Jonah was doing fine. He was doing what he had no desire to do and getting the kind of success that he never wanted.
It was an ideal ministry – sort of.
The hand of God was upon him, but the heart of God was not in him. Yet, he was running with God up until the time that the people of Nineveh repented and God relented. Then, he pouted and began to run ahead of God.
Here is the Word of the Lord:
“ 1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He 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. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."“
Jonah was greatly displeased. Make no mistake about it. He was not merely displeased with the circumstances. He was displeased with God. He didn’t like the way God handled things. He didn’t agree with God’s purpose. He liked absolutely nothing about this situation.
So what did he do?
Out of his intense displeasure, Jonah did what most of us are afraid to do. He prayed.
So, are you angry or displeased with God or something He has done or not done according to your expectations, ideas, or preferences? Have you discussed the matter with Him? I think the first step toward coming back into sync with Him is coming clean about where your heart really is.
Here is what He prayed:
“God, if you really want to know why I didn’t want to go to Nineveh, this is it. You are a compassionate God. You are slow to anger and full of love and, frankly, I thin k you are a little “wishy washy” about how you carry out your threats. The least little repentance from these yahoos, and you change your mind. So go ahead and kill me, because this kind of life is not worth living and I really don’t want to be a prophet who is known for his prophecies not coming true.”
And what follows is …. NOTHING!
No lightening bolts from heaven, no sudden death, just a question:
“4 But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?" “
We would really like to get angry and be left alone most of the time – or heard with the desired effect of someone being completely caught off guard and then changing their behavior to our desired outcome.
God answers Jonah’s rant calmly, but firmly – not the way Jonah wanted. He did not desire to have his rant challenged, but god did it anyway.
He asks Jonah if he really thought he was within his rights to be angry about this matter. Jonah does not answer. He can’t answer. Most anger is not rational. When we are confronted with our irrationality, we have no answer. We just storm off and pout.
We truly believe it is our right.
Aren’t you glad we have a patient God who gives us a little space to work things out and come to our senses? And then, when we don’t, He gets back in our faces and tries again … and again .., and with increasing intensity until we confront the real issues.
When we run ahead of God, we abandon the heart of God.
Our hearts are not beating in rhythm with His.
“5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.”
Jonah takes his pout outside the city and there are some interesting characteristics to it.
The first is that he sets himself apart from what God is doing. He removes himself from the city. When we get ahead of God with our own agendas, we often do just that. We remove ourselves from the center of His activity. If you are feeling apart from what God is doing, ask yourself if you have moved.
The second characteristic is that he attempts to make himself comfortable. Arrogance and pride crave comfort. We desire the comfort of our own preferences, of peaceful shelter, of a detached view of things, and of our biased opinions.
The third characteristic is that is evident in Jonah’s pout is a strange sort of denial that continues to hope that God will come around to our way of thinking and act in the way we think he should. Jonah had seen the city repent and had seen God relent, but still he sat down from a distance to watch them fail and come under the wrath of God. He was cheering for the wrong side.
"6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine."
There is no human explanation for the love, compassion, and patience of God. The same grace He showed to Jonah when he was running away and later in midst of the sea, is what he showed to the people of Nineveh. It is the same that he now offers to Jonah again.
As much as Jonah does to make himself comfortable, he is still in a state of discomfort as we all are when we are outside of the will of God and the rhythm of His heartbeat. Running from God is not a comforting place to be, so God gives Jonah some temporal and temporary comfort – just to get him to the next place where He can deal with his heart.
At the moment, Jonah was happy. He was beginning to rely upon the temporal, temporary comfort of the vine in much the same way that we take for granted the blessings God gives us and become addicted to our comforts.
He could almost forget how displeased he was with what God was or was not doing about Nineveh.
But God was simply waiting for Jonah to be ready for the next encounter with truth.
Don’t get complacent with your earthly comforts. God is not averse to shaking things up to move you beyond where you are to where He wants you to be.
"7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live."“
God provided a fish in the sea and a worm in the desert. Both were about grace and neither were obviously so.
The temporary, temporal blessing of the vine was gone and now Jonah was back to where he had begun at the start of this chapter. He was left only with his disgruntled attitude and again, he wanted to die.
The pout was back and so was the question God had let ride for a season: “Do you have the right to be angry?”
Now Jonah is not only angry, but he is faint and depleted. His fight is gone. He is depressed and lethargic and yet, he answers with a resounding, “YES I DO!”
“9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." “
Just how angry is one when one is “angry enough to die?” People commit suicide every day in this world to get back at other people. They shoot themselves in the feet, sink their own ships, and sabotage their own lives because they are mad at someone else.
But God does not deal with his threat. He has a larger purpose and a larger issue. If Jonah can get this one, he can get over wanting to die and start to live at a higher level, his heart beating with the heartbeat of God, running at God’s pace, living in His grace.
“10 But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"”
The vine had been an object lesson. It was about a larger lesson that God wanted to teach.
Like many of us, Jonah was thinking it was all about the vine, but it was not. Nor was it all about Nineveh – or Jonah’s wounded pride or damaged reputation or loss of power and influence. It was about the heart of God, a heart that beats with compassion for people.
That was the lesson for Jonah. It was the lesson that God wanted to teach Israel centuries later as the story was told and retold and eventually written down.
God’s love and compassion are not just for you. They are for the world.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”
It is not about the vine in your life, not about your pride, reputation, preferences, prejudices, power, or comfort. It is about the mission of God. It is about the heart of God.
Anything else is your own agenda.
Anything else is running ahead of God.
It is an unholy pout.
God gets the last word in this book and He had better get the last word in your life.
What could Jonah have said? Actually, it is unimportant. We know that He told the truth about it because no one else could have known and told the story. He told it. He gave God the last word. He made himself out to look like the bad guy. He obviously learned the lesson. Otherwise, we would have never heard.
But the response is left blank at the end of the book of Jonah – for us to fill in the blanks – for us to ‘get it,” and modify our attitudes and behaviors.
This day, each of us has a decision to make in each of our hearts. Will be step back from our own feelings, beliefs, and preferences and listen to the heart of God? Are we willing to put aside our own agendas and take up His? Are we willing to repent of wanting our own way and desire only His purposes?
Are we willing to run with God with full heart engagement and absolute submission to his will?
God may be using you and have His hand upon you, but you will be miserable until your heart beats with His.
Make the change today. It is a simply change of mind and He will do the heavy lifting in your heart.
Now is the time.