We are still in our series looking at Jonah. Last week we heard about Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the fish, and this week we finally journey with Jonah to the city of Nineveh. Home of the Assyrian Empire. Enemy of Israel.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get 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. 6When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” 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.
God Can Still Use You
Have you ever royally flopped? Totally bombed? Dropped the ball? Fell flat on your face?
We were approaching the summer when Becca and I were going to be married – luckily I didn’t flop when I asked her to marry me, she said yes.
I was going to do my in-person interview to be a hospital chaplain intern in Michigan, and I was staying with Becca’s family the night before the interview. Now there was a major college football bowl game on that night – Oklahoma vs Boise State – and I really wanted to watch this game. In fact, since I don’t like the Oklahoma Sooners, I told people I wanted Oklahoma to feel like they had won the game, then have their hearts ripped out in agonizing defeat. I wasn’t a pastor yet, so I could still wish these things on others.
The game went back and forth, very exciting, finally going to overtime. And sure enough, the Sooners thought they had won, but a trick play left them writhing in agonizing defeat. My prayer was answered! I could have prayed for world peace, but instead I got the Sooners a loss in football.
But the overtime game left me with very little time to sleep before my early morning interview. And as I sat there listening to the quiet monotone of the two staff chaplains the next day, it was all I could do to stay awake. I was slightly less than impressive in that interview. Royally flopped. Totally bombed. They did not offer me an intern position.
Have you ever royally flopped? Totally bombed? Dropped the ball? Fell flat on your face?
Jonah certainly did. He didn’t accidentally drop the ball; he ran away from it. He didn’t miss God’s direction for his life; he got the message and tried to do the opposite. And yet, v1, “the Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”
Think about that. Jonah is the king of the royal flop. He is the poster child for dropping the ball. And yet the “Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”
No matter what we’ve done or failed to do. The Word of the Lord can come to us again. God can still use us. Flawed. Imperfect. Dropping the ball left and right. Used by God nonetheless.
It Doesn’t Take Much to Be Used By God
And one thing I love about how God uses us is that it’s usually not that complicated. Jonah essentially was asked to go where God sent him and say what God told him. That’s it. Yeah, it was a bit of a journey. Yeah, he was likely to be ignored. Yeah, it’s possible he could have faced some consequences from the proud people of Nineveh. But it’s not like it was a confusing request. Go where I send you. Say what I tell you. The outcome was never in Jonah’s hands. Of course we’ll hear next week that he was mad about not having the outcome in his hands.
I have a friend who is a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, and a reporter called me last year to ask me about my friend’s faith. I told the reporter that my friend’s faith is impressive simply because he’s willing to own it. He’ll claim the label “Christian” even in clubhouses where that may not be seen as a good thing. He’s not judgmental, but he’s not hiding who he is and what he believes. That willingness to be identified as Christian is a powerful witness – and many people aren’t even willing to do that. Are there any places or people with whom you are unwilling to be labeled as a Christian? Claiming your faith – “going public” with it – is one simple way God can use us. Do your neighbors know? Do your running or biking friends know? Do you coworkers or fellow students know? If they don’t know, and they asked, would you say, “Yes I’m a Christian” or “Yes, I believe in Jesus?”
Claiming your faith with others is one way God can use us. But sometimes, like Jonah, God tells us what to say. I have what I call the “3 strikes” rule on this one. If I think the Holy Spirit is telling me to say something and it seems a little strange or out of the blue, I can ignore it the first time. I can question it the second time. But I have to do it the third time. I have no Biblical basis for the 3 strikes rule, but I haven’t been struck by lightning yet so hopefully the Spirit’s OK with it.
One time I was at a viewing after a tragic death in the community. It was an hour-long line to even get into the funeral home. And as I approached the casket I got the nudge to tell a specific father something. His daughter was best friends with the deceased. And I got the nudge by the Spirit to tell him, “This is a chance to be a spiritual leader in your household. Lead your family in prayer tonight.” I ignored it the first time. I questioned it the second time. Finally, as I’m about to leave the third nudge came so I sighed, snuck over to where he was sitting, and told him. I don’t know what came of it, but it was something God wanted me to say. Does God want you to say something?
Or maybe, like Jonah, God wants to send you somewhere. I know a family who were in the midst of moving because the husband got a good job in a new city. They were sad to be leaving friends and their church home, but they were following the job. The husband went out first while they tried to sell their home. And on the second day of his new employment, another company called him and said, “We know you just started this new job, but we had a position open up where you used to live and you’d be perfect for it. It’s yours if you want it.” Though it was very awkward, he quit his brand new job, took the one they were calling about, and his family didn’t have to move after all. As I talked to them, they said they just had this sense that God wanted them here, not in the new city. They were sent to a particular place, a particular church, a particular set of relationships for themselves and their kids. Does God want you to go somewhere, or stay somewhere?
Even if you’ve royally flopped. Totally bombed. Dropped the ball. Fell flat on your face. Doesn’t matter. The word of the Lord can come to you, like Jonah, another time. And it’s usually not that complicated. Go where God sends you. Say what God tells you. Claim your faith to others.
When Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh, did you notice what they believed? Did they believe Jonah’s story about the whale? No – they never heard it. Did they see Jonah and believe in his supernatural connection or ability to call down fire? No. Verse 7: “the people of Nineveh believed God.” They didn’t believe in Jonah, they believed in God. Our job isn’t to be supernatural. Our job is to be natural. People are supposed to believe in God, not us. Very simple.
A Fathers’ Mission
Since this is Fathers’ Day, let me apply this to dads specifically. One of the main ways God wants to use us, dads, is in our families. There was a sociology study a while back that looked at the impact of parents on the future faith of their children. Imagine a family where the mom goes to church, prays routinely, reads her Bible, all the visible signs of faith, and the dad stays home to watch football on Sundays. 33% of the kids in that situation go on to have future involvement with the church.
Now let’s flip the script. Dad goes to church, prays routinely, reads his Bible, all the visible signs of faith, and mom gets a pedicure on Sunday. The moms today are thinking that sounds pretty good, right? 66% of the kids in that situation go on to have future involvement with the church. The number goes up if both parents have and show their faith, but the basic observation is that the faith of the father has about twice the impact as the faith of the mother when it comes to the kids. They have no idea why, but it’s been seen in several follow-up studies.
So dads, here’s our challenge. We are uniquely positioned to impact the faith of our children. We are uniquely tasked with demonstrating our own faith in our family. Will you take up the challenge? The gauntlet is on the table; will you pick it up? If we show our faith in our family, God will use that. No guarantees on the end result – like Jonah we’re not in control of that. The end result is God’s job. Showing our faith in our family is our job. What would that look like for you this week? Leading a prayer time that’s not at a meal? Read your Bible? Tell your kids something about your devotional reading? What would that look like? God wants to use you in your family. And it’s not a tremendous task – it’s very simple.
Sisters and brothers, God wants to use us. Even if we – like Jonah – have fallen flat on our faces before. Like Jonah, we can go where God sends us. We can say what God tells us. We can claim our faith before others. We can show our faith in our family. These aren’t complicated. They’re not easy, but they’re not complicated. The word of the Lord is coming to you again, just as it did to Jonah. What will you do when you hear it?