Ever feel like you want to run away from life? I loathe the physical act of moving my legs fast, but I’m a fantastic metaphorical sprinter. When life becomes painful and messy, I’ve attempted to check out and go elsewhere. Maybe you can relate?
During my second, full day of childbirth labor, my crazy dial went red zone. I gripped my husband’s hand, and stated calmly, “I can’t do this anymore. Take me home.” Ken refused that request kindly but firmly.
My first week teaching in an inner-city high school, a few students unused to boundaries, cussed me out, threw music in my face, threatened me with gang violence, overturned chairs and my piano then instructed me that they’d chase me off like the previous three vocal teachers. Eager to accommodate them, I composed a resignation letter during my second week.
When we adopted Bella, a beagle/lab mix, the rescue organization embellished her resume by including the word, “housebroken.” In truth, Bella did her puppy business only on our carpets, or during endless walks around our neighborhood. She refused to consider our backyard as an option. This occurred during a bitter Michigan winter when I developed intense bronchitis. After months of cleaning up accidents and stumbling around on ice-covered sidewalks, sick, she showed no improvement. I wanted to return her.
Everyone wants to run away from life, at some point. Jonah fled from his assignment from God to preach in Nineveh. After some research, I understood why. First, the city was huge, sixty miles wide and populated by close to a million people. Where modern Bibles say in chapter four, “a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left,” God isn’t talking about stupid humans. The word “people” in original Hebrew, is the word for children. Scholars estimate the greater population number based on the number of children so young, they didn’t know right from left yet. So, one prophet, called to preach repentance to a million people.
Secondly, Jonah expected great resistance. Nimrod, the architect of the tower of Babel, built in rebellion to God, also founded Nineveh. The worship of Ishtar or Astarte, the goddess of fertility, death and destruction, dominated the cultural and religious life of the city. Immorality and violence existed to such an extreme in this place, God said to Jonah, in the first verse of the book, “Go to Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” Apparently, many angels lodged complaints about Nineveh.
Imagine walking through the most dangerous neighborhoods of any large city shouting, “Repent of your sins or God is going to destroy this city!” I don’t know many people eager to take on the kind of assignment God brought to Jonah. Nevertheless, God expected obedience from Jonah and he still expects it from us. Instead, Jonah ran in the opposite direction and set a chain of tumultuous events in motion that still ended with him preaching in Nineveh.
How can we stay put in our assignments and circumstances into which God directs or allows us, when our minds and emotions scream for us to run? How do we show up for our life authentically, with all its pains and trials? How do we stay fully engaged instead of phoning it in?
First, discern whether your situation is a result of your own poor choices, someone else’s sin or if you are right smack where God’s planted you. Sometimes he places us deliberately in difficult situations for many reasons like, our growth, to encourage and lead others and to change environments around us. Knowing how you landed where you are, is important to move forward.
If you are in a tough place due to your wrong decisions and actions, God is still there. “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there” (Psalm 139:8 NLT). Jonah landed in a fish’s stomach, due to disobedience, but God never turned away from him. Like Jonah, cry out to God and repent. After that, God is eager to forgive and re-appoint you into the plans he’s designed for you, just like King David and the apostle Peter. Your ability to squirrel up your life is never greater than God’s power to forgive and restore. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” I Peter 5:10
You may be jammed up due to another’s sin or other circumstances beyond your control. An unfaithful spouse, addicted child, ruthless employer, devastating weather events or economic downturns, can turn your life upside down. Consider Sarah’s predicament, in Genesis 20, when Abraham’s cowardice and lying turned her into a king’s concubine. God protected her from rape and blessed her life immeasurably while calling out Abraham’s sin through a pagan king. Imagine the pain and betrayal she felt from her husband, yet God turned the situation around for her good. He is marvelous at doing that for his children. There are always new beginnings waiting, with God.
Lastly, when you find yourself in God-ordained circumstances that confound, depress and hurt, remember, God did not place you there to destroy you, but to refine you. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV). God’s plans to develop our character and deepen our faith usually involve some pain. Invite a couple trusted friends to partner with you in prayer so you can go through the mountain instead of being crushed by it. Find scripture pertinent to your challenge, memorize and speak it out loud. The Word of God changes hearts and environments. “You have tested us O God; you have purified us like silver” (Psalm 66:10 NLT). “I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering” (Isaiah 48:10 NLT).
If you run from God’s assignments, he will plunk you in a different furnace to accomplish his purposes in you. Jumping from church to church, job to job, relationship to relationship, does not create character depth. I stayed in that inner-city school until God led me out, and Bella still lives with us five years later. Strength is gained through God-directed perseverance.
Jumping around only makes us good jumpers. What if Joseph escaped from prison and ran back home? How does that work out then for him to rule over Egypt and save his family from starvation? What if the apostle Paul escaped one of his prisons? We’d be missing key New Testament books.
Remember Jonah the next time you’re tempted to let Satan chase you off. Instead, trust God to do amazing things in the most unlikely circumstances.