I have running away from God down to an art form.
That’s not something to be proud of.
This morning, we started a new preaching series at church on the book of Jonah. I am so looking forward to this series. I always enjoy it when we take a book and march all the way through it, getting a thorough picture of the words in context of the literature it is bound up in.
Pastor Eric, our Worship Minister, preached the opening sermon on this series this morning. You can listen to his sermon here; and I urge you to do so, he did a fantastic job of opening our eyes to the wealth of information and treasure in just the first three verses of chapter 1.
Here is the passage:
Jon 1:1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
I learned much this morning that I did not know previously…such as the incredible evil that was taken place in Ninevah. It was horrific. Unimaginable. This was a city that deserved the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah; total annihilation. Yet God, being the merciful God that He is, called Jonah to go to Ninevah to warn them, to give them a chance to repent. I don’t even think we can comprehend the mercy of God in this situation, without taking a close look at the ugly, heinous sin in our own lives, and God’s mercy in calling us to repentance as well.
But what really struck me this morning was this: I had no idea, whatsoever, how far Tarshish was from Ninevah. So far away. FAR FAR away. Tarshish was located in what is known now as Spain. It would be like being called to go to New York City but instead fleeing to Los Angeles. I just returned from Los Angeles. It’s a long ways away, sitting in he middle seat of a cramped Delta Plane. And Tarshish would be a long way away, in the bottom of a rocking ship on the sea. But that’s the direction Jonah went, as far away from Ninevah as possible. Jonah ran.
He ran from God.
I think I have a degree in running from God. I know this to be truth, but I don’t think until this morning did I realize that my tendency is not only to run away from God, but when I do run from Him, it’s usually as far away as I can get. In the past, His pursuit of me meant me running in the opposite direction, straight into the arms of alcoholism. In the past, His pursuit of me has meant me turning and running as far away as I possibly could toward a combination of atheism and agnosticism.
And I still run today. Maybe not to those extremes, but I run to extremes within the boundaries of what God has called me to do and be as a Christ follower. When I sense His calling on my life in a very specific way, it is not unusual for me to run in rebellion—to quit spiritual disciplines, to hide from my brother’s and sisters in Christ, to find reasons to not go to church. When he calls me; when He pursuits me, I tend to run.
Why? Why do I do this? I don’t want to do this, and yet it has been the pattern of my life.
Some of it, I know, is habit. It’s almost always been my response. “You want me to repent of that sin God? Well, I’m going to run away from prayer and repentance for a time.” “You want me to teach? I’m going to hide from church for a time.” “You have something hard, something tough for me to learn? I’m going to put away my Bible and instead embrace my doubts about You and Your truth.”
And what does this gain me? Nothing but heartache and the inevitable and more intense pursuit of my soul by my God.
You see, He will not let go. Even when I foolishly want Him to, He will not. Even when I play the part of the prodigal, He will not. I can flee in the opposite direction as far away from what His will is–like my friend Jonah—and yet God will pursuit me, even there.
What about you? What are you running away from? What are you not just running away from, but FLEEING from? Fleeing is a strong word. It is an accurate word. It is the right word for our behavior at times.
I assure you, my friend, that God sees and knows our thoughts. He knows when we are fleeing Him. There are no secrets from God. And he will surely, surely pursuit even harder. He will get our attention—even through storms, and apparently even through being swallowed by a great fish, as we will see later in Jonah’s story. He will get our attention.
I probably will always have a tendency to run from God. Though I do see that He has worked great miracles in my life, and I am becoming more and more aware that running is futile–doesn’t mean I don’t flee–it just means that when I do, I eventually realize that what God has planned for me is greater and more important than anything I can ever plan or imagine for my own life. Even in the events of the life of my family.
So, I urge you to think. What might you be running from? What might you need to repent of? What might you need to do? Do not neglect the spiritual disciplines. Do not neglect prayer. Please do not learn the hard way, by running into the arms of evil. Instead, run—flee–into His arms of love and see just what it is that He has prepared for you.