The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
So wow…I mean…wow…the word of the LORD came to Jonah. What’s that like? I wonder was it like a “call to the ministry?” I often have a great difficulty explaining to folks what it means to be “called.” A call is something to be experienced, it is when you know that you know that God has something in front of you that you are to be walking out. I wonder if it was like that for Jonah?
Certainly God calls all of us to some path(s) in life. Too often we’re frightened by that call or “word from the LORD” to do anything about it. I’m pretty sure there are loads of folks that are called to be part of something and they shy away from it for various reasons.
“God called me to be a teacher but my Dad’s a doctor and I have to follow in his footsteps.”
“I feel certain that I should be working with underprivileged youth, but there’s no money in it so I stick with the stock market.”
“It drives me crazy when I see people building shoddy homes I’d do a better job if only I had studied a different major in school.”
We look for all sorts of reasons to avoid God’s call to action in our lives. To make matters worse we struggle not only with being called, but with the duration of a particular call.
How long oh LORD…?
It’s funny how when folks sense a “call” or a “word” from the LORD more often than not it tends to benefit themselves. We get this all the time in our ministry in one way our another.
“Pastor, the LORD has made it clear to me that you should start a woman’s ministry. My Momma needs it.”
“What God would have you do is help your brothers and sisters who are struggling! It’s biblical, you need a transitional housing program.”
I’m sure you can imagine 100’s of these sorts of things and we get them all the time. We try to graciously remind folks that God has called us to a specific call that may or may not include these things at various times but we get to discern what God wants for us. Even as I grumble about this sort of abuse of “a word from the LORD” I recognize that we abuse it in the ministry as well. We use “a calling” or “a word from God” to limit what we do or to avoid difficulty.
“Things have gotten tough…surprise surprise I think God is calling me elsewhere!”
Of course God does call folks and of course we can be confident in his call and without question he can adapt plans and encourage us to follow him and his call on many variations of a path, but what about when it is clear that God has said something specific? Something clear like:
”Go and make disciples…” – Jesus
“Lord, we’re building a church.
The structures are growing.
People are converting to Jesus.
We have piles of Bible studies – at the building, in homes, at recovery programs, on various nights, during the day.” – Me
“But Dan, are you making disciples?” – God? Holy Spirit?
“Maybe.” — Me
Sad, but that’s my best answer. How are you doing at it? Assuming you’re a Christian one element of the call is pretty clear: “Go and make disciples.” Not converts, not a bunch of people that look to you as an authority, not Bible scholars…but disciples, how’s that going? I’d love to see it working better for all of us. Of course that could be a drag as well, what if everything went the way we hoped? What if people were coming from miles not only to hear about Jesus in our ministry or to take advantage of his grace but to yoke (tie/bind/covenant) with him in such a way that they were fully devoted to him? It’s one of the “critical objectives” of my denomination. That’d be awesome…I think. But Jonah shows me that there can be danger in a “successful” call as well. Apparently before Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh he had some serious success as a prophet in Northern Israel. During the time of Jeroboam II Jonah prophesied “…in accordance with the word of the LORD…” that Jeroboam II would restore “…the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah…” and Jeroboam II did just that. (Check 2 Kings 14:22-29)
So, Jonah was a prophet. A forth teller of God’s word, he had experience at hearing from God, he was likely considered a very successful prophet. After all, the words he spoke came to pass. As our story begins Jonah is called again…a word from the LORD came to Jonah. I imagine he was excited.
“Oh a word from the ever existing one, I can’t wait to hear what he has for me this time!”
And then this:
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” Jonah 1:2
Jonah had good reason to be bummed out by this particular call—more on that in the next post.
For now I’m just wondering how we respond when the call isn’t obviously to our advantage, what happens when the LORD’s call doesn’t turn out to be the dream job?