What Are You Running From?
Have you ever been asked to do something that you don’t really want to do? I don’t mean something that is just not quite your thing, like being invited to a movie that looks boring. I mean something that makes you want to run the other way.
Back before I was a pastor, I was attending a local church. I had been praying that God would provide an opportunity to be involved in some sort of ministry. I had no idea what it might be. Not long after that prayer, the youth pastor approached me and asked me if I had ever considered helping out with the youth group. You would think that I would recognize this as an answer to prayer and jump at the opportunity. But that was not the case. I didn’t get along with teenagers when I was a teenager, I didn’t want to try it as an adult. So I offered the Christian lie, I said I would pray about it. I didn’t pray about it and that youth pastor didn’t forget about it. He didn’t realize that I just didn’t lack interest in working with teens, I was interested in not working with teens. Finally, he convinced me to come to one of the youth meetings to check it out. I thought this would a good way for me to get out of this, I could try it and then let him know it wasn’t for me. So I quietly slipped in and sat at the back. Then to my horror, the youth pastor announced that I was now one of the adult leaders! I was stuck doing exactly what I didn’t want to do. What I didn’t know was that this ministry would be very influential in my future pastoral ministry.
Have you ever felt like God was calling you to do something? I don’t mean something pleasant like starting a beach ministry in Hawaii. Have you felt like God was calling you way outside your comfort zone in such a way that you want to run in the opposite direction? If so, you are not alone.
We have been looking at the minor prophets and Jonah is likely the most well known of the prophets. We may not remember anything he said, but we can remember what happened to him. Most people, whether inside or outside the church, have some vague idea of a guy who is swallowed by a big fish. This is a favourite story for Sunday school lessons. However, this is not a children’s story. It is something that goes deep to human nature and is relevant to all of us.
Jonah was a prophet. We think of prophets as predicting the future but that was only a small part of what they did. The main role of a prophet was to call people to repentance. They would remind the people of the holiness of God, point out the areas where they have fallen short and call them to get their life back together.
Jonah received the call to preach, which shouldn’t have surprised him. He was prepared to preach to anyone, whether they were from the north in Israel or the south in Judah. But God didn’t have a Hebrew audience in mind. God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and Assyria was a nation that was giving Jonah’s people a hard time. They were not just aggressive, they were violent and all the nations feared them. There would have been a mix of emotions going through Jonah’s head. He likely was fearful for his own safety, as this would be like going into the heart of ISIS territory in the middle east and preaching. But there was also ethnic hatred. Jonah was all for God bringing judgment upon the people of Nineveh but saw no need for them to be preached to. Let God rain down balls of fire upon Nineveh and wipe them out. Jonah hated the people of Nineveh. Think about the different examples of ethnic hatred that exist today and try and imagine what Jonah was feeling.
Jonah may have believed that God would keep him safe in Nineveh, but he was not going to preach to “those people.” So he ran away. More accurately, he sailed away. He got on a ship headed for Tarshish. We don’t know exactly where this was, some thinking it was in Spain others that it was the island of Corsica. Either way, it was the opposite direction of where God wanted him to go. What we find in this passage is that Jonah’s escape didn’t go as well as he had hoped. To spoil the story for you, the fish spit up Jonah, he ended up preaching in Nineveh and was disappointed when God showed mercy in response to their repentance. But for this morning, we are going to focus on Jonah’s initial reaction of running away.
My question to you is: What are you running from? Is there something that you know you should be doing but you are attempting to avoid it with all your might? Maybe you identify it as something God is pushing you to do or perhaps it is just something you know must be done.
This has been the story of my life, although I have never been swallowed by a fish. After I had given up on atheism, there were all kinds of calls for me to take the next step and become a Christian. I was working for some Christians and quit the job to get away from the message. I did my best to avoid any Bible talk. At one point I was listening to a classic rock radio station, thinking it was safe, only to hear the singer of Grand Funk Railroad give his testimony of how he became a Christian. I couldn’t escape Jesus anywhere.
I eventually became a Christian and a number of years later I felt like God was calling me to become a pastor. I acknowledged it but then put it on the shelf. I’m not sure what I was afraid of, but I was unwilling to take the necessary steps. Then one Christmas, I was visiting my parents and I said grace before our meal. When I opened my eyes, my dad was crying and insisted that I become a pastor, even though he wasn’t religious at all. God wouldn’t let me go my own way.
What is your story? It may be very different from mine. Maybe the call is to reconcile a relationship. Maybe the call is to breakdown a prejudice toward a certain group. Maybe the call is to be involved in some sort of Christian ministry. The call may even be to make that first time commitment to Jesus. The first question is what are you running from. The second is why are you running? There is a reason, take some time to figure it out. Then ask the final question: What would it take for you to turn around? Jonah, who is probably the least obedient prophet in the Bible, eventually got to where he was supposed to be. What would it take for you to get there?
There are things that are appropriate for us to run from. Run from temptation, run from injustice, run from selfishness. But we should run from the thing that God is calling us to. Only you and God know the thing that you are running from. Learn the lesson of Jonah. Running ultimately only hurts us. Eventually it is time to stop running and embrace our call. Let’s do what has to be done before God calls out the big fish.