Run Pt. 3 | Jonah: The Astonishing True Story

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Jonah 1:1-3 “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.’ 3But 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.”

There are several questions I believe the passage above answers for us. You might not have asked these questions yourself, but God apparently believes they are important questions nonetheless. The first question that needs to be answered is “What does it mean to run from the presence of the Lord?” Once that question is answered we can ask, “What causes us to flee from the presence of the Lord?” I want to answer those two questions in this article, and next month we’ll answer the question, “What’s it going to cost me if I do run?” After that we’ll see, “What is the cure for running from God?” But first, what does it even mean to run from God?

Understand this, you cannot leave the literal presence of the Lord. He is omnipresent, which means He is everywhere all the time. When Jonah ran from the presence of the Lord, what’s really happening is he was refusing to seek the face of the Lord. He was actually running from the relational presence of God. For instance, I am close to my dad, but he lives 20 hours away. What I’m really saying is, physically he’s far away, but relationally he’s close. Our physical closeness with God cannot change, He’s always here. But our relational closeness with Him can.

Now, Jonah was a prophet in Israel, a person of tremendous influence who had a long history of prophesying before we’re introduced to him in this whole story. We’d expect Jonah, this servant of God, to have it all together. So why then did He run from God when he knew better? Why would a man of God, who had served Him for so long, book it out of there? What’s the cause?

There was a popular, arrogant view in Israel, that all the nations around them that had wrongfully taken their land should be conquered and destroyed. God had killed many, many people for Israel before. So these Israelites were getting a little cocky. They started thinking everybody who treated them wrongly should be taught a stern lesson. In other words, and this is very important, they thought they knew what God wanted. Jonah was influenced by this racist worldview, and he thought his plan was better than God’s. When God told him to do something that did not fit with his worldview and personal plan he took off running. “Thanks, but no thanks, God.”

Sometimes, we can get so caught up in our culture’s idea of what God’s will is that when God actually shows us what He wants we often hesitate, stutter, and/or completely reject it. Jonah fled because he rejected the clear voice of God, “Arise, go to Nineveh” And we Christians have a word for that: sin. Sin is when you choose to follow your plan rather than God’s.

Remember this, the longer you run from God the further away you get and the harder it is to come back. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is more difficult. Because when you are living in sinful disobedience you are building a life (your identity) apart from God. You are erecting walls between you and Him and the road back to a relationship with Him stretches longer with more and more walls built in between.

It’s important that you stop for a moment and do some introspection here. Check your own life and ask some questions. What has God spoken clearly into your life from His Word? Are you willing to submit your cultural assumptions and ideas to God? You are either obeying, and therefore remaining close to God, or you are disobeying, and running from His presence. In the next two months we’ll look at the cause and cure for running. But for now take inventory of your life and reflect on how the culture is influencing your beliefs about God, the world, and yourself. And always remember, God’s grace will redeem and restore even the most distant rebels.

James Robinson has been the Youth Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, TX since June 2014. He was drawn to work with students because he believes teenagers are in a highly moldable stage of life where it is absolutely imperative they allow the Gospel to identify who they are. As a Student Pastor, James says he has the inexpressible joy of regularly speaking that life-shaping Gospel into the students' lives.