(Note: the "Sunday sermon" is not intended to be a regular feature, but just as God so moves. As it happens, He moves today.)
A lovely young lady whose blog I follow (and follows mine- sign up now!) has as part of her blog description this line:
Lesson to be learned: Find a whale and stay in its stomach for few days, and you will find your happiness.
So I asked myself the other morning: What did Jonah find in the Whale's belly? Other than weeds wrapping around his head, that is (Chapt. 2 v 5).
And I looked around the incident. He certainly wasn't happy before hand, and wasn't for long afterwards. What was the problem?
First of all, he was given a task he DID NOT want to do. He would have been much happier if Nineveh was wiped off the face of the earth. To him, they were a big, murderous bully seeking his life and the lives of his people, and had already consumed the lives of so many- possibly more that any nation before them. So at first he ran, but found you can't run away from God. So he submitted to God, and as a result found himself, confessing his sin, being pitched overboard, and swallowed up by a big fish.
Normally that would be the end of the story,; but what the sailors probably thought was the end of Jonah was actually his salvation, for as Jonah said in his prayer, "All your billows and your waves PASSED OVER ME" (2 v 3).
Afterwards, he went, though not much more willingly, about the task given him. And it worked; God ended up sparing Nineveh when they heard Jonah and repented. Which pissed Jonah off- so God decided He would teach Jonah a lesson. First He provided Jonah shelter in the form of this plant that grew up and shaded him in the hot desert sun- and Jonah was very grateful (4 v 6). Then, He took this temporary shelter away- and Jonah became even more angry, telling God Himself, "Yes it is right for me to be angry, even unto death!" (4 v 9).
Now here, let's do a little application. My son was unhappy Friday when informed he'd be working a full Saturday shift instead of the scheduled half-day; furthermore, he had two hours OT looming before him on Monday. Now, I'm not bashing him here; longtime followers heard all my moaning over the far more excessive OT we got saddled with last season, so I knew how he felt. Believe me, if one works for Arden, OT should be a good thing because its the only way you make good money. But you get focusing on the thing you think belongs to you, your weekend, which you laughingly call your "life", and get pissed when it is taken away. Or some other good thing, as your own situation requires- the car you wanted, the job you applied for, the trinket on ebay you got outbid on. And you get mad, and sometimes it's at God for allowing the OT or the high gas prices or the increase in your rent or the late bill notice. You think, where is the fairness, where is the protection as a Christian I thought I was supposed to expect?
WHO TOLD YOU THAT?
Our protection is supernatural, our human lives mortal. We think in the here and now, never stopping to think how believers might have it there (as in China where you have to be registered and monitored and still might not be allowed to worship together) and then (like the Middle Ages when millions of believers were seeking help from the plagues or greedy landlords and the "church" was too busy making money selling indulgences to those rich enough to "buy their way into heaven").
So, to was Jonah, who never looked past his own desires- first, his (well deserved) grudge against the Assyrians, and then, and more dear to him, his sheltering plant. And in his anger and frustration, he saw himself as righteous against God - which, as you recall, was Job's failing as well.
But Jonah missed the big picture, so God explained it in the last two verses (4 vv 10-11). You are upset, He said, over this plant, which is a perishable mortal thing, which you didn't even work for. It did its function- it sprouted one day, withered the next. WHAT YOU DESIRE IS NOT THE WAY THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE. On the other hand, you have no sympathy for Nineveh, far more important than a plant. One hundred and twenty THOUSAND people, who are too ignorant to discern between their right hand and their left, spiritually, and ALL the things they worked for (if you can't get off the "property" thing) who would have been destroyed and sent to eternal damnation had I not relented.
Lesson here being, stop focusing on yourself- God has a bigger picture he wants you to look at.
And what DID Jonah find in the belly of the whale? That when he had NOTHING, and was totally abandoned to the deep, God still heard him.
And there is your happiness, whether you're in the belly of the fish or sitting under the withered leaf.