This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on Jonah 1 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday January 7-8, 2012.
Jonah really didn’t have a peace about going to Nineveh. Even as he prayed about it and had a rather clear prompting from God to go to this violent, Jew-hating (which just happened to be Jonah’s nationality) people Jonah could not settle his Spirit on the matter.
Now I admit I am now beginning to read a little into the story. But it appears that Jonah went down to the dock to see if God might “close the door” to Nineveh and “open a door” to any where else. What did Jonah find? A ship ready to sail for Tarshish (the opposite direction of Nineveh) with room for at least one more passenger at a rate he could afford (1:3). What could be clearer? How could God make His will more known (never mind 1:1-2)?
Why do I talk in this tone of satire? Because, as a counselor, I hear so many people try to validate their disobedience to God in the same way I have described Jonah. Even when God’s Word was clear, they gave greater weight to the fact that their heart was unsettled and used highly subjective (usually common) circumstances as “evidence” that the hand of God was trumping the Word of God in their situation.
Let us simply admit that Jonah was wrong in what he did and how he did it. But this model of decision making does not always lead to outright sin. There are times when it is merely foolish (moral, but silly). There are also times when reading circumstances and inner feelings leads us to good decisions.
But I would still say that this approach to decision making is unadvisable, because even when it leads to a good decision it fails to mature the decision maker and reinforces the idea that his approach can be mastered as a way to find God’s will. Even the good choice walks the decision maker closer to danger.
I think the book of Jonah gives us more than an allegory for decision making. The message of Jonah is, “We are Jonah.” We treat God like Jonah treats God, and we treat “different” people like Jonah treats “different” people. Jonah is a prophetic contrast between the heart of man and the heart of God.
What is the ultimate goal of decision making? To shape our heart to be more like God’s. This is the larger purpose than arriving at a healthy, wise decision. If we become more like God in our decision making, then our choices will be healthy and wise. However, the opposite is only sometimes true.
Observe Jonah again. Who did Jonah become more like in chapter one? Jonah became more like Jonah. Jonah lacked love for the people of Nineveh. Eventually, he was willing to put the life of the entire boat crew at danger until he realized he would inevitably die. Even then he chose suicide over obedience. It took three days of marinating in God’s tough grace to tenderize his hard heart.
The point is subjectively interpreting circumstances will reveal more of our character than it produces of God’s character in us. After all, Jonah was a good prophet who was used greatly by God and resided over a season of God’s favor for the children of Israel (2 Kings 14:25). Do we really think our “batting average” will be better than Jonah’s? Do we think that we will be more “objective” in our moments of difficult obedience?
This all begs a question that I will only be able to address briefly. How do we make decisions about things not clearly defined in the Bible? There are many of these. I would say the key word in the question is “not.” When questions are not answered by God, then we are free to choose based upon our God-given personality and preference within the bounds of wisdom.
God made us to do what He willed for us to do (Eph 2:8-10). When it comes to decisions outside of God’s revealed will, then we do not need to read signs or inner feelings. We are free to choose based upon how God made us, within the bounds of wisdom, and in the direction of God’s kingdom.
When we approach it this way I believe three things happen (1) we enjoy life as God intends for His children, (2) we make healthy wise decisions, and (3) our character conforms more into God’s image as our affection for him increases. Decision making is less fearful and more enjoyable. If you are interested in studying this further, I would recommend James Petty’s book Step by Step.