Jonah was one of those unwilling missionaries. He was, for sure, an odd one. But not because he was reluctant. I have known unwilling missionaries. I’ve even been one. But such reluctance usually stems from fear of failure. What if no one listens? What if I bear no fruit? Or if I’m hated and they stone me, or something?
But Jonah was a bit odd. Knowing his mission was bound for success, he still didn’t want to go. He really only obeyed when forced to. Then just as expected, his mission was a success! The entire city, from the king on down, repented and turned to the Lord!
Any normal missionary, had they been in Jonah’s shoes, would have raced to write that prayer support letter! Or get it up on the blog, in huge capital letters: MISSION SUCCESSFUL!
The entire city turned to God, starting with the king! Expecting to start dozens of churches by year’s end!
But not Jonah. He got angry.
And he prayed to the LORD and said, ‘O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live,’ (Jonah 4:2-3).
What a strange dude! A huge missionary success, and he wanted to die?
It seems Jonah worried more about his own reputation than God’s. And cared more for it than for the eternal salvation of an entire nation.
“Way to go,” he must have thought. “Now I just look like a false prophet. Or an idiot. Why, Lord, did you make me proclaim something we both knew was never going to happen?”
At this point, we would expect him to run home in a huff. But not stubborn, egotistical Jonah. He stayed to see what would happen, even building himself a little shelter. Perhaps he hoped the Lord would still destroy the city. Then, with his reputation as a prophet vindicated, he could return home in glory.
No doubt Jonah believed his heart was in the right place.
Lest we judge him too harshly, let’s remember that another century would pass before Isaiah and Micah would proclaim that the heathen would turn to God. Such a thing was still unheard of.
And as a prophet during the reigns of Amaziah and Jeroboam, Jonah preached during some of Israel’s darkest days without losing his zeal for God. King Amaziah, in fact, restored much of Israel’s borders according to Jonah’s word (1 Kings 14:25).
Yes, as a prophet, Jonah had vision. He cared about his nation and his people, faithfully relaying what God showed him. He even had vision enough to see what God wanted from him in Nineveh.
But true vision means more than just hearing God’s directives. It involves following through.
True vision means keeping God and his purposes always in sight.
Jonah forgot that God’s ways are not our ways. His idea of what God should do clouded his vision. He believed that God loved his people, wanting to help and protect them. But Israel’s enemies? That was another matter!
There is a lot of Jonah in us, too. When things don’t go according to plan, we tend to sulk.
The Lord grew a plant just to give Jonah shade. And it thrilled him. “Now this is the God I know!” he might have thought, and even thanked the Lord for that welcome shade. But then God let the plant wither and die. And once again Jonah got angry.
“You’re angry over a little plant, Jonah?” God asked. “Where is your love and sense of justice? That you care more for a plant than for men’s souls? And more about your own reputation than allowing me to show that I am a God of mercy?”
Sometimes God has to ask us the same thing. “Where is your love and sense of justice? Where is your vision of ME?”
“Why should you care if I use others instead of you? Why should you care if your ministry is never a success, or if others laugh at you?” he asks. “The important thing is the sharing of my Word and that people are coming to me.”
If we allow our reputation, our hopes of success, or notions of ministry to cloud our vision, we’ll do like Jonah.
And instead of chasing hard after God’s vision, we’ll sulk and run from it.
I’ve never read that God call us to great successes. WE are the ones who want such assurances and certainties. The Lord just calls us to obey. To BE obedient, humble servants, who leave the results in his hands.
God is not looking for people whose only thought is ‘success’.
But for obedient servants who are willing missionaries for HIS glory! Does he find one in you?