Elbert McGowan who is the RUF pastor at Jackson State in Jackson, Mississippi came and spoke for our 2012 Missions Conference. I can truly say that God used this man’s words to remind me of how any missions work, or evangelism, or really even pastoring begins with your own heart. He looked at Jonah and started with his prayer in the belly of the big fish. In this prayer we find Jonah’s reason for finally going to Nineveh after trying everything he could to flee from it. It is when Jonah sees his own great need of a savior that he is willing to go to others and share that same news. McGowan says,”If you don’t see your need, you won’t go.” and he is right. Why would we ever give money to others if we didn’t think there was a good reason for it? Why would we choose to give up summer vacations and go to orphanages in the Ukraine? Why would you sacrifice any comfort really unless the reason was so great that it demanded attention? When one has been forgiven much, he relishes being able to share that life-saving and life-transforming forgiveness wherever he is called.
In the beginning, Jonah has forgotten his need of a savior, how much he has benefitted from this gracious God who is abounding in steadfast love. He uses his own resources to hop on a boat going in the opposite direction of the call that God has given him. God has called Jonah to attention and said,”Arise, Go to Nineveh and Call out their sin so that they may repent and be saved from my judgment.” Instead, Jonah runs and puts many people in danger. He puts himself, the sailors on the boat, and all of Nineveh in danger by ignoring God’s call on his life.
But God always accomplishes what He intends. God causes a storm to toss the boat, God causes the sailors to recognize that it is Jonah that is causing the storm, and once they realize it, they cast him into the sea. He is helpless and in great need. So God causes a great fish to swallow him and God then has him right where he wants him- in a place where he can see his great need, where he can repent and turn to God’s call. And when he does all of these things, God causes the great fish to vomit him back on to the shore.
Jonah goes to a place that he does not want to go to tell them a message that he does not want them to hear. And amazingly they repent. I imagine that Jonah was not trying to be impressive or catchy or culturally relevant to this group. He spoke the word of God and the people repented. God’s word is the turner of hearts. God opens the eyes of the blind and ears of the deaf so that they understand. Isaiah 55:11 says :
There is great confidence in that. Missions, evangelism, pastoring, and honestly just good conversations come from God’s word being looked at together.