The story of Jonah is about a man who receives a call from God to preach a message of warning and repentance to the great Assyrian city of Nineveh. He rejects the call and attempts to flee from God. We then find him in a ship, in the water, and finally in the belly of a great fish before he mostly comes to his senses and begins the long trip to Nineveh for his over-due speaking engagement.
Most of us have casually dismissed the tale of this fish-belly dwelling prophet because we've never sensed God calling us to anything. This is an unfortunate problem because if we would just take the time to find God's message through the story of this prophet's struggle with sin, then we might find the repentance to which God is calling us.
The call of God
The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me."
In our life, Nineveh is representative of sin and bondage. There's something in our life that God has touched, He has laid His finger on it and told us that He doesn't like it, that He wants us to turn away from it. In essence God has said to us, “discard and repent of that sin in your life, because the wickedness of it has come before Me.”
The rejection of the call
But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD
And herein lies the problem: we like the sin, we like the cords of bondage it has around us. It's comfortable and familiar; we've found solace in it and it feeds our fleshly desires. The only problem is that we can't seem to get the same high from it as we have before. It takes more of it for longer periods of time to bring that same satisfaction that came so easily before.
So, what have we done with God's call to repentance? We've ignored it, and done our best to flee from it. The problem is that when we run from God, there's no place to go but where our sin will take us and that is down, down and down again in to the depths of depression and despair.
How our sin affects us
But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep.
One of the symptoms of depression is an inability to pull ourselves out of bed. Sleep makes the pain go away, but only for a little while. Sooner or later, the dread comes back and we find ourselves back in the midst's of our sin, trying to make ourselves feel better. Maybe we're not depressed, or maybe we're just in denial of it. In any case, what happened next to Jonah is exactly what we do.
How our sin affects others
"Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you."
We pass judgment upon others, and blame them instead of ourselves for our problems.
Jonah knew God was after him, he was depressed out of his gourd, and he wanted to die. How else do you explain wanting to be thrown into the raging sea, far from any shore?
I know what you're thinking: he was just trying to save his shipmates. No, he wasn't. Who exactly were his shipmates? The same kind of people that God had sent him to: people that were not Hebrews, people that were not God's chosen; people who were the heathen of the world, gentile sinners.
Jonah was so angry with God, that he blamed those not like him for his trouble to the extent that he was willing to make them responsible for his death. If Jonah has actually cared for his shipmates, he would have jumped off the ship before they started throwing their cargo overboard. Not only was he unwilling to be responsible to himself for his poor choices, he was unwilling to lessen the burden he had placed on those around him by owning his decisions and removing himself from their midst's. But to our uttermost amazement, we find the contrary: he was perfectly willing to cast the burden of murder upon their shoulders by suggesting that they should be the ones to cast him overboard.
We're the same way. We think that if someone else would just change, we'd be fine. If our circumstances were just better, then we wouldn't be like this. If God just would perform some small act of kindness, or even possibly a miracle, then we could change our ways.
In essence we blame someone else for our problems. We attempt to make someone else responsible for our demise, or we attempt to make someone else responsible for our salvation from our circumstances that we ourselves have created.
God will get your attention if you refuse to listen and obey
So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. ... And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.
Eventually, God is going to bring a circumstance into our life, and we'll find our self in a belly ache of a problem. We can either choose to follow God, or we can let him break us, which is exactly what happened next.
God can save you out of all your trouble
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said, "I called out of my distress to the LORD, And He answered me I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.” ... Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.
Once God has us in the process of being broken, we can do one of two things: we can resist the process and end up like fish food, or we can get on our knees and call out to God for salvation. There's one other thing you need to know about the breaking process God has (or will) put us in: it doesn't stop until we repent, or it won't stop until God stops the process. It's possible to resist the breaking process of God. In that case, God will try again in the future. Eventually, we will either humble ourselves before God, or He will put us on the shelf of uselessness.
We must deal appropriately with our sin
Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.
This is exactly the point where most of us get tripped up. We find ourselves sinning and confessing, sinning and confessing; in a cycle of repetitive sin and confession that never seems to end.
If we have an addictive behavior, then nothing outside the grace of God is going to break that behavior. Sure, there's a 12 step process for just about anything these days, but at the end of that process we still consider ourselves as "recovering addicts". God doesn't want recovering addicts, He want's His children to be free: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free". In the process, we must ask God for wisdom, and we must believe that He will answer us. (James 1:2-8)
We must pray and fast. Fasting is not something you do to solicit favor from God, rather it is something that you do to break the bonds of sin. This is s exactly what we need: the bonds of sin broken in our life. God is serious about our sanctification process, and He is serious about sin. We should likewise be serious about breaking our selves free from the bondage of sin.
Don't fall into anger at the prospect of giving up your sin
"Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life." The LORD said, "Do you have good reason to be angry?"
Jonah did what he was commanded to do, but he wasn't happy about it one little bit. If that is the attitude we have regarding giving up and shedding our sin, then we're going to fall right back into the same bondage patterns we're experiencing now. We're not repentant if we're angry or disappointed for having to give up sin, or give up those things which lead us into sin.
Bondage vs. Freedom
We have a choice. We can live in bondage to sin, as an unuseful vessel to God, or we can submit, yield and surrender to the yoke of Christ and let Him carry your burdens. And through that process, God will sand, chisel and cut away everything that doesn't look like Jesus, leaving us in the end, we "will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work."