God called me to plant a church in my hometown of Castlederg, Northern Ireland, 3 years ago. A short time later he also called me to leave my job as lawyer and to ‘live by faith’, depending solely on Him to provide the resources we need as a family. Maybe that’s why the book of Jonah means a lot to me, for I know very well first-hand the strong temptation to ‘run’ when God begins to move and call you somewhere you may not originally desire or plan to go.
The Call to GO: God still sends!
God is a God who speaks and who sends people out with his gospel. Just like Jonah was called and commanded to “go to Nineveh that great city and cry out against it” (Jonah 1:2), so, too, are we, the disciples of Jesus, called to go and speak for the Lord.
It seems to me that there is a general commission and call and burden on all God’s people to be about our Father’s business and to share the gospel with those whom God has brought into our life or sphere of influence. And yet, there are individuals whom God gifts, equips and calls to specific ministry tasks.
These people need prayer and support from the body if they are to answer God’s call. The temptation to run is real so we must “Pray the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into the harvest field” (Matt.9:38). God is the God of the whole world. God loves the world and His gospel is for the entire world. Therefore, the whole world is the mission field and God still speaks and sends.
Jonah was a missionary. He was called to leave his land, and go to a foreign people, a dangerous and violent people and to share the message God had given him to share.
Some are called to go, others to support in various ways those called. We are all part of One Body; we are all co-workers with each other and with Christ Himself. We all must pray for the gospel to reach those who have never heard. These people may be at the other side of the world or the other side of the town.
We must pray that when God commands people to go that they will listen. Pray that they will not run in the opposite direction.
God is a sending and saving God. God the Father sent His Son into this world on the greatest mission trip ever undertaken. He gave his life on the cross in our place for our sins. And just as Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the fish so was the Son of Man three days and nights in the heart of the earth before God raised him from the dead and the grave spat him out in glory. As we reflect on the gospel, a gospel with a Sending God, a gospel with an obedient Son on mission among us, may we see many people make themselves available in response.
Is God sending you? Is God calling you to ‘go’? Are you praying for those who have already answered the Lord’s call?
Wherever you go, Preach the Word
What saved Nineveh was faithful preaching from the man God had sent. This is important.
It’s God’s word and its gospel truth that sets people free. It was God’s word preached at God’s command that brought a city-wide revival. In Chapter 3 and verse 2 God clearly commands Jonah to preach to the city “the message that I command you”. Please note this. Church planters and missionaries (or anyone else for that matter) have no business tampering or softening or twisting the message we have been given. It must be God’s full gospel, preached in obedience and in love. You see, this is where the power is. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.
Jonah obediently preached, – but note this comment, – “the people believed God” (Jonah 3:5). I love that verse! Jonah was preaching but God was speaking!
We must rely upon God the Holy Spirit taking it and speaking it and preaching it and applying it to the lives and hearts of the people.
May we encourage those whom God sends to be faithful with the gospel, without compromise. May we equip them with the knowledge they need to adequately convey the message of a God of love, grace, and great mercy for sinners and also of God who does not ignore sin and who commands all men everywhere to repent and trust in the finished work of Christ.
Missionaries must grasp the word they are being sent to share. Jonah did. Jonah faithfully preached what God had said and the Lord moved in revival in the city. Wherever we go, we must be faithful to Scripture. We must allow it to speak. We must keep our faith in the amazing power of God’s word.
The need for character in the one sent
God is at work in us all. He is transforming us all to the image of Christ. This is a process that never ends until we die or until the Lord returns. One of the big points this book makes is that Jonah was nothing like the God he claimed he knew.
Chapter 4 and verse 2 sets this out clearly. Jonah ran away for he lacked steadfast love, grace, and mercy. Jonah was quick to anger and would rather see a person get what he thought they deserved. Wow. If God can use a man like that, he can use any of us. But we must learn the lesson from Jonah.
As the Lord sends us out to work in His world, we must never forget that He is also at work in us, just as he did with Jonah, He will use our mission and the people we are sent to, in order to expose our own failures, sin, and need for inner renewal and repentance.
I remember one morning, in the very early days, feeling sorry for myself in the kitchen of the newly planted church and feeling a perceived lack of care from those around me, a real feeling of discouragement laced with frustration. “You plant a church and no one cares or is willing to help”, I was thinking. I was being ungrateful and un-Christlike, no doubt. Then words came to my heart immediately,- “You go to the cross and no one is thankful”. I got the point.
This is what Christian service is all about. Serving, loving and helping very often those who will not even gives thanks in response. Jesus died for an ungrateful world. I realised then that any suffering we experience as church planters is only following our Lord on a much, much lower level. We need to learn how to handle our lower tests by watching how He handled the greatest tests. He will expose our character as we serve Him.
Church planting lays bare our motives our attitudes and our areas of resistance in so many ways. We must be alert to this. God will deal will us, and we must listen and learn our lessons from Him.
Wherever we go, we must be faithful to Scripture.
It’s not only your work in a town or city that God is interested in. He is also interested in a town or city’s work in you as he uses your mission to transform and sanctify you.
Brothers and sisters, you had better believe and understand that, like Paul, that we have not yet attained, but we press on.
Are we becoming more like the God we are preaching? Are we allowing God to teach us as God is teaching Jonah at the end of this book? Just because we work for the Lord does not mean that the Lord has stopped His work in us. We must always remember that without Him we can do nothing, so the great need is to abide in him in order to bear much fruit.
Learning to value people as a priority
People are worth more than plants is a big lesson that Jonah was taught at the end of the book. People are eternal whilst material things are temporal.
Jonah loved his material blessings more than he loved the people to whom he was sent. His plant that grew up from the Lord and granted him shade made him happy. When the sovereign Lord sent the worm to destroy it, Jonah got very angry at the loss of a mere temporary plant. Yet he was not rejoicing at the salvation of eternal souls in the city. He was warped. He was a man willing to receive God’s grace and blessing but unwilling to see that grace extended to others!
He was angry at people being saved! His heart needed this issue exposing. So does ours, no doubt, for that is why God has recorded the incident in this book. God wants us to remember on our mission that people are of eternal value.
Jesus taught us that a soul is of more value than gaining the whole world. A soul is eternal, made in the image of God, and priceless. God values humanity so much that He is not willing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance. He died on the cross as a public demonstration of his love for us all. If God values humans like this, so then so should we and never allow our hearts to be side-tracked from the mission, so that this world creeps in and perverts our love and our ambitions for Christ.
God loves people. We must love as he loved.
The conversation with Jonah stops mid flow at the end of Chapter 4. That is intentional. God is always in conversation with us. We are always learning our lessons and we are to always be in conversation with him. He is always asking us questions about our love levels, our priorities, our ambitions, our idols.
He is always at work in us and He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion. May He complete the work He has sent us to do as He uses us, and may we allow Him to complete the work he also desires to do in us as we share the gospel with others.
May he teach us to see and value and love people as He does.