I’d like to think I’m usually a pretty good Christian… servant’s heart and all; except when I’m caught off guard and asked to do something that doesn’t quite fit into my agenda.
You see, I love the concept of putting others first, but apparently I’m not good with putting it into action. Anyone with me?
Recently, I had an extra tall pile of folders needing my attention, plus some errands to run that afternoon. So when my husband asked me to help him on a project, I wasn’t quite the servant that Jesus calls me to be. My mind was fixed on all the things I needed to do that day.
So you know what I told him? I said, “I need to get tortoise food.” Yup. That’s literally all I could come up with. I had a stack of files waiting for me on my desk, and I told him I needed to buy food for our reptile friend.
Flabbergasted, he walked away, and I knew I had blown it. He didn’t say so at the moment, but I knew I should’ve and could’ve done better. I wasn’t being Jesus to my husband. I was being self-centered Jen, putting my wants, needs and to-do list first.
Later, he told me, “I only ask you to help me when I feel like I really need your help, but you didn’t want to help me, instead you wanted to do whatever it was that you wanted to do.”
Then, he continued with words so full of grace and compassion, something similar to what God tells us in His word: “I need you to have a servant’s heart, and I need to know I can count on you when I need you.”
His words pierced my heart and I could suddenly see the error of my ways.
It reminded me of what Paul says in Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (ESV)
Too often, I let my to-do list determine my agenda. I have had literal breakdowns about my to-do list, as if the whole world depends on my ability to complete my daily tasks.
When God told Jonah to do something that wasn’t on his agenda he had a similar reaction.
God ordered Jonah to travel to Nineveh and warn the residents that they must turn to God or be destroyed. But Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, so he tried to run away in the opposite direction. He wound up getting swallowed by a giant fish, and eventually went to Nineveh, anyways.
It seems to me that he could’ve saved a lot of hassle, headache and embarrassment if he would’ve just obeyed God the first time.
Oh, how that sounds familiar. Not that I’ve ever spent three days in a whale’s stomach, but I do struggle to serve in ways that don’t necessarily fit into my agenda. I prefer to serve on my own terms. If it’s not what I want to do, I may just go the opposite direction.
Once I realized my own mistake, I felt sad and embarrassed.
When I read the Book of Jonah, I learn 3 perspectives to keep in mind when God’s plans don’t fit my agenda:
- We Are Vehicles of God’s Compassion to Others
Jonah was possibly the Ninevites’ last chance to be saved from destruction when God instructed him to set out east:
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” Jonah 1:2 ESV
God didn’t randomly tell Jonah to go to Nineveh for fun, just like He doesn’t randomly tell us to serve others for unknown reasons. As believers, we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, so that through us, others will experience God’s love.
We are the carrier’s of God’s love, and when we love others the way Christ loves us, they can also experience God’s love:
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 ESV
When Jonah finally obeyed God’s direction to go to Nineveh and warn them, the Ninevites believed God and turned from their evil ways. God, full of compassion, decided to spared them:
“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” Jonah 3:10 ESV
God can accomplish amazing things through us when we submit to him; we must trust God and remember His plans are usually bigger than our own ability to comprehend them in the moment (Isaiah 55:8-9).
- God Makes Us Uncomfortable to Get Us Back on Track
Jonah thought he could outsmart God and just sail across the Mediterranean Sea, figuring God would change His mind. Instead, God sent a giant fish to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:17).
When God’s plan includes us, He purposely makes us uncomfortable until we choose to obey Him. In this particular story, God used a whale to cause Jonah great discomfort. My whale belly experience could look like a disappointed husband, or even an unfulfilled life.
According to Luigi Marquez, a Spanish fisherman who was swallowed by a giant whale after being tossed overboard in a storm, “It is the most frightening thing I have ever lived. Everything was pitch black and I was shivering cold…And the smell, I will never forget that horrible stench of putrid decomposition.”
After a few days, when Jonah had given up all hope, He cried out to God, “and the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.” Jonah 2:10 ESV
Like toddlers opposing our parents, we try to defy God’s authority, but His plan always prevails, even if that means making us squirm a little to get us back on track.
- Despite Our Flaws, God Still Loves Us
Thankfully, God still loves us despite our brokenness and propensity to keep messing up.
Even after everything he had endured, Jonah pouted about God sparing Nineveh. Believe it or not, Jonah was downright angry about it (Jonah 4:1-3).
Yet, in his little fit, God continued showed compassion toward Jonah:
“Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.” Jonah 4:6 ESV
When you and I mess up for the millionth time, God will continue to show us grace and mercy, too.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 ESV
Next time God points you in a direction that doesn’t fit into your plans, remember the lessons we learned from Jonah. When we choose to obey, God works in unfathomable ways. Even when we miss the mark, He still encourages us to get back on track.
What do you think?