Have you ever had your back or neck out of alignment? For the past few weeks, I have been putting off going to the chiropractor because I just couldn't seem to fit it into my daily schedule. It began with my lower back and like a ripple effect, made its way up to my neck. Finally, after weeks of suffering sleepless nights do to my discomfort and headaches I made time to get an adjustment. I felt better immediately. It only took a few minutes and I was on my way back to normal.
This was a good picture for me as I was reading the book of Jonah this week. Most of us are familiar with Jonah and the whale. As I was reading it, I was thinking about my recent back adjustment. Pastor Jeff is often talking about living by assignment and when we do, we are living in alignment with God. Jonah had an assignment from God. The first two verses of this book tell us that. Jonah 1:1 & 2 says, "The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.'" God was pretty specific with the assignment that He had for Jonah. But, Jonah disobeyed the Lord and got out of alignment. Verse 3 says, "But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for the port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord." He went in the exact opposite direction of where God had told him to go.
We know what happened next, in verse 4 it says that God sent a great wind on the sea and a violent storm arose that threatened the ship to break apart. In the meantime, Jonah was a sleep down inside the boat while everyone else was scrambling around afraid. So much so, the sailors threw their cargo into the sea hoping it would help. Finally they got Jonah up out of his deep sleep. The sailors cast lots to find out who was responsible for this calamity. It fell to Jonah. Jonah had previously told them why he was running away. He told them that it was his fault that God brought this storm on. They asked him what he had done against the Lord that would cause all of this. (The storm was the consequence of being out of alignment.) The sailors tried to row back to land, but the storm only grew worse. These sailors, who had previously never worshipped God, cried out to Him and asked the Lord to spare their lives and not to hold them accountable for killing Jonah, but they decided they needed to throw him overboard. Out of God's mercy he spared Jonah's life by preserving him in the belly of a big fish for three days. Eventually Jonah followed through on his assignment and was realigned with the purpose God had for him. (Jonah 1-4)
This is such an example of what happens when we are out of alignment with what God is doing. Just like my back being out of alignment, when we are out of alignment with God's plan, often life seems uncomfortable and unbearable. There is a cost to us when we live out of alignment with God's assignment. Notice there was a cost not only to Jonah, but the people that he had endangered due to his disobedience. Jonah's cost was that he paid to get on the boat. Probably hard earned money and he didn't even make it to his destination, Tarshish. A waste of funds. Then the sailors threw their cargo overboard. Most likely this was how they earned their income and it was all gone because of someone else's disobedience.
When we are out of alignment with God's plan, we experience unnecessary circumstances that can be avoided. I probably wouldn't have suffered my back trouble if I would just stay off Space Mountain at Disneyland. But many times, we would rather live in discomfort and whine about the situation than take care of business and do what we need to do, which is get back on track with God's plan. Most of the time it's because we don't like the assignment the Lord has given to us and like Jonah, we run from it.
Eventually Jonah fulfilled his assignment to Nineveh. He sure could have avoided all that if he had just been obedient in the first place. On the other hand, it's just like God turn our mistakes into something good. Not only did the Ninevites change their ways, but those sailors lives were changed as well. That experience caused them to turn to the Lord and fear him. So much so they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (Jonah 1:14-16) God will take our disobedience and turn it around for His good.
In chapter 4 Jonah is angry because God had so much compassion for the people of Nineveh. He was probably mad that God would interrupt his life to go tell a foreign people, who weren't very smart, to turn to God. (Jonah 4:11) Yet, God spared him from death by protecting him in the belly of a fish to fulfill His purpose. Jonah was all about his own comfort. God sent him a vine to eat and over night the vine died. (Jonah 4:6-7) Then God sent a scorching wind and sun on Jonah. Jonah's true colors came out. These tests always show us who we really are. Jonah told the Lord to just let him die rather than endure any discomfort. (Jonah 4:8) If you think about it, Jonah was a pretty selfish guy. I hate to admit it, but I have these same tendencies. I don't always like having to change my plans for God's. How many times have I told Jesus it was time for the rapture just because I was frustrated with my life. Yet God is patient because He knows there are lost souls who need to know Him first.
The book of Jonah is the only book in the Bible that concludes with a question. The question is in verses 10 and 11. It says, "But the Lord said, 'You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city? Not only does God see the big picture, He's drawing it!
Unfortunately, there are consequences for our disobedience to God's assignments. Again, there is not only discomfort and a cost to us, but to others as well. But in God's great mercy and grace, He gives us the chance, like Jonah to get back in alignment with what He is doing. I ask you this question, what assignment has God given you that you are running from? Do you sometimes tell Him you would rather die than to live in alignment with His plan? I know I am guilty. Let us learn some hard lessons from this man Jonah. Let's get in alignment with God's assignment.