“There are three elements that are almost always part of Lent: prayer, giving something up, and giving something back.” — Elizabeth Hyndman
Scripture Reflections on the Book of Jonah
The Old Testament book of Jonah might seem like an odd choice for a Lenten reflection. Although I have been thinking about a series of writings on Jonah for quite a while, I was at a loss as to how to integrate his story with the Biblical accounts of the weeks leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. That is, until this morning, when it became clear to me that the story of Jonah is in microcosm the story of all of us, the same story that has been told and retold many times over since the Creation of the world. It is the story of our need of saving because we have rejected or disobeyed God’s will for our lives. It is a story about running from God, attempting to wrest our lives away from his leading, and learning that he loves us enough to find us and seek to re-establish a relationship with us no matter what, sometimes in very unexpected ways.
Scripture focus: Jonah 1:1-3
The word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amitai: “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. He went down to Joppa where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
The very first sentence of the Book of Jonah contains clear instructions from God: he told Jonah to go to Nineveh, the great capital of Assyria, and preach to the people so that they might repent of their wicked ways. But just like Adam and Eve who ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil after God had commanded them not to do so, Jonah disobeyed God’s command and attempted to hide from him.
The first thing that became apparent to me as I re-read this passage is that Jonah understood exactly what he was doing when he chose to run from God, and that it was wrong. The instructions he was given were crystal clear; there was no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Jonah didn’t pretend not to have heard; in boarding the ship bound for Tarshish, he took specific direct action in order to remove himself (or so he thought) from God’s line of vision. It struck me that we often choose a similar course of action when confronted by a decision about whether to obey or disobey God’s direction.
How many times in our daily lives do we human beings try to justify to ourselves our own rebellious inclinations, our tendency to ignore or to water down what God’s Word says about the way we are to live? How often do we attempt to convince ourselves that it won’t really matter that much whether we make time for daily Bible reading, spend time in prayer, reach out with a phone call or a note to those we know who are struggling with difficult circumstances, follow through with a task that we would rather not undertake, even if we know that it is something God would want us to do?
So often, our bent is to seek to board a ship bound for another port instead of going to the place God has instructed us to go. Oh, that we would be aware of and vigilant about our own response when God puts it on our hearts to do something for his kingdom! May we make that call, deliver that little gift bag of encouragement, give to that ministry, embrace the role that God has given us in creating an opportunity for him to demonstrate his compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.
We ask that, especially during this season of Lent, that You would make us aware of our own hearts, and our human propensity to run the other way. We pray, along with the Psalmist:
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.