John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Filtering by Category: Jonah

A God of Second Chances

"Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 'Go to the city of Ninevah and proclaim to it the message I give you.' Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Ninevah" (Jonah 3:1-3a). Well...duh!

One more thing we learn about God from this whole Jonah and the fish story is that no matter how far you've run or how long you've been gone, God's still got a plan and a purpose for your life. Whenever you're ready to turn around, God accepts you -- doesn't spend time saying, "I told you so" and is ready with your next assignment. God is a God of second chances.

Oh, and don't be surprised if your next assignment is a lot like your last assignment.

Trying to Save Yourself

"Salvation comes from the LORD" (Jonah 2:9b). A simple statement. And one most Christians have heard countless times, used countless times, contemplated...uh...maybe once right before they prayed that prayer or walked that aisle.

"Salvation comes from the LORD." This insight is given to us by a man inside the belly of a giant fish -- a man who ran from God and narrowly escaped drowning -- a man who knew all about God but wanted to do things his way instead.

It's a familiar phrase, but it's used in an unfamiliar context here. It's unusual, because Jonah doesn't seem to be talking about heaven and hell. That's what we usually think of when we use the word "salvation".

Jonah thought he could save himself -- not from an eternity of separation from God -- but from some unpleasant assignment. Jonah thought he could save himself from embarrassment and misery. He found out that salvation comes from the LORD.

What do you think you can save yourself from?

Fear? Loneliness? Depression?

So many people say to God, "Just get me into heaven when I die, and I'll take care of the rest."

Salvation comes from the LORD.

God Lets People Go

"Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs" (Jonah 2:8). So many amazing things we learn about God from Jonah. Here's one: If you want to leave, God will let you. He may pursue you and cause (or at least allow) painful consequences to come upon you. But if you insist on clinging to something else more than God, he will let you. He will not force himself on anyone.

Is That You, God?

"You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me" (Jonah 2:3). Wait a second, Jonah. That wasn't God. It was the sailors who hurled you into the deep.

Or was it?

You may think your boss fired you for stealing office supplies, but could it have been God?

You may think the police arrested you for driving under the influence, but could it have been God?

You may think your professor got you kicked out of school for cheating, but could it have been God?

Sometimes God actually causes the terrible circumstances that stop you in your tracks and force you to deal with your problems.

As we mentioned in a prior post, we tend to think of God's provision as something that feels good, but sometimes God loves us enough to provide consequences that are painful. As C.S. Lewis said, pain is often God's "megaphone to rouse a deaf world". What God wants to communicate to us in a whisper, lessons we desperately need to learn but stubbornly refuse, often are only learned through painful situations. So, God allows us to endure pain -- deliberately brings pain upon us.

But he's not doing it to pay us back.

He's doing it to bring us back.

God Hears and Answers

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said: "In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me" (Jonah 2:1). Here's an amazing thing about God: When you run from God and your life begins to unravel as it inevitably will -- when you hit rock bottom and cry out to God, he hears and answers.

How amazing is that?

You Call That Provision?

The story of Jonah (like the rest of the Bible) is more about God than about Jonah. And the message of the whole story is really that we're all Ninevites. We'll get to talking about that more in the coming days, but I don't want to rush past the whole Jonah in the belly of the fish part. The text says that God "provided" a fish to swallow Jonah.

Provided?

That seems odd to call that provision. We usually associate the provision of God with something really fun. God provided food in the midst of famine. God provided money in the midst of poverty. God provided a child for a barren woman. God provided water in the desert.

But being swallowed by a fish? That hardly fits my personal idea of provision.

Here's my question for you today: What do we learn about God from the way he handled Jonah running from him?

Running From God: Hurting Innocent Bystanders

When you run from God (like Jonah), you always end up hurting innocent people around you. Think of those sailors on the boat with him! They have nothing to do with Jonah and him running from God. But they end up caught in the storm, throwing their cargo overboard, afraid for their lives. How many kids are paying for the fact that their mom or their dad decided to run from God?

How many business partners are left holding the bag?

This is why it's important to really consider carefully who you get involved with. If they're running from God, your heart and motives may be pure, but you'll end up getting hurt. It is simply inevitable.

If you're a runner, you may think your relationship with God is your business and no one else's, but when you choose to run from God -- you end up hurting innocent bystanders.

Running From God: How Foolish Is That?

God is Ultimate Reality. He is the source of everything good, true and beautiful. He is wisdom. The best definition of wisdom I ever heard goes like this: Wisdom is the God-given ability to see the true nature of things. In other words, wisdom is God's perspective on everything. But when you run from God, you run from all that. You run from goodness and truth and beauty and wisdom.

As a natural consequence, you make foolish choices.

When Jonah runs from God, he decides to get on a boat. How foolish is that? A boat? In the middle of the sea? That's foolish.

People who run from God never run to safety. They run towards self-destruction and danger. Financially, relationally, career-wise, you name it -- people who are running from God do things that others look at and say, "No, not that!"

For example, I sometimes speak to college students, and I'll tell them, "If you're going to run from God, do yourself and everyone else a favor: do not get married -- do not have kids -- do not borrow money. You will regret it."

Eventually, their lives begin to unravel, and they think it's a result of all the bad choices they've made.

Their relationships come apart, and they trace the demise of the relationship trying to figure out where they went wrong. They went wrong when they left the ultimate source of love and acceptance. Ever since then, they've been looking for something from people that they aren't designed to give.

Their business goes under, and they trace the demise of their career trying to figure out where they went wrong. They went wrong when they left the ultimate source of meaning and purpose. Ever since then, they've been looking for something from their job that their job isn't designed to give.

A lot of us, if we were in Jonah's shoes, would have thought, "If only I'd gotten on a different boat. If only I'd sailed to a different place. I should have gone to Egypt instead of Tarshish."

Jonah's life didn't start to unravel because of that city or that boat or that storm. Jonah's life started coming apart the moment he started running from God.

Running From God...Or Running From His People?

One other reason why some folks run from God (and this one is really heartbreaking): They've confused God with his people. A lot of folks grew up in terrible churches. Let's face it, there are lots of terrible churches out there breeding terrible Christians and unleashing them on unsuspecting people -- especially kids. When you grow up in a terrible church that breeds legalism or some sort of stifling fear, you reach an age where you don't want to become like the leaders of your church.

Often, however, because no one's told you any different, you think that in order to avoid becoming like those people you not only have to run from your church but run from God as well. When you think God and the church are the same thing, you're likely to end up on the run from the one Person who has your best interests at heart.

Running from God

An amazing thing about these Old Testament stories is how much we find ourselves in them. Take Jonah, for example. Here's a guy who was born in 750 BC, but he's so much like us -- running from God. The truth is, we have all -- at one time or another -- done it. Here's how the story usually goes: "I was raised in a Christian home, and we went to church a lot. But then I hit high school or college, and I just kind of started to drift. Eventually, the whole God thing just didn't make any sense to me. It didn't fit with my lifestyle anymore, so I left it behind."

As a general rule, we run from God for the same reason. Usually, we think we have to run from God in order to get what we want. We think God has his agenda, and we're not sure his agenda is really for our good. "God, I know you've got your plans and all, but I have plans of my own. I've got stuff I want, so I'm going to go over here and do my own thing."

Ultimately, that just comes down to trust. We don't trust that God has our best interests at heart. We think if we stay with him, we'll end up missing something really great. God can make billions of stars and thousands of different types of beetles, he can speak the world into existence and paint the sunsets and all that. But I'm not sure he can handle planning out my life. I have some plans of my own, and I think I know how the world works better than he does. God can stay "over there", and I'll come visit him on Christmas and Easter. In the meantime, I'll be "over here" living a real life.

Sometimes, it's not a wholesale thing. We don't often say, "God, I don't want you to have anything to do with any area of my life." We're more likely to say, "God, I still believe in you, I'll still go to church, I'll even put money in the plate, but don't touch this one area of my life."

Maybe it's a relationship with someone you know is not a God-honoring relationship. God's saying it's time to cut that relationship off. You're saying that God can talk to you about anything except who you date.

Maybe it's a marriage that you want out of. God's telling you to stay in. You're telling God to mind his own business when it comes to your marriage.

Maybe it's your finances. You know that if you ever asked God, "How do you want me to budget my money this Christmas", he would probably say, "Well, not like THAT!" So, you just don't ask him about it anymore. God can protect your kids and help you on the job, but leave my money alone! You'll even give him a portion of it if it will keep him from wanting a say in what you do with the rest of it. There's his money and your money -- two separate categories.

I think most of us have some area of our life where we're running from God. As much as we may want to think our situation is unique, it's not. We're all runners. We all run for the same reasons. We've all run from God at some point in time. And we've all had to deal with the consequences of running from God. Some of us are still dealing with those consequences.

That's why the church is so screwed up.

The Story of Jonah

Clearly, the story of Augustine did not lend itself to comments and interaction. So, I want to change subjects now to something a little more practical for me -- something that I'm going to teach about for the next few weeks: the Story of Jonah. When I was a kid the story was about two things:

1. Proving to people that a full-grown man actually could be swallowed by a fish and live to tell about it. If a person didn't believe that this story actually happened, they might not believe that anything in the Bible actually happened. And it had to be a fish -- not a whale. It seemed very important that God got his animal classification right.

2. The moral of the story was: If you run from God, he'll get you.

Anyone else have that experience?

Anyone want to chime in on what the story is really about?