Wednesday, February 16, 2011

If Only We had the Faith of Jonah!

Reading: Jonah 1—4  
If only we had the faith of Jonah, evangelism might leap forward into warp drive. I am not sure if I've ever heard the prophet Jonah held up as a model of faith, but that might warrant a second look. If we had Jonah's faith, our evangelistic efforts might be multiplied exponentially. Why do I say this? How could I suggest that Jonah might be a model for evangelism explosion? Look with me at Jonah.
Jonah's Commission
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 1:1-2)
Jonah had a commission from the Lord: Go and preach against the city of Nineveh. This commission is essentially repeated in Jonah 3:1-2. But that is because Jonah disobeyed the Lord the first time around. Jonah's response to this commission was clear:
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. (Jonah 1:3)
Jonah ran in the opposite direction of Tarshish as fast as He could. He had no interest in this venture. So you might be wondering why I would suggest that if only we had Jonah's faith we might see a massive improvement in our outreach. Well, don't worry it isn't in his running that we find this.
Not only do we find Jonah running from God, but we find God active in this book as well.
The Lord is Active in the Mission
Not only did the Lord send Jonah to Nineveh, He didn't stop there and wait for Jonah to decide to obey. He wanted Jonah in Nineveh, and Jonah in Nineveh He would have. So we read:
Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. (Jonah 1:4)
The Lord sent a storm! The ESV reads, “But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea...”. We find then that Jonah tells the sailors to hurl him into the sea (Jonah 1:12 ESV), and though they object, finally, they hurl Jonah overboard and the raging sea grew calm (Jonah 1:15 ESV). Whenever I am on a ship, with or without a storm, I am hurling too.
Then the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:17), and He directed the fish as to where to deposit Jonah (Jonah 2:10). God is intent on accomplishing His work of reaching the Ninevites.
I find great comfort in knowing that the mission of the church isn't in threat of failure because it has been left in the hands of men! The Great Commission is in the hands of God and therefore as the people of God we must constantly be calling on God to bring it about. And He will. He is actively involved in the fulfillment of the commission.
However, I have not yet spoken of anything that has to do with the faith of Jonah. Certainly it is helpful for us to know and believe that God is actively at work in fulfilling the commission we are on, but that doesn't show us Jonah's faith. Where do we find Jonah's faith? Before we can understand that, we have to see what happened when Jonah finally obeyed the Lord's commission to Him.
The Results of the Mission
We read this in Jonah 3:3-10. As soon as Jonah obeyed and preached, the Ninevites believed God; they declared a fast, they put on sackcloth; the king demands that the whole city participate, and God had compassion on them and did not destroy them.
While most of us would immediately write a book about these kind of results, Jonah wasn't real excited about this. The Ninevites were the enemies of God's people and they were not exactly the kind of enemies you want to be friends with. They were a cruel and ruthless people. In fact, Jonah response is telling.
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee 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. (Jonah 4:1-2)
Here, in Jonah's motivation for fleeing to Tarshish instead of going on the mission, we find Jonah's faith—a faith that might hurl us into the mission if only we had it. Jonah had great faith in God's willingness and disposition to extend grace, show compassion, and give the gift of repentance. Jonah's faith in God's willingness to save, his faith in the fact that it was God and not Jonah's preaching that ultimately would bring about the salvation of the Ninevites, was so great that Jonah refused to go do it.
I am not suggesting that we would at all be benefited by Jonah's love for the lost; rather, by his faith in God's saving power and disposition. Most of us would be more prone to share Christ if we really believed God to be active and disposed to save the lost when we did so. But we somehow think it is primarily up to us, and how good we do in sharing (or how poorly), or we consider how hard their hearts are and how unlikely they would be to repent and turn. No doubt we are afraid of what they will think of us and need to learn not to be ashamed of the Gospel. However, I would dare say that with little exception we would, unlike Jonah, actually want to see them respond in repentance to the Gospel. We just don't believe they will...we just don't believe that God will actively be at work bringing it about.
Jonah 4:5-11 is a brief account in which Jonah's lack of love is addressed. But maybe, in our case, the book of Jonah is addressing our lack of faith. Consider the effects of a church so full of faith that God would act when we called on Him in prayer, and obeyed Him in sharing Christ with our neighbor, and God actually doing what He is able and disposed to do in saving the Lost.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


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