A couple of years ago I had the privilege of going on a ministry vision trip with Dr. Dane Fowlkes, Co-founder of The Unfinished Task Network, to the country of Iraq. While there, we are able to look out over the Nineveh plains. What a blessing it was to see the very place where Jonah ended up after running from God. As I consider the many indigenous pastors I know in East and West Africa, India, and Thailand, I understand the difficulties, frustrations, loneliness, and isolation they must feel at times, especially during these days dealing with drought in some areas, flooding in other areas, and the impact of COVID-19 all over the world. Throw in civil unrest and government corruption, and you can see why pastors may be overwhelmed, frightened, and even feel like giving up. I want to encourage my fellow pastors and church planters.
The Bible contains many stories of great struggle, perseverance, and triumph. Noah spent one-hundred years faithfully building the ark to save the human family. Abraham was a pilgrim most of his life in order to find a land that God would use to eventually bring forth the Savior. The ultimate example is Jesus, who would not be turned from going to the cross in order to bring salvation. Stories like these are what we expect when God calls the prophet Jonah to take the message of salvation to the cruel Ninevites, but we could not be more wrong.
Jonah is a book of surprises. For example, other books of the Old Testament have prophets speaking a word of judgment against the surrounding pagan nations; but Jonah actually travels to the judged nation. Often Old Testament prophets are revealed as less than perfect but are still seen as the noble messengers of God, but this isn't the case with Jonah. He is not shown in a favorable light. Moses and Jeremiah were reluctant and shrank back from their assignments, but Jonah isn't merely hesitant. He flatly refuses to go. Pagan sailors show more compassion for Jonah than he shows for the people of Nineveh. The people of Nineveh would soon experience the judgment of God on their city much like did the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. You remember what happened. Jonah is saved from drowning by being swallowed by a great fish. He travels submarine style back to where he was supposed to be. Yet, this cranky prophet is used by God to bring the greatest revival recorded in Scripture to some of the most hardened sinners in Scripture.
What is the point of the book of Jonah? Why did God include it in the Bible? The story of Jonah was written to Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon. The people that surrounded them saw them as enemies. It must have been easy to believe the whole world hated them and, therefore, they felt justified to hate the whole world. The natural reaction would be to entrench their group to protect themselves. The book of Jonah challenges God's people to rise above their hatred of others, and see the world through the eyes of their Creator God. The only thing that equals God's power to churn the seas is His love for His creation. God hates nothing He has made. He yearns to restore it to Himself.
In difficult times, it is easy to be impacted by our circumstances, our own prejudices, our own likes and dislikes—all influenced by past experiences, historical, tribalistic fears, or even hatred. As we consider someone across the border, or in a neighboring village or city, or someone who practices a different religious practice, or maybe even someone who is hostile to the Christian faith, we must recognize that God loves and cares about EVERYONE.
So, why do WE care about two billion people who live and die and have never even heard the name of Jesus? The simple answer is because God cares about them. Because His Spirit lives in us, we share His passion to reach the nations.
Be encouraged today. God has put each of us in the specific place, among the specific people, with the resources He wants us to use, IN HIS POWER AND STRENGTH to rise above our own circumstances and prejudices to see everyone through the eyes of the Creator God, and to share with them the transforming message of Jesus Christ.
I pray God’s richest blessing and provision for each of you as you serve Him faithfully and as you encourage each other.
The Unfinished Task Network