Reading the book of Jonah made me let out a giggle the other day. God sent Jonah to Ninevah to preach because He wanted them to repent and turn to Him. We know the story…Jonah didn’t want to go. He actually got on board a ship to go as far west away from Ninevah as he could. He didn’t think they deserved God’s grace! He thought they were just a bunch of wayward sinners with no hope.
God prepared a storm that came to show His displeasure with Jonah and the guys on the boat threw him overboard. Once Jonah was overboard, he was then swallowed by a fish that was prepared by the Lord. He stayed there for three days, praying and thanking God for saving his life and telling God he would obey now. God then ordered the fish to spit Jonah out on the beach.
Jonah went to Ninevah and preached an amazing and well-though out message that was so moving and eloquent that even the most hardened of hearts was softened. Is that the truth? Not at all. All he said was “Forty days from now Ninevah will be destroyed!” The Bible then tells us that the people of Ninevah believed God’s message and repented and turned to God. This is the part of the story where I let out my giggle! What kind of message was that?
Interesting. I often think of the preacher who preached the message of salvation the night I finally surrendered my life to the Lord. I used to think he was a more gifted communicator or a more eloquent speaker than the preachers who I heard before him. I don’t believe that’s true though. Yes, he is gifted and yes his message made sense to me – but I heard that message many, many times before from other preachers and never turned to God.
I believe that the night I surrendered my heart to the Lord was an act of God finally softening and preparing my heart to receive the truth about Jesus Christ. I believe that preacher could have said “Forty days from now, ....Charlotte.... will be destroyed!” and I would have fell to my knees in repentance. Why do I believe this? Because the Bible says very clearly in Zechariah 4:6 “It is not by might and not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.”
Jonah got all mad and left Ninevah in a huff. He was so mad God had spared them from their doom because he thought they deserved it that he sat outside of the city and sulked, watching to see what would happen. As he sat there, God prepared a plant that grew up and shaded him. Then God prepared a worm to come and eat it. Afterward, God prepared the scorching east wind to blow on Jonah and the sun beat down on him. God was teaching him a lesson – and eventually, we see that God was showing Jonah His Sovereignty and His mercy.
I noticed the words "God prepared" just kept coming up in this story in the Bible. Just like God prepared the storm, prepared the fish to swallow Jonah and to spit him out, prepared the plant to cover him, prepared the worm, prepared the wind and prepared the sun, He also prepared something else in that story of Ninevah. He prepared the hearts of those people. That is why they responded. Even Jonah knew that. Jonah knew it wasn’t his eloquent preaching, but it was the mercy and grace and Spirit of God!
This gives me hope in witnessing to others and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. The eloquence of my message and the preparedness of my “script” are not as important as the Lord preparing the hearts of those who listen. This shows me, clearly, that I cannot mess this up. I can’t make it happen, either. I often stress out and think “I should have said it differently” or “I really messed that one up” or “I can’t seem to get through to them!" Why worry about this, though? God will find a way to the heart that is seeking Him and though I love to be a part of that miracle, He doesn't need me - He just allows me to be a part of that miracle sometimes!
Instead of fighting it out verbally with people to try to get them to grasp the truth, I need to fight for them on my knees, asking God to open their heart, open their eyes and open their ears to understand the message. And then, like Jonah, I need to be obedient to follow wherever He will send me to share the truth, in love, gentleness and respect. After all, my responsibility in all of this this is more of my response to God's ability.
In the words of the Apostle Paul...
(1 Corinthians 2:1-5) And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.