Hey, my friend.
One of the best practices we can have through the summer to care for our own soul is to read God’s Word. This is especially true if we are caring for others around us who might be hurting or going through difficult seasons.
If want to know God, if we want to experience Him, if we want to know His heart and desires for us, if we want wisdom as we make decisions for ourselves and our families and our churches, then reading the Bible is really the best way for us to do that. Because it so plainly teaches us about God and the world that He created.
Now, does that mean that it’s always easy? No. It’s not always easy to sit down and read your Bible, and it’s not always easy to understand everything that you read. But much of the Bible is written in plain language, and it’s full of stories about men and women who have followed God.
You can use study Bibles and devotional books to help you better grasp what you’re reading. I think it’s great to take advantage of whatever tools or resources you might have. But I also want you to know that we have the Holy Spirit to teach us.
John 16:13 (NRSV) says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” And in John 14:26 (NRSV), it says, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
So we can trust the Holy Spirit, who is called the Spirit of truth, to lead us into the truth, to teach us what we need to know. And I find it amazing that sometimes I read a story and I learn one thing, and then the next time I read it, He teaches me something else. Over and over again.
So even though this might be a familiar story we are going to read together today, I want you to come to it with an open heart for what God might share with you. We’re going to read Jonah chapter 1 together, and I’m just going to share a few thoughts that come to mind as I read, okay? And I want to offer this so you can get a taste of reading God’s Word and then talking to God about what you’re reading
I’m going to start by reading Jonah 1 and I’m reading from the New Living Translation. I invite you to listen and ask God to help you imagine this story in your mind.
Jonah Runs from the Lord
The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.
But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.”
Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. “Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?”
Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the Lord. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned. And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, “What should we do to you to stop this storm?”
“Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.”
Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it. Then they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. “O Lord,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”
Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
Points to Think About
Okay, so there are a lot of things we could talk about in this chapter, but I am going to focus on just a few that really resonated with my heart and soul.
First, is just naming Jonah’s intention in fleeing to Tarshish. Did you catch what it was? He was intentionally running away from God.
Now, can he really run away from God? No. But he’s trying to. He is hoping to escape from the Lord. Other translations say that he is fleeing from God’s presence.
Jonah has received a call from God to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s judgment, and Jonah says no. He doesn’t even say no out loud; he just says no with his actions.
And I wonder if you can relate to that. Has God ever asked you to do something, ever reminded you of a commandment in the Bible, and you say no with your actions?
You resist. You pretend you didn’t hear Him. You flat out ignore Him.
God says, “Pray for him.” And you say, “No way.”
God says, “Serve her.” And you say, “Not going to do it.”
God says, “Welcome them into your church” And you say, “Sorry, nope.”
Jonah very intentionally ran away from God, heading in the complete opposite direction that he was supposed to be going.
Chapter 1 doesn’t reveal the reason why Jonah is so against this call from God. It could be that he is afraid of the Ninevites; after all, they are a wicked and violent people. Who would want to go there to proclaim doom and judgment on them? Would they beat him or even kill him for venturing into their city?
But if we skip ahead to chapter 4, we learn that Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh because he doesn’t want them to have a chance to repent and be saved. He doesn’t think they deserve God’s grace and mercy. He actually wants to see them destroyed.
After all, they aren’t God’s people.
And if Jonah prophesies to them as God wants him to do, then they’re going to have a chance to repent and be saved. And that’s not okay with him.
This shows us that Jonah’s heart isn’t in the right place. He knows that God is compassionate and merciful, but he believes it should only be to certain people.
Again, I wonder if you can relate. Is there anyone that you would have a hard time seeing God pour His mercy and compassion on? Maybe someone who has hurt you. Maybe someone who has committed violent sins against others. Maybe someone who is arrogant or boastful or selfish. Maybe someone who lives differently than you do.
Who is that person or people group for you? Why do you think we have such a hard time seeing God be merciful to other people?
So Jonah runs away from God and gets on a boat heading in the opposite direction. And it is while he is on that boat that God sends a storm. This storm is strong enough that it is breaking up the ship, the sailors—experienced seamen—are afraid.
And it’s interesting to compare the response of these pagan sailors against God’s man Jonah. The sailors are crying out to their gods seeking rescue. And Jonah? He’s sleeping in the hold of the ship. So they wake him up and ask him some questions.
And here we see Jonah testify to who he is and what he believes. He is a Hebrew, and he worships the Lord, who made the sea and the dry land. In essence, he declares that it is his God who caused this storm.
Now, Jonah says these things all very well, but does he really worship the Lord? Does he really fear the Lord? If we look at his actions, no he does not. And this challenges us to look to see if our actions are lining up with what we say we believe. Do we believe what we say we believe? Do our actions line up with our testimony?
When the sailors wake him up and find out that he is the cause of this storm, the sailors take the time to ask Jonah questions instead of just killing him immediately. These men show mercy and compassion, even when Jonah cannot. Even when Jonah finally tells them to throw him overboard, they hesitate. They don’t want to die, but they also don’t want Jonah to die.
They row as hard as they can. But it’s no use. And it’s only as a very last measure that they do what Jonah tells them to do. And as they do so, they pray to the Lord, asking for forgiveness.
The sailors, not Jonah, are the ones who, by their actions, show they fear the Lord. They, not Jonah, are the ones who are concerned about people perishing.
And, grace upon grace, God uses Jonah’s poor testimony to save these pagan sailors and bring them to Himself. It’s incredible.
Now, not only did God send the storm upon the ship, He also sends a large fish to swallow Jonah. And we really need to see this as an unusual act of mercy.
Jonah could have died. God might very well have killed Jonah for being so disobedient and hard-hearted. But He didn’t. He saved him.
Has God ever sent a big fish to rescue you?
Maybe it didn’t feel so good at the time. Maybe you didn’t understand it. Maybe you wished for something else altogether, even to suffer the consequences of your actions.
But God sent a fish.
And He rescued you from something that should have been detrimental to your life, to your heart, to your soul?
Sometimes it takes a lot to wake us up, doesn’t it?
Now here’s an important question to consider: God could have just sent another prophet to Nineveh. Why do you think He went to such great lengths to get Jonah’s attention and see him through with his assignment?
I need you to see that God loved the people of Nineveh—120,000 people—so much that He wanted them to have a chance to repent and change their ways. That’s why He wanted to send Jonah. But God also loved Jonah so much that He pursued Jonah and sought to change his heart.
God cares about the one. He cares about you. He cares about your heart.
So what is going on in your heart today? What are you thinking about? What are you struggling with? Is your heart hard in any area of your life, like Jonah’s was here? Do you need to confess any sin? Do you need God to help you with any unbelief? Talk to Him about it. He cares so very much.
Your Own Bible Reading
So that is Jonah chapter 1. I invite you to take some time and finish reading the book of Jonah. It won’t take too long; it’s only four chapters. But take time to sit with Jonah in this story. Because there really isn’t very much that makes Jonah look good, you know? However, he is probably the prophet that I resonate with the most.
Now, my friend, if you are someone who journals, you could easily grab a notebook and write down what strikes you about the passage you just read. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but any detail that catches your attention, any word or phrase that gets stuck in your heart or mind, any questions that come to mind. It doesn’t have to be fancy; just jot it down. Just like I did here. And talk to God about it. Ask Him to continue to reveal His Word, His truth, to you.
You might recognize a lot of connections between Jonah and some stories in the New Testament. Make note of those, as well.
You can think about what it might have been like to be a prophet back in Jonah’s day, to travel around and give God’s messages to people—often people in power.
You can think about Jonah’s story from the sailors’ perspective. What do you think it was like for them?
And as you read, you can consider the story from the perspective of the Ninevites. Someone comes to let them know their behavior is not okay and their city is going to be destroyed. Yet we see in them such an amazing repentance and change of heart, more drastic than anything God’s people seemed to show. What might it have been like to be one of them? To get a wake-up call like that?
Don’t let reading the Bible be scary or overwhelming, but try to see it as a way to engage with God. These are His words, after all. His story. His people. And He has sent His Holy Spirit to teach you what you need to know, to help you understand what you are reading.
Thank you for being here with me today, my friend. I pray that God would give you a hunger for His Word and that He would guide your reading of Scripture so that you might come to know Him more deeply every day. Until next time, let’s encourage one another…
- Episode 47: 10 Ways to Encounter God Through His Word
- Episode 37: Those Moments When You Just Need to Get to Jesus: The Story of Zacchaeus
- Episode 63: Using Christian Spiritual Practices to Draw Closer to God with Blogger and Writer Celia Miller
- Bonus Episode 7: Getting Ready to Meet with God
Learn more and register for Journal Gently, an 8-week program designed to help you use writing as a way to process hurt, grief, and trauma with God.