As I prepared for and taught the last two lessons in my middle school Bible study class, I found that I was probably the one in the room learning the most profound lessons. This came as a surprise considering I've heard the story of Jonah countless times over the years. And to be honest maybe I found myself feeling a little bored with the same old story of Jonah who didn't do what God told him to do the first time.
Maybe it's not as simple as following God's instructions. Maybe there are some other lessons we can learn from Jonah.
When the Storm Comes, Your Location Matters
God's direct instructions to Jonah were to travel to Niniveh to cry out against the wickedness in that city. (Jonah1:1) Jonah didn't just not go to Niniveh. He went in the complete opposite direction. He took off across the sea to Tarshish. When the massive storm hit, Jonah found himself on a boat in the middle of horribly rough seas, subject to any wind that would blow him. He probably would have still encountered the storm if he had been traveling to Niniveh, but it would have been incredibly easier to weather on land than on sea. We will all face periods of uncertainty and unrest in our life. When the storm begins to rage, we must make sure it finds us anchored on solid ground--right in the middle of God's chosen path for us--instead of floating aimlessly in the sea of life.
Sometimes Our Shelter is in the Belly of a Whale
"Why me, Lord?"
We've all been there at least once. Heck, I spend half my time there! But do you ever find out after the fact that what you were going through was actually far less than what it could have been? We all read the story of Jonah and feel downright sorry for him, getting swallowed by a mighty fish and all. However, the Bible says Jonah was at sea in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Three days and three nights! Would it have even been possible for Jonah to survive treading water/swimming in the sea for 72 hours?! Yes, God could have blessed him with supernatural strength to swim that long, but the Bible says that instead, the Lord PROVIDED a large fish to swallow Jonah. (Jonah 1:17) The belly of that fish was probably terrifying. . . lonely. dark. stinky! But given his choices, it was also a place of solace. A haven of rest, if you will. Only there was he able to put his focus back on what mattered--only there was he able to ask for forgiveness and move forward in the direction God would have him to go. And only there was he protected from a much worse reality--surviving for three days in a tumultuous and restless sea, all on his own strength.
God chooses to protect us in any number of ways. Sometimes that protection comes in dark and lonely places. But those dark and lonely places just might be God's way of insulating us from the chaos of a situation we wouldn't be capable of handling on our own.
Our Decisions Affect the Future of Those Around Us
Jonah avoided Niniveh for some very good reasons. The city was the capital of the enemy country (Assyria) of Israel. It was extremely likely Jonah would not be welcomed with open arms, and even more likely that they wouldn't appreciate a message from God calling them wicked people. Jonah was sure he would be rejected. Despite his misgivings, when Jonah finally did make it to Niniveh, he didn't even have to walk but a third of the city before the king declared a fast in the hopes that the Lord would be persuaded to change his mind. Jonah's actions and eventual obedience had a direct effect on the people of Niniveh. Because he chose to obey God and venture into the city with God's message, they were able to change the Lord's mind with their own actions. Jonah's right decision directly affected the Ninivites ability to make the right decision as well.
We are in this position every single day. Our decisions as Christians directly impact those in our circles of influence. Our decisions must empower those around us to in turn make the right choices.
I'm praying I remember these lessons when I'm tempted to escape God's plans, or when I find myself isolated and lonely. And I'm definitely praying that I make the kinds of choices that will be a positive influence on my peers, friends, and loved ones.