Have you ever ran away? I have. In fact, I have a couple of stories from my early childhood that came to mind when our Sunday School class was asked this question. I don't remember which of the stories I'm going to tell you happened first. I do remember, however, that I was around four years old in both.
My mom packed me a little bag, opened the front door to our mobile home and asked me to leave
The first story, while I wasn't running away of my own will, still takes me back to this day when the subject of running away comes up. Apparently, I wasn't a happy camper when my new baby brother was brought home from the hospital. I'm told I flipped his bassinet over....with him inside! Obviously, this did not go over well with my mom and is the part of the story I don't remember. The part I do remember is a day I don't believe I will ever forget. My mom packed me a little bag, opened the front door to our mobile home and asked me to leave and told me not to come back until I could be nice. I couldn't believe my ears. What in the world was I going to do? Where was I going to go? As I was making a lap around our mobile home, trying to solve my dilemma, I concluded that my only option was to go knock on the door and ask if I could come back. Of course, since my mom had followed me from window to window as I made that lap that day she was waiting for me at the door and opened her arms to let me back in. There's a lot to unpack here, but let's suffice it to say, even as a four year old this was a day that made a huge impact on me that would take years to understand.
Our plan was flawed, but we made the attempt anyway.
The second story was definitely a story of me attempting to run away of my own will. This time I was in cahoots with my younger sister. We are just a year apart. Our plan was flawed, but we made the attempt anyway. We punched out the screen in our roll out mobile home windows and began throwing our clothes and favorite toys out the new hole we'd made. It was a very windy day. There was a pasture behind our home with only a wire fence separating our yard from the pasture. Our clothes blew against the fence making a colorful quilt like covering. If you can imagine all the 1970's plaid we probably owned. Once the job of getting our belongings out the window was done we realized we hadn't considered that we wouldn't be able to get our sweet little selves out of the window as easily as our precious belongings had made the escape. We decided to leave through the front door. The only thing I remember after this was getting a good switching every time I bent over to collect my runaway belongings. I don't even remember what sparked this, but I won't forget the consequences!
We've all heard the story of Jonah and the big fish, right? He was definitely running away. He wasn't about to do what God had asked him to. Did he honestly believe he could hide from God? We're talking about God here. Who sees all. Knows all. Hears all. He's everywhere. All the time. I believe He used Jonah, yes in his disobedience, to save those men on that ship that day.
Then they cried out to the Lord, “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.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. Jonah 1: 14-16
The answers to our prayers aren't always pretty smelling are they?
God knew Jonah was running away, yet He had compassion on him even though he was disobeying. He even used it to bring glory to Himself. Wow. He chose him to do a job & God wanted to see Jonah through what he called him to do. God sent that fish to save Jonah. Not to punish him. To save him. Again, wow. Jonah, after deciding to just out himself by telling the crew to throw him overboard, now finds himself in the belly of a fish. He was there for three days. He begins crying out to the Lord. God hears him and commands the fish to vomit Jonah up onto the shore. The answers to our prayers aren't always pretty smelling are they?
We read these stories in the Bible and probably judge too quickly.
Jonah finally decides to obey God and go to Nineveh to tell the people the message God had for them. God was going to destroy them. Now as we went through this story I had to imagine the scene was not like we want to imagine it was. He wasn't just tiptoeing through the tulips. He wasn't floating along on some sort of Heavenly cloud with gold all around and a glorious mist puffing out every few seconds. No, he was obeying God, but he still didn't like the people of Nineveh. They were different. Culturally different. From different worlds. Enemies. He had a bad attitude toward them. Why do you think he ran away to begin with? If it were an easy assignment, he would've jumped at the chance. We read these stories in the Bible and probably judge too quickly. We can't understand why these people didn't obey God immediately. Yet, here we are today walking in those same shoes. Isn't it amazing how God can still use us even when our attitudes stink?
Jonah didn't even realize that this wasn't just a job God had for him....it was a job that was designed to change Jonah. To open his eyes to some things about himself. Not just a warning to the people of Nineveh. By the way here's what happened to the people of Nineveh...
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. Jonah 3:10
And here's what Jonah thought about it....
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 4:1
Even though he obeyed God, he didn't like what God was doing. He even cried out in anger to God about it. Ever been there? Has God ever asked you to go tell your enemies about Him? Imagine the hardest person in your life to be around. We all have at least one. It's okay to admit it to yourself...God already knows about it. Imagine God deciding not to rain down on them the consequences you know they deserve. Close to home, huh?
Jonah began pouting and wallowing in his anger. Yet God, in His great compassion was patient with Jonah. He took the time to teach him. To show him why He chose to do what He did. We serve an amazing and compassionate God, don't we?