Are You Headed to Nineveh … or Tarshish?

Are You Headed to Nineveh … or Tarshish?

Jonah fled from God’s presence because he didn’t want to be a prophet to a lost world. Which way are you sailing?

In the 8th century B.C. Jonah participated in one of the most unusual prayer meetings in history. It happened at the bottom of the sea from inside a giant fish. With damp seaweed wrapped around his head and his skin bleached by digestive juices, the renegade prophet sat on the slimy stomach membrane and gasped for breath amidst the foul odor of eels, crabs and barnacles.   In total darkness Jonah prayed from the salty depths: “Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord” (Jon. 2:8-9, NASB).   Sometimes we must sink to the lowest point before we turn to God. That’s what Jonah did. From what could have been a watery grave he got a second chance to obey.

“Are you running from God’s call on your life? Have you hired a luxury ship to take you to a comfort zone where you don’t have to think about the needs of your Nineveh?”


The fish swam hundreds of miles eastward, back toward the Phoenician shore, and vomited the repentant prophet onto dry land. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city” (3:2).   It had not been an easy process, but Jonah now understood his priorities.   When he finally arrived in Nineveh he heralded his message and caused a citywide commotion. Within hours everyone was talking about the Jewish prophet who spoke of divine judgment. All the inhabitants of the Assyrian capital, including the king, put on sackcloth and called on the name of the God of Israel because of Jonah’s dire warning.   God touched an entire city with His amazing forgiveness because one reluctant man finally fulfilled his divine assignment.   All of us can relate to this story. We are called to minister to the faithless Ninevehs of our generation-our workplaces, campuses, neighborhoods, cities and beyond. Each of us is called to be a missionary with a specific assignment. But often we run in the opposite direction because of fear of failure, insecurity about our weaknesses, disappointment about a past ministry experience or just plain selfishness.   Jonah hired a boat to take him to Tarshish, which was about as far as you could go from Nineveh in those days. (Bible scholars say it was in Spain, possibly a mining outpost near Gibraltar.) But he never reached his Mediterranean hideaway. God found him asleep in the hold of the ship and sent a storm to rouse him. Within a few hours he was thrown overboard and ended up as fish food.   Can you find yourself in Jonah’s story? Are you running from God’s call on your life? Have you tried to drown out the cries of lost people? Have you hired a luxury ship to take you to a comfort zone where you don’t have to think about the needs of your Nineveh?   Many American Christians today are in Jonah’s boat. We don’t like to hear sermons about evangelism. We’re not interested in the crucified life. We’ve shunned sacrifice. Instead of making the Great Commission our priority, we’ve fallen asleep with our iPods playing perky messages about success and prosperity.   But I hear the sound of wind and waves. God has sent a storm to rouse a distracted, disobedient church out of its slumber. We must take the same steps Jonah did:   1. Wake up. Jonah’s disobedience put the sailors on his ship in peril. Did you realize that when we shirk our responsibility to share the gospel of Christ, others perish? We must get out of our beds of spiritual lethargy and stop ignoring the cries of the unbelieving.   The charismatic church today has ignored the call to evangelism. In many churches we are more interested in getting personal prophecies, having heavenly visitations, interpreting our dreams or seeing gold dust than we are in winning souls. We’ve lost our first love. We’ve become ingrown and self-absorbed. But an alarm has sounded!   2. Look up. Sometimes God allows difficult circumstances to bring His church to repentance. Could this be one reason our economy is squeezing us to a breaking point? Has God sent a storm to blow away the materialism that has made us fat and proud?   Jonah was stripped to the bare essentials by the time he landed in the fish’s belly. He went through a scary digestive process, yet a loving God watched over him. Many of us may face some darkness and discomfort before we emerge empowered for a coming season of revival.   3. Embrace your call. When Jonah repented, he declared: “Salvation is from the Lord” (2:9). How desperately the American church today must embrace again the message of salvation. We must stop running. God wants to use all of us to reach people for Christ. The Lord has given all of us the message of reconciliation, and we must reclaim it anew.   The Christian life is not about you and your needs-it is a call to deny yourself and share the forgiveness of Jesus with everyone around you. If you are a fugitive from the call of God, please turn yourself in today.

J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.


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