Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Jonah Chapter 2

Title: Jonah 2 – God’s Authority Reveals His Love


Last time we started our conversation on the impact of authority in our lives. I’m guessing that since then you have had to make some authority decisions. Maybe you had a run-in with a parent, teacher, or boss who asked you to obey a rule. Or maybe it went the other direction and you attempted to assert authority over someone else like a sibling or classmate. When we talk about authority it brings up some passionate emotions, doesn’t it? Let’s start today by focusing on the definition of authority. It means: “The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.”

This always sounds great when WE have the “power or right,” but we become hesitant when that power belongs to someone else. Jonah had this same struggle, and as we dig further into his life we will continue to see how his tension with God’s authority correlates with our lives.

Today We Will Begin To See The Logical Side Of Authority.

The “Spark Notes” version of Jonah’s story is that he was a guy in the Old Testament who was tasked with sharing God’s words to the world. One day God told him to preach to Nineveh, an evil city, and Jonah rebelled, taking a boat in the other direction. Even the sinful sailors on the boat knew this was a terrible decision and when God sent a storm onto the sea they obeyed Jonah and tossed him overboard to save the ship. Then, in very strange fashion, God sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah and hold him for three days. Believe it or not, THIS is where it gets interesting. Let’s pick up at the beginning of chapter 2:
Jonah 2:1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.
Ok, timeout! If you ever hear someone say that the Bible is boring, just direct them to this verse! This is a weird sentence, but it gives us some insight to what is going on in Jonah’s heart. God gave Jonah a task to perform, and Jonah disobeyed God’s command. He stepped out of the protection of God’s authority. Then he found himself inside a fish, and we see a change of heart. Jonah begins this chapter by referring to the God he just ran away from as “the Lord his God.” This shift in attitude is going to become even clearer as we get a glimpse of Jonah’s prayer from inside the fish.

Before we read his prayer, think of a time when you went against God’s commands. I’m sure there are a few to pick from…but try to remember the feeling you had right AFTER your rebellion. Did you feel close to God or far away from Him? Did you feel like your relationship was going well or was there some work to do? That’s exactly where Jonah was as he began his prayer from the fish.
Jonah 2:2-7 He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the sea and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.”
If you didn’t know that Jonah was literally drowning you might think he was being a bit dramatic. But his description of what he calls his “distress” is right on the money! His life was flashing before his eyes, and you can imagine he was feeling some intense regrets for running from God.
You know that feeling, don’t you? It comes the moment you are faced with the consequences of your actions. In that moment we seem to focus less on our disagreement with God’s rules, and more on the fact that only He can save us!
In these moments we seem to have a laser-focused clarity on the logic of God’s authority. We realize just how much we need God and how obnoxious it is to turn away from Him. We, like Jonah, see our lives flashing before our eyes and we do the only thing we can do: we cry out for help!

Jonah has stumbled onto the truth about authority that we don’t really like to talk about. It is a logical process that usually makes us look pretty crummy, and makes God look like…well…God. Jonah concludes his prayer with a comparison between who he WAS being and who he WANTED to be. Let’s continue starting with verse 8:
Jonah 2:8-9 Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to You. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’
Those who cling to worthless idols.” This is a clear description of Jonah in chapter 1. He had been clinging to HIMSELF as the idol as he replaced God’s authority with his own.
Isn’t that what we do when we assume God’s responsibilities in our own lives? Don’t we push Him to the side and turn from Him when we decide that our view of purity is best? When we determine how honest we should be? When we define integrity for ourselves? When we make decisions based on how we feel rather than what God has already told us?
Jonah points out the reality of these decisions: they are worthless. And here is why: when we assume the authority of our own lives, we are the ones who are held responsible for our actions. If the buck stops with us, we have to pay the bill. If we usurp God’s authority, then we have to also be there to provide our own protection. The reality is that we are absolutely worthless at being our own God. We will either fail miserably on our own and suffer the consequences, or we will choose Door #2 like Jonah did in verse 9 and REPENT.

Verse 9 gives us the clear process of Jonah’s repentance. These three things are required of us, too, when we find ourselves outside of God’s authority and protection. As we see what Jonah did, think of what these things look like in your life:
Jonah Acknowledged God. “But I, with shouts of grateful praise…” Jonah’s first reaction is to give God praise and admit that HE is the one with the authority. We must do the same thing in our turning from sin! 

Jonah Sacrificed To God. “…will sacrifice to You.” Once we recognize who God is, we must give control back to Him. In the Old Testament a sacrifice was done through killing an innocent animal, which Jonah probably couldn’t do from inside a fish. So his sacrifice probably looked a lot like our sacrifices do now: we sacrifice our “wants” and replace them in our hearts with God’s commands. 

Jonah Obeyed God. “What I have vowed I will make good” This is where the rubber meets the road. Jonah commits to not just saying that God is his authority, but stepping into action and truly obeying what God has told him to do.
This is a logical process that we go through when we repent for our disobedience, isn’t it? We step out of line, get caught, and then our conversation looks like this:
Dear God (Acknowledge), I am so sorry I messed up (Sacrifice), and if You fix this then I’ll go to Africa as a missionary (Obey).”
Typically we use this process to negotiate the terms of our surrender. We try to sneak God back on the throne of our lives and promise all kinds of things to make up for our mistakes. But Jonah shows us that what is necessary is simply to ACKNOWLEDGE, SACRIFICE and OBEY.
Jonah chapter 2 concludes with a gross, yet clear description of God’s response to Jonah’s prayer:
Jonah 2:10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

As we have unpacked Jonah’s prayer we have seen just how closely our lives are paralleled with his. We see God’s authority and we run from Him, just to be reminded at the next turn that we can’t possibly replace Him as lord of our lives. If only this was a lesson we could learn in just one attempt.
If we are honest, we usually take more than one swing at being our own God. We see an opportunity to become the authority in our lives and give in to the temptation. Whether it takes 5 minutes, 5 weeks or 5 years to come to our senses and echo Jonah’s prayer, it is inevitable for us, too.
Let’s say, for just a moment, that you are in the middle of this crisis; you are, like Jonah, “in the fish” and you have not yet chosen to repent to God for bucking His authority. My guess is that you have a list of reasons or excuses for why you had every right to do what you did. You probably re-read that list constantly and try to remind yourself of all of your greatness and why you are right and God is wrong. If I may, for just a moment, offer you God’s response to your list. We see it actually come out of Jonah’s mouth in verse 8:
Jonah 2:8 Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.
It may not feel like it right now, but please know that God places His authority in your life because He loves you. He. Loves. You.
That’s why He aims to protect you with His rules, commands, urgings, pleas and laws. His authority in your life is born out of His love for you, to keep you safe and to allow you to reach your potential as His child. Over the next 2 chapters we will see how this plays out in Jonah’s life…but how will it play out in yours?

If You Need To Have A Talk With God, Do It Now. 
Remember, He Loves You More Than You Could Ever Know!

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