June 24 – God of Second Chances – Jonah

Read Jonah 1:17-3:3

The news headline just yesterday was “Man Claims He Was Swallowed by a Whale!” The man in the story said he was only in the whale’s mouth for a few seconds, but how scary would that have been?  Yet, the Bible tells us that Jonah was not just in the mouth of a big fish but was actually in its belly for 3 days and 3 nights! 

Jonah had tried to hide from God but then he found himself drowning in the sea tangled in seaweed and being thrown from side to side by the waves. Helpless and hopeless!   

Psalms 139 tells us that we believers are never REALLY helpless:

“Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

If I make my home in the depths, you are there.

EVEN THERE YOUR HAND WILL GUIDE ME,

YOUR HAND WILL HOLD ME FAST!”

And that is exactly what God did.  He didn’t let Jonah drown but gave him a second chance.

Can you imagine thinking you are about to die, then, all of a sudden, you find yourself in the belly of a huge fish?  One on one with God?  It was almost like God was saying, “Jonah, are you finished trying to hide yet? Let’s talk!”

This whole mess was fueled by hate.  Jonah hated the people of Ninevah and he did not want them to hear about God and the hope of salvation.  He was being selfish with what he himself had been given freely and that was the love of the one true God!  Did he know one of those people individually?  No!  Had he listened to their stories of their struggles in life?  Had he even looked into their eyes and saw their loneliness or pain?  No! God was not only rescuing Jonah, but giving him a taste of what life was like without God and to only have worthless idols to turn to.

God rescued Jonah and gave him a second chance just like He wanted to do for the people of Ninevah. 

We don’t know exactly what Jonah said to the people of Ninevah to get them to repent of their ways, but I would hope that his experience in the big fish played a part in some way.  God’s will is that no one should perish but have everlasting life with Him! What second chances has He given you? Were you drowning at some point in your life and God scooped you out of the depths of despair and set you on the right path?  Do you know someone who is at that point in their lives right now who could benefit from hearing your story?                 

Why not make it your prayer today that you will be aware of the needs of the people around you and for God to guide you in leading them to God so they, too, can have a second chance!

Pat Arnold

December 31 – Jonah – The Depressed Prophet

Read Jonah 4:1–11

People love receiving grace and compassion.

Be honest. You are no exception. You love it when the police officer lets you go without a ticket. You appreciate when a good friend overlooks your impatience. Grace sure beats justice when you do wrong. Compassion is surely preferred over judgment when you step out of line.

It is quite ironic, though, that, while we relish grace and compassion for ourselves, we sometimes desire justice and judgment for others. Those two realities make Jonah’s story inconceivably realistic. It is inconceivable that a recipient of grace would want to see it withheld from others? And yet we do at times. We sometimes want them to get what they deserve. That is what makes it realistic.

Jonah 4 helps us to understand why Jonah resisted at the outset. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he did not want to see God extend grace to the people. He wanted them to experience justice. So, when God asked him to head east, Jonah fled west.

Under coercion of a great fish and with the possible hope that this great God would exercise justice, Jonah went. He warned. And then, he watched. The Ninevites repented. True to form, God relented. And, surprisingly, Jonah regretted ever having gone there.

That is when God used a leafy plant, a worm, the wind, and the sun to teach a lesson. Jonah claimed some ownership and appreciation for a plant. He had done nothing to bring the plant into existence or to care for it. Still, he loved it. Shouldn’t the sovereign creator God, who created the Ninevites, have compassion for these ones made in His image?

You see, this “grace for me, justice for you” attitude is a dangerous thing. It will prevent you from participating in God’s mission. He desires that all people be saved (1 Tim 2:4). In experiencing the wonderful, matchless grace of Jesus, you are postured to be its greatest advocate to others.

Steve Kern

December 30 – Jonah – The Preaching Prophet

Read Jonah 3:1-10

For some of us, the most insecure moments of our lives have been where we have had to make public appearances among unknown people for a specific occasion.  It may be a public reception, starting in a new school, new job, meeting the potential in-laws for the first time, or even walking into a church.  The reality is that there are times when blending in is not easy when we show up to new and unknown places. For some, it is even harder than for others, and that is just for the events in our lives that are new and unique. Then there is the everyday in and out of our lives?  The work that we do, the school we attend, the social circles that we gather in, or the online comments that we make and leave behind. Do we blend in or do we stand out? If we stand out, who do we stand out for?  

By the time we engage God’s word in Jonah chapter 3, the prophet has had some incredible experiences that could never go unnoticed upon his entry  into Ninevah. A foreign land, with a foreign message of sin and repentance from the God of heaven and earth; this was Jonah’s message to share. This was Jonah’s call to come to someplace new and offer a way that would change everyday living. 

Ninevah offered a culture that was carnal, confused, and brutally violent.   As we reflect that God’s calling of Jonah was to engage this culture by going “to the Great City of Ninevah” and to “preach against it” (Jonah 1:2), we have no hard time relating to Jonah’s desire to never show up to begin with. The message that he was tasked to preach offered in return a risk of personal safety for himself, as well as risk of Israel’s enemies having the chance to to turn from their ways and make peace with God. After running from God’s call, being cast into the sea, and then spending three days in the fish, Jonah’s subsequent condition of being spit up on the enemy’s shore shows all of us that his life does not blend in to the typical human experience.  Furthermore, can we only imagine the physical differences between Jonah and the citizens of Ninevah?  Talk about a public appearance where insecurity may abound… Not only was he going to be identified as a foreigner, but he had just lived for three days inside of a fish!  Based on his physical appearance alone, no doubt that he would not have blended in.  With inconspicuous arrival not being an option, Jonah’s first steps into the city were going to be steps that stood out.

His preaching would separate him even more.

I have never been called to a task as powerfully as Jonah and I am certainly not a prophet.  However, I do know that I have been called to not blend into the world around us and, as a member of Christ’s kingdom, to bring the message of the peace that God brings to all people who I encounter.  Our society is a society of confusion.  Though we are different from the Ninevites in many ways, we are very much like them as our people are longing for those to live among them and share a message of hope in troubling times. How we go about doing this, engaging our daily lives at work, school, our neighborhoods and yes, even the comments and posts that we leave behind, says everything to a world around us about the the character of the church and message of the God who we are called to represent. I am inspired by Jonah’s courage among his disobedience and his obedience in light of his courage. I ask you to join me in praying for all of us (myself included), that, in the light of obedience that God has called us to, we would strand out as those who enter our city on a daily basis, bringing the message of peace and hope offered by Christ.

Joe Rubino

December 29 – Jonah – The Pickled Prophet

Read Jonah 2:1-10

“From inside the fish Jonah prayed…”

I read six words and already my mind is blown. Inside a fish, a man did anything aside from being digested. It touches places in my imagination that, were it not for the truth I believe the Bible to be, would only stand in a strange piece of fiction. But God had a plan that involved this man, Jonah, so He arranged a savior in the form of a great big fish to keep him alive.

And from there Jonah prayed.

Of all the things that God could have given to Jonah, He provided a fish’s belly as a respite. God provided mercy for Jonah just like He wanted to provide mercy and grace for Ninevah. But Jonah hated that city.

The words of his prayer read like a turning point for Jonah and his hard-hearted life of self-centered disobedience. But the rest of the story proves his verbiage insincere at best. Even after three days in a fish’s stomach, Jonah remained unwilling to sacrifice his own expectations for the city he despised.

So God commanded the fish to vomit and out came Jonah. I imagine the physical stench mirrored the spiritual scent God smelled on his man. God did not care for the words that only sounded like praise. He wanted Jonah’s obedient heart, not his beautiful words.

Even so, the truth of verse 8 rings loud and true. “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” If only Jonah had seen that truth for himself. If only he’d given up the idol that was himself, his pride, his desire for things to go his own way.

What kind of worthless idols do you cling to? What kind of life lived from the freedom of God’s love are you forfeiting as you cling to them? What are you holding onto that holds you back from experiencing the freedom that comes from fully surrendering to and obeying God?

Is it financial? A relationship? Your own need for approval? Is it living in what’s comfortable?

Whatever it is, God’s love is better. His plan is always best. Whatever worthless idol you cling to will never bring the true freedom God gives to those who trust His way and follow Him wholeheartedly.

Bria Wasson

December 28 – Jonah – The Punished Prophet

Read Jonah 1:1-17

Don’t be surprised if sometime, somewhere, someplace, when you least expect it, someone steps up to you and says, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”

That was the tag line for a popular TV hidden camera show a few years ago where people were put into crazy situations to see what their reactions would be. The master mind of the show was a man named Alan Funt who at the height of the craziness would pop in and say, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”

That must have been Jonah’s thought on this crazy day of his.  God told him to go to a city whose people he detested and to tell them about God’s love!  That was the LAST thing Jonah wanted to do as he was praying for their destruction, not their redemption!

So, what did he do?  He thought he could run away from God. Instead of going towards Ninevah, Jonah headed the opposite way, only to wind up on a ship during a terrible storm with a frightened crew who eventually threw him overboard where he was swallowed by a whale!

Cue Alan Funt!

However, there are several lessons we can learn from Jonah’s bizarre day!

  1. You can’t run away from God! He is everywhere! Psalm 139:7-8

 Where can I go from your spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go to the heavens you are there.

If I make my bed in the depths you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

If I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me!

Your right hand will hold me fast.

2. God didn’t give up on Jonah and He won’t give up on us either. God had a specific task He wanted done.  Jonah, it seems, was the best man for the job. No one else would do. Even though Jonah was rejecting God’s plan for him, God wasn’t rejecting Jonah.  He promises to never leave us or forsake us either!  He will be there to protect us in the storms of life and rescue us from some bad situations of our own making. Sometimes we have to be “swallowed up”, so to speak, to teach us a lesson. but He will be right there to comfort, guide, and give us strength if we will just seek Him.

3. God works all things for good for those who love Him.  Unbeknownst to Jonah because he was already in the belly of the whale, his reluctant testimony was enough to convert the sailors who were worshiping false gods to the one true God.

Jonah THOUGHT running the other way was all his own plan to avoid going to Ninevah; however, I think God had this detoured route to Ninevah planned the whole time. How else would the sailors learn about God if Jonah hadn’t rebelled and wasn’t on their ship?

What is God wanting you to do?  Who does He want you to witness and show His love to?  Is it someone you don’t like?  Will you do it willingly or will you need to take the “scenic detour” like Jonah?

Pat Arnold

December 27 – Jonah

Read 2 Peter 3:9

There’s a specific strategy to getting a toddler to go anywhere. If you are ever at Grace Church and see our family of three in the halls, it’s quite possible you will see us in the “Bait” formation. This is when Kelly leads the way with Mattie in the middle and me behind Mattie. You see, Mattie is SUCH a mommy’s boy in that, if Kelly goes anywhere, Mattie is usually not far behind. In the “Bait” formation, Kelly motivates Mattie to move and I make sure he gets there by guiding him in the right direction, reminding him that we’re following Mommy.

Getting a toddler to do anything takes a lot of patience. There are some times when my patience has been tested that my mind drifts to the patience which God has with us. Even worse than a toddler taking his SWEET OLD TIME getting from point A to point B, we must be terrible to keep an eye on. For all that God has done for us by saving us from eternal damnation in Hell by sending His only Son to die a gruesome death while having the wrath of God dished out upon Him, we repay Him with, I’m sure, headaches and eye rolls.

None of us are perfect but God’s patience is.

A great example of God’s patience comes in the book of Jonah. This is a story where God reaches out to a prophet named Jonah, telling him to go to a super pagan city and share the gospel with them. Jonah isn’t too thrilled to go on this excursion and we read about his adventure of running away from God.

Should be fun.

Our reading today in 2 Peter describes the patience which God shows in wanting no one to breathe their last breath while apart from Him. Peter writes that, what we think is slow, isn’t slow to God. He has a plan of redemption that has been in motion since Genesis 3.

Over the next 4 days, we will read about God’s plan for the people of Nineveh and Jonah’s journey of running from God to being an integral part of the salvation of a city far from God.

Jake Lawson

December 19 – Importance of the Old Testament – Appreciating God’s Grace

Read Jonah 3:1-4:11

A story we all know too well from Sunday school is that of Jonah…not to mention the song that goes with it.

When we think of the Old Testament, we may not think of a “man of God” hating God for loving God’s enemies. Jonah was a little different than the other prophets called by God to send a message.  The book of Jonah is, as “The Bible Project” calls it; “a subversive story about a rebellious prophet who hates God for loving His enemies”.

The book of Jonah is a huge example of the grace that God bestows on those who may not see eye-to-eye with Him. The people of Nineveh are ones that God states “Does not know their right or left”. They do not know any better and yet Jonah takes it upon himself to be angry with the Lord for sparing the lives of people He created and cared about because they held no standard as Jonah thought they should. He wants these people to do good in order to earn God’s grace. When, really, since the beginning of creation, God’s grace has been offered so many times when it has not been deserved.

We see first-hand in the book of Jonah that God cares deeply about His creation and wants to have a relationship with them.

Three times in the book of Jonah, we see God’s grace at hand.

First, after Jonah runs away from God’s instructions (literally), he gets onto a boat with a group of pagans. When God gets their attention, Jonah may think, “Why live and go to Nineveh, when I can end it here?” So, he nobly (sarcasm) offers himself to spare the pagans on the boat. But the pagans are now aware and have witnessed the power of God and repent.

Secondly, God not only spares the pagans but He allows Jonah’s life to be spared in the belly of a large fish. After 3 days in darkness and a conversation with the Lord, Jonah agrees to obey and his life is spared.

Thirdly, there is Nineveh. A pagan, worldly city which held no regard for the power and might of God. God, loving them and wanting a relationship with them, spared their lives.

The book of Jonah introduces God’s grace in a great way, but He also shows us His love for His creation.

Because of His love, there is grace. Because of His love, there is Jesus.

“So, the Lord said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in the night and perished in the night. But may I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?”

How many times do we forget that God will use our differences to bring us closer to Him? As we don’t see eye-to-eye with everyone around us, I have to believe that God’s grace is for all. He loved the WORLD so much that He GAVE His ONLY Son.

We must love; we must show grace in order to show Jesus.

Kelly Lawson

January 5 – Crucible of Crisis – God uses crisis to move people – Changing minds

Read: Jonah 1 & Jonah 3:1-3

No discussion of God using crisis to move people is complete without dealing with the uncomfortable subject of how He uses crisis to change rebellious minds. Sadly, there are way too many Bible examples from which to draw! Think Pharaoh, the Israelites in the desert, the Israelites in exile….

But the best example of God using crisis to change minds is this one.

GOD’S COMPASSION FOR MOSUL
God’s heart was broken because of the wickedness of the people of Mosul (Iraq), the modern name for Nineveh. God called the prophet Jonah of Galilee to go preach to the Ninevites, perhaps they would repent and be spared God’s judgment!

What a privilege, to be chosen from among all people to be God’s envoy! But we all know that’s not how Jonah saw it. From Galilee, an obedient Jonah would go north and east to Nineveh, but instead a disobedient Jonah went south and west.

Oh, what misery he could have been spared if only….

But Jonah’s mind was made up. Running to Joppa, he boards a ship going anywhere but Nineveh. In exhaustion he falls asleep in the bottom of the vessel – running from God is hard work! We all know the story – big storm, thrown into the sea, God sends a big fish, Jonah swallowed alive….

How miserable it must have been in the belly of that fish! Stench. Half-eaten fish floating. Seaweed tangling. Ears paining in the deep. Fear…think of it. It had to be terrifying!

Still, it took three whole days of awfulness – of crisis – for Jonah to change his mind. Finally Jonah prayed: “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you…I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good.”

jonah2The fish vomited Jonah onto land, and the bleached, smelly prophet wobbled toward Nineveh, shakily at first, but strength growing with each step of obedience. The Ninevites repent. God has “compassion on the Ninevites and did not bring the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10)

QUESTION TO PONDER: Can you think of a time in your life when you suffered because you were slow to obey God’s leading?

Barb Wooler

March 5 – Transformation Testimonies – Jonah

Read Jonah 1:1-17 and 3:1-10

He told the sailors he was a child of God. Jonah even claimed he worshiped the One True God. Still he ran, trying to avoid God’s way of doing things.

I worship Yahweh . . . (v9)

The Hebrew word for worship here means fear, as in I fear God, the One who created the very sea whose waves are drowning us. Clearly, though he did not fear Him. Otherwise he would never have tried to run.

See, to fear God is to realize who He is, that He alone is worthy of all our afraid because He’s the only One in charge. It’s the basis of our worship because when we truly realize who Yahweh God is, when we take into account His all-encompassing power that can move the unmovable and redeem the horrific, we will fall in awe of the only One worthy of our worship.

Jonah 114

So when Jonah told the sailors who fought for their lives amid the Yahweh-created torrents of the sea that he worshiped/feared God, I have to think he didn’t really mean it.

The pagan sailors, on the other hand, seemed to have fully grasped the power and fear-worthiness of the One True God. In fact, as soon as they granted Jonah’s death-wish, they offered Him a sacrifice and made vows. They worshiped God for real while Jonah merely spoke the words.

But God transformed Jonah’s verbage into an act of obedience and true worship when He led that hungry fish straight to him then swam him back to Ninevah.

For you, Yahweh, have done just as You pleased (1:15).

Then Jonah, reluctant as he remained, worshiped God by doing what He’d commanded. That’s when we discover what Jonah had really feared.

That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster (4:2).

When Jonah saw God pour mercy on the people of Ninevah, he tipped his hand and let us in on the one he’d actually been worshiping all along — himself.

See, Jonah didn’t want the Ninevites to know God’s grace. He didn’t want them to be like him, counted among the children of God. But God’s mercy is for all who will realize their sin and ask Him for mercy. Jonah feared not getting what he wanted so He tried to thwart God’s plan.

But God had His way. He always does. He transforms anyone who will humbly admit they need Him. Even the people who lived in Ninevah. Even Jonah. Even you. Even me.

Bria Wasson

November 3 – 35 Prayers in the Bible – Jonah

Read Jonah 1:17-2:10

Think of the lowest point of your life. Imagine how you felt, thinking to yourself that the world was crashing all around you. What was your relationship with God like at this point? When you were experiencing the worst emotional pain you have ever experienced, where was God? When your heart was as fragile as glass, where was He? When people get to this low of a point, God tends to take a back seat. You are doing whatever you can do to stay afloat. You’re fighting with every ounce of yourself to stay sane. It is so incredibly hard to put your faith in someone that you cannot see, when you are in the midst of a storm. What are they going to do about it? What can they provide? Are they even there?

Jonah was confronted with this same issue. Most of us are familiar with his story. God told him to go to Nineveh to preach the gospel. Jonah thought he had better plans and took a boat in the opposite direction. Due to the fact that you can never pull a fast one on God, He caused a huge storm to come which ended up with Jonah in the ocean.

What do you think Jonah was thinking at this point? Imagine being in the middle of the raging ocean…by yourself? As you’re fighting to stay above water, darkness all around, you think to yourself that only you are to blame for this situation. God told you to do something and you chose against it. Imagine getting to the point where you give in to the ocean and take your last breath as your head slips below the water.

Despite all that Jonah had done, God provided a huge fish to come and swallow Jonah to keep him alive. Talk about a silver lining! Jonah 2 contains the prayer of Jonah from the belly of the fish. Keep in mind that this is probably not the most luxurious fish stomach. He’s most likely cramped into little more than the fetal position. Stomach acid is probably eroding his clothes, if not parts of his body.

It is in this setting that Jonah repents.

Halfway through his prayer, you see a shift. He goes from describing his horrible circumstances, his brush with death, to stating all the ways that God provided in the midst of it.

How often to you find yourself praising God in the midst of a storm? Will you praise Him and trust that He has the interest and the ability to deal with your problems? It was when Jonah trusted in the Lord, truly trusted, that he was delivered from peril.

It may be hard, but God deserves your praise, more than ever, in the midst of trials. You never know, deliverance may be right around the corner.

Jake Lawson

21 DAY PRAYER CHALLENGE

For the full challenge, go here!

Day 14: Journal

Even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a journaler, take time today to, in the quiet and distraction free environment that you have created this past week,  write out your prayer to the Lord. There’s just something about writing something down!