The story of Jonah and the big fish is a familiar story many of us learned as children. In the story adaptation that I read to the children this morning, it is presented as a story about Jonah’s second chance to accept God’s invitation to ministry. But, that’s not what we should learn about Jonah, that’s not what I want us to consider this morning. We want children to know the basic story. This morning, I’d like us to think about Jonah’s attitude. Let’s go through a better retelling of the story than my children’s book told it.
God told Jonah to go to Ninevah and preach repentance to the evil city because God was repulsed by their wickedness. This wasn’t just any wicked city. Ninevah was the capital of Assyria, the ruthless empire that would later obliterate Israel. God had planned Ninevah’s destruction because of their sin, but, through Jonah, God would offer them mercy for repentance.
Jonah didn’t want to do it. He didn’t want to go to Ninevah and tell them that God would offer them mercy if only they changed. So, Jonah ran. We’re pretty familiar with the next chapter of the book of Jonah. He runs, gets thrown overboard of the boat he was trying to escape God in, spends 3 days in the belly of a fish, accepts God’s call to ministry, gets thrown up by the fish, and heads to Ninevah.
Chapter 3 tells us that Jonah, in Ninevah, warned them that they had 40 days to repent or face God’s wrath. Everyone in Ninevah, including the king, headed Jonah’s warning. They grieved, put on sackcloth, covered themselves in ashes, and called on God for mercy. God accepted their repentance and showed them mercy.
Jonah’s response to these events is told in chapter 4, which I read earlier. Jonah is angry and full of pride. He was one of God’s chosen children. He enjoyed being part of God’s favored nation. He was proud of the grace and compassion God showed Israel. Jonah was not willing to accept that God could show that same compassion and mercy to another nation.
Jonah whines to God. (whine) I know you’re gracious and compassionate and all. You’re slow to anger and abounding in love. Blah blah blah, but I’d rather die than see all this offered to Ninevah. Jonah is angry at God and lets Him know it. He would rather die than be a witness to God’s compassion for Ninevah. Jonah wanted Assyria’s destruction.
Jonah’s problem is that He questions why God has enough compassion and mercy for other nations. He can’t imagine that God is big enough to be the God of more than just Israel. He wants all of God’s love, compassion and mercy for himself and not anyone else.
I think we can understand Jonah’s pride and anger, though we may not be willing to call it pride. How often do we see what God is doing in other people’s lives and wonder what God is doing in our own? We pray and pray and pray and want God to bless us. We become jealous of what God is doing for someone else and want blessings for ourselves. We don’t want to accept that other people get their prayers answered when we’re waiting on our own answers. How can God bless them and not me? It’s the same pride Jonah suffered from. How can God be big enough to bless others when He isn’t blessing me?
Then comes the thief. John 10:10 tells us the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. The thief comes into our pride and anger and works his deceit. Our anger and pride turn into pity for ourselves and we question, “What have we done or what are we doing that God isn’t answering our prayers?” We question God’s love for us and whether or not we are worthy of God’s compassion and mercy. We begin to think we’re not good enough for God’s love.
This feeling of unworthiness runs rampant in our society. Commercials and product ads constantly feed this unworthiness within us. We think we don’t have enough and aren’t good enough. We want this or that to make us feel better. We want to try this diet or that product to make us feel prettier or more handsome. This unworthiness leads to negative self-talk. We think we aren’t pretty or not handsome or fat or not smart. We play these tapes in our heads and hear these messages that we’re not enough.
Negative self-talk is a big deal. In Girls on the Run, we explore negative self-talk and try to give the girls new messages to hear. It saddens me every season to know that these girls, as young as 3rd grade, have already started thinking they’re not smart enough, pretty enough, good enough.
The first season with Girls on the Run was a real eye-opener for me. I learned a lot that season. I began to be aware of my own negative self-talk. I had to change the tapes in my head if I expected the girls to change theirs. Pastor Rob Bell said, “you’ve gotta smoke what you’re selling.” So, I had to think differently about myself and stop listening to myself when I said, “I don’t do this, I can’t do that, I’m not this, I’m that.”
That’s how we fight the thief. We have to not give into the thief’s tactics of turning us on ourselves, but this requires a major shift in our worldview. That shift begins with us and moves to our understanding of God. We have to begin with honoring our created-ness.
First and foremost, we have to believe we are perfectly created by God. We have unique gifts and talents. We are beautiful and handsome. We have a purpose and a calling. We are good enough, because God created us in love and loves us. We are worthy, because God deems us worthy.
I think too often the Gospel is twisted and contorted to feed our feelings of unworthiness. Preachers will tell you that you are unworthy of God’s grace, but still God gives it to us. I’ve heard it from preachers. I’ve heard it in contemporary Christian music. I’ve heard it in hymns. I’d like to say I don’t do it. I try hard not to say it, but I probably have. So, I’ll through myself into the group and say that Christian preachers and singers are selling a Gospel that we are unworthy of God’s love and grace, but He gives it to us anyway.
Think about the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” We sing that we are wretched human beings unworthy of God’s love. “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.” In the face of grace, we are taught to be afraid of God, because we are not worthy to stand before God. We receive and accept that grace. “Amazing Grace” doesn’t tell us why God gives us grace, just that we are unworthy and that should cause us fear.
The message is that we receive from God what we don’t deserve, because God is grace and love. This Gospel of unworthiness doesn’t help us fight against the thief.
We can’t combat the thief who steals, kills, and destroys our sense of created-ness and degrades the image of God in which we were created. If we continue to listen to this Gospel, we allow the thief to steal the life Jesus came to give us abundantly.
That major shift in our worldview begins with believing that we are enough. My spiritual director keeps working with me on this. She has asked me to say every day, “I am whole, perfect, and complete.” I remember to hear the messages of negative self-talk more often than I remember to give myself affirmation of my created-ness. I want us to begin today to believe that we are worthy of God’s love and grace and begin our shift in thinking that God is big enough to love and bless all of us.
Let’s say we are whole, perfect and complete. Repeat after me. “I am whole, perfect, and complete.” Amen. It is so.
When we begin thinking we are worthy, we can stop questioning when God is going to answer our prayers and count our blessings. We can trust that God will answer our prayers in due time and recognize how He is blessing us now. It’s a not so easy uphill climb from there. As we recognize that we are worthy of God’s love and grace and that He is blessing us, we can stop giving into the messages that we aren’t this or that, that we need this or that to feel adequate, that we aren’t enough. We can be happy with what we have and who we are.
When we feel this security in ourselves, we can be happy and rejoice with others in their blessings. We can trust that God is big enough to love us all. We hear the affirmation in John 3:16, “God so loved the world.” God loves you and me enough that God sent His own Son to offer us grace.
This radical rethinking of God is not an easy uphill climb. It begins with recognition of our worthiness and blessings and moves to our belief that God is bigger than we can imagine. We won’t end up like Jonah sitting in the blazing heat questioning what God is doing.
I think that’s why it is so important for us to share what God is doing in our lives and in the world. It is an act of humility that honors God’s greatness and recognizes that He is blessing us.
I’d like us to share now rather than after our hymn of commitment. I want us to humbly share what God is doing in us as a recognition that we are whole, perfect, and complete. We are worthy of God’s blessing and that He is now blessing us. I think we all have something to say, even if we think it is insignificant or not a grand gesture, we have something to say. Let’s hear it. Who is willing to share?