Formula For Bitterness, Results Guaranteed

We finished Jonah. Let’s head to Colossians next. Four chapters. Four days. Another entire book of the Bible!

Root of BitternessJonah 4

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.


Heavenly Father,

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 –

What’s Your Knee-Jerk Reaction?

knee-jerk ReactionJonah 3

What’s you’re knee-jerk reaction? Jonah, the prophet of God, is given a message directly from God. His knee-jerk reaction is to get up and run away. Only after spending three days in the belly of a fish does he repent and do what God says. But Jonah’s obedience doesn’t feel sincere. Maybe the message really was that simple. Maybe it didn’t all get written down. Either way, the message Jonah preached may be the shortest sermon in history. “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”

There’s no instruction here. No hope. No invitation. No thought that God would give the people of Nineveh the opportunity to repent, but that’s exactly what they do. It’s their knee-jerk reaction. They hear from a prophet of God that destruction is coming and they repent. Jonah didn’t react that way. His obedience was delayed. He reluctantly obeyed only after being severely corrected. Jonah may have delivered the message, but he didn’t want to. When we read chapter four we’ll find out why.

The people of Nineveh were open to the Word of God. They listened. They repented. God relented. In spite of Jonah’s reluctance the people of Nineveh whole-heartedly responded to God. Their obedience was immediate. Proof of what took place in their heart was clearly evident.

Their choices changed God’s mind.

Jonah, 3:10, “When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.”

That’s powerful statement. You can influence God.

What will your knee-jerk reaction be today? Will you run, repent, obey or delay? Will you reluctantly give in out of fear or willingly go where God sends? How will your choices influence God?


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for second chances. Thank you for speaking to me. Thank you for giving me everything I need for life and godliness. I want to obey you quickly without need of correction. When I hear your voice I want my knee-jerk reaction to be ‘yes’. Help me to hear, to listen, and to follow wherever you lead. Thank you for the forgiveness you give when I repent and for your correction when I miss the mark. May I make choices that influence you to forgive, to bless and to show your favor to me, my family, friends, church and community.

I love you, in Jesus name –

Are You Living in a Big Fish?

Big FishJonah 1

Why do you run from God? What has he told you to do that you’re trying to ignore? When God tells you to do something it’s never for your benefit alone. It’s for the benefit of others. His discipline for your disobedience affects other people too. This storm you’re in could be one of your own choosing. It threatens the lives of those in the boat with you. They may not believe in God, they may not trust you, but those people are desperately trying to keep you afloat because your life affects theirs. Your bad choice costs them something. You may think the storm can’t get any worse. You’re wrong. Step out of the boat and find out. You could be living in a big fish.

Jonah 1:11-12, “And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, ‘What should we do to you to stop this storm?’ ‘Throw me into the sea,’ Jonah said, ‘and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.’

Would you rather die than obey God? Jonah wasn’t looking for a ride on the cruise ship Shark Bait. The story never says God wanted Jonah thrown into the sea. That was Jonah’s answer. The other men on the ship tried to row to shore, but sideways wasn’t the direction God wanted for Jonah. Jonah needed to repent. He needed to go back. He needed to simply obey. I wonder what would have happened if Jonah had answered their question differently. What if he would have said, “Turn this ship around. I’m going to Nineveh.” I’ll bet this tale wouldn’t be quite so fishy.

Your complicated solution to the problem won’t work. If your brilliant plan doesn’t involve simple obedience you’re not as clever as you think. Your desperate attempt to punish yourself will fail. Your last-ditch effort to ignore God will lead you to someplace even worse. Why not take the simple way out? Why not relent? Why not give in? Why not just turn around. Why not simply obey?

God’s going to get you where he wants you. He will accomplish his purpose in you, through you and sometimes even in spite of you. To a large degree, how you get there is up to you. What has God told you to do and where are you in the story? Are you about to run? Are you asleep on the boat? Is it beginning to rain? Are you in over your head? Are you living in a big fish?

Turn around. Simply obey.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for loving me enough to discipline when I’m headed the wrong way. Thank you that your discipline, difficult as it may be, is still often softer than the guilt, shame and punishment I put myself through. Help me to clearly hear your voice. Get me out of this fish I’m in. Give me a heart that is soft to your will. I don’t want to run ahead of you or lag behind. I want to walk with you, go wherever you lead, and do whatever you ask me to do. When I’m wrong grant me the gift of repentance. Let me turn around before the storm comes. Let me get things right before I’m thrown off the boat. Let me choose wisely for your glory, my benefit and the good of others. Protect my family and friends from the effects of my bad choices. Thank you for surrounding me with people who love me and who try to keep me afloat when things get rough. Help me to listen to them and to you.

I love you, in Jesus name –