Grace Through the Storm
Elementary Sunday School memories flood back when I think of Jonah. To be totally honest, his story of being swallowed by a great fish for not obeying God left me rather frightened. The Sunday School version does not exactly market God as someone you’d want to draw near to, but rather simply obey so you don’t get tossed into the sea and barfed up on the shore. Even as an adult, it's tempting to wonder, "Am I in the middle of this storm because of something I've done wrong? Is God punishing me?"
When I take a closer look with my big girl eyes at the story of Jonah, I see a totally different God. One who, in his mercy, provided a storm. In fact, the word “provided” is used four times in this short, four chapter book. We see God providing so many times, it has to make us pause and reflect on who he is, and what he might be trying to provide us with as we face storms in our lives.
1. A calling:
The book of Jonah opens with instructions, the ones he so infamously disobeyed. “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it…” God says. But these aren’t merely instructions. This is Jonah’s calling. A divinely appropriated task. God created us and desires us to participate in his work. Every one of us is given an invitation to do God’s work in our homes, places of work, and communities. Every one of us has a calling. To me, this very fact alone makes me feel so special and valuable. God cares what we do and he gives us instructions on how to do it. What we do for him really matters. This book seems to show how important it is to God that we fulfill our calling. Is there something God’s placed on your heart that you are putting on the back burner?
2. A re-rout:
Just a few verses after Jonah’s calling is issued, we see him sleeping in a boat headed in the opposite direction. We all know what happens next, a storm hits, causing all the sailors to panic, try to determine the source of the storm, and eventually throw Jonah overboard. But without this storm, Jonah would have kept right on sailing away from all that God had for him. He knew he was running from God (see 1:10 and 12) and without this physical storm to stop him in his tracks, he would have battled an internal storm for the rest of his life. This was a wakeup call, provided by God in his mercy, to get Jonah back on track. Is it possible God is trying to re-rout you back onto his path of peace?
3. A Rescue:
One might think a boat or life raft may have been a more appropriate rescue tool. I, for one, would rather see the coast guard approach than a fish, but we see in 1:17 that God “provided a great fish to swallow Jonah and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.” As odd as this sounds, imagine a realistic alternative - Sharks? The “monster of the deep” (see Job 7:12)? Again we see God’s mercy and provision, and we see Jonah’s response. Jonah prays, turns his heart back to God, and acknowledges the salvation he’s been given. How is God providing and caring for you in the midst of this storm? How will you respond?
4. A second chance:
Chapter three opens with God directing Jonah to Nineveh a second time, providing Jonah with a second chance to fulfill his calling. Not only that, we see God providing the message Jonah is to give. Clearly, God does not want Jonah to miss out on this opportunity. Wouldn’t it have been easier to let Jonah drown in the ocean and simply choose someone else to go to Nineveh? How can we choose to respond differently when God mercifully gives us chance after chance to follow his instructions and fulfill our callings?
5. A valuable lesson:
Finally, in chapter four, God provides Jonah with an experience through a vine, worm, and scorching east wind. Again, he demonstrates his mercy to Jonah, and to all people and creatures. He shows how he’s never content to leave his people in sin, but goes to great lengths to bring them back to him. How might God be guiding you back to humble dependence on him?
As you navigate the storms of life, it’s tempting to wonder why God is allowing these things to happen and even ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” Take some time to look at the provision of God and look for ways he may be mercifully steering you back to him.
Meditate on this verse and see what God might have for you:
“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” - Jonah 2:8