Most people have heard about the story of Jonah being saved from the belly of whale. In the story, Jonah is sent by God to preach to the city of Ninevah, Israel’s most hated enemy, in hopes that they will turn from their wicked ways. Jonah refuses and goes to hide out on a ship. In a turn of events, God sends a destructive storm, and Jonah is forced to reveal that he angered God by disobeying him. Jonah’s fellow sailors then throw him overboard where he is eaten by a large fish. Jonah prays for three days and nights while in the belly of the whale, and he is later then thrown up. For most, this is where the story ends. Jonah’s faithful repentance led to God’s grace. While there are valuable lessons that can be learned from this aspect of the story, what we fail to learn in Sunday school is that Jonah was kind of a whiny baby. Once he repented, Jonah preached about a forthcoming destruction to the city and how all of its people needed to repent to God in order to be saved. To his great surprise, Jonah listened. And God kept the promise. Jonah, however, was upset that God saved Israel’s greatest enemy, and he made no effort to conceal these feelings. Too often, we find ourselves like Jonah. We disobey, we repent, and then we fail to change the condition of our own hearts. I think there is a lot to take away from Jonah’s story. Of course, we learn the extent of God’s grace, but there is also a lot to be learned on how to be just be a decent human being.
- You are not the center of the universe. Yep. Believe it or not, there are other people who live on this earth besides YOU. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Too often, we become upset or angry when other people receive something we think we deserve. Or we act as though we are the kindest, the most generous, or the most righteous when in reality there are people doing things just as significant as us. Jonah exhibited this upon preaching to the Ninevites. Once his job was done, and the city of Ninevah was saved, Jonah became angry that God had delivered His promise. Jonah was upset that once-evil Ninevah had received God’s grace, and Israel received ‘nothing.’ Thus, Jonah believed that he, along with the rest of Israel, were the only people worthy of God’s mercy.
- Everyone has the ability to change. This is hard to face because let’s be real – you don’t want other people to change. We want to continue to be the person who everyone else wants to model. We want our stories to matter more than someone else’s. We want to continue to hate that person for something they did ten years ago. But, as bluntly as I can put it – people change. That athlete who took steroids fifteen years ago? Completely clean now. That criminal who is serving time in prison? Yep, that’s right – they’ve gotten a degree in pyschology and have come to know Jesus. The same is true with the town of Ninevah. Once the center of evil and all hate toward Israel, after hearing Jonah preach about death and destruction that was to come, the people changed the conditions of their hearts. The only one who didn’t change was Jonah.
- Life is too short to not be happy for other people. This is so huge. Too often, we spend time being jealous or angry about other people’s accomplishments. I specifically remember being so jealous of this one runner who I didn’t even have to compete against! In the course of one year, she transformed herself from a mediocre runner to one of the best in the state. She ran faster than I ever had. And I was envious because her training mirrored mine. I didn’t understand how she had gotten so much faster than me, and I was so envious that I forgot to be happy for her. I neglected to think about the changes she made to get from point A to point B. While I should have been happy that she stumbled upon the my amazing coaches just in time for her last track season, I was not. I wonder what God thinks when He delivers to the faithful, and we go and pout in the corner because we think we’re not frustrated. I can imagine God feeling quite frustrated. And yet, a very similar scenario occurred when God saved the Ninevites. Like in the way that I provided insight to this girl on how she could run faster, Jonah preached to Ninevah about what they had to do in order to save their city. Also like me, Jonah was upset when the Ninevites actually listened to him. It just doesn’t make sense.
- You can’t hide from your problems. You may think you can, but you just can’t. In the moment, it might seem plausible to run away from that confrontation you’ve been avoiding, but in the end, you’ll find yourself face to face with the issue in some way or another. I had a few friends in high school who got into a fight over a petty issue. The fight turned into a situation that ruined a really good friendship and encouraged others to take sides. It was unnecessary, really, but could have been resolved. Nobody in the participating party wanted to admit that there was a problem over something so simple. It made for awkward birthday parties and uncomfortable seating arrangements in class until eventually someone said, “ENOUGH!” This is what happened with Jonah. He disobeyed God’s commands and thought he could hide. Chaos and destruction ensued, and it wasn’t until Jonah was swallowed by the whale that he decided to say, “ENOUGH!” and face his problem with God.