Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.
Bishop Assistant Pastor Phil Tonnesen told us in his devotion for our pre-Assembly online meeting that the bishop at his ordination reminded the ordinands that “the Holy Spirit will take you somewhere you do not want to go. If you wanted to go, you wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit.” Jonah really, really didn’t want to go.
Jonah 3: 1-5, 10 1The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you. 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth… 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Jonah flat-out refused God, running for all he was worth in the opposite direction. Some people require drastic measures in order to respond to God’s call. For Jonah, it included his getting swallowed by a big fish and then ending up as fish vomit (that really is the word in Hebrew) on the beach. Understandably, after this little sequence of events, Jonah acquiesces to—if not fully embraces—God’s call for him to go to Nineveh.
Now that the (unfortunate) transfer portal is a thing in college sports, college athletes are essentially free agents to move at any and every opportunity. Make no mistake about it. Jonah is no free agent. God chooses, “drafts” Jonah to get the job done in Nineveh. About 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Nineveh (today the city of Mosul in Iraq) was the capital of the Assyrian empire, the same Assyrians who destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C. Nineveh was both huge and hugely evil, and God planned to use Jonah to call the city to repentance.
All this despite the fact that his draft combine would seem to make him less than a first-round pick. He’s a coward, he has to be asked multiple times, he thinks he knows better than God what should happen, and he whines when he doesn’t get his way. He wants to do it his way instead of the coach’s (God’s) way. Which is to say that God’s draft picks are flawed people just like you and me.
That’s God’s bizarre draft strategy. Consider these biblical heroes whom God chooses and uses: Noah got drunk, Abraham was too old, Jacob was a liar, Leah was unloved, Joseph was abused, Moses couldn’t talk right. Gideon was afraid, Sampson had long hair and was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute. Jeremiah and Timothy were too young. David had an affair and was a murderer. Elijah was suicidal. Isaiah preached naked. Naomi was a widow. Job went bankrupt. John the Baptist ate bugs. Peter denied Christ. The disciples fell asleep while praying. Martha worried too much. Mary Magdalene had been demon-possessed. The Samaritan woman at the well was divorced multiple times. Oh, and Zacchaeus was too small, Paul was too religious, Timothy had an ulcer, and Lazarus was dead!
Remind me again what your excuse was? If God can use Jonah and all of the above, then surely God can and will use you. It need not be something big or flashy. As Mother Teresa used to say, “You can do no great thing. Only small things with great love.” Our small things for God, in response to God’s unconditional grace and love in Jesus, change the world. And it’s a whole lot less messy if we skip the fish vomit step.