Sunday, May 30, 2010

One Really Bad Attitude

It was one of my favorite songs as a child, probably because of the upbeat tempo and choreography--little feet marching in place or trotting like a horse. Arms soaring up and down. All while my brother and I belted out the words: "I may never march in the infantry, ride in the Calvary, shoot the artillery. I may never fly o'er the enemy. But I'm in the Lord's army."

While many of my family members have served and are presently serving in our country's military, I have never been able to put that on my resume. American military service is a level of sacrifice I've never felt a calling or compulsion to give. Yet, when it comes to my service in Christ's army? Well, that's a different story.

Serving under a general, a king, or a God--they all require sacrifice. And yet, while the sacrifice may be compulsory rather than voluntary, one's attitude while fulfilling his duty is always of his choosing.

Consider the prophet Jonah. I've always found him interesting because for a prophet of the Lord, this sure seemed like a guy with so huge an attitude problem that God couldn't use him.

But use him God did. One day, He gave Jonah his commission: "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me" (Jon. 1:1).

Jonah received his orders. And he refused. What did he care about the souls of pagans who didn't bear the heritage of being known as God's chosen people?

A ship, a storm, a crew throwing him overboard into the depths of the sea, a few days in the belly of a great fish, and according to some scholars, perhaps even death--finally Jonah submitted to God's command: "But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD" (2:9)

When his orders came--unaltered--a second time, Jonah obeyed: "So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days' walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown" (3:3-4).

Commentator Matthew Henry says, "By this it appears that God was perfectly reconciled to Jonah." He argues, "he did not retire into an inn, to refresh himself after his journey, but opened his commission immediately, according to his instructions."* But I don't buy it.

If he had a bad attitude concerning his service, Jonah wouldn't have stopped to rest or eat because he wanted to complete his commission as quickly as possible so he could get away from these non-Jewish people whose salvation he really didn't care about in the first place.

A piece of evidence to support this view may be found in verses three and four above. One interpretation of them is that in a city so large, it would take three days to walk around it and reach all the people with news of God's pending judgment. Instead, the prophet seems to make a beeline "one day's walk" through the center of the city. This way, he fulfills the letter of his commission, but not the spirit of it.

Another piece of evidence to support this view is Jonah's response when the people repent and God relents his judgment. Jonah's reaction speaks of a continued attitude problem: "But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.He prayed to the LORD and said, 'Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life'"(4:1-3).

The book of Jonah ends with the prophet's last words speaking of his being "angry, even to death" (4:9). Instead of rejoicing that all the people in this vast city had another attempt to seek God for their salvation, Jonah is angry, so angry that he asks God to kill him.

This attitude doesn't sound like someone who is "perfectly reconciled" with God. Instead, it sounds like someone who completed his commission because he was compelled to do so, not because his heart was in it...and now he's angry about the outcome.

The sad thing? Jonah missed the blessing. He missed the joy of being part of something God was doing. He missed the joy of being a part of God's mercy. All because of his attitude.

As Christians, God may give us many commissions, some of which we won't really want to do but will feel compelled to do anyway. It's at those times that we have a choice. We can run from God. We can obey but with a wrong attitude. Or we can obey with our actions and heart.

Only with the last option can we truly receive all the blessings given us for being a part of God's work.

*Matthew Henry Commentary Online.

1 comment:

  1. This post is packed with wisdom and revelation! I just learned a few more things about Jonah. And God.

    Thanks Jennifer!

    Thanks for the comment on 'Markings' too. Sometimes I wonder if anyone even goes there, but God is doing His own thing with that, things that I'm not aware of...