Oh my God, please help me!

The sailors were terrified, and each one cried out to his god. They hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to make it lighter. Now Jonah had gone down into the hold of the vessel to lie down and was deep in sleep. Jonah 1:5

"Most sailors are pious." -The Talmud
"He that would learn to pray, let him go to sea." -George Herbert

Have you ever really been in trouble and cried out to God? It was probably not at a church or religious meeting. It happened to me in the ocean. I cried out for God to save me and a man named James did. Other people I know have had a similar experience in the hospital. I know someone else who cried out to God while in a plane that was in real danger.

When you are in a real crisis, it's just you and you need God's help. I was alone, without my friends, family, church, car, or home. It was just me in the mighty ocean. As big and powerful as the ocean is, God is bigger and more powerful. I had the most profound experience of being in need of God's intervention. That was the experience of the sailors in Jonah's story.

The sailors also threw all of their cargo overboard to lighten the ship's load. In the storm that was so powerful that they knew it could wreck their ship, they not only called out to their gods, but they did what they could do to make the ship lighter, which would make it ride the storm better. They gave up their commercial enterprise and took the loss of their goods in order to try to save themselves.

The text says that "each one cried out to his own god". This is a matter of fact statement that these sailors were probably not believers in the the God of of the Hebrews. The point I think that the writer of the story makes is not to evaluate the sailors theology, but to take note of their ardent prayers. They were grabbing for the only levers they knew.

We don't know the theology of the sailors, but we do know that they were crying out to God or a god in their own way. Perhaps the main reason that the author notes this is to contrast their actions to what Jonah was doing or not doing at the same time.

There are many people who believe, but don't belong to a fellowship of believers. There are also many people who belong to the fellowship of believers, who themselves are not believers. We can be fooled into believing that attending religious meetings and even serving and knowledge make one a believer. There are people who are members and even leaders who are only doing so because it "looks good". It looks good on your life resume. But that person's secret relationship with God is zero.

There are many people who like Jesus but are put off with the church. Church people think that these folks need to get in line and come home. But what if the truth is that the church is full of unbelieving believers and the world is full of wandering saints? What if the pagan sailors in Jonah's story were closer to the heart of God than his chosen Prophet?

The word "church" is very misunderstood today. Most people know that it does not mean "building". But it also does not mean institution or service or system or club-house, nor class-room, army, hospital, nor ministry. Church means gathering. A gathering is a group of people. It has nothing to do with a pastor preaching or offerings taken or a worship services. These are all traditions that we've added on. When Jesus said, "I will build my church", he was saying he would build his group of people, gathered around him; who he later said would, "go into all the earth to preach and make disciples".

What does that have to do with Jonah's story? The point is that God is all about saving people and calling people to himself. The story of Jonah gets us out of the building and into the streets. Where is God? Is God there at your religious meeting and you go there to find God and feel good being with God? Or is God on the streets and in the ship in danger on the high seas? Isn't the meeting a place to go to after having adventures with God among people who don't know Him? Look at Jesus with his disciples around the fire at night, gathered.

What if this ship with it's sailors on the ocean is a picture of the the people of our world in a storm. The people of God, who know God, who have the good news are there too; but off in a corner, asleep! That's bad news. But the good news is that the center of God's story and God's plan is not his people or his called and activated ones. God is the center. It is His story. God uses people, but people do not bring salvation. The message remains true even when the messengers are flawed. God being God, has work-arounds.

Hard discipleship

But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, so that there was a great storm on the sea; the ship looked like it might be broken to pieces. Jonah 1:4

Jonah had a clear assignment from the Lord and he instead did the opposite. God's "Plan A" seemed too hard. Jonah didn't know that it was a "Plan A" and that "Plan B" would be harder. When we disobey because we believe that obedience is too hard, we actually send ourselves into "the school of hard knocks." It is ironic that the low road ends up being more painful than the steep path we avoided.

When we have not died to ourselves (Matthew 16:24), we are living for ourselves and we measure things by, "What's in it for me," "How will this make me feel," or "Is this convenient for me?" We evaluate requests from others and from God through our self(ishness).

God had to "bring the bottom up" for Jonah. We might know someone who is going through some hard discipline. We try to rescue them when they have not yet learned their lesson, yielded to God, died to self, or hit bottom. Then God will have to send another, perhaps bigger storm into that person's life in order to bring them to obedience.

In this story, God sent the storm; but every storm is not sent by God. When Jesus calmed the storm (Mark 4:37-39), it was not a storm that God had sent. By the same token, every earthquake and storm is not sent by God to discipline humanity.

Lastly, I believe that we can infer from Jonah, that in his story, God sent the storm because of his disobedience. God loves the whole world and desires that all humanity be saved. But it is God's children who God disciplines, also out of love. What we have here is a calamity coming upon a group of people because of the one person, of whom the story is about. This one person has a problem in his relationship with God that God is dealing with. The storm affects everyone around the one person that God is disciplining.

I think that Christians often think that storms are hitting them or their area because of the "sinners," when it is really God trying to get the attention of the believers. Remember 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If my people who belong to me will humbly pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land."

Five gears in reverse

One day long ago, God's Word came to Jonah, Amittai's son: "Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They're in a bad way and I can't ignore it any longer." But Jonah got up and went the other direction, running away from God. He went down to the port of Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board, joining those going to Tarshish—as far away from God as he could get. Jonah 1:1-3 (MSG)

Here we have the account of the prophet of God doing the opposite of what God told him to do. It is peculiar in that it is the only example of this kind of behavior from the "capital P" Prophets of the Old Testament. It's interesting that the text says that Jonah wanted to get as far away from God as possible. It was like God said to him that he was on the move in Nineveh, and God wanted Jonah to go there and speak and Jonah said, with his feet, "No way, I do not want to go; I will go the opposite way to get away from going with you."

Was Jonah afraid the Ninevites would kill him? Or did Jonah fear that his preaching, with God in it, would cause these "bad" people to repent? Maybe in Jonah's mind they did not deserve a chance to repent. He was perhaps hoping that God would just send a natural disaster or raise up an invading army to take care of them.

We have the luxury of reading the whole book of Jonah and finding out what happens in the end, but at this point, Jonah had a decision to make about following God. He made the wrong decision. But, even when we make a wrong decision, it's not always the end of the story; because God's graciousness, goodness, mercy, and love are always greater than our stubborn, dumb, foolish disobedience.

God moved to call Jonah, and Jonah moved away from God. The drama here is, will God respond to Jonah's doing the opposite? Does God pursue those who run from him? Jonah said in a sense, "this assignment is too hard, too crazy, not fair, and doesn't make sense! So I quit! I'm going to get as far away from you and this job!"

Jonah really reacted strongly and impulsively. God's assignment for him really touched a nerve. This story illustrates that the people God chooses to use are not perfect; far from it. Mysteriously, God chooses to gloriously gift people who will break under that gifting. It doesn't make sense from our perspective. We want to train people and get them mature enough to handle the anointing and the responsibilities. When a person in ministry gets into trouble, we look and say things like they should not have been ministering on that scale because of their brokenness. But all through the Bible, God chooses to use people that have major issues. It offends us. We are vexed and perplexed.

Jonah was broken in that he could not, or would not, go with God to Nineveh. We're surprised, but God wasn't. God cares about Nineveh, but he also cares about Jonah and he's going to teach us something through his craziness. This guy is going to end up being someone that Jesus mentions. Neither Jonah nor Nineveh are the center of the story. God is the focus. What's God going to do? What will be revealed about God?

Jonah becomes a prodigal son, a wayward son. We can only imagine why, but he chooses to leave the Father's house. Unlike the boy in Jesus' story, Jonah just cuts and runs. He does what he feels he has to do. He wants to get away.

The good news is that we know it's not the end for Jonah. It won't be a happily ever after ending as he fades into obscurity. Because unlike fleeing a human or a place, he has fled God. God can go anywhere. God is not just among the people of God and God is not just in the assignments he has for them. God is everywhere.

You might feel disconnected from the people of God. You might be among people who do not seem religious or spiritual - "people God has forgot." But it's not true. God is aware of people everywhere; people who are religious and people who are not.

Jonah has completely gone the opposite way of God. He doesn't say he has ceased to believe, nor does he say anything negative about God. It's all about his issues. For whatever reason, he says, "No, I can't do that," and then he sort of shamefully runs to hide. Will God seek the hider? What will it take before Jonah decides to call out and ask God to help him? What needs to change in Jonah for him to get into alignment with God's heart?

If you or I have run from God, or away from where God spoke to us, we're in for a revelation that God still sees us and will pursue us. Even if we've gone off the rails of God's plan, God still has a plan, and He has a plan to get us back on His plan. It's not over because you messed up.

Who is your father?

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:
Jonah 1:1

The opening of Jonah's book draws to our attention who's son he was. Many, but not all Bible narratives do this. Adam was directly created by God and Jesus has always been God's only and unique Son of God. Jesus was also fathered by Joseph. He was also mothered by Mary. Jonah had a dad named Amittai. You and I also have fathers. Some of us never knew them, some of us had step-fathers.

When Jesus was living his life, he had a vigorous discussion with the religious leaders of his day, who said they were (spiritual) sons of Abraham. This is in John, chapter 8, verses 12 to 58. Jesus told them that his father is God and that if Abraham was among them, he would have been kind to him; unlike the way they were treating him. He told these guys that their father was the devil.

God is fathering people and so is the devil. What is fathering? Who has been fathering you? Can you lack fathering, but not be fathered by the devil; or can you be a good person and father yourself, if you haven't had a father? Who are you fathering or mothering, if you are a woman?

These are all important questions. The leaders who stood against Jesus, who declared himself to be, "the way, the truth, and the life", (John 14:6); had lost their fathering from God at some point and instead hailed their lineage from Abraham as their validation of superiority. Jesus reveals who is truly behind them and fueling their hate. This probably shocked and offended them. They were serving the devil without knowing it just like Bob Dylan wrote in his song, "You Got to Serve Somebody": "it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you got to serve somebody".

How have you been fathered and mothered towards godliness? Have you received nurture towards God, or have you been a rugged individual, or has being fathered and mothered not even been on your map? What do father's and mother's give us that we need and if we don't get it, what happens to us?

Where is the church in this issue of fathering and mothering and how are we doing at it? How do people who were not nurtured in the faith by their parents get fathered and mothered in Christ? Should this be a part of the core of church life? If so, then how does the time spent with church, in church, among the church; bring about this raising up of sons and daughters?

The truth of God

The LORD gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai:
Jonah 1:1, New Living Translation

Johah's father's name was Amittai, which means, "the truth of God". The Hebrew word Amittai comes from the Hebrew word Emeth, wich in English means veracious, which means, "speaking or representing the truth".

I wrote earlier that Jonah means dove, which symbolizes peace. I would add that dove also sometimes symbolizes mourning- "mourning dove", which holds the idea of processing grief. Prophets are heartbroken people who are interceding for people who are disconnected from God.

Jonah's father's name is also prophetic or foretelling of Jonah's commission to speak God's truth. Perhaps this name befell him because it said, "this man is telling the truth of God." It also speaks of Jonah's message just being the simple truth. It's not some complicated plan or program. God's ways may be hard and challenging if you've been going another way, but they are not complex or sophisticated. Untangling lies and deceits is complicated, but God's love and repentance are simple.

"All I am offering is the truth", is the side note to the prophetic message. You have believed in lies perhaps and built yourself upon them and invested in them. The truth might be astonishing. The messenger is only responsible for delivering the message, not adding to it. One person called adding to God's words, "hamburger helper". If you are called to speak for God, it may seem outlandish or too good to be true or out of this world. Our job is not to edit the word or spin it or put in caveats. Our assignment is just to give what we get. We may get in the way if we try to immediately interpret the word if it comes in a parabolic or dark speech type of package. It's ok to say, "I don't know or I'm not sure what this means, but this is what I heard or saw."

I watched the beginning of the film, "The Trip To Bountiful", this past week; and the opening titles contain a portion of the song, "Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling". Jesus is still calling.



Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,
Mercies for you and for me?

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
Coming for you and for me.

O for the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.

Will L. Thompson, 1880

God calling

One day the LORD told Jonah...
The Lord gave this message to Jonah...
-Jonah 1:1a (CEV, NLT)

When was the last time God told you something? Have you learned to hear God's voice? Do you need to be prophetic to hear God or should all of God's children be able to hear his voice? I believe that we can all hear (John 10) and that we can cultivate a hearing ear by being attentive (Matthew 11:15, Revelation 2:17, and 3:22).

To hear, the hearer must be a listener; but also the speaker must speak. The story of Jonah begins with God's initiative. God got the idea, God gave the order to Jonah. God initiated. Does the Bible teach us that we should only do things that God initiates? No, the Bible teaches us that God gives us wisdom on how to conduct our lives and there are many standing assignments that are for God's people for all time, such as "love one another", and "go and make disciples of all nations."

When God spoke to Jonah, it was the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. Heaven sent a message to a person on what the King wanted done on earth through this chosen vessel. God chose to speak something and chose to speak it to someone. It didn't matter to Jonah if God was speaking to anyone else. When God spoke to him, it was a direct message, order, or assignment. God, being God; and we, not being God, are to be obedient to God. Sounds silly to state it, but human history is filled with us ignoring God's instructions and guidance and instead playing god or building false gods. There is only one God, who is good and righteous. The whole issue of, "is that you, God?"; is another topic, but in summary, God, being God, can make himself clear and make us know it is really Him speaking. God knows if we're having trouble hearing him because of our human frailty. He knows when we are deliberately not listening or disobeying and when we need help in hearing.

(image from Kar Keat at Mandarin Youth Ministry)

Jonah

I got the idea that the book of Jonah contains some answers about God's will for my life and maybe for yours too. The word Jonah means dove, which also means peaceful being, or gift from God. The name Jonah is a reminder of God's gift, the prince of peace, Jesus Christ. God gave this gift out of love and out of His compassion and Mercy. Christ died for all. No one is too bad to be redeemed by his precious blood. Dove also reminds us of The Spirit of God, who was described as landing on Jesus as a dove. In the Song of Solomon, the lover describes his beloved as a dove. God's people are peaceful, come and go in peace. God's people carry gifts, are gifted, and are even gifts themselves through the operation of the Spirit of God.

The book of Jonah is about death, burial, and resurrection in Christ.


(This picture is from Father Joseph of Redlands, CA)

Come up higher

After this I looked and there was a door that had been opened in heaven. The first voice that I had heard, which sounded like a trumpet, said to me, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

Then I looked, and, oh!—a door open into Heaven. The trumpet-voice, the first voice in my vision, called out, "Ascend and enter. I'll show you what happens next."

Revelation 4:1, (CEB & The Message)

I got this idea that what God is after with us is to bring us into a place where we walk under an open heaven. Three years ago, I had been calling out for breakthrough and instead, I received prayerful counsel that what I really needed was an open heaven. Part of what an open heaven means is hearing God and seeing things from God's perspective. An open heaven is when God comes into your situation. An open heaven is transformative in ways that a breakthrough is not. Simply put, a breakthrough reveals the acts of God; while an open heaven reveals the ways of God. The acts of God are wonderful and we desperately need them, broadly and individually. But open heaven people are becoming breakers in God. Open heaven people are healers in many dimensions rather than just people who have received healing and believe in it and pray for it. They are 24-7 dwellers in God rather than event/time/place limited experiencers. Open heaven people have experiences in God all week and then meet with the church, rather than waiting for and anticipating and seeking God at church meetings.

Many of us have experienced trials and even tribulations these past two to ten years. In all this, God has been calling us to a higher place. This week, Marsha Burns, a prophetic leader from Colorado, wrote, "The realization struck me that we are at the end of a two-year transition. It's been a rather difficult two years with lots of changes, and we had to let go of things that represented safety and security to us. As I pondered this time of transition, I could see that God has brought us to a higher and yet a more profound place in Him that we would not have discovered or achieved apart from this transition." Change has been happening and things will never be like they were before. I believe God has been after transformation with us. He wants to give us things, those things we pray for. But more than that he wants us. He wants a more godly people who resemble his son.



When you feel like God has forgotten you

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you forget me, LORD? Forever?
Long enough, God— you've ignored me long enough.

How long will you hide your face from me?
I've looked at the back of your head long enough. Long enough.
Will it be forever? How long will you hide?

Psalm 13:1 (TNIV, CEB, MSG, & CEV)

Does your waiting seem forever, like it is never going to end?

Bob Sorge shares many helpful insights in his book, "The Fire of Delayed Answers: are you waiting for your prayers to be answered?" The book boils down to this statement, "Sometimes God delays the answers to our prayers to produce a greater maturity and fruitfulness in us."1

Four times, in Psalm 13, David says, "How long?" The delay has been long enough that it's begun to irritate, begun to seem too long for the soul. When we wait, a dying occurs in us. Things come out of our hands and are layed down and offered as sacrifice. We thought we were walking with God closely, but when God seems distant, when God delays coming, when the old ways don't work anymore; there then has to be a breaking, a death. In that brokenness process and death to self process, we end up with God only and we end up in God only.

When we are finally done with misconceiving God, of accusing him, of being mad, of pouting; we come back to simple trust in God, who is unfailingly loving. We also come down to the simple and solid theology of God is good. Yes, it feels like and looks like God is failing, but that's not true. Looks and feels like God is not good, but God is good. These are affirmatives, but not just affirmations. They are eternal forever truths.

The cry of "how long" is from the middle of something. The end may be death and release from a sick body. The end may be deliverance or healing. The end may be the answer. But, the "how long" cry comes in the middle of a process that God is watching over. Many Psalms and just out and out full on praise anthems, but many other Psalms are process songs and poems: open-hearted laments.

No matter where we are in our journey, with the exception of the 1% that are at the beginning or end, we are all in the middle. We never get to the point where we complete a 'level', then say to God, "thanks, I'll take it from here."

Footnote:
1. Ryan Jones, Fire Of Delayed Answers study guide. Available in Word or PDF.