Friday, April 25, 2014

Jonah, pity parties, and me

I think I have mentioned to you that I recently taught an overview of the Old Testament prophets. Yes, you read that correctly. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nahum, Obadiah, we covered all those guys, the familiar and the not so much, the more accessible and the, shall we say, slightly more remote.

Jonah is perhaps the most familiar of the prophets, certainly among the minors. I imagine we would hard pressed to find anyone who couldn't at least recite the basic facts of Jonah and his encounter with the big fish: the prophet's reluctance, the big gulp, the three days within, the vomiting, the preaching, and the resulting revival.

But that's not all of Jonah's story. After Nineveh's great awakening, the Bible tells us Jonah went out of the city and made a booth for himself. There he sat, watching and waiting. Maybe he thought doomsday was yet to come, who can know? While he waited...

[T]he Lord God appointed a plant 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. 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." (Jonah 4:6-8) 

I always chuckle a bit there when the prophet of God throws his big pity party over the loss of the plant and, rather dramatically and with great histrionics, at least in my imagination, he declares his desire to die. Drama, much?

Chuckles aside, there's some truths worth considering here. Most importantly, we note the Lord's provision in relation to the plant and the worm and the wind. The plant, the worm, the wind, all were of the Lord's appointment. In his exposition of Jonah in his book Promises Made, Mark Dever makes the following statement...

God provides for our comforts (like the vine). He provides our losses (as caused by the worm). He provides our trials (as through the wind). 

Think on it. We are quick with our gratitude for our comforts. I, like many bloggers, have devoted posts on my blog cataloging the Lord's many blessings. The Lord has given and we praise Him. Losses and trials are far more difficult to consider in terms of the Lord's provision and the Lord's appointment. But the Bible is clear: God is sovereign over all, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the gains and the losses, the vines, the worms and the winds. He appoints and He provides; there is purpose and there is a plan.

Yet Jonah declared life no longer worth living after the shade from the vine was gone. And here's where we laugh a little. I mean, a vine? Really?

Jonah figured his life was forfeit without the vine and this somewhat dramatic declaration exposes his idolatry. And what about me? What comforts do I take for granted? What gifts from the Lord do I value over and above the Giver? What deprivation would cause me to despair of living? My stuff? My husband? My children? My ministry? These are all good gifts, blessings, comforts appointed to me by the Lord. What if I were to suffer their loss?

Could I say with Job, "The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord"? Or would I say with Jonah, "It is better for me to die"?

Friends, family, money, ministry are all gracious blessings from the Lord but they are not the purpose and definition of our lives. We must take care to examine what we hold most dear. What am I grasping so tightly for validation or comfort or meaning? If it is not the Lord it is idolatry.

Above all else Jonah cared mostly, exclusively, for Jonah and Jonah's comfort. His self preoccupation shows itself in stark contrast to the Lord's compassion on the city of Nineveh. The Lord asks Jonah directly "You pity the plant...should I not pity Nineveh...?" The loss of the plant and Jonah's ensuing pity party expose the true condition of Jonah's heart. Not only does he place a premium on the plant but he bitterly resents the Lord extending grace to those he esteems as unworthy. His arrogance and his presumption on the mercy of the Lord are on full display as he pouts and whines.

Let us thank the Lord for the vines in our lives, the blessings and comforts He grants us out of His grace and His mercy. When He appoints worms and winds, struggles and losses, may we humbly search our hearts and should we suffer the exposure of our idolatry may we repent and turn to Him in grateful submission.

This is a hard truth and my heart is tender to those of you who are enduring a difficult season of trial and loss. I encourage you to cling to what you know to be true: God is good and He loves you and His arm is not too short to save. No matter your present circumstance--vine, worm, or wind--you can trust Him.


  1. I think these words were especially written for me today. Thank you.

  2. Thank you. As an oncology nurse, I am will patients each day who are suffering in one way or another. I so appreciate this. The other day, someone was remarking that her surgery and the outcome went well and as she desired because so many people were praying. I had to add, that even if the outcome would have been different, God was STILL GOOD, still sovereign, still holding His children in His loving arms and we could still confidently trust HIM. Thank you. I have also appreciated your podcasts. Thank you for making those available.