Embracing God’s Assignment

Most of us know the story of Jonah and the whale and how Jonah was thrown from the ship and then saved by a great fish where he spent three days and three nights (‘Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.’  Jonah 2:1 NIV). While we love telling our kids the story about how great God is and how God can even use a big fish to save his children, what we seem to forget is what the verse is really all about! It’s about ‘assignment.’ God chose Jonah for a very special, yet hard assignment!

God’s Word came to Jonah calling him to go to Nineveh and preach against their wickedness (‘The Word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:  “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  (Jonah 1:1 NIV).  Jonah must have had favor because Nineveh was a wicked place! The people of Nineveh had turned their backs on God and were practicing all sorts of sin.  The assignment was not, in Jonah’s eyes, like a lay-up! This was not like going on a mission trip with the backdrop of blue seas, etc. No, God was asking Jonah to head to a city filled with witchcraft, sexual immorality and, well, you name it, Nineveh had it. So, what did Jonah do? He headed in the other direction! In fact, he boarded a boat headed in the opposite direction to Tarshish which is three times the distance away. Why? Because God’s assignment didn’t fit in with Jonah’s plans.

Jonah wanted the cush assignment or maybe no assignment at all. He knew it would be hard and that he would have to get out of his comfort zone to preach to people who had forgotten who God was. Jonah forgot that the very One who was giving the call (God) is the very One who would create the victory! Jonah, like so many, boarded the wrong ship going in the opposite direction because he wanted comfort over calling! How do we know?

As soon as Jonah got on the ship to Tarshish, he went below deck to take a nap (“But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.”  Jonah 1:5). Not only did Jonah want to avoid God, but slipping below deck meant not confronting or helping the other deckhands on the boat. Simply put, he avoided all accountability. And a nap means he just didn’t want to think about the assignment. Jonah wanted total relief from God’s calling! But, guess what, men? Our Father in Heaven doesn’t just pat us on the butt and tell us to get in a good nap!  Nope, God created rough seas so the men on the boat would fear for their life. God sent a storm that prompted the men on the boat to call upon Him, the very One who had brought about the storm. Unlike Jonah, in his slumber below, the men on the deck above knew something was wrong! (“Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” Jonah 1:7a).  Being woken, Jonah knew it was because of him that this was happening. Jonah’s disobedience was putting others’ lives in danger, and he knew it!

Being awakened from his sleep, Jonah had an ‘Aha!’ moment when he realized that God’s storm was directly related to his running from God! Like Jonah, when we are disobedient or we avoid God’s calling, God has to bring in a storm to bring us back. Unfortunately, like Jonah, when the storms come, we can also be slow to repent and ask for God’s mercy. But when God does something, nothing goes to waste! Even the men on the boat gave offerings and vowed to the Lord (At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to Him.” Jonah 1:16). The storm brought both Jonah and the ship hands back to the Lord! After being tossed around for three days in the big fish, which in itself is a miracle, Jonah finally made it to Nineveh smelling like a fish which was God’s original assignment!

With God’s grace and covering, Jonah preached to the city, urging them to turn from their sins, repent, and turn back to their loving Father in Heaven. Guess what they did? (“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.”  Jonah 3:10).

After several full days of preaching the Word of God to the lost city of Nineveh, God provided Jonah with a leafy plant to rest and take shelter from the sun.  Notice how God provides Jonah with real rest. But God wasn’t finished with showing Jonah what was important.  A worm, provided by God, ate the leaves taking away Jonah’s shade.

While Jonah complained, God’s final word came, which is significant for all of us (“But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ ‘It is,’ he said.  ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’  Jonah 4:9-11).  Jonah neglected the plant, and it died. Like the people of Nineveh, without tending, they would all die and spend eternity separated from God! God’s simple assignment to us, as Men, is to abide in Him and tend to those God puts In front of us! Jonah wanted to relax and avoid the calling! We have the same calling and that is why God gave us Jonah as the example. (“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  Joshua 24:15).

The assignment seldom seems easy. As a business owner, I’ve seen many companies fail because people neglect to count the cost of starting a business. They want the fruit of the tree without tending to the plant. Nineveh, like our country, needs men of God who are willing to step up and step out of their comfort zones

All through God’s Word we see God’s Truth plainly. Honor Him and tell others! Jonah thought that by going in the other direction he would escape the calling.  Nope! We are all called! (Romans 8:30) Although no one said it would be easy, it is still an awesome journey!

RTM, Stephen L. Thomas