May 15, 2008

Our Own Distress

"Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs."

Jonah 2:8

On Wednesday nights at church, our worship team has a bible study that is usually led by our worship pastor. This week he happened to be out of town and so his second in command shared with us what God had shown her in her own quiet time that morning. She and I have talked on numerous occasions about how similar we are in areas of being people pleasers. To the point that it consumes us at times and we can easily lose focus of truth. Last night she talked about the story of Jonah and the whale and wow, did God use her to speak to me.

First, for those who are not familiar with the story of Jonah here is a brief synopsis. (Jonah 1:1-2:10 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jonah%201:1-2:10;&version=31; ) God commanded Jonah to go and preach to a city, which Jonah felt, was too wicked for God's mercy and forgiveness and so he fled and boarded a ship to run away from God. While on the ship, a great storm came which threatened the life of all those on the boat. The crew woke Jonah up and told him to call upon his god to end the storm. The crew knew that Jonah was running from the Lord and so they asked him what they could do to stop the storm. Jonah knew he was the cause and told them to throw him over the side of the boat. At first, they were reluctant and tried rowing back to shore but were unsuccessful and begged for God's mercy for taking the life of Jonah as they threw him into the water. Once they did, the sea grew calm. Now, because God is faithful, He provided a "great fish" which swallowed him up for three days. While in the belly of the whale, Johan prayed and called out to the Lord and He commanded the fish, to spit Jonah out.

Jonah caused his own distress out of disobedience to the Lord. He found himself in the middle of a storm and the only one who could end it, was the One he was running from. How many times do we run away from God instead of into His arms? Clearly, His arms are the safest place to be and there is protection from the elements of the world within His arms.

Sometimes we think that God's mercy and grace may not be deserved by all and so this attitude will put us in harms way especially when we try to people please and take care of the situation ourselves instead of turning it over to the Lord and obeying Him.

Here is what I realized.

  1. Sometimes we cause our own distress. We can easily make a situation far worse than what it may be by not acknowledging God and giving Him control of it.
  2. By trying to take control ourselves, we end up in that "belly" where it is dark, cold, and lonely until we become broken and recognize our need for a Savior and His mercy and grace.
  3. Once we call out to Him, He will deliver us no matter what we have done or where we have been because of His love and forgiveness.

Jonah 2:8 says, "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs." A point she raised last night was that so many times, we think of idols as a wooden statue or money or TV but there is more then just these. For me, my people pleasing issue is my idol. I worry about what others may think or feelings that I hurt because I am being obedient and it becomes my focus. Because of my disobedience and lack of faith, I cause myself more distress and may miss God's grace and blessings. Wow, what a revelation!! Now, do not get me wrong, a sensitive heart towards others is not a bad thing but it can become one when it becomes our focus instead of God.

Clearly, there are two important messages in this story that we should not forget. First, we should never run away from God because it will not bring about positive things. When we run, we can cause some serious storms for ourselves that we can avoid if our focus is on pleasing and obeying Him instead of others. He IS the calm in our storms. Second, His grace and mercy are for everyone. We are not to judge who is worthy of His forgiveness because Christ died for everyone and He extends His grace to all. When we forget this, God will quickly remind our narrow hearts by those storms we encounter.

"Father, may I not cling to those idols which take my focus from You. Remind me always that Your grace and forgiveness are open to everyone who will accept it and it is not my place to decide who is worthy enough to receive it. Keep my focus on pleasing You instead of others."


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