Jonah - On the Run Feed

Jonah 4 – Running Ahead of God – His Heart or Our Agenda?

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.

Running With God - Jonah 3

In Jonah 3, we find a man who has had a turn-about in his life reluctantly relenting and pursuing the call of God to go to a strange and hostile place to proclaim a message that will have one of two results.

The first possible result would be that his message would be received with characteristic hostility, rejection, and perhaps, violence. These folks, after all, had never listened before and they were the enemies of his country.

The second possible result was almost unbearable for Jonah to stomach. It repulsed him. It was the glimmer of chance that the people might receive the message and find mercy. The judgment that he, as a prophet, had been announcing would be diverted and God would have compassion on his enemies.

That is exactly what happened.

The Man of God

Jonah became, once again, the kind of man of God that God could use. This involved three areas of submission on his part. The first was a willingness to follow orders. He didn't have to like them; he just had to follow them. The second was mobility. He had to be willing to get up and go wherever it was he needed to go to do what he needed to do. The third was integrity. That meant he had to deliver the message he was given in all its simplicity and without adding to it or taking away from it.

Jonah met those three requirements. He was not perfect, but he was available to be the man of God that God was calling for that hour.

The Hand of God

The second and more important feature of this portion of the story is the visible outworking of the hand of God through Jonah and among the people of Nineveh.

Three principles of God's handiwork can be seen here.The first is that God works through proclamation. It does not have to be complex or eloquent; it must be His Word and it must be faithful, to His Word. The second is that God works from the bottom up. He started a stirring among the rank and file people of the city and it made its way up the ladder of power. The third is that God works from the top down as well as the King of the city received the message, he also responded and exercised his leadership to issue a proclamation  of repentance.

The Heart of God

In the response of God to the repentance of the people, we see His heart. It beats with compassion. It is flexible in methodology, but persistent in purpose. God cares about people. That is His compassion. He has a purpose to be known and worshiped by all and He is persistent in it. That means that He is willing to change His announced methodology to accomplish what He wants to do.

Jonah would not be happy as we will see in subsequent verses, but God was delighted. He accomplished what He had always intended to, the redemption of a people and reconciliation.

Jonah 2 – Running Toward God

1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.

This is the first time that we actually see Jonah praying. Even the crew of the ship, made up of pagans was praying.

Doesn’t it irk you when you are the supposed to be the religious one and everyone else is more pious than you? This week, I have been reading numerous discussions of the revelations of Mother Teresa’s spiritual struggles and honest doubts. 

She was in good company and she was brutally honest with God. Ultimately, she proved by her life, obedience, and devotion that she trusted God. 

It has taken Jonah three days and nights in this dark, smelly, and dismal place to come to the point of prayer. 

What does it take to get you to pray? 

I’ll be honest. There are times I simply do not want to pray. Like Jonah, I have found myself running in the opposite direction of God, seeking to avoid Him as much as possible. Jonah knows what he will face and he will pray when he is good and ready. 

Finally, he is good and ready. 

Are you ready?

What storms have you already been through? From what calling or nudging have you been running? What conflict have you been avoiding? What task have you been procrastinating into oblivion? 

2 He said:
       "In my distress I called to the LORD,
       and he answered me.
       From the depths of the grave [a] I called for help,
       and you listened to my cry.

There is a footnote [a] here to alert us to a textual issue. The word for “grave” is sheol. It is dark abode of the dead in Hebrew theology. It has been erroneously translated as hell, but it is not a place of final judgment. It is dark and gloomy and lonely and despairing like the bottom of the sea.

Jonah was sinking when God sent this fish and it was through the fish, a never before, never again miracle, that God rescued Jonah. 

Perhaps Jonah had been praying in some way. Nothing in the record says he prayed, but he says that he called on the Lord. If so, perhaps it was without words or premeditation. Perhaps it was without voice and so feeble that even he could not be sure. 

I. It happened in DISTRESS. 

3 You hurled me into the deep,
       into the very heart of the seas,
       and the currents swirled about me;
       all your waves and breakers
       swept over me.


4 I said, 'I have been banished
       from your sight;
       yet I will look again
       toward your holy temple.'

5 The engulfing waters threatened me, [b] (Jonah 2:5 Or waters were at my throat )

       the deep surrounded me;
       seaweed was wrapped around my head.

6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
       the earth beneath barred me in forever.
       But you brought my life up from the pit,
       O LORD my God. 

7 "When my life was ebbing away … 

D – Dissonance – “Lack of agreement, consistency, or harmony; conflict.” The dissonance is between Jonah and God. It is a disagreement. God has one plan; Jonah has another. That will cause you profound distress. 

I – Inconsistency – There was a gap between what Jonah believed and preached and what he was doing. He proclaimed, as a prophet, the Sovereignty of God. Yet, he could not let God be sovereign over his own life. Have you ever considered the kinds of people God uses and how He must work in our lives to bridge this gap of inconsistency? 

S – Separation – In the sea, Jonah is severed from everything and everyone. He has no assurances there. He has nothing to which to cling. To drown is to be surrounded by separateness. It is lonely in the depths of death. He is, according to verse 3, swept over by the waters that are separating him from life itself. He declares that he has been banished. 

T – Truth – The truth can be very troubling. In his distress, Jonah sees himself for who and what he really is and he cannot escape the reality of his own inadequacies and rebellion. He is a coward and a bigot and he is dying. The truth hurts. Have you ever been so confronted by raw truth that it shook everything in your world and disturbed every self-concept you ever held dear? 

R – Restricted – The word, “distress” comes from a Latin word that means, “hindered” as a person in a strait jacket. He is out of options, out of ideas, and out of time. Verse 5 says that the deep surrounded him. 

E – Ebbing – Life was ebbing away from Jonah. It is a terrible feeling to lose one’s strength, vitality, and fight. He is dying slowly. One day you wake up in the waves and you there is nothing you can do about your condition. You are fading and it is a distressing feeling. 

S – Surrounded – That is the word Jonah uses in verse 5. What is surrounding you? What is it that presents itself in every direction you look? 

S – Sinking – Nothing was getting better. Everything was getting worse. That was Jonah’s condition of distress. 

Look at some of the other descriptive words that Jonah uses to describe his distress: 

Hurled – There is a note of violence as he is not gently placed in the sea. He sees God hurling him. 

Swirled – The currents were swirling around him. He had no power. 

Swept Over – This is neither comforting nor comfortable. It is a bad situation. 

Banished from Your sight – Even God, it would seem, could not see him. But there is a glimmer of hope here … “yet I will look again toward your holy temple.” Perhaps that is when he perceived that he called out to God. 

Engulfed … Threatened … Surrounded … seaweed wrapped around his head … He was not pretty sight. 

Again, let us see verse 6: 

6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
       the earth beneath barred me in forever.
       But you brought my life up from the pit,
       O LORD my God.


When you go as far down as you can, and God sends something along, a fish or a line, or a person … anything … you see it as a sign of hope. In that fish, Jonah realized that God had brought him up.


So, he bided his time and considered the possibility of return. He prepared his own heart and attitude to run in the direction of God with as much fervor as he had run away in chapter 1.

II. The next step came at the point of DEATH.


Jonah was in the doorway of death when God intervened. Hear again his description of his condition:


7 "When my life was ebbing away,
       I remembered you, LORD,
       and my prayer rose to you,
       to your holy temple.


In his depleted condition, Jonah can do nothing about his circumstances except let the fish swallow him. I am not even sure he could have resisted that, but he could have chosen whether or not to pray.


By choosing to pray, Jonah acknowledged his helpless condition and the death that loomed over him.


Jesus and Paul both called this dying to self and coming alive to Christ.


It was as his life was ebbing away that Jonah found something to cling to. For Jonah, the whole idea of death turned inside out.


D – Depletion – You cannot die as long as you hold out an illusion of your own self-sufficiency in your own strength to save your own life. We don’t even have enough faith. We depend on God for even that.


E – Effort – None will help even if you could exert it. You are at the end of everything.


A – Attention – Suddenly you remember something – GOD! Jonah said, “I remembered You!” How long have you actually gone without even a thought of God? It is a mini-conversion to think of Him again.


T – Talk – Now you start talking, but not to yourself or others, but to God himself. That is what prayer is. That is what Mother Teresa never stopped doing even as she experienced all of these Jonah moments and more – and she had not even run away from  Nineveh.


H – Hope – One thing Jonah did seem to understand in the depths of his heart was that God really did hear him. That brought him hope. He also remembered the temple, the reminder of God dwelling with men upon earth. Somewhere between God’s call to Jonah to go to  Nineveh.and his escape to Joppa his flight to Tarshish lay the one place on earth where Jonah knew he could find God. Yet, this same God had found him in the midst of the sea… And he can find you there too… at the point of death.


III. Finally, Jonah returns with determination to his DUTY. He runs to God and to his calling. It is not that he suddenly likes what it is that God wants him to do, but he realizes that he loves God and likes living.


“The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”


And the proof of real faith is saying “yes” to God. 


The word “duty” is not all that common in the Bible. It is used of responsibility to family, to pay taxes, secular duties, and often, in the Old Testament with regard to Temple service. What Jonah was running from was his duty to perform that for which he had been created and called. He owed God his service to go where he was sent and preach what he was told to preach.

Jonah continued praying: 


8 "Those who cling to worthless idols
       forfeit the grace that could be theirs.


9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
       will sacrifice to you.
       What I have vowed I will make good.
       Salvation comes from the LORD."


DUTY meant, for Jonah four things:


D – Despise – He had to go to a people he despised, swallow his pride, get over his hatred and bigotry, and put his own opinions aside to do God’s will. Sometimes you have to go to places you dislike among people you dislike to do something you dislike doing because you just haven’t learned to love it yet and God has called you anyway. In those cases, suck it up and do it. Jonah had to go to the very people who clung to worthless idols and forfeited grace that could be theirs. Yet, in this process of having to return to God, he had come dangerously close to becoming one of those people who put personal preference and opinion ahead of God.


U – Useful – The essence of duty is sacrifice and the essence of sacrifice is making ourselves useful to God. The sacrifice God desired most from Jonah and desires most from us was and is obedience. We were made to be used by Him in marvelous ways, but we must present ourselves before Him for that purpose.


T – Thankfulness – Jonah finds what we need: an attitude of gratitude. He does not desire for us to come and do our duty to Him with a begrudging attitude or a hateful spirit. He desires cheerful givers of themselves, their time, and their resources.


Y – YES!!!! – This is the bottom line of our duty to God, saying “yes” to Him and truly meaning it.


Yes, Lord, Yes, to Thy will and to Thy way.

Yes, Lord, Yes. I will trust You and obey.

When Your Spirit speaks to me, with my whole heart I’ll agree,

And my answer will be Yes, Lord, Yes!

- Shirley Ceasar


10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.


It is not the most elegant conclusion to a Sunday morning sermon, nor is it the conclusion of the story, but it does point to a reality:


Before we can move on, we have to get out of the hole we are in and before we can get out of the hole, we need to prayerfully run in the direction of God. What follows is a man running alongside God and seeing amazing results.

Fight, Flight, or Flow? - Jonah 1


                       Notes on Jonah 1 - Running From God

There are four keys words and three key principles. I will explore: Flee, Storm, Sleep, and Fish.

The three principles are that you can choose, lose, or cruise.

First, God called Jonah and Jonah fled from God. At least he attempted to FLEE. God never leaves us without choices. we can choose fight, flight, or flow with His purposes. Fight becomes less and less of an option the more we know God. Flow requires surrender of our will to His. too often, we choose to FLEE.

The principle here is YOU CAN CHOOSE.

    F - FROM God. It is always away from Him.
          You can't resist His will and enjoy the same fellowship as ever.
    L - LUNACY - It is an absurd idea that we can run from Him.
            The psalmist said that even in Sheol, He was there.
    E - EFFECT on others.   
           As Jonah endangered others, so do we when we disobey.
    E - EVIDENT - You can't really hide it. It all hangs out.

There is another spelling possible that helps us understand some of what causes us to have a flight impulse and run from God:

    F - FEAR - We fear what we don't know and what we do know.
    L - LISTENING to the wrong voice within/
    E - EGO that has gotten out-of-control.
    E - EFFORT - We just don't want to give it.

Fight, flight, or flow, YOU CAN CHOOSE.

Second, when Jonah fled, God sent a STORM. God wasn't being vindictive. He was being insistent and persistent. The principle of YOU CAN CHOOSE must be understood in conjunction with a second principle: YOU COULD LOSE! But you still have choices. God uses storms sometimes to influence our choices. They may come in various ways:

    S - SINKING SAILOR SYNDROME - You could go down.
    T - TEMPESTS - Sometimes rocking on the waves gets attention.
    O - OUTCRY - Sometimes others notice first and cry out to you.
    R - REBUKE - Sometimes those same people come to you and speak truth.
    M - MAYBE God will help attitudes around you.

Jonah ignored the storm and went below to sleep. He was oblivious. Unlike Jesus' sleep of perfect peace through the storm, Jonah's was the sleep of denial. look at it. How do we resist the voice of God in storms? The text tells us:

    S - SLUMBER - It was real, literal retreat into unconsciousness.
    L - LYING to self and others.
    E - ESCAPE from reality, but it is not possible.
    E - EJECTION becomes the only option.
    P - PEACE comes only through surrender.

Note that Jonah, with the option to CHOOSE, would rather LOSE than go to Nineveh.

Third, we see a FISH. the fish is a reminder that while we can always CHOOSE and we may LOSE, we can also CRUISE with the flow of God's purpose and will. You can choose to cruise.

Jonah had resisted profoundly and he was in for a grace cruise. Having been ejected from the ship by his own choice and the reluctant consent of the crew who, by the way, became his first unwitting converts, he is flailing in the water. Then god prepares a FISH:

    F - FIRST time we have ever seen it happen - and the last.
            Besides that, Jonah has just had his first converts - the crewmen.
    I - IN the water and going down. Jonah was hopeless.
    S - SOVEREIGN God decides to give him another chance.
    H - HEAVENLY intervention rescues John for a time of refocus.

  1. What is your FISH? You can cruise in it for a while by grace, but even it will bring you back to the point of choice. will you choose fight, flight, or flow?