Saturday, September 29, 2012

Something About Jonah, Part 4

When we last studied Jonah, Nineveh repented and earned the Lord's favor (Jonah 3:10) "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened."


On to Part 4 today, Jonah 4: 1-3
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn't this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah's passions ran hot about the Lord's mercy toward a vile enemy. So hot was he, he felt it better to die than live. Oh, but that is the ugliest of pride! He was refusing to let God be God-- he wouldn't accept God's sovereignty.

The created angry at the Creator. The saved angry at the Redeemer. Oh, but the folly of it all! 

Our passions often corrupt our hearts, to be sure. 

His own nation, Israel, repeatedly refused to repent and Nineveh's quick repentance, in contrast, made the Israelites look all the more proud and evil. Jonah feared what God's favor for the Gentiles would mean for his own people, as though God didn't have enough grace in Him to cover both Jew and Gentile.

Jonah also feared the loss of his good reputation back home. His long-time prediction, that Nineveh would be destroyed, was proven wrong. Would he henceforth be thought of as a false prophet?

Bigotry is at work here, too. Jonah believed that God's favor should be for Israel only, not for Gentiles. We see the same issue in the New Testament with Peter, who at first could not reconcile himself to salvation for Gentiles.

What stands out here as well is how God works through us so often, so perfectly, even in our brokenness. Jonah's heart was hard toward the people to whom he preached. We can safely doubt he preached with any compassion or civility at all. Nineveh responded to God, not to Jonah. Just as when we witness to someone, they respond to God, not to us. 

We mustn't say: "But I'm not an evangelist. I can't witness!" Excusing ourselves from it is a prideful position, not a faithful one.

Jonah 4:4
Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?

Oh, but the Lord is tender toward us! He knows a soft answer turns away wrath. And the hard part? He desires the same softness from us, toward our family and neighbors. He could have struck Jonah dead on the spot, so ashamedly did Jonah behave. Instead, the Lord desires to restore Jonah.

Let restoration always be our goal, and not the feeding of our pride and passions.

Here we have a picture of discipleship in action. Discipleship is hard. It's laborious, slow, frustrating. How many parents are secretly thankful when school starts in September? This isn't because it's hard to keep kids entertained, but because discipling them hour after hour, day after day, is so hard

Discipleship means not accepting that haphazard cleaning job, that prideful tone of voice, that ungrateful tirade. Not accepting, but also not condemning in anger. Instead, we're to put a lid on our passions and restore in love. "Doest thou well to be angry?" We should always ask ourselves this same question.

Teach and reteach. Love and love some more. That's the work God has for the mature Christian, and he will put children, friends, and acquaintances in our path to help us practice.

I am reminded of my neighbor Joanna. She is young and a mother of four, the children having three different fathers. Every week she borrows something from me, whether it be foil to cover a cookie sheet, a quarter cup of milk for mac n' cheese, gas for the lawnmower...whatever. I don't mind helping because each item is so small, and I know how hard it can be for a mother of four to get to the store, and right now especially, since their family is down to one working vehicle.

I heard from her children that they were low on vehicle gas one week. She didn't ask or tell me about this herself, but three days after the kids first mentioned it, hearing that she only had a gallon left, I gave her son a $20 to give to his mother for gas, writing to her that we often have trouble making ends meet, and I know God would want me to help. This was my conviction after praying. To help in their time of need. She works at a nursing home and had missed work due to an illness the previous week.

I didn't ask for any money back, but she wrote back that I was surely an angel and no one had ever been that kind to her. She also wrote that she would pay me back when they got paid, and that she would see us in church that Sunday. I hadn't even mentioned church.

No, they didn't go to church, but she did pay me back.

After their payday we noticed they bought each child a new toy, (the children happened to come over and share their new remote-control toys and Ipod). As well, they spent several hours at the township carnival down the street, which features rides more expensive than the county fair.

The following Wednesday right before I took her son to AWANA, she wrote me a note saying they needed gas money again and could we spare another $20? She signed it "God Bless". She would pay me back in two days when her husband got paid. Her hours had been cut because she has to drive the children do and from their schools. (Though she now works all day Saturdays, as does the husband, leaving the children with the 12-year-old, unfortunately).

The truth is my husband had to count change to get his own gasoline (we had a repair that cleaned us dry). I relayed that we were low on money too, and I was sorry I couldn't help

But later that night, my husband and I talked it over and we wouldn't have helped in the same week they had bought their children new toys and spent too much at a carnival, because that is more mismanagement than shortage. 

When I got the note asking for money, I have to confess: I was thoroughly disgusted. But the Holy Spirit quickly spoke to me, telling me that discipleship is hard and that I needed to have patience, rather than writing someone off because I was irritated at childishness (or lack of money-management training).

The Holy Spirit reminded me that the Lord works with us right where we're at. I need to do the same with my children, and with my neighbors. Where was I fifteen years ago, as a new Christian? And how did I get here, and how will I continue to grow? Because of the Lord's slow, patient discipling. Because of his unrelenting mercy and grace. Because he will never give up on me.

Philippians 1:6
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

My neighbor may or may not be churched. She might know nothing about God. 

This is where she's at: She buys processed macaroni and cheese and corn dogs and makes them for dinner. She overspends and then keeps her children home from school because she doesn't have enough gas money to drive them to school some days. (I'm sure the truant officer will be out soon.) She lets her 12-year-old, whose bosom is already full and mature (a C at least), dress provocatively, prompting the high-schooler boys and 20-something men around here to gawk at her cleavage, unbeknownst to her tender 12-year-old heart, I trust. 

And lastly, this mother lets her 12-year-old watch three younger children.

Prayer and the Holy Spirit will draw my neighbor's heart. God will convict her of each thing, individually, in time, with no help from me. He will also provide the income to make wiser choices, such as different childcare arrangements and different clothing choices for her daughter. 

When she's ready and the Holy Spirit prompts me, how can I come alongside her and teach? That's the question the Lord has for me to pray about. How can I show her how cooking real food will save her money, and improve their health? Show her how a 12-year-old can't be responsible for three younger children? Teach her that the financial stress is at some level, self-inflicted?(Although I'm sure a low wage doesn't help.) The divorce rate for third marriages is 90%, so she may need relationship counseling down the line, as well. Being low-income, or being in debt, is a severe stress on a marriage, to say the least.

I can't wait until I feel together enough myself, to come alongside her and teach. I simply need a willing, obedient heart and a decent control over my anger, my judgments, my passions. I can't look down on her and want to write her off, because she's too much trouble or too far astray.

Beauty from ashes. That's the work of the Lord. Thank goodness He didn't consider me "too far astray" to be redeemed!

The book of Jonah is, among other things, a how-to book on godly discipleship.  

It's hard to swallow, perhaps, but discipleship is the work God has for the mature Christian. We mustn't run away to Tarshish or get too busy for it. If the Lord's worked steadily on us for years, he expects us to extend the same blessing to others, starting with our own children. Using an exemplary measure of patience and love and mercy.

We're not done with Jonah yet, but this is sufficient food for today. 

Prayer Time: Dear Father, thank you for your grace and mercy. Thank you for gently teaching and reteaching. Thank you for the lessons in Jonah. Thank you for the loving example and for the challenge to help others in their search for you, and in their Christian walks. Keep us from being too haughty, too busy, too exasperated, to help our children and neighbors. May we live in gratitude and obedience to you and be about your Kingdom work, acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly.

In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.


Tesha said...

Wonderful encouragement! I struggle with so many of the same feelings. In our church we minister to low income, poverty stricken hurting people and it is so easy to judge. It is also hard to not feel overwhelmed with wanting to "fix" their problems. I remember looking out at the congregation during a time of revival and seeing all the brokenness. The Lord spoke to me that I could of ended up just like any of those people given the right set of circumstances. God is good to keep us humble. Love your thoughts on scripture.

Christine said...

Oh, exactly, Tesha. It gets so complicated and because of that it's easy to think we can't help and it's just too much trouble. But when we consider that the Holy Spirit will do most of the work, and when we wait for his voice as to what we should do and when, it breaks down into baby steps and feels far less complicated. And thank goodness He never gives up!