This week at 5twelve, we just finished up a series about the book of (and the prophet) Jonah. The subtitle was “Overcoming Reluctance,” and it fit perfectly. Many of my church friends have said, “I had no idea Jonah was such a… character!” There are some Bible stories we have heard since infancy but have never really studied, and Jonah is a great example. We all remember that he was in the sea and God saved him from drowning by sending a big fish to swallow him up (and then vomit him out after three days, on dry land). What we’ve overlooked is that at every step of the way, Jonah resisted and rejected God’s plan for him, his life, and the people God sent him to rescue.
This past Sunday, Jurie rounded out the series with a discussion of the end of Jonah’s story. Jonah finally went to Nineveh, a city of people he hated, and told them that they’d be overthrown in 40 days. He didn’t say, “If you don’t repent, you’ll be overthrown in 40 days.” He didn’t say, “The God of Israel is merciful and will save you from destruction in 40 days, but only if you turn from your sinful ways.” He said, “In 40 days, Nineveh will be overthrown.” Then, he sat back and watched, hoping that they wouldn’t repent and would be destroyed. Instead, they did repent and turn toward God, and God was merciful. Jonah was NOT HAPPY that his mission succeeded, and he sat there wishing he could just die already.
I call Jonah’s attitude here “reluctance in retrospect.” He was reluctant ahead of time, for sure, but even after he had finished the work God had laid out for him, he was sorry he had done it! He had an all-out argument with God about His good work in Nineveh. Who has the guts to throw a temper tantrum at God when He fulfills His plans? Well, Jonah for one…
Can you relate?
On January 30th, a group of 5twelve-ers went downtown and joined Mission Possible at Church Under the Bridge (CUB). Amy, Chris, and Zach led worship (masterfully, I might add), and others helped with everything from setting up chairs to distributing food and clothing to praying over the congregants.
And I was there to speak. When Kasey and Garland asked if I would speak at CUB, I didn’t hesitate. Public speaking is something that horrifies a lot of people, but I don’t mind it as long as I have a few hours to prepare. I guess it’s a little like blogging out loud.
Anyway, when we got there, we found out that someone else had also been scheduled to speak. We discussed it, and she said she was happy to save her message for next time, since I was ready to go. She is someone who speaks at CUB regularly. I’ve seen her, and she’s on fire! For some reason, that made me a little nervous. What if what I’d prepared wasn’t as good as what she was planning to say? What if I wasn’t firey or excited or engaging enough? Still, I shrugged it off and thought, “God asked me to be here, so I’m going to do my best.”
My message that day was advertised as being on the topic of healing, but the healing aspect was really just a tag at the end. Really, it was a message about the experiential compassion of Jesus. You can check out my original “script” here. The majority of the sermon was really about who Jesus was before, during, and after His life and death on earth. At the end, I planned to just say, “Cry out to Jesus. Trust that He really does love you, He really does know what you’re going through, and He really has the power to heal you–from mind, to body, to spirit.”
The wind was blowing my notes around, and I couldn’t find my scripture references, and I lost my train of thought, even though I’d been over my notes a hundred times. Instead of staying “on script,” near the end I just wandered off into a rambling something or other about healing and how much we need Jesus for that kind of healing and, “Raise your hand if you want healing in your life!” and how we have direct access to Him and need no intercessor. Nothing I said was against doctrine, but I left my calm, rational, well-argued comfort zone into something more free-form and, well, louder.
Then I just… stopped and walked off “stage,” and Amy took over from me and rounded things off with a time of prayer and worship. As I stood there listening to the music and standing close to my husband to stay warm, I thought, “What on earth just happened? What did I say?” I had instant “reluctance in retrospect.” “I should’ve let the other girl speak. I should’ve stayed on script. I should’ve memorized my scripture references. What ever gave me impression that this was a good idea anyway?”
But here’s the really awful thing. That yucky feeling stayed with me for the rest of the day, then the next, and through the entire week. While the rest of my life kept ticking along, every little pull at my energy or emotional strength felt heavier than usual because I was already under this ugly, black cloud. By this past Sunday, I was a nervous wreck. I was angry with God, not just for putting me on stage at CUB, but for all the other insults and injuries in my week. I was annoyed with having to “church” that day. I was tense, and frazzled, and exhausted.
I generally only cry on Sundays. There’s something about the music and the messages–the way God seems to be talking directly to me. This time, I told myself I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t feel, I wouldn’t respond, I wouldn’t succumb to God’s will for peace in my life. I was mad and didn’t want to let Him win. It sounds so stupid… how could I not let the all-powerful One win?
My struggle on Sunday wasn’t just emotional or even spiritual. It was also a literal, physical struggle. Every muscle of my body tensed as God’s hand laid on my shoulders. I stiffened as He sang in my ear, “I’m just too good to leave you here.” I cried, “No, no, no, no. I won’t let you. Leave me alone. You did this to me.” And He held me close and said, “Are you Jonah sitting under the tree, stomping your feet and wishing you could die?” I thought, “I just feel so unworthy, so frail, so tired, so powerless.” He said, through Oscar and Melissa, “I have made you worthy by my blood.” He said, through Jurie’s sermon, “I saved Nineveh through Jonah, even though Jonah’s message was far less than inspiring. You did fine last Sunday, but even if you hadn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered as much as you think. It’s about Me and not you anyway.” He said, through Amy’s song, “Tear down your pride, your idols, your desire for earthly glory. Stop holding back from Me; I didn’t hold back from you.” And in my heart, I could see and feel myself laying down each burden at the foot of the cross. I could literally, physically feel the weight coming off.
Monday morning, I awoke as a new person. I felt joy again. I felt revived, which literally means reborn. My reluctance was replaced with joy.
Are you ever mad at God? It’s OK, He can take it. Stomp your feet. Cry, and wail, and fight. But don’t close your ears–your literal ones or your spiritual ones. God speaks peace, even into our tantrums, if we only have ears to hear.
Do you have a story of life change? We would love to hear it. Let us hear how God is transforming your life and the lives of those around you through the power of Christ. Drop us a line at [email protected] or submit a form using the button below! We’ll get in touch and work with you to share your story.