The book of Jonah is a story about a man who ran from God and a God who ran after the man. As we jump into the new year, here are three big life lessons we can learn from this prodigal prophet:
1. God's call doesn't guarantee your success. God has placed a calling, some set of directions, on every believer's life (see 1 Corinthians 1:26; Ephesians 4:1). Jonah clearly resisted and avoided God's call on his life: to preach to the people of Nineveh.
Now, eventually he did obey the calling, and he saw incredible success: the whole city of Nineveh—600,000 people—turned to God. But that only happened after a lot of time was wasted and a lot of pain was endured, including a few miserable days spent inside a big fish.
2. Knowing truth doesn't mean doing truth. Jonah knew the Word of God; he referenced Old Testament texts no less than eleven times in his prayer from the belly of the fish.
But exposure to Scripture does not guarantee a godly life. Jonah's words may have been bathed in Bible truth, but his works were bathed in bitter self-will: he ran from the Lord because he knew that his preaching in Nineveh would actually work (see Jonah 4:1-2).
Jonah knew God's Word, but he didn't practice it. Jesus said, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17). The joy is not in knowing but in doing what you know.
3. Your willfulness won't stop God's will. If God wanted Nineveh reached, Nineveh was going to be reached, whether Jonah did it or God used somebody else. But God sure went through a lot of trouble to use Jonah, right? That's the point: God is in the business of using the most unlikely people. As my life verse, 1 Corinthians 1:27, says, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise."
God won't force you to obey Him. But He has skills in the fine art of persuasion. And if His still, small voice to you doesn't work, you may want to buy storm insurance. As Proverbs 15:10 says, "Harsh discipline is for him who forsakes the way." In other words, if you want to fight God, He can take you on.
So whatever God's call on your life is, the quicker you say, "Speak, Lord, Your servant hears," the better off and happier you'll be. Jonah started out running from God, but then he ran to God and with God. That great story can be our testimony. When we come to the Lord, from that point on we run with Him, and our lives take on a meaning and purpose like no other. So let's start running toward our good and gracious God.