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The Heart of the Matter

“And I am so angry I wish I were dead.”  Jonah 4:9

I’ve shared before about the miraculous year I had doing God’s will during our 100 Lunches project.  When Jesus first spoke to me, directing me to make 100 lunches and deliver them to the homeless in downtown San Diego I had no idea the lessons He had in store for me.  Initially, I thought it was just a need that He directed me to fill.  My spiritual gifts were perfect to complete this task – or so I thought.  What began as a one-time submission to God became a year-long lesson in trust, compassion, faithfulness and humility.  Definitely not traits I would’ve confidently listed amongst my gifts.

With each passing day that year, God placed new trials and new opportunities for me to finally grasp what He really wanted of me.  I could administer any program at my church, work or other organization.  I’m organized, comfortable with leadership, a successful multitasker, and can teach readily.  As long as I was in charge life was good, so it seemed.  Until someone was unhappy with me or disagreed with me.  Or I hurt someone’s feelings.  Or I felt overlooked and unappreciated.  Praying came after the fall, if at all.

But the Spirit of God came upon me that fateful day.  I like to think of God seeing my potential.  My new beginning.  And He knew with some pruning and care I could shake off many of my old ways and start working on new ones.  Starting with praying to Him to help me make the change.  And learning that God wants our heart first, above all, so that it’s our heart that pours out to the world.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. Jonah 1:2-3

The story of Jonah and the whale rank up there with Noah and his ark as being widely known by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Jonah tried to get away from God, jumped overboard, was swallowed by a giant fish, prayed to God and God spit him out onto the shore.  A nice story of turning back to God in faith, right?  But in these four little chapters there’s so much more!  There are lessons on being a “I’m fine, it’s fine” sleepy Christian.  Lessons like Moses experienced when he told God he wasn’t up for the job.  Lessons on how one person can help save so many.  

Jonah was actually a man of great faith.  He knew that if he went to Nineveh, a sworn enemy of the Jews and well-known for its evil ways, God would most likely use him to rescue the people there.  But Jonah’s patriotism got in the way of his faith.  So, he resigned as God’s prophet.  He didn’t want his new beginning to look like betrayal back home.  But God gets His way no matter how hard we try to thwart Him!  

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah 3:3

So yes, Jonah sees how amazing His God is while sitting in the mouth of a giant fish and prays, remembering how God saved him before and asking for him to do it again.  And Jonah finds himself once more pressed on toward Nineveh.

While there he spreads God’s message that in 40 days the city would be destroyed because of their wicked ways.  But there’s something missing.  Within this story you will not find a message from Jonah on how to stop this destruction.  You won’t find compassion and love for these 1,000s of people.  He states the fact, does it efficiently and without pause.  In three days this one man had reached the ears of every citizen, including the king.  Pretty impressive right?  And although God loved the fact that they believed and turned from their evil ways you can’t help but think the real target of this lesson was just one man – Jonah.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 3:10-4:1

Jonah had the gifts of prophecy, faith, evangelism and apparently administration.  And he begrudgingly used them.  Where God saw an amazing new beginning as a man who could help bring so many to faith, Jonah saw embarrassment and shame.  He didn’t want to go home to face his people who hated the Nineveh citizens and be known as a traitor.  He stopped remembering that God loves everyone and God can work miracles in all our lives, even our enemies.

In chapter 4, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son’s elder brother – critical, selfish, sullen, angry and unhappy with what was going on.  It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart.” Eph 6:6

Warren Wiersbe

So as Jonah sits on the hill outside town in the last chapter of this amazing story God takes another shot at softening Jonah’s heart.  He provides another lesson for him to experience and learn.  Because God is love He doesn’t give up on us.  He wants our new beginnings to be filled with love and compassion.  I love this quote from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on Jonah:

“The deeper your trouble, the greater are your possibilities of adoration.”

When I first went into our 100 Lunches project, I was certain I could complete this simple task with efficiency and ease like Jonah.  But God put me on the hill, overlooking all that I had done that first week and said, “You have much more to learn.”  

With each distribution of lunches He said, “do it again, this time like this.”  He showed me how to be ok with people turning me down when I asked for help.  And how to be grateful when people came out of nowhere to help. He taught me how to slow down and look the hurting in the eye and offer a kind word or even a gentle touch.  He reminded me to trust in Him, to love Him.  He answered prayers which encouraged me to pray even more.  He allowed me to be loved by society’s “unwashed”, giving me the opportunity to tell them of God’s glory and provision. 

Jonah’s story ends without a word from him letting us know he “got it.”  His last lines are the first in this look at Jonah – “I wish I were dead.”  God’s last words are about His love and care for all people – no matter their nationality, financial status, religion, or sins.  Think of the amazing new life Jonah could’ve had when he left Nineveh.  Not just knowing about God, not just having faith that God is in charge.  But loving God and loving the fact that He wants us to live like Him, in love.  

Jonah’s faith was a divided one.  He held onto his patriotism and pride with a vengeance.  It caused him to withhold his love and compassion.  When we think of the Bible’s greatest lessons about love, 1 Corinthians 13 probably comes to mind. In verses 4-13 Paul tells us what love is. So many think these passages are about romantic love but in the context of the entire letter it’s about how we serve out God’s will with our gifts. In a way, the more important lessons are in verses 1-3. The lesson God was trying to teach Jonah. The lesson which can help us all in our new beginnings as God’s servants.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13: 1-3

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He Prepares The Way

This is what the Lord says to his 
anointed,to Cyrus, whose right hand 
I take hold of to subdue nations 
before him and to strip kings of 
their armor, to open doors before 
him so that gates will not be shut:
I will go before you 
and will level the mountains;
I will break down gates of bronze 
and cut through bars of iron.
I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who summons 
you by name.
Isaiah 45:1-3

When I was 17, I moved across the country, away from my family to the Midwest for college. I was unsure what God had planned for me there, but I knew that I needed a new adventure and was excited to strike out on my own. It is difficult to describe with words that first feeling I had when my parents dropped me off at school and drove away into the distance to go back to California. I watched their car drive out of my university and eventually out of sight. For the first time, I was truly on my own. I felt my stomach drop and tears welled up in my eyes. Reality hit and I began to immediately doubt my decision. 

One more hug from dad!

Those first months away from home were difficult. I spent many nights deep with sadness, missing my old life at home. Other nights I would be filled with joy at the exciting new venture I had bravely took head-on. Amidst the rollercoaster of emotions, I always had one underlying questions – What did God have planned for me here? 

I wasn’t really a believer at the time, but I had gone to church my whole life and *generally* knew that God had a plan for our lives. Being from San Diego, I knew it was no coincidence that I ended up in Saint Charles, Missouri. It was random and I had zero connections to the area other than being recruited to play field hockey there. Despite not proclaiming Christ as my Savior yet, something inside of me knew there was a reason God brought me to this place. 

St. Charles — A Water Tower Town

Rewind back to the initial verse I kicked off with. Isaiah 45: 1-3 discusses a prophesy of Cyrus, who is a pagan leader God chooses to deliver the Israelites from their captivity. These verses were written 200 years before Cyrus was born. Meaning, Cyrus’ life was already planned out way before he was ever a thought in his parent’s minds. God had a plan for Cyrus’ life – He has a plan for yours too. 

God planned to use Cyrus in mighty ways, even though he was no mighty person. God chose him, predestined him to be the deliverer of God’s people. God wasn’t particularly favoring Cyrus, rather he was caring for His people as a whole by providing them a way out of their suffering through Cyrus. 

I know that God loves me, cares for me and sees me as beautifully and wonderfully made. But just as much as he sees me as His child, He also sees me as an instrument to His Kingdom, a vessel for which he can work through me. Just as he did Cyrus. 

I quickly found out that God’s plan for me in Saint Charles was to find salvation in His son Jesus Christ and to dedicate my life to serving Him – no matter where I was living, working, etc. God saved me so that He could use me on my field hockey team, amongst my roommates and in my workplace. Just as Cyrus’s plan for his life was written 200 years before he was born – so was mine, and yours. 

When I look back to my years in college, I am reminded of the good and perfect plan God had for me during my time there. Every day was certainly not good and perfect, but the things He brought me through and the lessons He taught me showed me that He truly is a good and perfect God. 

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
Psalm 119:105

God has already prepared a way for us. This truth alleviates me from worry and stress about tomorrow – something to which I still occasionally fall victim. God wrote the story of our lives generations ago, and has every intention of carrying out His good and perfect plan for us. All we must do is surrender control and open our hands to His authority.