By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
If we're honest, we're probably as dramatic as Jonah. When he receives a calling from the Lord to warn the Ninevites (Assyrians) about God's impending judgment—i.e. giving them some time to repent—Jonah runs. Not only does he run, but he flees in the complete opposite direction of Nineveh. As the story goes, God finds a way to transport Jonah to the great city, in the stomach of a large fish (Jonah 1), but something happens in the in-between that we shouldn't miss. God makes himself known to a group of sailors who accompany Jonah in his flight away from God's plan for him. And their hearts change.
So can God use the seasons where we run away from him? Let's explore the story of Jonah to find out more.
How Did God Use Jonah's Running for His Glory?
Jonah onboards a vessel heading to Tarshish, a sea port in Spain at the ends of the earth. At least, in the ancient mindset. The sailors don't know why he boards. They ask no questions. Perhaps Jonah had paid them enough to not dig into his background.
But they start getting really interested in his identity when a storm hits the boat. They find Jonah in the belly of the ship, cast lots, and discover that he has caused the Lord to stir up the waters. Jonah explains his situation and the Lord he serves. Then he tells them to throw him into the water. We can probably guess Jonah wanted the waters to kill him because he frequently asks for death in Jonah 3 and Jonah 4 when God does not send his fiery wrath on the Assyrians.
Jonah wanted to do literally anything but give the enemies of God a second chance.
But instead the waters calm. A large fish swallows Jonah. But we cannot miss what happens with the pagan sailors.
Jonah 1:16: "At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him."
Because Jonah ran away, this opened up an opportunity for these men, who served other gods, to learn about the one true God. During the storm, they cry out to their deities, and nothing happens. But Jehovah placates the waves. And they discover who has the true power and make vows to him.
So not only does God get Jonah back en route to prophesy to the Ninevites, but he also uses what Jonah intends for evil, for good (Genesis 50:20).
Why Do We Run Away?
We can easily mock Jonah and his dramatic death wishes upon himself and Assyria. In fact, when my small group read through the book last night, everyone chuckled. But if we truly examine ourselves and our actions, we know that God has called us to do some pretty uncomfortable missions. Jonah had to love the same people who flayed alive his fellow Israelites in the desert a couple of decades prior to these events—and that just skims the surface for the viciousness of this people group. God had called Jonah to the one thing he never wanted to do.
And sometimes, he does the same to us.
Most often, our gut instinct takes over, and we flee from our situation. For instance, God has clearly called me to be single for a period of time. He hasn't told me if this period would end anytime soon. But it was probably the worst news I could receive.
So what did I do? I went onto dating apps, went on dates, join singles small groups, joined singles Christian groups on Facebook, went on dates friends set up for me, etc.—and I got my heart really broken. Shocker, I didn't find a husband.
And so God asked me to return to Nineveh. To return to my singleness and to embrace this season. So I did, and I have.
During that "running away" season, I've had many guys tell me that I treated them well and helped to set their expectation for a godly spouse. So God did use that time of disobedience not only to shape me, but to shape those with whom I came into contact with.
We run away because we convince ourselves that we have a better plan than God. If he would only listen to our prayers a little more or hear the cries of our hearts, he would understand and would give us the things we want—at least, it certainly feels that way. But, like always, God's plan prevails. If we try to run away, we may find ourselves in the belly of a large fish, traveling back to the place in which we fled.
So how can he use those fishy times and the times right before the storm hits our boat, and we go back to Assyria?
How Can God Use Our Disobedience?
As explained before, God has used times of disobedience in my life to transform me. I'd gotten off the phone with a friend the other day who just escaped a very toxic relationship. She told me, "I learned a great deal about how I ought to be treated. But I also have a lot of sympathy now for women who are in abusive relationships. I know why they don't leave them. And I can offer help in ways that I couldn't before to get them out."
Our disobedience can often lead to some well-needed humility. But it also can help us to aid others in the future from entering the same situations. And, when they ignore our advice—as they usually do—we can be there with them when they experience the hurt. They can know that we truly know their situation, and aren't offering flippant advice like everyone else who doesn't understand.
Also, God can use our disobedience to bring others to him. Maybe when we go wayward, we'll encounter people who may not have heard the message of God otherwise. God uses every season, including the rock-bottom ones in our lives. So let us continue to cling to him and trust that he can divert any evil into something good.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/BrianAJackson
Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author 21+ books. More than 1400 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.