Three ways to respond when life threatens to swallow us

Are there days when you feel swallowed up by life? Worry, disappointment, sorrow, and frustrations tend to suffocate our hopes, dreams, and prayers.

Perhaps there are days when you feel like taking the first flight out of town. You wouldn’t be the first.

A man by the name of Jonah took the first ship out of town. He felt that God was simply asking too much. Escape seems to be a natural human instinct — especially when confronting the commands of God. Or for some, His message of grace. It’s also amusing that we think we can run away from God. I even wonder if God may have chuckled upon seeing Jonah board a puny ship. God has ways to get our attention, to know that He’s watching, and sometimes it comes in the form of difficult circumstances. For Jonah — what appeared to be a tragedy when he fell overboard and into the stomach of a great fish — God used for a blessing.

But the story doesn’t end there. When we delve deeper into his story, we find that there are great lessons we can learn to help provide comfort, so we do not have to feel like we are being swallowed up by life.

Jonah ended up following God’s command. When it was over, we find him sitting on top of the hill gazing over the great city of Nineveh. For most preachers, there is a cause for great joy when people respond to their message. But not Jonah. The whole city repented, 120,000!, when Jonah preached to them. But Jonah was far from happy. What was his problem?

How could God show compassion and mercy to an enemy of Israel? How could God bestow great blessing to such an undeserving people?

While Jonah sulked, the Lord lovingly provided. He miraculously grew a vine to give shade from the hot sun to ease his discomfort.  The next day, a scorching wind shriveled the vine. Jonah cried out, “Please, Lord, grant me death. It would be better for me to die than to live!

Is this an over-reaction? Do we find it easy to chastise Jonah for his boorish behavior?

We see God respond to his tantrum by asking, “Jonah, do you really have a right to be angry about the vine?

Jonah replies, “You bet I do!  I’m angry enough to die!

The Lord answers, “Yes, Jonah, I know you have been very concerned about this vine – even though you did not tend to it or make it grow.”

It was God who caused 120,000 Ninevites respond with faith. God chose Jonah to be a celebrity — an opportunity to be in the spotlight and receive acclaim for his work. Would this not be a dream for most Christians — a source of great joy?

In its place, we discover three unexpected lessons we can learn from the story of Jonah.

  1. God is not intimidated when we get angry with Him.

God sends elements of the world to consume us. In Jonah’s case, it was a big fish. For the rest of us, it’s sickness, injury, loss of a job, death of a loved one, or dreams never realized. We get angry with God. We tend to complain that undeserving people have it much better than we do. There are times when we feel like throwing a tantrum, to allow circumstances to provide an excuse to respond poorly. We choose to escape into things of the world instead of the Word of God. We, in a spiritual sense, cry out to God, “Take my life. It would be better to die than to live.” Being swallowed by a whale sounds better than to confront the challenges life brings us.

Perhaps we ought not to be so judgmental of Jonah. We give thanks that God is not intimidated by our anger when life seems to rage out of control. Anger is a healthy first start to a difficult circumstance — we use anger to begin the process of deepening our trust in God.

  1. God uses elements of the world to deepen our trust in Him. We respond well by embracing them.

God refers to this in the Bible as discipline. He loves us more than any earthly father. He tenderly reminds us that He is very concerned about us – He has our best interest at heart. He is the one that causes a vine to prosper and make it grow. He is the author of all our blessings and successes — even failures. Everything He orchestrates is for our good purpose. God is the one who molds us and shapes us — making us holy, to be a godly example and to be a better witness. Due to our pride and sinful nature, the only way we to teach these lessons is through the process of discipline.

Anger is an appropriate response when God disciplines us. It hurts. We don’t like it. But more often than not, God is rooting out our pride or things that cuase us fear so that we may serve Him.

  1. God uses elements of the world to remind ourselves that life is not all about us.

How often do we like to take credit or the blame? Why do we allow pride or guilt to reign in our lives? Why do we tend to live our lives as if we are the center of the universe? God uses circumstances in our lives to remind us He is at the center of our universe and that its not all about us. In the grand scope of the cosmos and how God interacts with the world, we rarely realize our powerful impact on others. God uses us whether we realize it or not. And its all for a good purpose!

Instead of escaping or complaining, growth in Christ means to grow in our trust in Him — no matter what comes our way. It’s amazing that how our spirit-filled response to life’s most pressing challenges is one of the most powerful witnesses of His Word. It no longer about us — but Christ in us.

And that’s how we Witness Well.

6 Comments on “Three ways to respond when life threatens to swallow us

  1. Many helpful thoughts in this, Dave. Thanks for digging into this well-known story and finding fresh applications. I will be sharing this with a friend.
    God’s richest blessings on you and the rest of the TILM ministry members and your work!
    As Lori says,
    Warm hugs!

    • Thank you, Norma. I can relate to Jonah and his reluctance and complaining. Yet, God displays His amazing love, patience and grace.

    • Thank you, Anna. The story of Jonah resonates with me in so many ways — especially the reluctance part. Yet, God is so good and patient with me. Thanks for your encouragement.

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