Return to God
Jonah 1:1-3, 3:1-5, 10
“How in the world did I end up here?” Despite our sophisticated GPS systems, it’s a common question. It’s a question we ask often in life, too. We start out with good intentions. We want to be great parents, do well in school, or take care of our health. But we falter somewhere along the way. It may be subtle at first, but after a while we look back & realize we are not the people we wanted to be. At that point we often wonder, what will it take to get back on course?
The same cycle can happen in our relationship with God. Laziness, a lack of priorities, & even outright sin has a way of lulling us to sleep in our daily walk with Jesus.
So here’s the big question: If you get off track, what will it take to get your attention & bring you back to God?
In the Book of Jonah, we see a man who got off course in his relationship with God. Jonah’s move away from God’s instruction was not subtle; he flatly refused to listen to God. But God got Jonah’s attention in a most unexpected way. As we’ll see this morning, God often acts to get our attention & draw us back to Him.
< Jonah 1:1-3 >
Jonah should have said ‘yes’ to God. He should have obeyed. But he didn’t.
God called Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh & call the people there to turn away from their sin. Nineveh had 120,000 people who couldn’t tell their right hand from their left. It was a big city. It was also a pagan city, full of clueless people. God wanted to use Jonah to get their attention & do something about their spiritual condition.
How did Jonah respond? He ran in the opposite direction. It’s almost comical that Jonah thought he could actually run from God’s presence – almost. Jonah failed to realize that he could never escape God’s attention. God sees all & knows all.
When God brought a massive storm against Jonah’s boat, Jonah finally began to see the danger of his rebellion. Jonah knew he was under God’s judgment because of his disobedience, & he was risking the lives of everyone on the boat with him. Jonah thought Tarshish would be far enough to escape God’s call on his life. He found a ship to take him there, but his journey ended in disaster. (Tarshish, we believe, was on the western coast of Spain.)
The same principles are at work in our lives. There are times when God gives us a clear call to return to Him, but we respond by taking the first ship going in the opposite direction. We race toward a place, person, or thing we think will bring fulfillment, yet we only find more emptiness & perhaps even destruction. Running from God always leads to pain.
Thankfully though, the story doesn’t end there.
< Jonah 3:1-5 >
Tossed overboard to spare the ship & its crew, Jonah was miraculously swallowed by a great fish. He spent 3 days & nights inside the creature. It’s not surprising that Jonah was moved to pray & worship God during that unprecedented interlude, & he vowed to obey God’s command. When the timing was right, God caused the fish to vomit Jonah unto dry land.
Try to picture that scene: Jonah lay on the sand – exhausted, filthy, & smelling incredibly nasty. And that was the moment God called out to him a second time!
God told Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh, “In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished!” Talk about a message that doesn’t lend itself to making friends! Can you imagine walking the streets of Atlanta or Winston-Salem & yelling, “Your city is about to crumble!” You might get arrested or beaten. You surely wouldn’t make any friends. Yet Jonah did what was difficult. It wasn’t an easy task, but he was obedient to God & faithful to God’s message. No doubt it is harder to follow God than to stay in step with this world.
Then something remarkable happened: the people of Nineveh actually responded! They repented of their sins & believed God. To display their repentance, they called for a national fast & put on sackcloth. Even the king of Nineveh repented. He changed from his royal robe into sackcloth to show his own repentance before God. The king charged everyone in Nineveh to call out earnestly before God so that He might change His mind & not overthrow the city. God used Jonah’s message & obedience to convince the people that He was a righteous God, rightfully & fully capable of destroying them because of their evil ways.
Because they believed this about God, the people of Nineveh had the opportunity to discover another part of God’s character: grace.
< Jonah 3:10 >
The story that weaves through the Book of Jonah is the story of what happens when people respond to what God is calling them to do. This is exactly the message we need to hear in order to experience a spiritual awakening.
First, when we fail to obey God, strong consequences can result from that sin. Jonah spent 3 days in the belly of a fish. It could have been worse. He might have drowned when the sailors threw him over the side of that ship. God could have killed him right there in that moment. Instead, God showed grace. Sometimes God brings pain into our lives so that we will wake up before we bring complete destruction on ourselves.
Second, blessing is found in obedience. Even though Jonah didn’t know what was going to happen in Nineveh, he was obedient - & God was faithful. The people responded. The king led the people to repentance before God, & the city was spared.
I don’t know who coined this statement, but I love its truth: “Someone is waiting for you on the other side of your obedience.” A huge city full of dying people was waiting on the other side of Jonah’s obedience. If God is burdening your heart to do something, you can be sure He is preparing someone or something to happen on the other side of your obedience.
Let me ask you: Do you want to see a spiritual awakening in your family? It starts with your own repentance. Do you desire for God to start a great revival in our church? Let Him revive your own life. Do you want God to change our community, our nation, or our world? Start by letting Him change you.
Groups & communities won’t experience renewal & awakening until individuals experience renewal & awakening.
How can we be open to God’s call & answer when it comes? Let me make 3 suggestions:
First, be sensitive to God’s voice. Don’t let yourself become numb toward God. Immerse yourself in Bible study & prayer, asking God to make you more sensitive to His voice.
Disciple BS prompted my call to ministry
Second, respond with obedience. When you hear God telling you to do something in the days to come, do it! Repentance isn’t necessary when we obey God’s call in the first place.
Looking for a “stop sign” during the process
Third, repent when necessary. None of us will obey perfectly. When you find yourself wandering from God, repent, turn away from your disobedience, & turn back to God.
Spiritual renewal happens as we return to God. But you must be willing & prepared to always say ‘yes’ to God – even before He asks you to respond.