Valley Community Church Blog

We've all had a night like this

JonahThe kind of night where your body quickly relaxes and begins its overnight healing… but your brain doesn’t get the same memo. No, the brain kept driving way over 55 for most of the night, and had there been a sound to it, it would have been that of an old Atari spinning its disk drive hard and hot for hours. There was little sound to any listening ear, however. Just an occasional belly flop of frustration. 

Before bed, I had petitioned God once again for clear direction on what to start pursuing for topics for Women’s Ministry Bible study come fall.  And so we wrestled. Sometime toward morning, I heard very clearly in my head one word… Jonah. And then sleep came and I succumbed. 

In the morning, my first thought was “Jonah?” Yes, with the question mark! Jonah? What and why and how? I guess the wrestling really wasn’t completely over, just postponed. It made sense on a surface level that after learning how to poise ourselves to hear from God (our fall 2013 study “He Speaks to Me”) and after learning better ways to live out faith (our spring 2014 study on Ephesians) and after inventorying our spiritual gifts, we would then contemplate how best to obey and why not learn from Jonah’s non-example. 

That’s what I thought of Jonah in those days. Jonah the disobedient, who got sucked up by a whale and then was spit out on dry land after three days and nights marinated in gastric juices. Jonah. 

Then I started diving further into the four-chapter book. Repeatedly since, my husband and kids have heard me giddily exclaim, “I love Jonah!” Here’s why. 

There was a period of time when one of my best friends and I were both waiting for something. We were each waiting for something different but each something we believed God had promised us. The waiting was agonizing, as most waiting is. And we often spoke together about being in the belly of the whale. This was our code for being in a dark holding tank waiting to be spit out onto the dry land of our dreams. There was a sense of punishment to our talk, a sense of entitlement, like why are we here in this hole waiting? When is God going to fulfill His promise and why is He taking so long? I spoke of this belly business with derision and impatience. How Jonah of me.  Grumbling all the time God was putting the puzzle pieces together to bless me, or another group of people in Jonah’s case, and not seeing well the beauty therein. 

Turns out, I had it all a bit backwards. While I thought God sending the whale to eat Jonah was punishment for disobedience, God was using the whale to save Jonah. While I thought the gastric juice bath not only unsavory and gross but completely unnecessary and weird, God was at work digesting Jonah’s hardened heart. Sometimes it takes a little boiling, a little heat and stink, a little acidic action to peel away the layers, to get to the gem under the grime. 

Turns out, that period of waiting was for a very similar purpose. Yes, it might have been a dark, smelly pit I was in, waiting. But it was a saving place, a place of microdermabrasion for the soul. 

Did you know that while Jonah is in the belly of the whale (and please realize that I’m using that word “whale” loosely) he himself exclaims, “Salvation is from the Lord!” Talk about an about face! He doesn’t even know God is going to cause the whale to vomit him up! Ahhh, finding saving grace, God’s face, joy even in the darkest places! 

This is the part where I like Jonah the man the most. But God throughout the book shines. You know, God uses a fierce storm, a large fish, a plant, a worm, and a strong east wind to redirect His wayward servant. What is He using to get your attention? 

A wise soul said to me this morning, “You know, Jonah 1 isn’t about the man. It’s about the sailors.” Well, yes. It is about the sailors, and it is about the man, and it is definitely about a really big God who loves the sailors even though they don’t know Him and who loves the man even though his tendencies are wayward. And the book of Jonah is about us… you and me sister! And how that great big God is loving on us right here right now… whether we’re in the middle of a storm, or waiting in the whale, or claiming our entitlements in the shade, or cursing the worms that destroy, or scorched by the winds of life, or just plain running away. 

There’s something else in Jonah we need to think about. Jonah is sent by God to speak His word to the people of Nineveh. This is the exact same part of the world where evil seems to be walking large today. In Jonah’s day, Nineveh was militarily powerful and powerfully sinful. We can easily understand Jonah’s hesitation and outright defiance of God’s will when placed next to the personal risk he was asked to take to carry God’s message to these evil, sinful people. But God’s heart was for these evil, sinful people who didn’t know right from wrong. He loved them in big ways. What does that message say to us today when we see evil marching steady through the Nineveh region, through the Middle East in general, through Africa and parts of Asia, through our own country, and even in our neighbors? What is God’s message for the dark parts of the world? What is our role in delivering that message? 

The book of Jonah is as relevant a look at God’s heart today as it was when it was revealed to Jonah sometime between 770 and 750 BC. 

I wonder what the book of Jonah will say to you! 

Please join us for an in-depth look at this short but rich story of the runaway man, the city of sin he was sent to, the people he met along the way, and the great big God who orchestrated it all with amazing love and grace. 

Bible study starts on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 9 and 10. Sign up now.