Monday, August 5, 2013

God Appointed a Worm

Today is the first day in our thirty-first week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures this week are:

  • Jonah; Matt 11􀂁 
  • 2 Kings 13-14; 2 Chr 25; Matt 12; Ps 53
  • Amos 1-3; Matt 13
  • Amos 4-6; Matt 14; Psalm 55
  • Amos 7-9; Matt 15
I love the peaceful words of Jesus that we find in Matthew 28-30.*  They have given hope to billions of believers since the Lord first spoke them.  In times of turmoil, how desperately we need reassurance like this:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
You could probably share stories about times when your life was in turmoil, and you were sorely in need of rest.  Jonah was in a time such as that.  Just imagine everything that Jonah went through--a terrifying call to preach to fearsome people, a difficult sea voyage, a storm, becoming fish bait.  Jonah prayed from the belly of that great fish, which vomited him up on land.  Finally, Jonah admitted that God must have His way, so he went to that wicked city Nineveh to proclaim God's judgment.  When the people repented (contrary to Jonah's expectations), he went outside the city and flopped.  Jonah 4:1-3 says:
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.  Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah needed a break.  We tend to criticize Jonah for his attitude here, but just imagine the immense stress he has been under.  The guy was practically suicidal!  He needed to fall into the arms of God and rest.  Like Elijah running from Ahab, Jonah needed an angelic touch, supernatural food and rest.

We go through times like that...times when all we need is a break.  And God provides the shelter we need during those times.  Verses 5-6 say:
Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.  Now the Lord God appointed a plant[i]and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 
Praise God for those small graces that God gives us during the times when our faith is fragile!  A place to rest.  A bit of shade.  Shelter from the heat of the day and the trials of life.  God is gracious, and gives us what we need.

But sometimes we get too comfortable, and instead of needing more rest, we need to have our comfortable positions shaken up a bit.  In verses 7 through 11, God removes the shelter He has provided, and challenges Jonah's faith to stretch a bit more.  
But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.  When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”  And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.  And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
What a beautiful thing it is when God provides us a quiet place to rest!  Jesus offers peace and rest for the weary.  But sometimes our calm can turn into complacency.  That's when God needs to shake us up a bit.  It's not just the pleasant things that come from God.  Sometimes He appoints a scorching east wind, and sometimes He calls the sun to beat down just a little more.  God may have appointed a worm to destroy that shelter of yours--that place where you've gotten a little too comfortable in your self-assured faith.  It could be that the trials you are going through are God's tool to teach you something significant.  

Jonah is the only book in the Bible that ends with a question mark rather than a period.  That shakes the reader up a bit, too.  It leaves the reader unsettled, like the matter hasn't been concluded.  Sometimes God leaves us hanging like that.  When He speaks, He doesn't always leave things with a tidy period.  Sometimes His questions nag at us, disrupting our peace and challenging our faith.  When you're going through trouble, remember that just as God appoints places of quiet rest, He also appoints winds, worms, and question marks to make us grow beyond our complacency.  Because in God's plan for our lives, peace isn't the ultimate plan.  Growth is.

All scriptures taken from the ESV.

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