Running Away From God
Laurie Short, Finding Faith in the Dark
If there is one book in the Bible that children love, and scholars love to avoid, it’s probably the book of Jonah. And it mostly has to do with that darn whale. The big fish is actually a small part of the story, though certainly the most dramatic. The story is primarily about a man with plans, and this man’s plans did not include Nineveh. Imagine his distress when that’s exactly where God calls him to go. The book opens with the Master Editor approaching Jonah’s life with an eraser and an arrow pointing in a very specific direction: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me.”
We see how much Jonah appreciated his Editor’s direction in the next verse:
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. – Jonah 1:3
Jonah did what many of us do when we hear something we don’t want to hear — he moved to a place where he could no longer hear it.
In Jonah’s case, it was an actual place he went to, but not all escapes involve geography. Even when we sometimes sense God leading us in a life-giving direction, we find it hard to pry our fingers from our plans. However, we discover when we ignore Him and pursue our plans that God’s tracking system has a wider range than we thought. And it finds us in ways we’d never expect.
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up… But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your God! Maybe He will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” Jonah 1:4-6
The God Jonah was running from would not let Jonah leave Him behind — and He was wreaking havoc in Jonah’s circumstances. So Jonah decided to take a nap. I wonder how many times I’ve done the same. Maybe it’s not literal sleep I’ve escaped to, but there are many ways to “nap” when God is pursuing me. I simply find a way to lower the volume of His voice.
I do that when I don’t like what I’m hearing. Or when God is trying to move me in a different direction than I planned. It could be something He wants me to do or something He wants me to stop, a turn He is asking me to take or one He wants me to avoid. If He’s moving me where I want to go, I am happy to listen to Him.
It’s when I don’t like where He’s moving me that I suddenly grow deaf.
But I have discovered that God holds the button for His volume control, no matter how hard I try to snatch it from His hands. And He will use whatever alarm He needs to use to wake me up. In Jonah’s case, it was a great storm. So Jonah responded the way many of us do when our plans have been thwarted. He was ready to cash it all in.
‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.’
Sometimes we’d rather die than obey the Voice that’s calling us.
And in a way, that’s just what we have to do. Letting go requires a death of sorts, as we mourn the loss of a life we were clinging to and embrace the dream of a God who is clinging to us. Saying yes to God means saying yes to a bigger life, and He won’t settle for less. He doesn’t want us to either.
Excerpted with permission from Finding Faith in the Dark by Laurie Short, copyright Zondervan, 2014.