Why Can’t I See God’s Will for my life?

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,

~Colossians 1:9-10

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

~Romans 12:1-2

 “When you’re living in the will of God, everything is so peaceful and joyful.” “All you need to know is God’s will for your life.” “God will guide you in your life.

These, and so many more, are just some of the things we tell people about God’s will. I have said them before. While there is nothing really wrong with these statements, we do need to understand what we are saying.

God’s will. What does this mean? Does God have everything planned out for us that we are basically like his puppets for a play? How can I make sure I am living in the will of God?

Truthfully, we all have battled with this for most of our lives. We have to be careful though because often we can mistake what society, our culture, says is the right thing to do as the will of God for our lives. Think of how we are told to act, to behave, to achieve. Many people want to lead so this leaves us without as many “humble” followers as we need. 

We tend to act as if this is God’s will for our lives because we will actually focus more on these attributes than following the Spirit’s historical and present movement and workings in the world and in our lives.

God’s will for our lives is so much more than just acting a certain way, or by achieving certain accommodations. God’s will for our lives has to do with our whole being, everything about who we are; and if we focus more on what will please society, we will completely miss the working of God in our lives.

Today is Mother’s Day. This is a day of great joy for many women because of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. This is also a day of mourning for those who have lost children, whose children have gone astray. This is also a day of grief for the inability for some to have children. We recognize that all women have the incredible opportunity to be a mother-figure to many people. To be the ones who nurture and care for those down on their luck. To bring people to faith in God through Jesus Christ.

Hear this. Just because you, or someone you know may not have children, or life hasn’t given you what your heart desires, does not mean you are not living in God’s will.

To learn what God’s will is, we must first seek God AND know

OUR LIFE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

God’s grace is with us even before we know it is. This is called prevenient grace. There is a time when we come to a place of realizing the grace of God through Jesus Christ and we accept Christ. This is justifying grace. Then there is sanctifying grace – the grace of God moving and working in your life to make you into a new creation, “born again,” made into the likeness and image of God.

There are a couple prevailing viewpoints of God’s work in our lives. Calvinism and Arminianism. Basically, parts and thoughts of Calvinism say that God has everything worked out and planned for your life, everything that will happen, even the words you will speak. God has already determined those who will spend eternity in either heaven and hell.

We discussed a couple weeks ago the concept of “everything happening for a reason.” We have noted that God may not be the one bringing the hardships in our lives. Hardships come because of the consequences of Sin. So remember we live in a fallen, messed up world.

Then we have Arminianism. To put it very simply, this is where we have the opportunity to choose God, even though he has already chosen us. Our lives are lived out because of God’s grace. God allows us to live and make decisions through our free will, a gift from God. 

In this view, we have opportunities to live our lives with God, as a co-author. He will write the parts of our lives when we are following him. He also allows us to write parts of our lives when we are living for ourselves.

Our lives are a work in progress.

William Shakepeare says it like this, 

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,”[1]

Doc, Emmit Brown (from the Back to the Future movies) says, “your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.”[2]

We will all make mistakes and will do things that hurt God and hurt people. God’s will for our lives is that we know him and follow him.

But hold on because

GOD DOES HAVE A PLAN

Yes, God does have a plan for our lives. I believe if we listen to the promptings and voice of the Holy Spirit, we will know what to do and what to say in all areas of our lives.

2 Samuel 16, Samuel learns that God is more interested in the heart of people. 

John 2 says that Jesus knows people. Genesis 6 (and really the rest of the Bible, history, news, media, etc) shows us what life is like if we allow our sin to control us.

But, through all of the messed up parts of this life, God does have a plan. Take time to read through the entire Bible, not to see what God wants you to do in specific aspects of your life; but to learn about the character of God and how he has worked, will work, and is working in the world and in your life. Learn about Jesus Christ, God in flesh, who showed us how to live.

God desires for you and I to know him.

2 Timothy 2:4 “God, our savior, desires all people to be saved AND come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Psalm 46:10 “Be still and KNOW that I am God.”

Hebrews 3:15, 4:7, Psalm 95:7-8 “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

So what are some other aspects of scripture, we can pay attention to?

The 10 Commandments give us a basic model for how we should live our lives:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make or worship any idols.
  3. You shall not use the name of God in vain, or as if it had not significance.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony (lie) against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet (be jealous/envious) of your neighbor’s possession, family, etc.

The Apostle Paul also writes “this is the will of God for your lives” in 1 Thessalonians, and this same message is sprinkled throughout his writings. So I am challenging us to read through his letters this week (Galations – 2 Thessalonians)

Scripture gives us a very high standard of how we are to live our lives.

Jesus even said we are to be lights on a hill, to be salt in the world. 

We cannot live this way unless God is working in and through our lives. Every time we share our faith, we can show people the light of Christ in the world. Every time we do a good deed we show people good works in this world. Every time we point people to the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we give people the opportunity to see God working in and through their lives.

When we read scripture, we see several, separate, things that are part of God’s will. Here it is in a nutshell:

Jesus summed up everything with two phrases “love God, love people.” [3]This is God’s will for our lives.

Also, Colossians 3:17, do everything for the glory of God, whatever you do.[4]

Above all of this, always remember:

GOD IS USING YOU AND SHAPING YOU

Throughout our lives, we are given new mercies each morning. How do we use and live into these mercies?

If I were to ask you, today, “how is your walk with Jesus Christ deeper, fuller, and richer than it was this time last year?”

See, too often we can get into a “comfortable” place and desire to stay in that phase. We tend to talk more about the peace of God when everything is calm; but we talk about everything we have to get done when everything is chaotic.

God is shaping us to be people who live our lives for him and share his love and grace in a world that really doesn’t want anything to do with him. Remember, we have talked about the worst thing in life is never the last thing, and God is with us and giving himself to us no matter what we’re going through, good or bad.

The Apostle Paul writes, “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”[5]

God is shaping us to be different, and live our lives in such a way that the world around us does not draw us in. We are to be “living sacrifices” in this world, always seeking where God is working. Always seeking to bless God with joining him in his work. Always focusing on what God will provide instead of only looking at what we may be lacking.

God is shaping us, as he uses us, to show the world what real life is. When we realize this, we understand it is

“GOD-INCIDENTS” INSTEAD OF CO-INCIDENCES

A couple weeks ago, Solomon and I went to get our haircuts. When we walked in, there was one other lady getting her hair cut and 2 stylists. As we were waiting for our names, and even while Solomon was getting his haircut, this lady who was getting her hair done, began to talk about everything wrong with the medical system, her doctor, and her illness. I stood by Solomon, watching him get his haircut and listening to this lady talk. 

We were in a hurry and she was just talking and talking and talking. I am a very patient man. J

It got to the point when I felt, nudging, I needed to intervene. I could tell the stylist was getting tired of listening. So, I gave some advise about a particular doctor I tought could give her the care she was wanting and told her how I knew the doctor. Y’all, she kept talking and complaining.

Did I mention I am a very patient man?

I looked at her again and reiterated she needs to make contact with the doctor I suggested. At this point, I looked at the stylist very seriously and asked (in front of the lady), “Can I get my haircut now? We’re in a hurry.” (Not one of my finest moments.)

But, when I sat down to get my haircut, the stylist said “she wasn’t talking about any of that until you got here. I guess you were supposed to be here at this time today.”

How many of you have, in hindsight, discovered you were in the right place at the exact right time?

Throughout my life I have come to not believe in coincidences anymore. I believe these are all God-incidences, where the Holy Spirit nudges and prompts us to be somewhere, or say something at that right time a person needs to here it, or just have someone to be with.

I have had many moments like this in my life. I know you have too.

As we seek to live into God’s will, remember that life will not always be easy. We will not always know what we are doing. Plans may fall through or change. We may experience great hardship. But through it all, God is with us and is leading us. 

So, what is God’s will for our life? I think the Apostle Paul sums it up nicely:

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,”

When we seek to live our whole life for Christ, we will see his will being lived through us no matter what stage of life of circumstance we’re in.


[1] Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It”. Act 2. Scene 7.

[2] “Back to the Future” Part 3 movie

[3] Matthew 22:37-39

[4] Colossians 3:17

[5] Romans 5:2b-5 NIV

Why do the Innocent Suffer?

GENESIS 1:27-28

“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

LAMENTATIONS 3:1-3

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have heard questions like, “How can you believe in a God who would allow this to happen?” or “Why did God take my child, husband, wife, daughter, neighbor, friend, etc.?” or “If God is really loving then God is not all powerful and if God is all powerful then God is not loving and just.” These are reasons many atheists give for not believing in God.

These are legitimate questions people face when it comes to reconciling what is taught and believed about God with what is happening in the world.

There is a theological term that is used to when people attempt to reconcile belief in an all powerful God with all the suffering in the world: theodicy from the Greek words meaning God and justice. In other words, theodicy, is an explanation of the justice of God in the face of counterevidence, what we witness everyday.[1]

Jeremiah, the author and prophet of Lamentations when Jerusalem was destroyed, was so distressed and depressed about the state of the people of God because of what they were going through and what he had to tell them. So, he began to feel as if God was the one who was punishing him.

Harold Kushner, rabbi and author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, writes, “Like every [person], I pick up the daily paper and fresh challenges to the idea of the world’s goodness assault my eyes: senseless murders, fatal practical jokes, young people killed in car accidents on their way to their wedding or coming home from their high school prom. Can I, in good faith, continue to teach people that the world is good, and that a kind and loving God is responsible for what happens in it?”[2]

He writes this in the beginning chapter of his book. The reason he wrote the book is because he and his wife lost their son, Aaron, just after his 14th birthday due to an lifelong illness. Kushner began to wrestle with the notion of suffering and God.

His story is a lot like many others. Many people here can relate to this story on some level. Loss of a child, infertility, murder, cancer, a loved one taking their life, and so many more. We can look at the news and see natural disasters all over the world taking lives and causing so much destruction. Often times, we are left with, “Why did this happen?”

Over the next few weeks, we will be in conversation by looking at questions people have such as, “Why do the innocent suffer?,” “What is God’s will for my life?,” and ultimately we will focus on how God’s love and presence in this world prevails. There is no way we can cover everything and completely resolve these issues in 4 weeks, but this gives us a good starting point.

I am not going to pretend to know why everything happens in this world; but I am holding strong, and I’m encouraging you, to hold tight to the One who does know each person’s heart, cling to the One who never leaves you nor forsakes you. 

WHAT YOU BELIEVE ABOUT GOD DETERMINES HOW YOU HANDLE LIFE’S SITUATIONS

When we look in the Bible, we see lots of people suffering. There are several verses that make us believe God is the one who brings all the suffering because it is what the people deserve:

Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.
Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done. 
(Isaiah 3:10-11 NIV)

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.

(Lamentations 3:1 NIV)

“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7 NIV)

We can pick these verses out and make it seem like God is the ultimate source for all of our suffering in the world and it is because we deserve it.

But the Bible actually paints a different picture for the people of faith. The Bible shows people who have refused to let go of their faith in spite of their surrounding circumstances and see God in every situation.

Joseph (Jacob’s son) is sold into slavery by his brothers

The Israelites spent 400 years oppressed by the Egyptians

Moses does God’s work yet is so miserable that he wants God to take his life

King Saul spend years searching for young David to kill him

The book of Job is about a man who suffers terribly, yet does not give up his faith

At the center of the New Testament is a man who was beaten, abused, and finally nailed to a cross.

The disciples were martyred.

Paul was beaten and put in prison many times

Following Jesus Christ does not mean we will have an easy life; but we are promised that God is with us in every situation.

The writer of the 73rd Psalm reminds us, “my flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”[3]

And Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Philip Yancey writes, in his book Where is God When It Hurts, “Faith in God offers no insurance against tragedy. Nor does it offer insurance against feelings of doubt and betrayal. If anything, being a Christian complicates the issue.”[4]

It is important for us to understand how the bible shows God in people’s lives during suffering. God is present in the biblical characters lives through all aspects of their life good and bad. He is with you always too.

Another notion we should consider (reconsider) is what people will often use to bring comfort:

Everything happens for a reason.

WE NEED TO RETHINK AND BEGIN CHALLENGE THE NOTION (and really stop telling others): EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON

We use this phrase in an attempt to bring comfort to those around us, to those going through hardships.

We usually mean to say that God has a plan for you and you will one day see this plan through your suffering.

Well meaninged Christians say this to try and tell people, most of what they’re going through is not their fault. There was a reason for the tragedy, suffering, illness, etc.

Yes, there are reasons why everything happens. But let’s rethink this idea for a bit, in the manner we typically use it. When we tell people “everything happens for a reason,” we find we give them an opportunity to blame God for what happened. Many, still, will come to believe they have done something wrong and God is “smiting” them and causing this to happen. Incredible guilt and shame can (and does) come upon people when we present ideas that cause them to think God caused the suffering for their behavior.

I know of a family whose 9 year old daughter developed a terminal brain cancer and the pastor of their church told them the reason their child has this cancer is because they were not faithful enough and did not come to church like they should. The family felt a tremendous amount of guilt.

When we say “everything happens for a reason,” or “it must have been the will of God,” we are also implying that God is the one who brought the tornado, hurricane, earthquake, etc. We are telling people God put it in the heart of the murderer to kill that person. 

But I think what people try to say is “we live in a fallen world and a world of cause and effect.”

Things do happen for a reason. The reason could be some of the choices people make, or where they happen to be when the natural disaster strikes, etc.

We have to be careful not to attribute all disasters to God – He may not have brought them – we could easily violate the 3rd commandment (using God’s name wrongly) and misrepresent the nature and character of God..

When non-Christians hear Christians say things like, “everything happens for a reason” and “it must have been the will of God,” they are left with an impression of God that is hardly loving and just, but instead left with a picture of God who wills evil and suffering in the world.[5]

Let’s consider some ways to make sense of the relationship between God and human suffering.

THINGS TO CONSIDER:

  1. God gave humans dominion (stewardship authority) over the earth

“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” [6]

We live in a world that God has given us authority to take care of. God has given us intelligence, a soul, conscience for us to know right from wrong. 

God, in his providence, did not leave us to our own devises to rule and care for the planet. There are natural laws set in motion that govern the seasons, help cool the plant, protect the earth and everything in it, and these natural laws are predictable.

God has also given the Law to show His people how to live. He sent the prophets to redirect people’s lives toward God. When these were not enough, God gave us Jesus Christ who taught us God’s will for us by showing us how to live in this world: “to love God and our neighbors as ourselves, to do unto others as we’d have done to us, that we forgive, that we clothe the naked and feed the hungry, that we welcome the stranger, that greatness is found in serving, and that by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross he demonstrated to us what sacrificial love look like.” “Finally, God gave us the Holy Spirit to ‘guide us in all truth’” and the church.”[7]

God uses his people to do incredible things here and even uses people to be the answered prayer of someone suffering, someone in need. Feed hungry children, care for the sick, seek God’s justice, encourage those who are discouraged.

We have free will.

At the beginning of the book of Genesis, we see that God gave Adam and Eve the choice to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We have always had and will always have the freedom to choose between right and wrong…God’s will be done or My will be done. 

We love the idea of being free to make our own decisions and be our own person and we will defend this freedom.

Since we have been given free will, we are prone to stray from God’s path. Just look at the Adam and Eve story in Genesis 1-3.

No matter how you read this story (literally, figuratively, symbolically), you and I can still see ourselves in this story.

This story captures the idea of what happens to us, as humans, on a daily basis. Everyday, I hear the voice of the serpent trying to lead me astray, convincing me there is a better path than what God has said. I can listen to it, or I can believe what God is leading me to do or believe about Himself. When I listen to the voice of the serpent, a little of God’s paradise is lost inside me.

Straying from God’s path brings sin into the picture. The Hebrew and Greek words for SIN mean to “miss the mark.” When we do not live the way God desires us to live, we become so full of ourselves and we end up finding ourselves being drawn to the things that hurt us or others.

Sin is in every aspect of the human experience and leads to

Dictators and tyrants abusing people

Men and women violating their marriage covenant

This results in people worshipping false gods (idols) of

Money

Sex

Power

Self 

We have been given incredible power and authority over the earth, free will, the power to choose right from wrong. So let’s briefly look at God’s power and human suffering.

Natural disasters happen all over the world and many people die from them each year. Throughout human history, people have thought of these events as “acts of God.” Insurance companies still have clauses in their policies that talk about “acts of God.”

We now know, as a people, that these events actually have a good purpose for life on our planet. For example, earthquakes are the result of the movement of the earth’s plates, a process designed to keep the core of our planet from superheating. Without this, the earth could not support human life. Monsoons that bring terrible flooding are part of the earth’s system for cooling our atmosphere. When human beings get caught in these giant forces of nature, there is death and devastation, but these forces are essential to life on this planet.[8]

It is okay to ask, “Where is God?” in our life situations.

So, where is God when tragedy strikes? One of the places, I believe, we can see God is him working in and through emergency personal, and disaster relief teams to bring a sense of healing and hope. One of God’s primary methods for showing the world his presence and care toward people is by sending his people out.

He sends his people to provide medical care, food, clothing, shelter to their communities and around the world so children don’t have to die of hunger. We see the state of our fallen world all over all sources of media. Much of the suffering in the world is still happening because God’s people are not hearing or answering his call. What is God putting in your heart to show how you can make a difference for transformation and healing in this world? 

There is suffering that is caused by human decisions because we have been given the freedom to make these decisions. Some of the people angry with God are really angry with themselves for the decisions they’ve made. Our decisions (such as resources not being deployed out in areas of need, people not responding to God’s call on their life to share his love and help those in need) can have painful consequences for others.

In his book Night, Elie Wiesel writes about his experience as a boy in the Holocaust Auschwitz concentration camp. He says he keeps hearing the question, “Where is God now?”

The book, A Child Called It, depicts the true story of Dave Pelzer who somehow survived the worst case of child abuse in California history.

I have a close friend who lost his wife and child, while they were driving to church, because someone chose to drink and drive.

We know of businesses, who people invest their retirement into stocks, who fail because of bad accounting practices done to hide the truth of how the business was doing.

There is also suffering that is caused by illness. We live in a fallen world, and our bodies are not what God originally created them to be. Our current bodies are incredible machines that can heal themselves; but sometimes they just don’t heal like we want them to.

Leslie Weatherhead, a preacher in the 20th century told about his time as a missionary to India. A young Indian man he was ministering with had a daughter who had just died of cholera. The young man, with great resignation and grief said, “it must have been the will of God.” Weatherhead stopped him and said, “John, what would you think if someone crept into your veranda by night and held a cholera germ-covered cloth over your daughter’s mouth?” The man became indignant, “Such a man would be a monster!” Weatherhead replied, “But John, is that not what you just accused God of doing?” [9]

Sickness is not God’s way. When Jesus walked this earth, he spent much of his time healing people not making them sicker… So, do we blame God for the illness, or do we, with the psalmist, look at our bodies and declare that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)[10] even though our bodies are failing us?

Disease, sickness, injury, and death are all part of having flesh and blood bodies. This is, unfortunately, part of our life. Part of the risk of living is that we might get sick and we will die. This is not God’s doing, it is simply part of having bodies like ours in a world like ours.[11]

So, I invite you to remember that following Jesus Christ does not mean we’ll have an easy, pain-free life, and to keep thinking through what “everything happens for a reason” means when we say this other people. When we have the opportunity to listen to people going through very significant challenges, we get to be a source of comfort and God’s love, reminding them God has not forgotten them and loves them tremendously.

The truth is we live in a world where we do not always know the real reasons things happen or why people do what they do. But rejecting God won’t change the situation. Remembering God is present, asking God to be present, changes our viewpoint. We can then understand more, the Apostle Paul when he wrote (here’s a different version of Philippians 4:13), “I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”[12]

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE 

Christianity does not promise we will not suffer but does promise that suffering will not have the final word.

Israelites set free from slavery

David found deliverance from his affliction

And on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:21-26)

God does not bring unjust suffering upon his children; but he will force such things to serve his good purposes.

He will walk with us through all of the hardships, challenges, sufferings in this life.

NT Wright says, “We are committed, within the worldview generated by the gospel of Jesus, to affirming that evil will finally be conquered, will be done away with.”[13]

The Apostle Paul puts it in a different way in Romans 8:18 “the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)


[1] Wright, NT. Evil and the Justice of God. Page 45

[2] Kushner, Harold. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Page 10

[3] Psalm 73:26

[4] Yancey, Phillip. Where is God When it Hurts. Page 70

[5] Hamilton, Adam. Why?: Making Sens of God’s Will. Page 9

[6] Genesis 1:27-28

[7] Hamilton, Adam. Why?: Making Sense of God’s Will. Pages 11-12

[8] Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Pp16-17

[9] Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Page 25

[10] Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Page 25, 26

[11] Hamilton, Adam. Why? Making Sense of God’s Will. Page 26

[12] Philippians 4:13 CEB

[13] Wright, NT. Evil and the Justice of God. Page 16

Knowing Jesus

I’m sure you have heard it said, “know Jesus.” I have often wondered what different people think when they hear something like that. How do you get to “know Jesus?”

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was asked, before his Aldersgate conversion, if he knew and believed in Jesus. His answer was, “I believe he is the savior of the world. After his experience on Aldersgate, Wesley was able to say,

“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

John Wesley “knew” Christ in a personal way and took ownership of the faith and grace given.

In the Old Testament scriptures, the word for “know” is “yada”. This means more than just casually knowing someone. This has to with intimacy and knowing someone deeply. 

Here are some thoughts: How do you get to know another person? Most of the time we ask questions and seek to spend time with them to see how they are in different situations and what they think. 

The same is true for us to “get to know Jesus.” We seek to spend time with him and ask questions, waiting for an answer. 

There is a difference between getting to know Jesus and getting to know a person right in front of us. For one thing, we can see the person; we trust Jesus is there. This is one of the biggest promises he made when he ascended (“rose”/went/entered) heaven. He promised to be with us always, even until the end of time. Has there ever been a time when, though you may have been all by yourself, there was a peaceful, yet powerful, pretense with you? It is very possible Jesus was making himself known to your spirit that he is there with you and you do not need to worry about being alone.

Spend time with him. How can you do this? For one thing, when we spent time with our friends or family, we usually block time out of our day, week, year, etc. to devote only to them and the experience. The same is true with Jesus. To get to know him, read about him in the Bible (especially the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). See how the words speak to you. Carefully read the Gospels.

Ask questions and pay attention to what he says. Is there anything that just doesn’t make sense to you? Ask. Out loud. Write down the question. Talk about it with other believers of Christ. You never know how and when Jesus will speak in and through you and others to make himself known, to answer your questions, or to give you an assurance/peace beyond an understanding. This is one of the aspects of praying, we talk with God personally and directly.

Allow him to speak directly to you, straight to your heart. This is one of the biggest things we have to do. We have to have an open heart, with faith, that Jesus is speaking to us through the Holy Spirit. When his words come into your life and fill your mind, transformation happens within us. This is the best part about praying, when we open ourselves to hear from God directly.

When all of this happens, we will realize we have a different worldview than before. We also realize we have been called to do the mission and ministry Christ started when he walked this earth. 

Now, is this the ONLY way to get to know Jesus? No. One of the best things to do is learn who his is, talk about him in a group (develop a community), and look for ways you can sense the pretense of the Holy Spirit among you, in you, and working through you. Over time you’ll find you have come to “know”, not just know about, Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, yes; but also your savior who saves you from the power and presence of sin and death.

One day, I know you’ll be able to look back and see you have come to “know” Christ because he has transformed and changed you into his likeness and image. 

May you become so aware of the presence of Christ with you always so your life will be filled with incredible love, peace, hope, Joy, grace, forgiveness, and new life.  

The Problem of Evil

A perfectly good God exists, and evil exists. This is a challenging enigma to contemplate and understand. After all, a good God would stop all evil and suffering from happening, so we would not have to experience it, right? This is where we need to pause and consider some of the characteristics of God and consider how God works in the world.

God is omnipotent. This means that God is all-powerful. Wouldn’t it make sense that an all-powerful God would be able to eradicate all evil in this world? But there is still evil, and many use this as an argument against God, or his goodness. This argument comes in because we have a misconception about the concept and reality of real power, mainly how God uses his power.

Real power is not coercing and forcing your will and desires on other people or situations. Real power comes from restraint, as well. Underlying the all-powerful nature of God is that his nature is of love. God can, and maybe sometimes does, prearrange circumstances to make sure things turn out as he intended, but this does not mean this is how God acts all the time.

Real power also comes from restraint. Since God is all-powerful, he can do anything he wants. Since God is loving, he does not desire his creation, us, to follow and serve him out of anything but a desire and a sincere love for him. Everything has been set in motion and is perfectly aligned and created to make life habitable here on earth for humanity. If there were one, seemingly insignificant part out of correct alignment, life as we know it would end. For example, if the core temperature of the earth was a degree hotter, or the earth’s axis was off by .01, life would not be sustainable. This is true even if the moon was an inch closer to earth. Everything is placed in the proper placement and, therefore, has been given natural laws to run so life can continue. Even though J.L. Mackie says the argument that God limits himself in our world takes away from the teaching God is omnipotent (all-powerful), this is one of the best ways to describe what’s going on.

Another aspect of God’s restraint from merely taking control and erasing evil comes from his great love for the created order, especially humanity. If God wanted people to follow him, no questions asked, he would have robotic slaves. This is not what God desires. God desires a relationship with his creation. Because of this, God has given humanity the “gift” of free-will.

Free will has been a blessing and a curse for humanity. It has been a blessing because we have been allowed to learn, to make our own decisions, and to choose what we believe. It has been a curse because we have also been given a chance to do good or to do evil. There is much evil because people have exercised their freedom to bring evil into the world, maybe even into our situations. This is called moral evil.

Moral evil does not explain all that is wrong in this world because there are things that happen that occur because we live in a world where sometimes things happen beyond our control. We cannot stop the destruction of natural disasters. We cannot always prevent illnesses and diseases that take life. We cannot stop people from making the wrong decision. We cannot stop the consequences from the actions of others affecting us (i.e., Enron or financial systems doing what they believe is right). This is called natural evil.

This brings us to the next question, “did God create evil?” Saint Augustine argued that God only created/creates good things. And since the whole universe is God’s, it is fundamentally good. He also says that evil is not a created thing; it is an entity and, therefore, evil is the lack of good. God is all-powerful and has created an incredible world and universe. He is also unchanging and eternal, but the created order isn’t. Creation is mutable and changeable and, therefore, is corruptible to manifesting as evil. This lines up with the account of the fall in Genesis 3-11. Creation, humanity, rebelled against God, and brought evil into the world.

Bishop Irenaeus taught something a little different from Augustine. John Hick has his rendition of this teaching—Adam and the original creation were innocent and immature but were offered the opportunity to do good by loving God and people. He goes on to say that evil is here because this is an “inevitable stage in the gradual evolution of the human race.”

There is an argument that we cannot know good without knowing about evil. J.L. Mackie argues this with a few points: evil is a necessary counterpart to good, evil is a necessary means to good, and the universe is better with some evil. One of the issues with this kind of thinking is that it implies God is the One who created and brought about the evil and suffering we experience in this life. There is evidence to support this thought in scripture, but we also have to understand people are going to do what they are going to do.

To know evil means we have the opportunity to know good. To identify good means we know what is evil. And this is precisely why we were given the Law in our Bibles—to understand how we should live, so we do not end up living an evil life and corrupting the world even more. The created order is designed to do what God set in motion through natural laws. Humanity is the only part of the created order that has been given the gift of knowing right from wrong. God must have known we were going to make the choices we made and still make today, right?

Many theologians believe that God knows everything—past, present, and future—and lives within the space of being able to see and know all possible outcomes and scenarios (probable and factual). This means that God knows every possible way we could act or think. Some argue that this way of thinking about the knowledge God has means humanity does not have free will if God knows what we are capable of doing and do what we want. Scripture teaches God works all things together for good—meaning, God has a plan in place for every situation we might choose so his perfect will is done here on earth, even amidst the evil that surrounds us.

The biggest thing we have to wrestle with is not, why has God not eradicated evil, but what do we believe about God and what do we believe about how God works in this world and yours and my life. Sometimes faith has to go beyond the intellectual level and go into the heart level. This means there are some things we are going to have to be okay not being able to reconcile, and we have to trust that God is working for the good in this world. If we believe this about God, we can put simple trust that what the book of Revelation says about a new heaven and new earth are real, and God’s goodness will win in the end. The question now is, how will you and I choose to live?

What Can “Baby Shark” Teach Us?

It has taken the toddler country by storm. My toddler is obsessed with “Baby Shark.” Actually, obsessed may be too nice of a word. She has the toy shark that swims and sings in the bathtub. The phone that plays the song. A book. A Baby Shark puppet. She wears herself out dancing to the song! (If we need to keep her awake a little longer or get her to cooperate, we play the song. So this may be our fault. 😂)


Then it happened.


One day I was listening to the song and I realized there is a lesson we could learn. (Maybe I was hallucinating after hearing it like 5,000 times that day.)
If you feel brave, listen to the song now.

What do you hear? What do you think? It is very repetitive and repetition is good to learn.
The part that caught my attention was the end, (run away… Safe at last). That is the end of the song. This is really what we long for in life; to be safe at last.


We have all sorts of things coming at us. Little, or “baby“, things that want to try to take us down. There are bigger things that want to try to take us down. There’s old things that want to try to take us down. All of these “enemies“ want to cause us to live in fear. But the end says we are safe at last.


Now, apply this to your life. You have many things coming against you. Things that seem small. Things that seem big. Stuff from your past. All of it is trying to take you down. But take this time to trust in Christ to be with you always. To protect you. To guide you on the path to safety.


Now, before we take this to mean just individual level of protection, we need to realize this is bigger than us, then just us alone. Whenever fish are swimming away from sharks or their predators, they typically swim with other fish, so they are in a community. We are part of a community, and as the light of Christ, we get to play a part in protecting those around us because that’s what Christ calls us to do. We get to lead people to the safety found in Christ.

Now, before we take this to mean just individual level of protection, we need to realize this is bigger than us, then just us alone. Whenever fish are swimming away from sharks or their predators, they typically swim with other fish, so they are in a community. We are part of a community, and as the light of Christ, we get to play a part in protecting those around us because that’s what Christ calls us to do. We get to lead people to safety because that’s where Christ is.


So we have a call. To stay in the safety of Christ and to bring others to this place of safety.


This may be a little far fetched, but this is a lesson I think we can, and should, learn from “Baby Shark.”


(You’re welcome for it being stuck in your head now 😂. )

Discovering God through the Book of Jonah (Part 3)

RELENTLESS PURSUIT

“Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give to you.” ~Jonah 3:2 NIV

One of the things I hope we are understanding in this book of Jonah is that God never gives up on you. God is relentlessly pursuing you. God is relentlessly pursuing his people. God is relentlessly pursuing the world in so many ways. The Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy, “[God] wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”[1]

Cory Asbury, a contemporary Christian artist has a song out called Reckless Love.” I love the lyrics. The chorus goes like this:

Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God 

Oh, it chases me down fights til I’m found leaves the ninety-nine

And I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away

Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God 

Now that really sums it up, doesn’t it? I think people can get concerned about saying God’s love is reckless; so we’re using we’re saying that God’s love is relentless. This means he never gives up. One of the verses for the song says:

When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me 

You have been so, so good to me

When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me

You have been so, so kind to me 

Isn’t this a picture of God in the Book of Jonah. Think about it. Jonah has been running away. He’s been trying to escape God. He’s been trying to go where God is not; or he thinks that God is not. He knows, because he is a Hebrew prophet that God is everywhere. That part of God’s nature is that God is omnipresent. God is also all-powerful (omniscient) because God knows what Jonah will do; yet calls Jonah anyway for this mission.

But when Jonah was his foe God fought for Jonah to do the mission that God wanted Jonah to do. The mission was to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim the word of the Lord that he was given in the first chapter. God told Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before him.[2]

We have been looking at how we can see and experience and appreciate the nature of God by finding out more who of God is through this short book of Jonah. As we continue our journey through this prophetic book, we have to understand is this is act 2 of the story. Act 1 of the story was God speaking to Jonah, Jonah running away, Jonah getting swallowed by a fish and then God speaking to the fish.

The book ends of act 1 for Jonah shows a word coming from God first to the person of Jonah and second to the fish who spews, vomits, disgorges Jonah from its belly because it is sick of Jonah being there.

In Act One, the very first thing we learn is how God is persistent God is. How relentlessly he desires his word to be to go to the city of Nineveh and he wants no other person besides Jonah to deliver this message.

Beginning Act Two, chapter three, verse 1 says, “then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” [3]Not only is God persistent, God is gracious in giving second chances. 

I bet there are people reading this here and now that may need to go back to remember, a main point from last chapter is that God is not done with you. God is a God of second chances and he’s constantly working in us and through us so we become the people that he has called us to be. All so we can reach the people that he has called us to reach. Remember Paul’s words in Romans 10:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[4]

This is something very important, God is a God of second chances. Now you may not have done everything right the first time around, or the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the 50th time around. God is patient. God is relentlessly pursuing you and I so that we are going after the people that he is pursuing. The people he desires to know his salvation which is his eternal life, his presence here and now, and in the life to come. That is one of the beautiful aspects about the Christian faith, that we can have assurance of knowing that we are going to be in God’s presence. We know that this life is not the end of the story. God is saving up for us to be with him in all eternity. Not only that but God is desiring to use our lives to be part of the redemptive story of the world’s transformation. 

God says go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message he gave to Jonah. The very next verse says Jonah obeyed, this time. The New Testament, in Matthew 21, has a parable of Jesus about a father and his two sons.

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.[5]

Jesus explaining the first son is the one who obeyed God because he did what God desired. This time Jonah obeyed. So he went out, he was probably reluctant as we have seen through Jonah’s character so far. 

The text says that Nineveh was a very large city, and it would take three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown”[6]

What we see here is a picture of a reluctant prophet, reluctantly doing what God has called him to do. He’s not even halfway in the city. He waits until he is about a third of the way in (about a day’s journey), and according to the text, he proclaimed the Lord’s proclamation once. This means Jonah did not go through the entire city. Jonah stopped after just one day, after only going a third of the way in. That is when he proclaims the single message, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” He doesn’t even say this is God’s declaration for them. It is almost as if that Jonah is not wanting to tell the Ninevites the whole story. But the very next verse says the Ninevites believed God.

What’s interesting about that is Jonah, as we have said, did not say anything about God in the proclamation, but the Ninevites, the text says, believed God and all of a sudden a fast was

Proclaimed. All of them, from the greatest to the least put on sackcloth and the message even went up to the king who gave a decree that went out to all the people. Now what does this mean?

Think about what this is saying for who God is in our world. Number one, as we have seen in Chapter 1, it says that Nineveh’s wickedness has come up before God. This is saying that God is concerned about holiness. God is concerned about us being holy. His people, really the not just his people but the entire world being holy, being recast into his image, being perfect, being just like him. In New Testament terms this means being like Christ.

God is concerned about our holiness. Here’s the deal with that. None of us can measure up to this standard. None of us, as it says in Romans chapter 3, have lived up to the glory of God

because it says it all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. 

The other thing that we see is that Jonah went a day’s walk, about a third of the way, into the city. He did kind of this half-hearted proclamation, but what we see is that when he proclaimed the Word of God, when we proclaim God’s truth, God’s Spirit works incredible wonders amid our timidity, in spite of our prejudices, in spite of our reluctedness to go.

Remember, as it says in Hebrews four, “the Word of God is sharper and active than any double-edged sword.” God’s Word works incredible wonders. Now, what happened? 

In Jonah’s message, he doesn’t say “repent” but the people hoped that if they repented, God would relent from the destruction of their city being overthrown.

Let’s talk about repentance for a moment. Repentance is one of those words, Church Words, that we like to say; but here’s the thing about repentance, repentance means doing a 180 in our actions, in our words, and in our thoughts so we are not going on our own path anymore. The path we are turning around to, is God’s direction.

Repentance means that we are going to have to make a change in our heart and life. That’s what repentance means. In Greek, the word is metanoia, which is a change of mind, a change of heart which means that all of us are going to change and be given over to God’s will. We like to say “repent” because we don’t like to hear change, that we have to change in order to become holy in order for Christ to shine in and through us. That’s a challenge for us; but see the incredible thing about grace is that God works in spite of us. We are all called to repent.

Jesus’ very first sermon was, “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” which means change your heart and life because God’s eternal presence is here. His kingdom of heaven is already here. Change your heart and life so that you are able to live in and experience this incredible place called heaven.

Verse 10 says, “when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” God desires holiness but God is about forgiveness.

We have an incredible picture of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. When he was on the cross, his arms were stretched out wide. He looked down and in the crowd. It was as if he looked through time past, present, and future. He said these incredible words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Think about that. What he was doing was looking at you and I because we do not know what we are doing because our desire is to follow our own heart. Our desire is to do things our way, our desire is to be in control of our lives. Our desire even, if we profess Christ, is most of the time to do things our own way. God desires to forgive. 

One of the attributes of God is found in the book of Exodus chapter 33 verse 19. I love this verse because it’s repeated multiple times throughout the scriptures. God is speaking to Moses and he says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

What we have not said up to this point is that Jonah, a Hebrew, is going to the pagans, the Gentiles, in Nineveh. Now, Nineveh is in the area of Babylon place that had many gods and worship the king. Jonah was going there to a place that the Hebrews did not like. In fact this was an area that captured the Hebrews and put them in captivity in exile.

Jonah was called to go there to tell Nineveh it’s wickedness has come up before God. Why should Jonah care about this city? Because God cares about our enemies. When we read Joshua chapter 5, we see the commander of the Lord’s army appearing before Joshua. Joshua bows down and asks, “are you on our side or you for the other side?” The commander the lord’s army says, “neither I’m for God.”

That’s one of the things that we have to understand and remember as Christians. When Jesus says pray for your enemies he means, “don’t let anything come between you and other people. Find a way to make it work.”

God desires forgiveness. God desires holiness. God’s Word works wonders in the world. When we live by God’s Word we see how our enemies are overthrown. We’ll talk about that next week.

Maybe our enemies are not overthrown in the manner in which we want but in the manner in which we may lead them to God.

God is relentlessly pursuing you and I to do the mission we are called to. Are you ready for this work? It will not only change your life, but will change the world!


[1] ! Timothy 2:4 NIV

[2] Jonah 1:2

[3] Jonah 3:1 NIV

[4] Romans 10:14-15 NIV

[5] Matthew 21:28-31a NIV

[6] Jonah 3:4a

Discovering God through the book of Jonah (Part 2)

HEAR OUR PRAYER

“From inside the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.” (Jonah 2:1 NIV

Many of us attend worship each week with hidden concerns, hidden feelings, harboring resentment, coming with doubts about your faith. The challenging thing is how do we allow the message of God to shape us into who God is making us to be?

One of the biggest doubts we seem to face is whether or not we believe God is done with us. Now, this can take on a variety of characteristics. One can become controlling to try and make sure things get done in the order and manner you want. One may stop trying to do anything new. One may begin to pray only at meal times, because this is when we are supposed to pray.

If we fall into these, or any other similar categories, it becomes harder to go to scripture. Why is this? I have learned that when we go to scripture, we tend to focus on what we know (or think we know) and disregard the rest. It is easy to go to verses that give us the good feels like Philippians 4:13, John 3:16, Psalm 23, Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8, etc. I bet you even know what these (or most) verses are.

The point is, we like to have the Bible tell us what we want. We’ll even read our own ideas, our own culture into the scriptures. As we said last chapter, remember the point of the scripture is to teach us who God is and who we are now, and who we will become.

I can hear it now, I learn most of what I know about God through nature. That is true. The Apostle Paul writes to the people in Rome, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what was made.”[1] The issue with this thinking is that we believe we learn about God just through nature (or other people) and the Bible is our manual for how to get into heaven.

As we dive into the scriptures we can see the main point is not for us to go to heaven. The main point is to love God and love people which brings heaven to us. This means, as we read, study, and pray the scriptures, we learn God is telling us so much about who he is so we can learn more and more about our own character.

One of the fascinating things about scripture that I love is how we can see something new each and every time we read and meditate on the passages. The same thing is true for the book of Jonah. 

Maybe viewing the purpose of the book of Jonah is to tell us about the nature of God is a new or different concept than you have been taught before. That is good. The more we study scripture, the more layers we find. This reminds me of the movie Shrek. The donkey and the ogre are on their to rescue Princess Fiona from the dragon. Donkey is upset Shrek did not do more damage to Lord Farquaad’s castle and knights.

Shrek is telling Donkey how there is more to ogres than people realize. He gives the illustration that ogres are like onions. There are many layers to peel back before you can understand what an ogre is about. We also have to remember that scripture is the same way. 

Scripture has many layers, the more we read, the more we study, the more we hear God’s voice speaking, the more we begin to understand about what the text is teaching us about humanity, what we should learn, but also what we should learn and know about God.

The book of Jonah is no different. Take some time, right now, to write down anything you have learned about God so far in this short book of the Bible.

In the last chapter, we left Jonah in the belly of the fish. He has been in the fish for three days and three nights. Remember we said this was actually grace because God did provide a way for Jonah to live. 

You are probably going through something right now that makes it seem as if you are in the belly of a fish. The circumstances and situation you are in are not what you expected them to be. You are living with a diagnosis. Maybe you have gotten away from an abusive situation. Maybe you are running to find out who you are. Maybe, just maybe, you are in a situation you believe you don’t deserve to be in and are angry about it. It is in moments like this we find people may not be as open as they say they are, or we find it difficult to know where to turn.

One thing I can promise is this: God has not forgotten you. God still is with you and is doing a great work in, and hopefully, through you. It may seem as if you are all alone, but God has not left you. 

Jonah was in the fish for three days and three nights before the fish ejected him onto the dry land. I’m sure there were times he felt as if his prayers did not get past the scales. There are many times I pray I feel as if the words, or thoughts, do not get past the shingles. But, as we read Jonah chapter two, we learn something about God.

GOD ANSWERS PRAYERS

This is huge. God will give an answer to our prayers. Sometimes the answer is “yes”. Sometimes “no”. Sometimes “not yet”. Sometimes it’s a combination of “not yet because you haven’t done what I’ve already told you to do.” God will answer prayers. The question now is, are we ready to pay attention for the answer.

Back to Jonah. He has been in the fish for three days and three nights. The scripture does not say when this prayer was prayed, just that he prayed. What is interesting is what it was Jonah prayed: 

“In my distress, I called to the Lord…” (v 2)   Did he really?

“yet I will look again to your holy temple.” (v 4b)   Has he done this already?

“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord,” (v 7a)   Interesting…

“But I, with shouts of grateful praise…” (v 9a)    Has he done this before?

“What I have vowed, I will make good.” (v 9b)   What did he vow?

“I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” (v 9c)  Has he said this before?

The reason we should look closely at the prayer Jonah “prayed” is that it doesn’t seem consistent with what we have read so far about this prophet of God. It almost seems as if he is praying the prayer from memory because he has not lived the life the prayer suggests.

Besides looking at the life of Jonah to get the clues as to whether or not he believed this prayer, we can look at verse 10: “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” 

Notice the word vomit. “The verb vomit, which returns him to dry land…evokes negative connotations. Rather than using a delicate word for ejection, the narrator uses a distasteful image. The fish does not stomach Jonah.”[2] Based upon this, and of course Jonah’s past actions, according to the text, even the fish cannot handle Jonah’s behavior and sarcastic prayer.

As we have seen, Jonah was not having his attitude adjusted. He was most likely mulling around in the fish’s stomach upset because he did not get his way. What does he do? He “prays” this prayer, maybe trying to get God to do what Jonah wants to do—run away from doing what God wants.

The interesting thing is that, maybe Jonah though his life was over in the fish and his prayers did not go past the scales, but God delivered Jonah by having the fish dump him on the dry land.

Yes, Jonah’s prayer may not have been sincere for him; but this teaches us God cares enough for his people that God will answer our prayers, even when our heart is not tuned toward God. Look at what Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him![3]

As we learn about the nature of God, we also learn more about the condition of humanity. Jonah is trying to make himself look good by “praying” to God and saying the “right” things in the prayer. This is something we all try to do. 

We know that we cannot make God do anything by saying the right words in the prayers we pray, but we also try to keep ourselves looking good in the presence of God. Jonah is still trying to hide who he really is by praying this Prayer of Thanksgiving. It is possible that he is recalling the only prayer he could think of in that moment.

From Jonah we learn that humanity tries to cover sin up by attempting to make ourselves look good in the presence of God. It is difficult to reveal our true nature because we do not like it when people look down on us, especially God. But remember the words in the book of James:

“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” [4]

And also hear the Apostle Peter’s words: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”[5]

What we have to understand is God knows who we really are on the inside (see chapter 1). God knows the condition and state of our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7, John 2:25) So we should be completely open and honest with God. This vulnerability reminds us of God’s unconditional love for you and I. We also remember that God never expects us to be perfect, humanity is not perfect; therefore, we come to God as we are.

There are times we will try to hide who were really are because we do not want to face the reality of God humbling us. But we also try to hide who we are by pretending everything is okay with our lives, even though we do not believe everything is right.

Through all of this, no matter what situation or life circumstance we find ourselves in, part of the nature of God we see in Jonah is: providing an answer to prayer.

When a mother has a sick child, it is marvelous how quick her ears become while attending it. Good woman, we wonder she does not fall asleep. If you hired a nurse, it is ten to one she would. But the dear child in the middle of the night does not need to cry for water, or even speak; there is a little quick breathing—who will hear it? No one would except the mother; but her ears are quick, for they are in her child’s heart. Even so, if there is a heart in the world that longs for the things of God, God’s ear is already in that poor sinner’s heart. He will hear it. There is not a good desire on earth but the Lord has heard it.[6]

Jonah’s prayer was trying to get him out of that situation, whether he meant the words he was praying or not, God still heard the prayer.

God has not forgotten you. God will answer your prayer. The answer may not be what we are expecting, or coming from where we want, but God answers every prayer offered to him. 

No where, in the text, has Jonah proved he has done or said anything he has prayed. He was running away from God. The sailors had to ask Jonah to call on his God to help them (Jonah 1:6) but Jonah still sent to sleep instead of being concerned about the safety of the other sailors.

Now, let’s look at our own prayer lives.

I find it interesting the only thing Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them was how to pray (Matthew 6:5-14, Luke 11:1-13). When was the last time you or I asked another person, or Jesus for that matter, how we should pray.

Yes, there are many formulations on the best type of prayer. We can pray spontaneously, read prayers from the past, pray the Psalms, and more. But God is more interested in what is the state of our heart.

There are times we do not know what we should pray, and God has this covered as well. The Apostle Paul writes, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself interceded for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our own hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” [7]

It is because of God’s grace the Spirit he has given us prays to him. Too often we can neglect our prayer life and try to do things our own way. We try to do things on our own because, as I have heard many people say through the years, “I don’t want to bother God with this small situation.”

See, it is in the midst of difficulty that we learn how deep our prayers can be. We learn if we’re just focusing on ourselves and our own situation, or if we are truly trying to seek out and accept the will of God for our own lives. 

Jonah stays inside the belly of the fish for three days. You and I may in the situation we’re in longer than we want, but there will come a time when we will be set free.

Every request we make to God is heard and answered. God had the fish spew Jonah onto the dry land. This signifies Jonah given the chance to begin anew.

Maybe you and I are given a chance to renew our commitment to Jesus, or even begin our calling, our mission, our life with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit anew this day.

Think about that, we are given a new opportunity to do what God has called us to do. Live with that grace, accept this incredible gift from God, called life (here and now and in the life to come). 

You have been given this incredible gift of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit within you. God has not forgotten nor abandoned you just like God never abandoned Jonah.

Let our cry to God, each day, simply be “Lord, hear our prayer.” Then, look earnestly for the answers that will come.


[1] Romans 1:20a NIV

[2] Tribble, Phyllis. New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes Volume 7. (1994). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. Page 504

[3] Matthew 7:7-11 NIV

[4] James 5:16 NIV

[5] 1 Peter 4:8 NIV

[6] Flashes of Thought: 1000 Choice Extracts from the Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Charles Spurgeon

[7] Romans 8:26-27 NIV

Discovering God through the Book of Jonah (Part 1)

A WORD FROM GOD

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:” (Jonah 1:1 NIV)

Take some time to read the first chapter of the book of Jonah in you Bible.

I recently told my congregation, there are two things to know about me, right off the bat. Number one, I am a really smart guy. Now, I know I do not always do things that make it seem like I am smart, but I do work really hard. I also had to tell them, I promise I am safety conscious. This was really important because the weekend before, I had gotten the church’s zero-turn lawnmower stuck in a ditch. It would have been funny if this had been a one-time incident, but alas, it was not. 

See, the parsonage has a few inclines that would make mowing them challenging. If you did not go at the right angle, I learned, the mower will slip back down the hill. And that is what got me caught in the ditch, the first time. Don’t worry, we were able to get the mower out easily and I was able to finish what I needed to for the day.

This might be a good point to say this is my first time using a zero-turn lawnmower. Over the course of three mowings, I was able to get more confident and do more of the yard safely.

The next day, I decided I needed to finish an area of the yard that had not been able to be mowed because it had been real marshy and I needed that to dry up. The time had come. I put on my rain boots, walked through knee-high grass, and found the ground was dry enough for me to finish this patch of grass. I was excited!

I got the mower out, put in my headphones and turned on Pandora Radio on the Contemporary Christian station. I was getting more and more of the yard mowed, and it was looking good! At this point, I felt myself getting prideful and decided to go up a hill, close to the driveway, so I could easily go back and make another pass. This worked great, until…there was a little culvert ditch I did not see until it was too late. This time, the lawnmower had been backed up into the ditch.

Most of the time I am not easily embarrassed. When people drove by and saw the mower, and then the vehicle pulling a rope (that kept breaking), I felt I just needed to laugh at this situation. Then, a friend came by, called his son, and they were able to get me unstuck.

The other thing I told the congregation they needed to know about me was that I do not like to be told something is too much of a challenge, or it is impossible. I have had this character trait verified on multiple occasions. My wife says this is one of the reasons we are married. J

I do not believe there are impossible situations. There is always a way out and people who can and will be there when needed. Because of this, I was able to get the yard mowed before rain started the next morning. Every time I drive up to the house, I am thrilled to see the yard mowed! Mission accomplished, this time.

Now many people, including me at times, when faced with a seemingly impossible situation, will try to run and hide until the problem goes away. We see this all the time. People will run to drugs, alcohol, the arms of someone who is not their spouse, and more, just to try and run away from the situation for the moment and not think about it. 

It really is amazing what people will do to get out of doing something or face a situation or issue without really dealing with it. Most of the time, when the situation is faced and worked on, it turns out better.

As I study the scriptures and get older, I am understanding more and more how important it is to know who God is and what God’s nature is like. If we do not understand this, we do not clearly or fully understand who we really are. (I’m not talking about who we think we are. I am talking about who God created us to be.)

Now we get to the biblical book of Jonah.

There was something my Old Testament professor, in seminary, said. Think about this. “If you only had the book (or passage) of __________ from the Bible, what could you tell people about God from the text?” This is essentially what we get to do and experience from the Bible. We get to learn more about the nature of God. Yes, we learn about human nature, but as we learn about human nature, we also learn about who God is and how God interacts in this world and with flawed humanity. The book of Jonah is no different. 

As we take this time to study this short book in the minor prophets, take time to go to a new level of looking at the Biblical text. Take the time to see what the text is saying about who God is and what God’s nature is. This is something important for us to do because we can miss out on knowing God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit if we’re only looking for what peaks our interest or what makes us feel good.

Enter Jonah.

The prophet. The whale. The story many have heard from childhood. This is a book that has captured the minds and hearts of many throughout the centuries. So much so that many stories and movies have used something from this short book of the prophets. In 48 verses, Jonah gives us a good picture of what happens when we try to run from God and how persistent God is to get us to do what he wants.

The story, we know, goes like this: Jonah hears from God to go to Nineveh to get them to repent. Jonah says no and decides to get on a boat to try and run from God. A storm hits the sea and the sailors are scared. When they figure out Jonah is the cause of the storm, they throw him overboard and he gets swallowed by a whale (though the text just says big fish we tend to still think whale). He spends three days in the belly of the fish and then gets spewed out on the land. Jonah hears God again and this time he goes to Nineveh. While he is walking through the city, Jonah proclaims the message of the Lord and the people are scared so everyone, including the animals, put on sackcloth as a sign of repentance. God does not destroy the city. Jonah throws a fit. The end.

That pretty much sums it up, right? But, since this is one of the books in the Bible, we have to understand there is always something beneath the surface. There is something God wants us to know through this inspired story, this inspired word. 

This really is a fantastic story. It is easy to try and say this book is about how we should not try to run from God. It is easy to say this book is about God’s compassion for the people. It is easy to say this book teaches us about the human condition. But, if we take time to read and understand this story, we can see this book, like the rest of the Bible, is teaching us about the nature of God.

Our task, over the next four chapters is to see how, if we only had the book of Jonah, we could still teach about the incredible nature of the God who created the universe, including each individual person.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai.

Before we go any further into this story, we have to pause and think about who Jonah is. The only other time we learn of a prophet named Jonah is in 2 Kings 14:25, which says, “[Jeroboam, king of Israel (Northern Kingdom)] was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea,[a] in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.” (NIV) There really is not much about this guy. Even though we do not have much information, we do know who Jonah was supposed to be, a prophet of YHWH. 

Look at his name. Have you ever thought about Jonah’s name before? Jonah son of Amittai. “The proper name means ‘Dove son of Truth (or Faithfulness).’”[1] Can you sense the irony and humor right off the bat? Jonah is supposed to be a faithful prophet of God, yet he does something very unfaithful and runs away from his assignment. We are not told why he does this in the first chapter, but he tries to run from God and hide.

When else have you heard about people who tried to hide from God, in the Bible? There are numerous accounts, but the one that stands out is Adam and Eve. This is the account you can read about in Genesis chapter 3.

Right after Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”[2]

The story of the fall and trying to hide ourselves from God has saturated and become part of just about every story we know. It seems to be human nature to try and hide from people and/or God when we are ashamed or feel guilty.

When we tell about the beginning of the fall, when the fruit was eaten, notice how we tend to focus on the people’s actions and their sense of separation from God. Have we noticed the great care and grace God offers by “searching” for the man and women in the garden? God knows where they are located but God is asking where their heart is. The man tells God they were afraid. Their hearts were in fear, instead of peace.

Through the fear in their hearts, God still comes to the man and woman and offers them a chance to live, even if it is not in perfect peace as they were used to. God does this because the state and condition of every heart is known by him. Remember what God told the prophet Samuel when he went to anoint the next king of Israel after Saul, “the Lord looks at the heart.”[3]

Back to Jonah. 

JONAH LEARNS HE CANNOT RUN OR HIDE FROM GOD

God knows what Jonah will do. God knows that Jonah will try to run and hide, but God still offers grace from the beginning by giving Jonah the chance to do what he is supposed to do.

Jonah does not surprise God when he flees. God knows everything about us.[4] Jonah thinks he can run away from God by running away from his assignment.

Notice how the text says Jonah “went down to Joppa,”[5] “gone below deck.”[6] Jonah kept going down. The author is showing how the condition of Jonah’s heart is going deeper and deeper away from the presence and calling of God.

What we learn from this is God is not a person we can run and hide from. God is omniscient, meaning God is everywhere. There is no place God is not. Here, we can remember the words of David from Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.[7]

So now we have to ask if there is anything you are hiding from God? Do you wish God was with you and answering your pleas? Rest easy, God is always with you. God has never left you. There is nowhere you can go God is not. The presence of God is always seeking to give your heart peace and vanquish any fear within.

God is everywhere. That is good news for us. This is not all this first chapter of Jonah teaches us about God.

GOD CREATED EVERYTHING

This might seem like a no-brainer but this is a reality and truth we have to understand, or at least believe. Jonah seems to know this, yet he does not seem thrilled about it.

When he gets on the ship, Jonah goes below the deck to take a nap. Suddenly, a great storm comes upon the sea and is threatening the boat and the crew on board. The sailors are terrified and are trying to figure out why they are having this bad luck. They want to know who “cursed” the boat by coming aboard.

After casting lots, which is similar to drawing straws, the sailors find it was Jonah who caused the storm. They rush to get him and bring him to the deck to question him. Now, they already knew why he was on the boat because he told them he was running away from God. This never sunk in until the storm hit.

The sailors questioned Jonah about who he is. 

It’s interesting they did not want to know who he was before, they only wanted to know his reason for going to Tarshish. 

Jonah begins to tell them, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”[8] It is easy for us to hear Jonah with a confident, prophetic voice declaring who he is; but we have to keep in mind Jonah is running from God because he seems to be unhappy with the task he was called to do.

Instead of hearing a bold voice proclaim, “I am a Hebrew and worship the Lord…” Maybe we should instead hear Jonah speak with a snarky, disgusted tone because, yes he is a Hebrew, but he does not or has not shown he worships the Lord since he has run away. 

There are those who would try to make others feel guilty about running away, but pay attention to how Jonah is also showing us the human condition while teaching who God is. People run from God for many reasons. People will claim they worship God but live a life doing the opposite.

Jonah is telling the crew who he is supposed to be and what he is supposed to do. Maybe he has given up trying to pretend because at this point, Jonah is still trying to figure a way to get out of the assignment at hand, for unknown reasons at this point.

Yes, Jonah is a Hebrew. Yes, he is supposed to worship the Lord, but Jonah is unhappy with his lot in life. When the crew tries to decide what to do, Jonah steps in and says, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”[9] Jonah has thought about ending his life. He gets in his head that if he were gone, the lives of those around him would be better, would be safer.

But Jonah underestimates the image of God within humanity. He forgets that God desires people to live and to live in community with others.

What is remarkable is how the sailors try to avoid throwing Jonah overboard. They come up with every other idea. They even tried to row back to the land, back to safety. But the storm was too strong for them to row and they finally relented to Jonah’s plea.

GOD CAN BE SEEN IN THE MOST UNLIKELY PEOPLE

The sailors throw Jonah overboard. But before they completed that task, they cried out to Jonah’s God. “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”[10] The sailors began to plea to the Lord. They cried out to the Lord. What this means is they worshipped the Lord, in that moment.

We never know how our lives are going to touch those around us. Even if we are not living up to the life God set out for us, there is still his Spirit within us to touch the Spirit of another person. Pay attention to how people begin to act when you are around. You or I may not be the most perfect example of living for God, but maybe there is something about us that helps bring people to him. 

I cannot remember where I heard this quote, but it sticks with me: “Your fingerprints never leave the lives you touch.” Because of the grace of God, the Holy Spirit within us reaches out to another person and offers the grace of knowing the God in heaven, the Creator of the universe.

As the sailors were worshipping God, they threw Jonah overboard. All of a sudden, the storm ceased.

They realized the Lord is the One who created the heavens, the earth, and they sea. The Lord created everything. So, they continued to worship the Lord by offering sacrifices to him and made vows to him.[11]

Jonah is in the sea. He thinks his life is over, but notice this: God shows great compassion by allowing Jonah to live. God provides a huge fish, speaks to it, and the fish swallows Jonah. Jonah is kept safe in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Even though it is in the belly of a fish, God still desires his people to live and to experience real life, life in God’s presence here and now not just in the life to come.

What an interesting way to end this chapter. But here we are, in the belly of the fish, learning about the nature of God. Remember this, the circumstance you might be in now could be something God is using to keep you alive and trust in God. You may not be in the best situation, in your mind, but you may just be exactly where God is wanting you to be. You never know who God has placed in your life that has the tools to get you out of the ditch. It is in these situations we are becoming more and more transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Just look at what the Apostle Paul says in Romans:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.[12]

So, if this were the only book of the Bible you had in your possession, how much could you teach about who God is and what his nature is?

So far, we have learned:

  1. Even though God knows our real heart, he still calls to us and speaks to us, giving us his mission.
  2. There is no place we can hide from God. This should give us great encouragement because God never leaves us.
  3. The Lord is the One who created everything.
  4. People come to see and know God by our lives.
  5. God offers grace and desires life for people

As we can see, this is who God is and what God is like. Fast forward to the New Testament, we can see all of this lived out in the person of Jesus Christ.

Bringing this chapter to a close, I am invited us to begin to memorize Hebrews 3:15, “today, if you hear [God’s] voice, do not harden your heart.” God’s word comes to us in many different ways. Do we have the ears and heart to hear?

Maybe someone needs to hear this word, as if it is from God:

“I know who you are and what you’re capable of, yet I still choose you for this life, for this calling, for this special mission I created you for. You can try to go as far from me as you want, but remember, I’m already there and I’m pursuing you with a love so great that I will do everything I can to keep you alive. I created this whole world. I created you! Because of you (whether it’s done perfectly or not) the most unlikely people will come to believe in me, know me, and worship me. You have a great role to play in expanding the Kingdom of Heaven.”


[1] Tribble, Phyllis. New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes Volume 7. (1994). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. Page 493

[2] Genesis 3:8 NIV

[3] 1 Samuel 16:7c NIV

[4] Psalm 139:1-6

[5] Jonah 1:3 NIV

[6] Jonah 1:5 NIV

[7] Psalm 139:7-12 NIV

[8] Jonah 1:9 NIV

[9] Jonah 1:12 NIV

[10] Jonah 1:14 NIV

[11] Jonah 1:16

[12] Romans 5:1-5 NIV

The Greatest Story Ever Told

How is the story of Scripture shaping your life? Do you know how the complete canon (storyline) of the Bible fits together? Here is a message (including liturgy for Holy Communion) to show us how we can understand what the Bible is about.

For more information on Red Lick First United Methodist Church, click here.

GROW IN YOUR FAITH

AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM    KINDLE & PAPERBACK EDITIONS

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Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. C.S. Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our lives today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.

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