I want to spend a moment here to talk to those of you who have been following Jesus for a long time. This is really for all of us, but it seems especially relevant for those of you who’ve been at it a while.
We know that Jonah, in the beginning of his life and ministry, had been living faithfully– obeying God and fulfilling his God-given role as a prophet. We see this in 2 Kings 14. He spoke boldly, God used him, and the people remembered him! They responded!
For someone like Jonah to now be running from God— this seems like something that’s unlikely to happen very often. Surely, people that live faithfully (for decades especially) will see it through! Isn’t this a given? Unfortunately, no.
We must aware that temptation, distraction, discontentment, apathy, and even outright rebellion can happen at any stage of the Christian life. Even just statistically we can see this. There’s an increasing number of marriages being split apart after 30, 40, even 50 years, and this is happening both inside and outside the church. There are pastors who can’t pray to the Lord genuinely on their own, because they just don’t want to anymore. There are pastors and others, who, after years and years of schooling and marriage and ministry, throw it all away with an affair.
For me, as a Christian who wants to live a joyful and content life in the Lord for the next 20, 30, 40 years (or however many God gives me), and for you, hopefully desiring to do the same for as long as God gives you; Listen: do not think you are above moral failure. Don’t think that you’re somehow above falling into temptation.
I guarantee that this path that Jonah went down– and these paths that so many other long-time men and women of God go down– they start by simply letting their guard down. We forget that the enemy is real and seeks to steal and kill and destroy, and also forget that until God brings us home, we still wrestle with the flesh.
How quickly our circumstances and our sinful desires can cause us to take something that we used to love about God and turn it into something we hate.
“I cannot escape God’s presence. I used to love that, because I knew he was always there and that meant for me that nothing could separate me from his love. I used to love that, but now I hate it.”
“Because I’m over here now, and I want to do whatever I want to do, and I want to be guilt-free while I’m doing it, and I can’t be because I know God is always present and I can’t get rid of him or run far enough away!”
Do you see how quickly, when we move our eyes off of God and onto ourselves, some of the most endearing attributes of God become repulsive to us?
That is the heart of the book of Jonah. We see in chapter 4 the reason Jonah ran, the reason Jonah didn’t want to be in God’s presence. We see that Jonah’s hatred for the Ninevites far outweighed his love for God. His hatred for them had grown so much that he ran to avoid seeing God be compassionate toward this city. Jonah didn’t want God to love his enemies. He wanted God to destroy them.
In chapter 4 verse 2, the most beautiful and awe-inspiring attributes of who God is become Jonah’s very complaint. He mocks God’s most beautiful attributes. This supposed prophet of God, a man who prophesied Israel’s success when Jeroboam II was reigning. So what do we learn from this?
No matter how long you’ve lived in obedience, always seek God’s face.
Moral failure, disobedience to God, even for a strong, seasoned Christian: we’re never above this kind of moral failure. Any of us are capable of running from God. We fall into disobedience not merely because we’re tempted, not merely because of some rash decision. Instead, we almost always fall because over time we’ve come to value God less and less. Slowly, we become indifferent. Slowly, we take our eyes off of God’s face, his glorious character, his glorious LOVE for us.
We must seek God’s face. We must open His Word to know Him better, that our hearts and minds would be captivated and delighted in him.
Jonah probably didn’t plan to have a few decades of faithfulness, and then to work toward forgetting that the very compassion he’s mad about is the same compassion that God has shown Jonah and even shows Jonah yet again in this very narrative. I don’t think he planned for it. So how can we not end up somewhere we didn’t plan? By planning the opposite. By setting our eyes on God, keeping his attributes, his character, his glory, his love, on our minds and in our hearts.