“But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’” Jonah 4:1–3 (NIV84)
You know immediately that something was wrong with Jonah. He just got done preaching the most effective sermon ever recorded in Scripture. By shear numbers won to the kingdom of God it surpassed Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost and Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill. By shear numbers it beat any single sermon that Billy Graham has ever preached. Jonah, used as a tool in the hands of God, won over the whole city of Nineveh. Quite an accomplishment. Yet he was displeased and angry. You have to be kidding! What was wrong with this wayward prophet? We get a pretty clear picture when we read his discourse with God. “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home?” He was basically telling God, “I know you so well that I knew this was going to happen!” But isn’t this a good outcome? Jonah then told God the actual reason he fled to Tarshish. Listen: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in Love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Did you catch it? Jonah provided one of the clearest descriptions of the heart of God for His people, yet he didn’t truly understand it at the same time. He had grown up a Jew — a chosen and favored race. Jonah felt entitled to God’s grace and mercy. But the Ninevites? Now they deserved none of God’s grace. According to Jonah, they deserved to die. Jonah actually ran away from God, thinking if he ran far enough he could cause the demise of the Ninevites. Meet the real heart of Jonah — judge and jury all in one. His final words to God, “Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die.” What he was really saying was that he would rather die than see the Ninevites experience God’s grace and live.
WOW! What happens to the heart of God-fearing men and women who have tasted of God’s grace but have soured its true meaning? These people begin their faith journeys as prodigal sons or daughters, being welcomed back into the family, and then start to feel like favored children entitled to the love and grace they experience. And what’s worse, beyond their own entitlement, they begin to exclude those whom they judge to be unacceptable or unredeemable. Woe to the person, church, or organization who in the name of God excludes others from the same grace they freely received. Because in so doing, they (like Jonah) exclude themselves from that very same grace. Jonah was telling the God of the universe and the God of all grace and mercy that He had no right to be Himself to the people Jonah didn’t like. God’s heart must have been broken. He moved heaven and earth to get to Jonah’s heart. He used storms, raging seas, a big fish, and a mighty sermon, but at this point all for naught. Jonah wasn’t even listening to His own message (man, how many times I have been guilty of that?).
What is my point in this harsh but real-world devotion? We need to keep our hearts soft. We need to see every moment through God’s grace. We need to never lose sight that we were as lost as the Ninevites before the Lord touched us with His love. We need to see the world around us through God’s eyes and not our prejudices. We need to remember that it’s about God, not us!
May God’s grace be new for us each and every day.