When Rowing Is Rebellion

In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. (Jonah 2:2)

We have a tendency to see the story of Jonah centering around a rebellious prophet, rather than a redeeming God. We talk about the huge fish, rather than a holy and faithful God. You know the story: God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. Jonah wanted no part of it and headed in the opposite direction. He found a ship and tried to sail away from the Lord. Evidently Joseph was so sure that his strategy had worked that he went belowdecks for a good nap.

But God still had plans for Jonah. He pursued His runaway prophet and sent a storm that threatened to sink the vessel. Many see the storm as a sign of God’s wrath — a punishment leveled by God because of Jonah’s disobedience. I submit that, rather than seeing the storm as punishment, we are to see it as God’s gracious pursuit of His disobedient prophet. God interrupted Jonah’s flight from Him with the grace of gale-force winds.

This is God’s pattern. Throughout Scripture we see God’s people on the run away from Him, only to find God in hot pursuit of them them by any means necessary. Make no mistake: God is in the business of pursuing rebels on the run. He started with Adam and Eve, and His pursuit continues to this day — including His pursuit of you and me.

When the sailors on the ship woke Jonah from his sleep and questioned him, Jonah frankly admitted that he was the reason for the storm, explaining that God had sent it in response to His rebellion. He told the sailors to throw him into the sea and the storm would subside. Instead of following Jonah’s instruction, the sailors tried to row back to shore, but to no avail, “for the sea grew even wilder than before” (Jonah 1:13). As strange as the solution Jonah had offered sounded, it was God’s solution to the storm. When the sailors finally acquiesced and threw Jonah overboard, the sea instantly grew calm. The sailors, who just moments before had been crying out to all sorts of pagan gods, now “offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him” (Jonah 1:16). Do you see that? It wasn’t only Jonah whom God was pursuing that day!

Often God’s solution to the storms in our lives seems strange. But when we look back, we can see how often our attempts to row ourselves to safety were nothing more than rebellion, our foolish attempts to say, “Not so, Lord!” to the sovereign Lord of all the universe. Only when we submit and surrender to the storms God sends will we find ourselves rising above the winds and the waves as God works His grace in our lives.

So regardless of the storm you may be facing today, receive it as God’s sent messenger of sanctification in your life. He is conforming you to the image of Jesus. Stop rowing and get going in the direction He is calling you to, so that God will not need to send a big fish to strengthen your faith.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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