Monday, September 20, 2010

Flee or Follow?

The Book of Jonah is always surprising to me when I read it. A few days ago I read just the first chapter. The major theme in that chapter is the "presence of the Lord" the phrase shows up 3 times in 16 verses (v. 3 twice and v. 10).

The key really is in the first 3 verses:
Jonah 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.
I was able to pull three observations from this:
  1. God's presence comes to us. This goes with what we said the first week in "Jesus makes the first move." There is no mention of Jonah's moral character, how he was living, what he was trying to do to bring God's presence into his life. It merely says that the word came to Jonah. And like the word coming to Jonah, Jesus came first to earth (John 1:14) and then, as believers, His Spirit has come into our hearts (Gal. 4:6). So not only is God present externally, but within each and every one of us who considers ourselves Christ-followers. God's presence in our lives is an act of divine grace and kindness.
  2. The word is God's presence. The OT is full of examples of "the word of the Lord." In fact, it shows up 438 times in the OT. Often it is assumed that the word of the Lord coming also means his presence. It isn't completely proper to say that God's presence is only established when we hear the word of God (i.e. read Scripture) because we have already established that something totally different has taken place in Christ with God's Spirit dwelling in us now. But it is right to say that the word of the Lord that has come to us in the Scriptures is the foundation by which we all live, testifying to his presence in us. Jesus' temptation is a prime example (Matt. 4, Luke 4). Although he had the Spirit, and although he is the Son of God, he depended on Scripture to resist temptation.
  3. The question we must ask is, "how do I respond to God's presence?" I think if we're really honest with ourselves, we will know we are like Jonah. We will know that God's presence is here, we have access to him, we can read his Word, we can pray directly to him, that He is guiding us, but everything in us says "FLEE!!!" Jonah was confronted to make a decision to what God was telling him to do. The transition between v. 1 & 2 tells us nothing of what went on in Jonah's head & heart; it's almost as if he knew immediately that he didn't want to hear this from God and wanted to get away as far as possible. The story shows that we can't run forever and God will pursue us. He cares that much.
I think God's presence is stronger than we give Him credit for. I think there's just so much sinful junk in our hearts and lives and minds that tells us to "FLEE" that we think God is absent from us. Reality is we are pursuing absence from Him. Are you avoiding the presence of God in your life right now and pursuing absence from Him?

The way forward is to ask the question, "Will I be honest with myself about how I respond to God's presence?" We can only answer "yes" from a humbled heart. It is in that humility of knowing my flesh is striving to flee that I am able to stop, submit to Christ and know the freedom of following Him.

By His Grace.

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