It seems that every time I read through the short book of Jonah, I notice something new that I missed before. As a child in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, this story was a staple for the felt board. It seemed to be easily understood at even an early age – Jonah disobeys God, gets swallowed by a big fish and God rescues him. Yet, as an adult, I now realize there is so much more to learn from Jonah’s story...primarily about the power of a good attitude. Here are five lessons we can take away as adults to help remind us why attitude matters.
1) Going in the opposite direction of where God leads will not get us out of the assignment or out of His presence.
“But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction in order to get away from the Lord.” Jonah 1:3
We may read that and want to quickly judge Jonah for being so disobedient, but the truth is, we are prone to do the same thing. When God convicts us of some sin in our life, yet we justify it and do the very thing we know He’s asked us not to do. When we are prompted in our Spirit to say or do something that makes us uncomfortable and we just walk away from the situation in hopes that the “feeling” will go away. When we’re asked to serve in some role in our church or to pursue a mission opportunity and we give the pat answer, “I’ll pray about it” with no intention of ever doing so. Scripture tells us that “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me” (Psalm 138:8) and that no matter where we go, He is always present (Psalm 139:7-12). So, we can choose to cooperate or we can choose to endure the great storm that eventually leads to cooperation – but we won’t get out of it or away from His presence by trying to go in the opposite direction. (I love what I heard Beth Moore say at a women's conference years ago: “We can either bend the knee or He can break our legs…the choice is ours”.)
2) Religion is not the same as faith…and actions always say more about our faith than the words we use.
“And Jonah answered, I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the land. Then he told them that he was running away from the Lord.” Jonah 1:9-10
If it didn’t feel so deeply personal, these verses might make me laugh out loud due to Jonah’s hypocrisy. But I fear that I’ve been in the same boat…(see what I did there?). Jonah tells the men about his religion…that he is a Hebrew and that as a Hebrew he has been taught to worship God. Yet, in the next breath, he confesses his disobedience by running away. Jonah knew exactly what he was doing. Some translations actually use the word “fear” in place of "worship" in verse 9. So Jonah says, "I fear the Lord who made the sea and land" and yet his "fear" has no bearing on his actions. Knowing about God and using religious speech is not the same as having a personal relationship and desiring to live in obedience. “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” (James 2:19) It’s when our faith becomes personal and takes on action that it penetrates our hardened hearts.
3) No matter how badly we screw up, God’s glory will not be diminished.
“Then they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. “O Lord,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin.” Jonah 1:14
Although the men in the boat knew nothing of “Jonah’s God” they prayed to Him as they feared for their lives. They recognized His power and authority over the wind and the seas. They recognized His ability to save them…and they believed. In verse 16 we learn, “The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered Him a sacrifice and vowed to serve Him.” Sometimes God will use our worst moments to lead others to Him. My pastor has said on several occasions, “We don’t have the ability or the responsibility to save anyone”. We are called to live lives that bring light into darkness, but God is God and He can use anything to bring others to Him…even our broken, messed up lives. His glory will not be diminished.
4) It’s easy to make promises in times of desperation.
“I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” Jonah 2:9
In the belly of the great fish, fearing for his life, Jonah was reminded of exactly who God is…and he made promises to Him that up to this time he had not kept. I don’t know about you, but some of my least proud moments involve negotiations with God. Prayers of “if you will, then I will”. Or even worse, trying to win Him over with flattery so that my prayers might be answered. I love the lyrics of the worship song, “Bigger Than I Thought.”
I’ll stop all negotiations with the God of all Creation
You’re bigger than I thought you were
God sees right through our words and judges our hearts and sometimes desperation promises are far too easy.
5) Pride is never pretty.
“I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people. Just kill me now Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive because nothing I predicted is going to happen.”
After all he’s already been through and should have learned…these verses read like a great big hissy fit to me! Is Jonah really questioning God’s decision to spare 120,000 people because it makes him look bad that his prediction didn’t come to pass? I can almost hear the whiny, “I knew this would happen” tone in his voice. Is this the same man who just a few verses earlier praised God from the belly of a fish and promised to fulfill his vows? I shudder at the question God asks in verse 4, "Is it right for you to be angry about this?"
It’s so easy to criticize Jonah once again over this behavior, yet how often have I been disobedient because I was afraid it might make me look bad in some way? Or how often have I questioned God’s decision to not punish someone who I thought deserved it? How often is God looking at my heart and asking, "Is it right for you to be angry about this?" Pride is never pretty...and God hates pride.
“First get rid of the log in your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5).
As a whole, Jonah had a bad attitude. He was rebellious, he was desperate, he was hypocritical, he was prideful and he was angry - yet his story reveals the goodness of God to even very young children! Jonah’s story both pains me and gives me great hope. For through this story we realize that God’s plans will prevail despite our rebellion. In fact, He really doesn’t need us at all. But what a generous God He is to allow us to be a part of His plan? And how much more abundant our lives could be if we choose to cooperate fully! So I ask you the question I've asked myself by digging deeper into this children's story as an adult...when it comes to God's call on your life, how is your attitude?
Questions for Reflection:
1) What might God be calling you to do?
2) Are you headed in the direction He’s asked you to go or are you desperately fleeing in the opposite way?
3) How might you move your faith from religious words to obedient actions?
4) Are you holding on to a past failure that has caused you to believe you stood in the way of God’s glory? How can you let go and move forward?
5) Is some form of pride standing in your way of living fully in God’s will?
Lord we don’t deserve a love like yours. Thank you for the stories of real people in your Word. Thank you that through their failures, we can see our own and that through your responses to them we come to know you more. May we each be open to your call on our lives. Teach us to walk in obedience each moment, each day, one step at a time...with a good attitude. And may you be glorified in all things. AMEN.
Stephani Cook is a life coach, speaker, writer and creator of On Purpose Coaching. Through On Purpose Coaching she helps others to improve relationships and to discover intentional abundant living. She does that through several services including group and/or individual coaching, live event speaking or Enneagram workshops in private and corporate settings.
To connect with Stephani visit her website http://www.stephanicook.org.