It was a couple of years after the darkest period of my life that I became reacquainted with the story of Jonah.
It had always been one of those silly Sunday School stories about a man that was eaten by a huge fish. You know the ones that always seemed to be so far-fetched, you weren’t sure what to think about it. That was Jonah for me. So when I was reintroduced to this story as an adult, I became aware of its beautiful meaning and how I felt like I related to Jonah so well.
Jonah was a prophet and a popular one at that. He had made quite the name for himself by delivering to people messages from God that came true. He gained favor with the people of Israel because of this and was revered throughout the nation.
But God gave him a message to deliver to the city of Nineveh, the very people who were oppressing the Israelites. This message was one that warned of God’s impending judgment on the city and was an opportunity for them to save themselves.
Jonah, blinded by his own pride and nationalism, decides to disobey God’s command and flees in the opposite direction from Nineveh. He hops on a boat to Tarshish…a destination about as far away from the city as you could possibly go.
This was where I first felt a kindred spirit with Jonah. Growing up in a Christian home, I had heard my whole life all about God’s great love for me and His desire for me to live for Him. I knew what the Bible said was the “right” way to live and that my obedience to that was God’s expectation for my life.
The honest truth was that I didn’t want God having any control over how I wanted to live. So I did just like Jonah and I tried to run as far away from Him as I could. I lived my life how I wanted to, on my terms. My days were spent indulging in every passion and desire my heart could dream of and I thought it was a good life. There was no need for God because everything was just how I wanted it.
But over the course of a few years, all of those selfish decisions led me to a place of complete despair. What I thought was living the good life was actually a journey down the path of brokenness. My failures to love my wife, my family, and myself well collided into what a famous writer once called the “dark night of the soul”.
I know at this moment, there are some of you reading this and thinking, “That may be true for you, but my life is full of happiness. I am experiencing the good life apart from God and I am fine.”
I was once sitting in your shoes and would have told you the same thing. Those things that are bringing you happiness right now are gifts that God has given each one of us. The problem is those gifts apart from God will not be able to bring you contentment or completely satisfy. If they could, we wouldn’t need more of them.
I also know many of you are reading this and experiencing the same despair that I felt as my life crumbled around me. It was like everything in the world was conspiring to destroy my life and everything that I truly cared for. Do you know that feeling like you can’t even get a second to come up for air? It’s like a powerful storm that you are caught in with no shelter in sight.
This is exactly where I found myself and also where I began to really identify with Jonah.
Jonah tried to flee from God on a boat, but God chased him down with a powerful storm. A storm that was so crazy and intense, the hardened sailors on the ship were scared for their lives! It was in that moment that Jonah knew he had tried in vain to run from God. So Jonah, knowing he had been found, surrenders himself over to be thrown overboard in the hopes that God will spare the rest of the crew.
We often view the storms in our life as God’s punishment for our disobedience. Maybe we question what caused Him to be so angry with us that we curse God and walk defiantly into the wind. I know when all of the world felt as if it were crashing down, I often questioned why God would do that to me.
But little did I know, just as Jonah did as well, that what I thought was God punishing me was actually Him demonstrating His relentless pursuit of my heart.
The truth is that God’s love is relentless in chasing down His wayward children. Jonah didn’t realize it yet and neither did I.
My prayer is that those who are reading this today will take heart to know that God is pursuing you. He has never stopped pursuing you. You have never run so far away that He will give up chasing you down.
In my next blog post, I will tell you how I too experienced being eaten by a fish like Jonah and it was the most beautiful thing.