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4th November 2012
The book of Jonah tells us much more about God than it does about Jonah. Through Jonah's story – perhaps more than any other book of the Bible – we see what pumps through God's heart: his amazing compassion.
Jonah knew God. In fact, Jonah's complaint revealed that he understood very well just what God is like: "I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." (4:2) Earlier on, God's character was a cause for great celebration – "In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me... you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God" (2:2-9) – but Jonah's attitude soon changed when he saw the same mercy God had shown him now extended to the Ninevites!
We can be like Jonah: loving to apply God's gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger, abounding-in-love nature to ourselves, but not being quite so generous towards those around us! Jonah wasn't wrong about the Ninevites – they were evil! – but he was wrong about two other things. Firstly, he'd failed to really understand God's concern for the people of Nineveh; secondly, Jonah had got caught up in a self-righteous bubble and forgotten that he deserved God's wrath too.
Jonah's attitude was 'I will show compassion if they deserve it' – which is pretty much how everyone else operates. Maybe he was prejudiced, maybe he was afraid. Either way, Jonah was far more concerned about his personal comfort than he was about 120,000 people who were about to be destroyed!
Likewise, we can get shirty when our comfort or our plans are interrupted, without caring at all about people dying all around us without Christ. Jonah was a prophet – he heard God's voice, he was involved in the salvation of a group of sailors, he was saved by a big fish! Then he was re-commissioned – given a second chance – by God and saw revival in a major city... Yet he still missed the heart and purposes of God! Let's make sure we don't, like Jonah, miss God's heart of compassion for those around us.
Readings: Jonah 4:1-11
Question: Do I have God's compassion – or am I holding onto my prejudice, fear or personal comfort?
Posted by Paul Mann
13th October 2012
I read something along these lines on Twitter today: "If all your prayers from the last 30 days were answered, would anything change in the world, or just your world?"
Challenging, isn't it? It's pretty obvious that Jonah wasn't thinking globally, and it's easy for us to restrict our vision to just our immediate needs, our circle of friends and family, or even the borders of our town or just the people we like. But God's compassion extends to the farthest corners of the world – and no people group is excluded because He's out to save people of every nation, tribe and tongue.
In The Jonah Complex, Greg Haslam asks: "Is there anyone in our thinking who is beyond God's mercy?" Here is a summary of a challenging story from Greg's book:
Notorious American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was convicted of viciously torturing and mutilating at least 11 kidnapped victims, resorting to necrophilia and cannibalism. He was completely cold and expressionless during his trial, voicing no remorse or repentance for his actions. The jury and public hated him and wanted him to face the electric chair, but instead he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
A few years into that term, Dahmer was visited by Christians who, over a period of time, helped him to see the corruption of his soul through his early exposure and subsequent addiction to pornography. Dahmer deeply repented of his former life and came to believe in Jesus Christ as the only one who could reverse his depravity and save him. He became a Christian and was baptised. Later, he went public with his new perspectives on his crimes in the sincere and strong hope of deterring others from ever repeating them.
The surprising news of his conversion became widely known and vilified as a cheap shot to elicit public sympathy. The media went into a frenzy of protest and angry reports. One striking headline asked: WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS OUTRAGE?
And the answer, of course, is God! It was God's idea to save Jeffrey Dahmer.
This story of one of the world's worst and most cold-blooded killers and the questions it inevitably arouses, might well cause us all to think of the possibility that a Jonah may lurk somewhere in the hidden recesses of each of our hearts...
Readings: Jonah 3; Romans 9:15-26
Question: How do you react to the story of Jeffrey Dahmer?
Next prayer meetings: Tomorrow, 7am at THC and 7pm at The George in Rye
Posted by Natalie Williams
12th October 2012
When I was a child, I was told not to say: "I'm sweating." "Animals sweat, gentlemen perspire, ladies glow," they told me. Well, in that context, I've been one of the most glowing Christians in southern France this summer! I was warned about July and August getting unbearable, but I just couldn't believe how stiflingly hot and airless it gets. Not that I'm complaining – as I write I've been back in the UK for three days and shivering with cold at times. I certainly don't miss the English weather!
So I can certainly identify with Jonah as he searched for a spot in the shade (chapter 4). He didn't have the benefit of parasols and other gear we need for the beach, where if you don't provide your own shade there is none and you'll get sunburnt. Nor could he flake out in an air-conditioned room as we can. When Jonah set up his shelter to keep watch on Nineveh, God provided a vine for shade. He took it away again next morning and turned up the temperature of the sun, and it sounds as if poor Jonah got sunstroke as a result and just wanted to die. God used this as an illustration to teach Jonah a lesson and the book ends abruptly.
Minds greater than mine have sought to explain the withering vine, and I won't attempt to! But I want to share something that inspired me in this summer's blistering heat in the centre of Montpellier. A team of teenagers from Newday Global joined us in July to evangelise on the streets. They shared prophetic words, prayed for sick people and broken families, and altogether about 100 meaningful conversations took place in which we shared the gospel, and we've had contact with several of these people since.
These 16-19-year-olds could have been lying on a beach or relaxing in their school/university holidays. But I'm so thankful to God that they heard his call and volunteered to go out in temperatures often around 35 degrees to share the good news about Jesus. They didn't run away from God's call like Jonah did, and they may well have contributed to people finding salvation. But there again, maybe they were like Jonah as – despite his grumbling – he was also used to turn lost souls to God.
Reading: Jonah 4:5-11
Question: How can you make yourself available to be used by God?
Next prayer meetings: Sunday, 7am at THC and 7pm at The George in Rye
Posted by Barbara Veness in Montpellier
11th October 2012
A few months ago, I noticed on an acquaintance's Facebook profile that under 'Religious Views', she had written: "Religion is a crutch for the weak." My first thought was that she can't have ever got to really know a religious person (ignoring any quibbles about the use of the word religion – let's just assume it means someone with faith). I also guessed that the 100,000+ Christians killed on account of their faith each year for the last decade would not agree! (Not to mention the thousands of people of other faiths who are martyred, too.)
And I'm sure Jonah would've disagreed. God asked him to go somewhere he didn't want to go and to proclaim a message to a people who may very well have killed him for it. Most of us don't find ourselves in such dangerous situations – in fact, we can languish for years in a comfortable, mediocre Christianity if we choose to – but when we actively pursue God, our faith is challenging, transforming and demanding.
Being a Christian means submitting to an authority higher than yourself – this can mean, for example, choosing to do something you may not particularly want to do (forgiving when you'd rather hold a grudge, giving to charity/those in need when you'd rather buy a new TV, being kind to someone who is unkind to you, etc), and deciding to align your beliefs, attitudes, behaviour – your whole life – to what God says is true and right, because you trust that even when you may not like it, God's ways are higher than your ways and He knows better than you!
Of course, in one sense, our faith is a crutch and we are weak. On the journey to faith, an essential step for the Christian is recognising their personal, desperate need for a Saviour. And the Bible tells us that "God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" – our God is especially concerned about those who the world might judge as weak and He makes it His delight to lavish His mercy on those who know they need it! We also know that God is "an ever-present help in trouble", so in one sense it's absolutely true to say He's the One on whom the weak can lean to be upheld. (But I doubt that's what my Facebook acquaintance means!)
Faith in God – our Creator and our Father who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love – is wonderful! But it is also often hard, because in the words of the famous hymn: "Love so amazing, so divine / Demands my soul, my life, my all!"
Readings: Jonah; 1 Corinthians 1:27-31; Psalm 46:1-3
Question: How is God asking you to align your ways with His ways at the moment?
Next prayer meeting: Tonight at 7.30pm, THC
Posted by Natalie Williams