We sometimes have these thoughts: “If I follow God, everything will work out exactly as I want. I will always be happy. Things are just easier with Jesus.”
Why shouldn’t we think this way? These ideas are heard often from pulpits, sometimes intentionally sometimes not. We love hearing encouraging words about the love, goodness, and provision of God. Don’t misunderstand, I believe in all of those things. I believe Romans 8:28 when it says all things work together for good, I just don’t think we get to determine what “good” is.
At some point in our Christian walk, many of us come to a place where we look around at our circumstances, emotions, direction and think, “THIS IS NOT WHAT I WANTED.” That is certainly what happened to Jonah.
Jonah was a prophet. I don’t know if he liked being a prophet or not, but there must have been seasons where delivering messages on behalf of God was joyful. I imagine there were times when Jonah loved being a mouthpiece for the Most High. Then God gave Jonah a simple task, Go to Nineveh and let them know that because of their sin, God’s gonna destroy the city.
Nope. I can almost here Jonah’s cry, “This is not what I wanted.”
There are potentially many reasons Jonah might not have wanted to go to Nineveh. Yes, they were wicked, hence the forthcoming destruction, but I suspect the core reason revolved around their nationality. Ninevah was the capital of a nation called Assyria. They did this thing where they invaded Israel and took them into captivity. These guys basically came in and said, “You don’t live here anymore. You’re now our captives!”
So now God wants Jonah to go and give THEM a Word of the Lord. No thank you. I didn’t sign up for this. They don’t deserve it. I’m out.
And so Jonah literally ran the opposite direction of Ninevah.
Of course, we want to be led by God.
Proverbs 3:6 (NLT) Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.
We all pray for direction. In our heart, we do want to be in “His perfect will.”
However, too often what we mean by, “show me which path to take” is actually, “give me a high paying job, a beautiful wife, and help me to avoid problems.”
So what do we do when where God is leading us, isn’t the perfect life we had imagined? What if instead of greater popularity God asks us to give up friends? What do we do if God asks us to lay down our dreams? What about when following God means embracing the pain in our lives instead of avoiding it?
Romans 8:35-37 (NLT) Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Too often this false expectation that we always get what we want leads us to a crisis of faith. The truth is we don’t always get what we want. Sometimes we have to make hard choices. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices. Surrender can’t begin until God requires something of us we don’t want to let go.
I recently had a conversation with some students, one of them said, “people today think that God is meant to serve us, rather than us to serve God.” Tragically this might be true. I don’t think many people would say outright that they believe that, but we can see that belief embedded in our thought process and revealed in our attitudes. It’s almost as if we approach God like a vending machine, handing out miracles and dreams. Yes, He’s a good Father, but a good Father knows when to withhold things that are not good for His children.
Yet, when God doesn’t provide what we want; when He doesn’t send us the direction we had expected it can really throw us for a loop. When what life gives us is not what we wanted it can easily send us into an experience where many of us have spent a lot of time, but rarely want to acknowledge.
Look for part two next Monday.