The last couple of evenings our Bible study groups have been unpacking the story of Jonah and his encounter with God, a great storm and a bunch of very frightened sailors as recorded in Jonah chapter one.
The question we are asking is how do we as Christians relate to everyone else in the storm tossed boat? Jonah, as we remember from our last post, was a bit indifferent. He went to sleep and only woke up when the captain of the boat cried out to him to ask his God for help in the hopes that He might take mercy on the sinking ship and its crew.
For me the important thing about the crew is that they may be pagan but they are not bad people. That is probably the hardest thing in the world for us Christians to bend our heads around. We seem very good at looking down our noses at the lost as if somehow we have a superior relationship with God and are somehow special to God in a way that they are not. When I read the first chapter of Jonah it becomes very clear that the real person running away from God was the prophet Jonah and not the ships crew.
To be lost is not to be evil. To be lost simply means the person isn’t sure where they are, how they got there and how to find their way home. I’ve been lost in the woods a few times and it is a frightening experience, but once you find the right path your journey becomes relaxing and fun once again.
If we Christians would stop seeing everyone around us as evil or not worthy of our friendship because they don’t believe in God, but instead understood that people, for the most part, are simply lost and searching for a way home, our lives would change. Yes, I’m more and more believing that the problem with my Christian witness is me and not the people that God allows me to encounter along the path of life.
Philip Yancey, in his book Vanishing Grace writes, “It makes a huge difference whether I treat a nonbeliever as someone who is wrong rather than as someone who is on the way but lost.” Yancey goes on to quote Thomas Merton, “In fact, spiritual dryness is one of the most acute experiences of longing we can have.” (p. 54) Then Yancey adds, “I look inward at my own spiritual thirst, and think also of people I know. What are the symptoms? A restless search for pleasure, fear of death, boredom, addiction—any of these can betray a longing that is at root spiritual, the cries and whispers of someone who has lost his way.” p. 50
Jonah envisioned the pagans as a rebellious, hateful, murderous people who hated God and could hardly wait to do him harm. He believed he was superior to them and they were not worthy of his time or effort. In truth they simply scared him because he really knew nothing about them. He never once stopped to realize they were people just like him who loved their families, worked diligently at their jobs and lived life the best they could with the understanding they had.
In Jonah chapter one, Jonah admits to the frightened sailors that the reason the storm was on them was because of his rebellion against God and if they wanted the storm to stop they would have to throw him overboard. Instead of grabbing him and heaving him into the sea they tried to row back to land and safety. Think about that for a moment. There is an inherent goodness in these sailors that they don’t want to be responsible for the death of Jonah, a stranger, but instead try by their own works to save themselves and him.
We are unjust to our neighbors and friends when we simply see them as people who need to be saved instead of people that God loves unconditionally. If we honestly want to see neighbors and friends and family in the Kingdom of God, then we need to see them as people that God loves and died for and cares about. They are simply people who are lost on their journey and could use a loving hand to direct them back to the path.
Instead of scheming on how to get a Bible tract into our neighbor’s hand, maybe we need to lend a hand when they need it. Instead of seeing people as mission projects we would represent Jesus a great deal better by being friends to them.
When people are lost they don’t need me or anyone else to beat them up for stumbling off the path. They need a compass and a good map to help them back onto the trail. All God asks of us is to provide the compass and the map and He will do the rest. And how do we provide those things? We let them see how the map and compass works in our life. Ah! That’s the kicker. It is much easier for us to tell someone to watch a Christian television program, read a tract or go to church than model the gospel in our own life.
Jonah could have told the sailors a great deal about God, but that didn’t change the fact that he was running away from God and the sailors knew it. It is easier to tell someone about Jesus than to reflect Jesus in our life, but it is the reflection of Jesus that draws people to Him.
There is a great longing in the hearts of men and women and I believe that it can only be filled by the grace of God. As Christians we need to remember that. It is not a list of doctrines or constantly pointing out their failures that changes the hearts of the lost, but instead a map and a compass that guides them back to the path.
God is calling for a revival in the hearts of professed believers. Maybe that revival is simply loving others with the passion that Jesus had for the lost. Instead of running away from society, and ultimately God, we need to offer a helping hand that says I really care about you and what happens to you—not because I want to save you, but because you matter.
* 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…