Jonah is my favorite.
On the ship, he’s a drama queen.
In the fish, a moody poet.
He’s a bold proclaimer on the streets of Nineveh, but in the end, a spoiled brat hosting a pity party under the palms.
As the saying goes, I’m not laughing at him; I’m laughing with him.
I love Jonah because I see myself in his ancient face. I have been each of these things on all of the days — sometimes every single one of them before lunchtime.
In many seasons, my obedience has been half-hearted at best, driven by my own pride or misconceptions of God instead of surrender to His plans. Some days, I board the boat and head in the opposite direction of the very thing God wants me to do.
At the beginning of this story, God asks Jonah to go to Nineveh, an “evil” city, and call them to repent.
But this book isn’t really about God’s work in Nineveh.
It’s about God’s work in Jonah.
Jonah tries to flee from God’s presence. I’m here anyway, God says. Nineveh is full of wicked people — a culture Jonah has been taught to hate for his whole life. Love them anyway, God says. Jonah wants to see justice served. I want mercy instead, God says.
In each chapter, God teaches Jonah — and us — more about His power, His grace, and His enduring love for all kinds of people — both those who make stumbling attempts to follow Him and those who are out there ignoring Him, not even trying to follow Him at all.
The book of Jonah is also about God’s faithfulness to work through Jonah. Despite his wishy-washy obedience — his misunderstanding of God’s heart and ways — the Lord doesn’t waste a drop of the prophet’s insubordination and attitude.
The sailors in chapter one begin to worship the one true God because of his story (Jonah 1:16). The people of Nineveh repent and are saved because of his witness (3:10). God even turns Jonah’s pity party in chapter four into a chance to teach thousands of generations who have read this book about His own power and forgiveness (4:10-11).
Nothing is wasted here.
Except Jonah’s chance for joy.
Jesus once taught it this way: If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15). For many years, I read this as a statement of condition — a strict-parenting-style quid pro quo: if you really want to prove you love me, Kelly, you’ll do what I say.
Now, I know better. It’s a statement of consequence — if you pursue loving me with your whole heart, Kelly, that’s when you’ll really be able to obey me with everything you are. Loving Jesus is the prerequisite for my obedience, not something I’m using my obedience to prove.
It makes all the difference in the world.
God doesn’t need our whole-hearted obedience. We do. That’s because in order to get there — to fully obey in a way that’s not done out of guilt or duty or fear, but out of delight and surrender — we will need to really know Him, and know the kind of love for God that will make our obedience a joy.
We need to see our obedience not as a grudging surrender, but as a song that sings His goodness to us.
We need a relationship with Jesus (He calls us His friends!) that grasps the radical, gentle, unchanging kindness He has for the half-hearted, the weak-hearted, the hard-hearted, the broken-hearted.
For Nineveh, for Jonah, and for us.
God, in His mercy, will not waste our obedience, no matter how half-hearted we are.
The question is this: will we?
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.