pagan jungle. The rebellion and misdeeds of believers has doused the flames of the Gospel and cooled our ability to reach others at home. This is why the enemy spends more time tempting, teasing, and attacking the believer, rather than simply steering the course of the unbeliever. One affects the destiny of the other.
Rebellion from God is both exhausting and numbing (1:5b). In the confluence of our own desire to shut off sensitivity to God and things spiritual (read: truth) along with the aiding process of the enemy’s attack to keep pushing us in our rebellion – we lose our sensitivity to dangerous behaviors. We lose our sensitivity to the effects of our actions. We sleep while others panic about us. The stupor of the long drive overtakes our once sharp reflexes. Make no mistake about it, when we are walking in rebellion, our self-sensitivity increases and our care for others decreases. Our taste for self-indulgence overtakes our longing to help and assist others around us. Sin envelopes the heart and we become more and more selfish – often numb to the real affect our rebellion is having on our deportment and character.
What becomes obvious to others still strangely feels manageably hidden by us.
Jonah 1:7 Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
Men have no real device to discern the origin and purpose of troubles –so they will stab in the dark when troubles come (1:7-8). What if we dug into a school shooting and saw a generation ago a father that was caught up in pornography? What if he raised a son that had a hardened and inappropriate view of women that played out on his wife? What if she, a victim of abuse, raised a son that was ravaged by mental illness – and she did so both alone after a cheap divorce? What if the pain she suffered caused her to hunger for weapons in the closet? What if those weapons were used to kill twenty-six people in a school? The bullet-ridden bodies of those sweet children would be directly connected back to a man, forty years ago, buying a Playboy magazine. No one would be able to see that – they would only sit and wonder how such troubled youths develop. They will blame the mechanism of the gun, because they won’t stop the pornography and they want cheap and easy no-fault divorces. They will be wholly unable to connect the dots between one generation and another. Lost men, even expert lost men, have no real ability to recognize root causes – because addressing them would strip us of some of our deepest held sinful practices. Taking the guns will do much less than putting a stop to easy divorces a generation from now – but they can’t see that –they WON’T see that.
Others often see and feel the results of our sin long before we recognize what we have done (1:9-10). Isn’t it funny how the men around Jonah connected the dots between his rebellion and their peril much more quickly than did the dulled Jonah? That is the effect of sinful rebellion – it dulls our perception. The more we do it, the duller we get. We can be rocking in the midst of a storm and make little or no connection between our run from God’s Word and our current jeopardy. Here is a secret: Others see it. They may not tell you, but they sense something is very wrong long before you tell them.
• Did you notice the fact that Jonah was verbally prepared to recite that God was Lord over Heaven, sea, and dry land? If he truly understood the implications of that, to where did he think he would run? Knowing the Bible isn’t following the Bible. Knowing theology isn’t living the truth. A man or woman of God must hear this warning: If you think your knowledge of God substitutes for your obedience TO God – you are woefully mistaken. If you think WORK for God will substitute for a WALK with God – you are a sad believer… and your substitution may have convinced you, but God is not tricked, and those close to you know something is very wrong.
• As the boat was tossed, did you also notice how intolerant people around Jonah became with his hypocrisy? They were incensed because he was fleeing from his own God (1:10). The world forgives lascivious behavior faster than hypocrisy. They would rather you claim no belief that proclaim the truth of a God you do not serve. Remember that! Better to say nothing about your witness for God’s salvation and His Word than preach Christ and live self. Of course, the real design is to live and proclaim His mastery over the universe AND your choices – but that should give us pause. The disobedient believer is often used by the enemy unawares to block seekers from the truth – because men instinctively abhor hypocrisy.
Reality smacks us when we realize that our secret is now obviously exposed – and there is no sense trying to hide our wretched state.
Jonah 1:11 So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” 13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 Then they called on the LORD and said, “We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased.” 15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging.
At the moment the sin is exposed, the obedient believer should know what he or she should do (1:11-12a). Jonah said, “Put some distance between us.” How much simpler to say, “Turn the ship around and I will ask forgiveness for running!” Nope. Get AWAY from me. Jonah sees his guilt, admits it openly, but fails to see the POINT of the trouble. The ship could go back, and the men could be saved as he turned to obey. Stubbornly, he went down into the sea, letting the cold water rush around his still disobedient and resistant soul. The passage is clear that the MEN sought God, not Jonah. He was fixed on HIS SIN and HIS PUNISHMENT – but not on the open hand of forgiveness.
In rebellion, we re-create God as a harsh caricature of Himself (1:12b). Just as Jonah told the men to throw him overboard, he should have seen how dumb an idea that was. Believers that know God is not happy with them can change that in a true act of surrender. They cannot control the seas, but a good start would be to pray. Did Jonah pray? No, he simply told them to toss him into the deep blue sea – because he wasn’t ready to drop to his knees alongside them. Instead, he was convinced that God wouldn’t forgive HIS sin. His was too big, too obvious, too dark.
• Do not buy into the lie that you cannot be forgiven. God is ready to accept the broken pieces of your life if they are submitted by one who is truly broken and ready to be healed by God.
• Do not delay in dropping to your knees amid the crashing sea of problems in your life. The waves aren’t there because God hates you, or is mad at you.
“The waves are crashing into your life to get you to turn the ship around and drop to your knees. Stop running!”
God can use even the defeated believer to show His power and care.
Jonah 1:16 Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. 17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.
Only God could take a rebel and make them an effective object lesson for Him (1:16). God alone can feature a failure as His prized witness! The Bible is full of men who had all the qualifying marks of failure:
• Consider Abraham – that lied about his wife and out of fear nearly let another sleep with her before God sent a sickness to stop that from happening.
• Consider Jacob – whose lies and schemes, together with his mom, are infamous to Bible students.
• Consider Moses – ex-con murderer and runaway spoiled prince – made into the leader of God’s people.
• Consider Gideon – great leader of armies called by God while fearfully hiding in a hole.
• Consider David – schemer, killer, adulterer, politician – and featured song-writer of Scripture.
The list goes on and on… Don’t even get me started on the disciples, Paul or Timothy. Can we not see it? God specializes in taking broken lives and making them examples of His grace, His love, and His forgiveness – and He will do it with you – if you let Him!
Even though the believer defied Him, God had the fish prepared (1:17). It wasn’t a comfortable experience, nor was it a desired one – but it was a life-saving planned experience. It offered Jonah a second chance that he wasn’t even seeking yet. He needed marinating with chewed fish before he would come to his senses. In all honesty, what he needed is what we all need – a show of force by God on our behalf. When the believer is running, he has come to believe that God is AGAINST HIM. It isn’t true, but it IS often his perspective. By God showing up powerfully, that believer is smacked into the reality… God DOES LOVE ME. He DOES still want me enlisted to do His will. I am NOT DONE.
Though it really applies after the vomit experience of Jonah 2:1, think about one more truth before we go: The look and smell of the “second chance believer” is distinct – they are weak in self and strong in understanding of God’s nature and power. When you meet them, you will know them by their scars, their serious understanding of God’s work…these are people that know WHO God is, WHERE God is, and HOW God loves and forgives. They may not be obvious in stature, but they will be in tone – if you listen to them. Remember..