Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people of Nineveh believed God… -Jonah 3:4
Today marks the first full week of Lent, and already it’s feeling like a lifetime to me. The weather is dreary, the dog’s foot fungus won’t clear up, and the flurry of activity on my calendar for this month makes me anxious just looking at it… not to mention the fact that I’ve already failed a few times at some of the things from which I’d said I would abstain (hello, all things sugar).
And I sit here like Jonah. Resisting the words God is putting on my heart to share, insisting first that God respond to my own demands, OK, God, but first tell me…When will I see the sun again? When can I finally stop rubbing this stuff on my dog’s foot? Why can’t I just have one day without 47 errands to run and places I need to be? And why am I already failing at Lent and it’s only Day 7!?
And as I pray more over this Scripture the answer to everything–yes, all of my questions!– comes into focus. But it’s not easy. The answer is this: Return to Me. Rely on Me. Repent and let go of so much…you. And while I am more than happy to preach that word to everyone else (you know, all you sinners out there), God is reminding me today that having a share in the spiritual gift of prophecy does not give the prophet a free pass. One cannot simply share God’s words and ignore it for oneself. For Jonah, not following God’s words meant suffering in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights. It was only after that miserable experience that Jonah took God’s word of repentance to the ominous and intimidating citizens of Nineveh.
But how did the Ninevites respond to God’s word through Jonah? By immediately believing God’s warning, fasting, and putting on sackcloth (a sign of mourning and a prayer of deliverance).
By widening the lens, we see the bigger points: sometimes we are quick to change our hearts (like the Ninevites), other times we change more slowly (like Jonah). Keeping our hearts open enough to leave room for God to enter into them and change us involves sacrifice. The psalmist sets the example for us today with his words, “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.” Psalm 51:17
The self-emptying of our pride, our own agendas, and even some our earthly desires are reasonable and necessary requests for God to make of us in order to make us more like him: Perfect Love. How we do that looks a little different for each of us, but the good news is that God is more than happy to work with and reward us no matter how much, how little, how long, or how soon we open our hearts and make room for him to do so.
Reflect: What is one thing you know you should do, but you have been avoiding doing for a long time? What if God were to appear before you today and ask you to do it? Would that spur you into action? If not, ask God to forgive your stalling and help you see how tackling that one thing will free you, and how continuing to avoid it is making you a slave to something contrary to God’s love. Then ask him to help you take one (teeny-tiny) step towards accomplishing this one thing…and be ready to take it!
Pray: Lord Jesus, we see in Jonah a foreshadowing of you. In three days time, you entered into death and overcame death for the world! Thank you for opening the gates of heaven for us so that we may know eternal joy. Help us follow your example by purging ourselves of our own earthly desires and sacrificing them for God’s greater heavenly desires for us. Jesus, we trust in you! Amen.