We finished Jonah. Let’s head to Colossians next. Four chapters. Four days. Another entire book of the Bible!
This is the chapter of Jonah that doesn’t get much airtime. Everyone knows the exciting tale of chapter one. We understand Jonah’s desperate prayer of chapter two. We’re excited to see how the city of Nineveh repents and turns to God in chapter three. But chapter four? What’s that all about?
It’s about compassion and bitterness. Chapter four reveals Jonah’s character and highlights a challenge we all face. Jonah continues to argue with God. From the very beginning Jonah didn’t want to take that message to Nineveh. Jonah says why, “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” – Jonah 4:2
God asked Jonah to deliver a message to a people Jonah didn’t like at all. I think we face a similar problem. Too often we don’t follow God because following him means getting involved with people. People are messy. When I’m involved with people I don’t always get my way. Some people will tell me I’m wrong. Some people will make me uncomfortable. This ministry thing would be easy if it weren’t for all these people!
That was Jonah’s attitude. He didn’t like the people.
Jonah’s problem was deeper than general complacency. It was an active selfishness on his part. After Jonah preached throughout Nineveh he left the city, went up on a hill and found what he hoped would be a front row seat to the end of the world. But that end never comes. God was merciful. Jonah’s response reveals his heart. “Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” – Jonah 4:3
That’s a big statement. Jonah says, “I would rather die than be wrong!”
God tries to help him understand. He grows a tree to provide shade and comfort for Jonah. Jonah continues to complain. God kills the tree. Jonah complains even more. Again Jonah looks to God. This time his compliant is even more pointed. “I would rather die than be uncomfortable!”
And that’s ultimately the perfect formula for bitterness. If you want to grow bitterness in your own heart simply follow Jonah’s pattern.
Look for reasons not to like people. Decide that your opinion is the only one that counts. Don’t act or change or move until you’re absolutely positive you’re 100% right. Better yet, find ways to insure everyone around you is always wrong. Cultivate the attitude that says, “I’d rather die than be wrong.”
And then, for extra measure, to insure the bitterness takes deep root and spreads quickly, add in the fertilizer of selfishness. “I’d rather die than be uncomfortable.” It’s the perfect formula for bitterness.
The saddest part of the book of Jonah is how it ends. There’s nothing to indicate Jonah ever changed. The people of Nineveh changed. God gave grace. All we know of Jonah is that he died a bitter old man. No where in Scripture is Jonah referred to as a hero of the faith or a good example to follow. I believe it’s because he held on to his bitterness. He reveled in it. He didn’t like people. He would rather die than be wrong. He would rather die than be uncomfortable.
Jonah was used by God. But he didn’t like it.
Thank you for the mercy you’ve given me. Grow in me a deep love for people. Increase my relational bandwidth. Increase my capacity to care for people. Overcome the selfishness I know is in my own heart. Give me a willingness to do the hard things, the inconvenient things and the things that make me uncomfortable if that’s what it takes to deliver your message, demonstrate your love and help others experience your mercy.
I love you, in Jesus name –