1 “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:
2 ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’
3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, ‘How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.’” Jonah 1:1-6
How would you like to be given a commission by God to go to one of the great cities of the world and preach against it? Now imagine going to the capitol city of one of the fiercest and most savage nations on earth and preaching against the nation.
Jonah, when given this commission just as many of us would have done if we had been in his sandals, ran away. What is amazing about Jonah in his fear of preaching to the pagans of Nineveh, he ran into the arms of a group of pagan sailors that would eventually kill him.
Here is what he did. “But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” (v. 3)
Jonah’s big plan was to sail away from God and go to Tarshish where he supposed God would never find him. Instead, according to verse four and five a great storm arose and became so bad that the sailors even threw their cargo overboard to lighten the ship so that they wouldn’t capsize and drown in the fury of the waves and wind.
The sailors did another amazing and unexpected thing when faced with the prospect of immediate death, they began to pray to their gods. How often we remember God when we are faced with real life problems. We may not be much at communicating with God when things are going well, but let storms come into our lives and we pray. We don’t pray prayers of worship and adoration for God, but instead we just plea and pledge that we will change our ways or start and do good, whatever it takes if God will only hear our prayer. What we do when we think we are about to drown in problems and sorrows is bargain with God.
The sailors were bargaining with their gods. Pleading and promising anything if their god would just calm the storm and save them from a watery death. Now here’s what is important about their prayers and it is the fact that these men, though considered pagan by pious men like Jonah, had gods that they worshipped. They believed that there was a greater power than them and that they could plead with that god and he would answer.
This is an amazing concept for us to grasp a hold of in our own ministry to our society here in the west. We believe that our culture has totally rejected God, but that may not be true. Our society may only have rejected a gospel that is represented by men like Jonah. If the very prophets of God are too frightened to stand up against the prevailing culture, then what power is to be found in Christianity to fight the storms of life? If being a Christian doesn’t draw on the power of God or have the faith to believe in God’s calling and directives then why should a non-Christian give it a second look?
Is this why our own society trusts so much in their own gods; the gods of power, sex, wealth, science, self-reliance, top-notch education and high profile jobs? Christianity is a supernatural faith and if we have no faith in that aspect of it then we really have the same value system and beliefs as our non-believing neighbors.
I am going to be brutally honest with what I believe God is telling us about our interest and commitment to a lost world. Look at verse five and six, “But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, ‘How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.’” (v. 5b-6)
While the world around him, the boat and its crew, are struggling to survive a raging storm Jonah goes below deck and falls asleep. He had turned his back on the situation and in utter disinterest goes to sleep.
But, notice the rebuke of the captain, the pagan captain, to this indifference on Jonah’s part. He says. “How can you sleep?” That is a fair question considering the seriousness of the storm that is about to swallow them up. But, it is the next words of this pagan captain that stuns us when we read the story, “Get up and call on your God!”
Do you know what this sailor is really saying to Jonah? He is stating the obvious, if you serve God then why don’t you do something? In fact he even states, “Maybe He will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” He is astonished that Jonah, a prophet of God, is so indifferent about the lives of the people on the boat with him. He might as well simply shout out to Jonah, “Don’t you love us, don’t you care enough about us your fellow travellers that you will wake up out of your sleep and call on your God to save us?”
Let me ask a very bold question. Do we love the lost or do they disgust us? How we answer that question says a lot about our role as prophets to a lost nation. Read the rest of chapter one of Jonah and an amazing truth becomes clear. These pagans do everything they can to keep Jonah alive. They show him much more concern and passion than he ever felt for them. (v. 13-14)
As Christians we are losing the struggle against indifference, atheism and culture. We are losing it, not because men and women are evil, but because we are asleep in the bottom of the boat while the world drowns. Why is that? If the story of Jonah is any indication it is because we don’t love the lost enough to do anything about it.
When Jesus came down from the Mount of transfiguration the disciples told Him of a demon possessed boy they couldn’t heal and wanted to know why they couldn’t cast out the demon. (see Matthew 17:14-21) Jesus answered them saying that kind of spirit could only be removed by prayer. If our children, spouses, friends and neighbors as well as strangers at our gate are going to be influenced by the gospel then we must become people of prayer. I am talking about serious believing prayer where we take serious our calling to be intercessors for a dying culture.
It is only when we pray and spend time in the word of God that we will be filled with the power of the Spirit that drives us out into society to proclaim the true fulfillment of all our cultures longings and desires – Jesus.
Oh, by the way, in the New Testament we find another storm and this time Jesus is asleep in the bottom of the boat and the disciples call out “don’t you care that we are about to drown?” Now that’s another interesting story.
* Please remember to pray for the Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith in many countries around the world. There is a great evil settling on this earth and we must be vigilant in our prayers and stay close to Christ. Our hope is in Christ and he is faithful to his people. Please take the time to read about what is taking place in the world around us at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…
** Note of interest from Ruth: The picture of the boat on this blog is a boat in our little harbour here in St. Andrews. We can see it out our back window and I’ve taken many pictures of it over the years. It may not look that bad in the picture but it was a very windy stormy day. You wouldn’t have wanted to be asleep in this boat because a few hours after I took this picture it sank. I still take pictures out the back window but it’s pretty empty. We are anticipating summer and all the sailboats that should be there soon to fill up the harbour – of course you wouldn’t know it by looking out there now!