I had lots of ideas as a kid about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I never, ever, in a million years would have thought I’d end up in ministry. Not ever. I wasn’t even raised in the church. It never even could have crossed my mind. But here I am. Or, should I say, “Here I am Lord” (1 Samuel 3)?
Our Old Testament friend Jonah did not set out to be a prophet. No, God made him a prophet when he spoke to him that day and told him, “Go. Go to Nineveh” (Jonah 1:1). So, he did what any reluctant prophet would do. He ran the other way. You may know the story from there: a storm came, a big fish swallowed him, the same big fish vomited him back out on the shore, and then finally Jonah did his job. He prophesied, and the people of Nineveh repented.
Nothing could have felt worse for Jonah. He’d been stuck doing something he didn’t want to do, and he was successful at it. It was all God’s fault.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that there are a few of you out there who have been there: In the place you’re supposed to be, doing what you genuinely believe God wants you to do, but not necessarily enjoying it.
God has the same question for us in these moments that he had for Jonah. “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). Still, God builds Jonah shelter, and it makes Jonah “very happy” (Jonah 4:6), but God’s not done. God has more to teach Jonah, so God withers the plant.
You see, Jonah’s been concerned about the wrong thing (the plant) and what it supplies (happiness). Happiness (ironically) is not the point.
The goal is to care. The goal is the welfare of the people Jonah was called to save. The salvation of the people of Nineveh was God’s goal in sending Jonah there in the first place, and God wants it to be Jonah’s goal too. It’s not the task of a lifetime, after all. It’s the task of a few weeks. There’s an end in sight.
If our sense of purpose is to care as God cares and our sense of perspective allows us to know that there’s an end in sight, then we might just have the kind of faith that will soften the edges of the lost opportunities, dull the ache of disappointment, and give us real trust in the goodness to come.
Jonah is the only book of the Bible to end in a question. It’s a question God asks us too. When He calls us to do the hard things in the uncomfortable places, will we care about the things He cares about and then live at peace with whatever our efforts bring about? Or will we complain the whole time?
“What will it be?”