Have you ever wished that evangelism was easier? What if people came to us? What if their questions were so hungry and direct that we couldn’t help but point them to God?
As I’ve read the book of Jonah in the past, his story has always stirred up a negative view in my mind. I mean, here is this preacher/prophet who God directly tells to “get up and go” to a lost people group (Ninevites) and preach. And Jonah does get up…but then he goes in the exact opposite direction than God has asked. Picturing a preacher in blatant and knowing disobedience to God’s command to reach out to people stirs up a strong feeling of disappointment in me – and then I remember my evangelistic failures.
Now, some people say that Jonah didn’t want to head to Nineveh because it was a dangerous place. I disagree. I think Jonah hated the Ninevites. I say this because in Jonah 1:12, Scripture records that he would rather be thrown into the sea than to go to Nineveh. And then in chapter four, after Nineveh repents (spoiler alert), Jonah mourns. I’m convinced that Jonah ran from God’s command to go preached to Nineveh for no reason other than his hatred for them. This belief has always added to the disappointed feelings I have toward Jonah – and then I consider Jonah’s situation.
Imagine that your nation is under attack by a neighboring country. These attacks lead to the physical change of your borders and the eventual conquest of your homeland. This is exactly the situation of the northern kingdom during and after Jonah’s time (2 Kings 14:23-25, 2 Kings 17:5-6). Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was not just a dangerous place, it was an enemy of Jonah’s country. How evangelistic would you be toward an enemy trying to conquer you? As disappointed as I get when I read Jonah, when I consider Jonah’s circumstances, I relate to him a little more – and that disappointment is replaced by conviction.
I feel conviction when I read the story of Jonah because his story is not meant to make me feel disappointed in him, it’s meant to help me see the disobedience in me – the lack of love and evangelism, in me. As a Christian, Jesus says that I am to be known by love, and yet at the beginning of this post I asked if you wished evangelism were easier. Did you relate to that question? Consider this: compared to Jonah’s environment, our situation for sharing our faith is far easier. At this present time, I haven’t been called to be a permanent missionary to a nation that hates the United States. I’ve been called to witness to the people around me. In short, I have no excuse to fail at evangelism – and yet I do. And this is why I feel convicted when I read Jonah’s story.
The most remarkable statement in the book of Jonah comes at the oddest of times. In Jonah 1:9, he is caught by the sailors on the ship as he’s trying to run away from God. And when they ask him to identify himself and his background, he says, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” The word “worship” can be translated fear or serve. Think of Jonah uttering these three words in the midst of being caught in his disobedience, “I fear, worship, serve, the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” As I read the story I can’t help but wonder if the irony of his word choice struck him in that moment. For me though, and for the sailors on the ship with Jonah, his statement is a reminder of the God we serve.
The God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land had asked Jonah to tell other people about Him, and Jonah disobeyed. The God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land, He’s the God who made me, who holds my heartbeat in his hands, who knows my name, and saved my soul – that God has asked me to tell others about Him. What would my story look like if it were written down like Jonah’s? Would mine be disappointing to the reader? I do wish evangelism were easier, but Jonah’s story reminds me that it could be so incredibly harder. His story reminds me that even if sharing my faith can be hard, even to the point of death, then the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land, is worth it. His Son, Jesus, died for me, you, and people like the Ninevites, and He’s asked us to tell the world about what He’s done for them.
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