Using A Liturgy

Liturgy in the church is something which can cause quite an argument. Some individuals have the view that without liturgy to guide worship, there has not been genuine worship. On the other side are individuals who view liturgy as a heavy burden from the ancient past which causes worship to be dreadful instead of energized. More than a few remain somewhere in the middle. In recent times, this has been a struggle played out among many congregations and within many denominations. Little surprise that there exists a broad spectrum of the type and amount of liturgy experienced throughout the church.

For those who may not understand the term of liturgy, it is the form which public worship takes within a religion, most often Christianity. The arrangement of the different elements of the worship service is prescribed and followed in each worship service with only a little variation. The actual words, music, and prayers may or may not change but the order and structure remains the same.

My experience in the church has been one in which there has always been some type of liturgy guiding the worship service. I have been in settings where it may not be as pronounced but it is still present. Participants in some worship settings in which I have participated may not even think about the liturgy being used or the basis for the choice of liturgy.

Like many aspects of the church, there are positives and negatives when it comes to the liturgy. First, some positives. The most evident one is that by using a prescribed liturgy, the worship participants who attend regularly know exactly what will happen next in the service whether they have a printed guide or not. In addition, many parts of the service are easily memorized since they are used every week. An example would be a liturgy which includes the Lord’s Prayer. The participants tend to memorize these words early in their worship experience and each week it remains the same. Another benefit to a liturgy is that for worship leaders and planners, it provides a guide for their work. Each week they know what elements they need to prepare. The leadership also knows the order and movement in the worship space.

Now, some negatives which accompany the use of liturgy. One negative is that liturgy can lull a participant into going through the worship service almost on autopilot. All the positives listed above regarding memorization and knowing what comes next can allow a participant to not even think about what is being done. Another pitfall of liturgy is that often the meaning behind the elements and the ordering of those elements gets lost. I mentioned earlier that some participants may not even realize that a liturgy is in place because they have forgotten or it has not been explained what the liturgy is and the reason for every aspect of it. Most liturgies have a theological, practical, and spiritual meaning to them but with time those understandings can be forgotten. The third problem with liturgy is that if someone is a new participant, the individual can become lost since regular attenders just move from element to element with little or no explanation. This can turn a newcomer off since they do not wish to feel ignorant or become very self-conscious of their lack of knowledge.

Much of the negative can be overcome. The key is that communication about the chosen liturgy must happen regularly both verbally and in print. Discussion around the meaning of what is done and why it is done in the prescribed fashion must occur with those who are regularly participating. Explanation of each element and the flow needs to be shared by the worship leaders and/or in whatever printed materials are used so that the newcomer feels she/he has a guide which empowers them to participate.

So here are the questions which I would like each reader to answer:

  1. Does your worship setting use a liturgy? If so, what is that liturgy?
  2. Do you understand why a liturgy is in place and what the elements of it might be?
  3. Is liturgy an aid or a hindrance to the worship experience?

Good Managers

Today I thought I would talk again about one of the words that is used in church circles but is often misunderstood. The focus word for today is stewardship. When most people hear this word they think about a campaign each congregation launches in late fall to get financial pledges from their members for the coming year. Based on those pledges then the leadership creates a budget. The problem with this understanding is that it is far too limited.

The word stewardship comes from the word steward. A steward is a manager of property and/or finances on behalf of another person. So stewardship is the act of managing. Based on this definition, one can easily see why the word conjures in the minds of many church members the image of a financial campaign. Yet this falls completely short of the Scriptural understanding of stewardship.

The concept of stewardship is first introduced in Scripture in the first chapter of Genesis. Here, as part of the creation story, God places all creation under the care and authority of humanity.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Genesis 1:26-30 NIV

Here God is placing humans as managers over all which God just created. So stewardship includes the managing of creation.

Another aspect of creation is found in 1 Peter. Here the writer reminds us that we are to use whatever gifts (skills and abilities) we have been given to serve one another.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 4:10-11b

Not only are we reminded that we are to be managers of our gifts but also of the grace which we have received from God.

As you can see, stewardship involves much more than the annual fundraising for the church. Stewardship is an expectation and responsibility placed upon us by God. We are to be managers of everything which God has created and which God has given to us.

Hopefully the next time you hear the word stewardship, you will not only include your managing of money in a way that benefits God’s church, but also consider how you are managing the other aspects of life.

Understanding Prayer

Prayer is one of the most common aspects of any faith system. Every faith tradition which acknowledges a belief in a higher power has some form of prayer as one of its spiritual practices. Some systems have regimented prayer structures. Others are relaxed and dependent more upon the individual than upon a structure. No matter how a particular faith practices prayer, the understanding is that prayer is a conversation between a person or group of people and the higher power which is at the center of the beliefs.

A challenge which prayer presents is that there are such a variety of forms and so many ideas about prayer that we often stumble over ourselves attempting to engage in prayer. As a Christian, I have often heard people say they cannot pray. Whenever I hear that, I am saddened because often this type of thought is the result of someone telling them that they do not pray correctly. At these times I explain to the person that a “right way” to pray does not exist. Sure there are formulas that some individuals use but a specific pattern or specific words are not at all necessary. Usually structured or patterned prayers are intended to introduce the concept of prayer to a person but are not mandatory in any way.

Prayer is a conversation, a conversation which should include a sharing of thoughts and feelings like any other conversation you have in life. A unique aspect about this conversation though is the reality that there is no audible response from the other one in the conversation. I am not saying there does not exist a response, just not one to which we are accustomed. A person needs to be open to experiencing the response in a much different way. Yet what remains is the understanding that prayer is a conversation and does not need to be difficult.

I have been practicing my faith for a large number of years. I have been trained as a leader in my faith. Over all those years and through all my training and service, I have prayed in different settings both aloud and silently. I have led prayer and I have been led in prayer. All types of prayers have been a part of my experience. I continue to learn of other ways people pray. Through all this, I have come to the point where praying is no longer confined to a specific time or location but seems to have become woven into my everyday life. I had heard of continuous prayer but had no perception what that might mean. Instead, continuous prayer in my life has just happened. I feel constantly engaged in conversation with my God. Different experiences, different settings, and different forms of expression make up continuous prayer for me.

Let me confess, I am not sure that the title I have given this blog post is fair or accurate. I say this because I do not believe that prayer can truly be understood. Prayer contains so many elements and expressions that it cannot be neatly tied up with a definition or a specific formula. Prayer instead is an experience, an experience that is unique to every person, every faith, and every culture. Accepting this reality is what I think has opened the door to continuous prayer for me.

Since prayer is such a large topic, I want you to view this as an introduction into my thoughts on this topic. I can promise more blog posts concerning prayer as time moves along. I would also love to hear of your experiences of prayer.

Evil

Evil is one of those words which we attribute to a variety of people and situations, but I am not sure any of us have the ability to give a full definition of this word. Some definitions on dictionary.com which caused me to pause are these:

morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked

harmful; injurious

the force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin

There are aspects of each of these definitions which resonate with me. They easily fit within my understanding of this word. Yet there are also some questions which these definitions raise. Questions like…

Who defines “morally wrong”?

Is there one understanding of harmful or injurious?

Where does this force in nature come from?

Here is where deriving a definition for the word evil becomes a difficult task. As you can see by the questions I raised, there is some degree of subjectivity here. There is also a need to grapple with the spiritual aspect of the word. Add to these the historical impact of the interpretation and use of the word. Maybe this was not a wise subject for me to tackle in a blog post. In fact, you can find volumes of books and papers dealing with this subject.

Yet I am drawn to say something about this word. I have seen it used in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts over the last few months. Each time I have read it or heard it on television, I have paused to consider what the writer or speaker was trying to communicate when using this word. The application of the word was definitely not consistent. I had to ask myself how I understood this word and would apply it.

Remembering the struggles in creating a definition which I raised earlier, I caution you that my definition is far from being fully encompassing. I am sure there will be noticeable gaps you can find in my definition. You may have questions that arise like those I listed above. However, I am going to make an attempt.

My definition: Evil is the absence of the recognition of God in an action taken by a human being.

Let me unpack that definition a little. First, I want to point out the last two words. These are important words for me because it states that evil is attributed to a person or persons not to some spirit. One can argue that the state of mind of a person who does evil can be somewhat spiritual in nature. A person who does evil may have some physical or psychological issue which prompts them to act such as a chemical imbalance in their body or the impact of experiences in their lives. What remains is the fact that evil is done by a human being.

Next is the phrase, “the absence of the recognition of God.” I am stating here that God is not absent at the time an evil act is committed but that the perpetrator of the act does not recognize God at that time. The reason I state it this way is because I have a strong belief that God is always present so stating that evil is the absence of God does not align with this belief. Since God is love as I understand God, anything which is harmful to any of creation is inconsistent with God. So there must be an absence of some sort here. For me the absence lies with the person committing the act. Whatever the reason, this person does not recognize God in the particular setting and so is destructive in some manner. If the person recognized God in the situation, the person would refrain from a destructive behavior.

Another important point concerning evil is that a person is not evil. Every person is created in the image of God and God is not evil. In fact God is the antithesis to evil. Because of this, the other vital word in my definition is action. The evil exists within the action and not the person. So often we wish to portray a person as evil but that is inconsistent with my understanding of who we are as a creation of God.

There you have it. My current working definition of evil. I would love to hear your viewpoints on this definition. I would also like to hear how you define the word evil. We can learn from each other.

Personal Value

We live in a time when the value of a human life is often considered very low. Most individuals have been reduced to statistics, stereotypes, and unproven opinions. In fact, often the individual is overlooked and seen only with labels. Often there is little effort made to even get to know a person. All this combines to make an individual feel as if he/she has little or no value.

However, this assuredly is not the opinion of the Creator. Actually, the opposite would be true. We learn the view of the Creator from passages found in Scripture. Here are two such passages:

What is mankind that you are mindful of them,

    human beings that you care for them?[a]

You have made them a little lower than the angels[c]

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You made them rulers over the works of your hands;

    you put everything under their feet

Psalm 8:4-6 (NIV)

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ

Romans 8:14-17a (NIV)

It is clear that God, who created us and sustains us, values us highly. Being a child of God gives each person value beyond comparison. Jesus tells parables which show us how God views us as important and thinks highly of us.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Luke 15:4-7 (NIV)

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

Luke 15:11-27 (NIV)

The truth is this…no matter what the world says about us, we are children of God. As children of God, we have been searched for while we wandered on our own. We have been crowned with the glory of God and placed as stewards of all God’s creation. We have been made heirs in the Kingdom of God.

A person’s value is not found in her or his successes. A person’s value is not found in having the “right” labels or doing the “right” things. The value of each and every person is found in the reality that he or she is a child of God. Nothing nor no one can ever diminish or take that value away.

Going To Hell

One of the most important realizations which I came to after spending some years studying the Bible is that the Bible is written with a lot of imagery. This is understandable for various reasons. First, the accounts which we find in the Bible today came to us from an oral tradition. Second, the telling of these experiences and stories happened when there was no such thing as a printing press, motion pictures, televisions, or computers. Third, as humans, we try to relate events, experiences, and complex thoughts to something which helps us to make sense of whatever we are discussing. Together, these lend themselves to the use of imagery. The speakers and eventually, the authors of the Bible relied heavily on imagery. This is an important fact when people of the 21st century attempt to interpret Scripture. (For more thoughts about interpreting Scripture, see my post Word by Word.) It is also important when dealing with this post’s subject matter.

Last week I wrote a post regarding my understanding of heaven. (See Is This Heaven.) I thought that it made sense to follow up that post with one on my understanding of hell. Much of what I communicated in last week’s post applies to hell as well. I do not believe hell is a physical location. Hell is not the place of eternal punishment. There is no being in a red suit with a forked tail holding a trident or pitchfork. There are no boiling pots of hot lava with stone walkways running through them. There are no endless torments designed specifically for the person who is supposed to be sent to hell. All these are images which have been created over time based on someone’s interpretation of Scripture (often the book of Revelation) or through horror stories passed down through generations.

My understanding of hell and any Scripture which may lend itself to the concept of hell is that this is truly a human construct. The details of hell and evil lie within the human spiritual and psychological components. Let me try to unpack that a little for you. For me, hell is living without God. The only way that this reality could ever be (if it truly could ever be) is because a person has totally rejected the existence of a supreme spiritual being. God is the English name given to the supreme spiritual being which Christians, Jews, and Muslims acknowledge but is not the sole name humans give to this being. Therefore, I am not saying that using a different name for the supreme spiritual being other than God is the qualifier here but instead that a person rejects that there even is such a being.

It is also important to note here that I do not believe that God (which is the name I will use throughout this post since I am a Christian) EVER rejects ANY human. Why this is important is because it means the action is taken by a human and not God. This also means that God never leaves the person but that the person lives as if God does not exist. For me, living as if God never exists would be hell.

I think it is also important to deal with the misconception that God created a location labeled hell as a place for eternal punishment. Again, imagery used in the Bible has led to this interpretation. But when you truly study the passages containing such imagery (example: Matthew 13), you see that the issue being addressed is a person or persons who have chosen to reject God. The imagery is to help people understand what the life experience would be like if a person chooses to deny God’s existence and design for life.

In summary, my understanding of hell is that it is not a place but more a description of a person’s possible spiritual and psychological state. A state which we have been fully released from by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection if we will accept the new status which God has given freely to each of us.

Is This Heaven?

Thirty years ago, a movie was released which starred Kevin Costner and told the story of a man who built a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa farmland because a voice had told him that if he built it, all the great baseball stars would come and play there. One small piece of dialogue from the movie Field of Dreams became famous, especially in Iowa:

“Is this heaven?”

“No, this is Iowa.”

One of the “ghost players” arrived at the newly constructed baseball diamond and asks the question. Costner’s character provides the response.

I am prompted by this movie scene to consider the question, “What is heaven?” In the movie, the baseball diamond seemed to the ghost baseball player like it might be heaven. A lot of people refer to a certain setting as being like heaven. Images of golden streets and angels with harps are presented as ways heaven may look. While these images and settings my bring comfort and give us a sense of something grand, I am not certain that they truly are heaven.

At the start, I have to be honest and state there is no concrete proof of what heaven is or is not. Jesus tells stories that give us more a concept of the nature of heaven and not a physical description. People recorded in the Bible speak of visions which are often associated with heaven but are not intended to give us a physical description. I think there is a significant reason for this vagueness. In fact, this vagueness is part of what creates an image of heaven for me.

I am convinced that heaven is not an actual location. While we are accustomed to looking toward the sky when referencing heaven, this comes more out of Greek and Roman cultures and their mythology than any theological understanding. Heaven is a spiritual reality which cannot be understood fully in our physical nature. This prompts us to create images in our mind, so we are able to gain some type of grasp on the concept of heaven. Creating physical images to understand spiritual realities is common among humans.

My belief is that heaven should be understood as being present with the fullness of God. While we are physically alive on earth, we get glimpses what heaven is because we receive glimpses of the presence of God. When the fullness of our spiritual being is unbound at the time of our physical death, then we will experience the fullness of God who is spiritual. Becoming aware of the fullness of God which already surrounds us now, though we are incapable of fully experiencing this fullness, is to me experiencing heaven.

As wonderful as Iowa is and a baseball field may be, it is not heaven. Heaven is present in those places but heaven is not a place of itself.

How does this align with your understanding of heaven? How do you disagree with my understanding of heaven?  

Glory

In the United States, and other countries, we tend to place famous people on pedestals. Star athletes, actors, actresses, social activists, and even some religious folk gain our admiration and words of praise. We try to copy their hair styles, dress like them, eat like them, and flock to see them whenever possible. They receive accolades from political leaders and industry giants. All this is true until it comes time to bring them off of their pedestal, either by their own doing or because someone has decided their time is up. Then with unbounded ruthlessness, we tear them down in any way possible, including cruel and unforgiving ways. So much for receiving glory.

Glory — an interesting word which conjures up a variety of responses.

According to dictionary.com, the definitions for this word include:

  • very great praise, honor, or distinction bestowed by common consent; renown
  • something that is a source of honor, fame, or admiration; a distinguished ornament or an object of pride
  • adoring praise or worshipful thanksgiving

These definitions all seem to fit our treatment of famous individuals as I described above. The last of which brings me to the focus of today’s post since glory is a word that is used within the church circles.

Recently this word came up in a discussion with my husband regarding a passage from John 13:31-35. In this passage Jesus speaks about glory. The issue which came up in our discussion centered around the definition of glory. I think most people would assume that this word is to be understood in the church using one of the definitions found above. The problem which arises when we use one of these definitions is that it leads the hearer to the conclusion that we are putting God on pedestal. We are then led to the conclusion that either God is arrogant, as the famous people seem to be when placed on a pedestal, or that God is going to one day be torn down from the pedestal. Both of these conclusions would be absolutely wrong.

Instead, let us look at the theological definition of the word glory as first seen in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew word often translated as “glory” is “kavod” which means glory, respect, honor, or majesty. The Greek word found in the Christian New Testament is “doxa” which means judgment, opinion, good reputation, or honor. As I understand the word glory in reference to God, I understand it to mean that we are giving respect and honor to God. This to me is much different from placing God on a pedestal.

How do we then show glory to God?

What I am asking here is, how do we show respect and honor to God?

First, I need to ask myself why I should give respect and honor to God. Yes, in Scripture we are admonished to give glory to God but there are many commands and guidance in Scripture which I do not follow closely. (as in, “Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Say to the Israelites: ‘Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.'” [Leviticus 24:13-16].) The answer for me is I give respect and honor to God because of the great love which God has given to me daily and in the work of Jesus, the Christ.

Now that I have a reason for giving God respect and honor, how do I go about it. The obvious answer is by attending a worship service with fellow believers where I thank and praise God. Unfortunately, this is often where people stop. Somehow we have become content with attending a worship service, giving an hour of our time, and calling that sufficient in respecting and honoring God. I believe that I fall short if this is my only show of respect and honor.

Here is my possible list for respecting and honoring God:

  • Respecting and honoring all who God has created
  • Taking care of the land and animals which God has entrusted to my care
  • Showing love through not just words but also action to those whom God has placed in my life
  • Setting aside time throughout my day to reflect upon God
  • Striving to understand Jesus’ teachings as given to us through the recording of his words and actions in Scripture
  • Making the attempt to apply the teachings of Jesus in my own actions, words, and decisions
  • Acknowledging that everything which I have and who I am are gifts from God

These are ways in which I strive to honor and respect God, to give God glory. How are you showing glory to God? What additional ways do you show God respect and glory?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Not Just For Easter

Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed!!!!

For centuries, this has been a greeting often used during the Easter season, especially on Easter morning, in the church. Not a lot of words but words with a profound meaning. Yet what do these words mean? Why do we say them? Do we believe them?

At first glance, these words easily appear absolute absurdity. One of my friends who is not a strong believer struggles with these words. He reminds me that no physical proof exists for these words. He reminds me that all we know about the human body and the rules of nature indicate that this is not a possibility. So how can one respond to a set of logical facts like these? Well, my response is grounded in faith. At first, I agree with my friend because according to logic and our understanding of the world, my declaration of Jesus’ resurrection is not supported. But since I believe in the God who created all logic and all that is in the world, I believe that was is impossible according to human standards is not impossible for God. So if God chooses to resurrect Jesus, then it can (and did) happen.

Another notable aspect of these words are that they are said with enthusiasm, hence the exclamation points above. Why should such words cause this type of response? Well, the reality of what those words proclaim is something that causes tremendous joy in those who believe them. For we know that since Jesus was resurrected, death no longer has any power. We also know that we share in that resurrection which means that life here on earth is not the only life. Our life here is a portion of our complete life. We will share in a never-ending life with our Lord. The joy that comes from this truth is one that cannot, and should not, be contained. Christians should be shouting from the rooftops. Our lives should show this great joy.

However, this prompts two important questions for me. Do I live my life in a manner which demonstrates my belief in these words? Second, do I limit my expressing of this belief to one Sunday a year?

The Church made a decision hundreds of years ago to refer to Sunday as the Lord’s Day. People began to think of the Lord’s Day as their sabbath. In fact, not that long ago in the history of the United States businesses were closed on Sunday, it was unacceptable to mow your lawn or hang out laundry on a Sunday, and only essential human/animal care need providers were allowed to work on Sunday. The Christian Church had adopted many of the rules of the sabbath from their spiritual ancestors, the Hebrew people. All this because Sunday was intended to be a day to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Not one Sunday a year, but every Sunday. This leads me to wonder why in worship services we do not declare the same statement which we tend to use on Easter morning.

Taking the above thought a step farther, why do we limit the greeting to Sundays alone. If I truly believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead on Easter morning, and if this belief is something which brings me great joy and benefit, why would I not live every day in a way which demonstrates my belief. I will be honest, I am not truly sure how that might look since I have never tried to live this way before. I suffer from a behavior pattern which other believers seem to suffer from as well. I tend to compartmentalize my life so much that I have certain times for faith matters.

What would it look like if I lived my life in a manner which demonstrates my belief in Jesus’ resurrection?

This is a question to which I would enjoy hearing your responses. I will ponder this some and it will be the topic of a future blog. Please give me your ideas as catalyst to my future post.

Running Away

Jonah and Me

One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the one about Jonah, not because it has a dramatic scene of Jonah being swallowed by a marine animal but because I can relate to running away from God. (If you need to refresh your memory, read the book of Jonah.) You may also have times when you have tried to runaway from God. Spoiler alert—God always wins.

Jonah did not want to do what God had asked him to do. He did not like the people of Nineveh, so he did not want to see them receive a chance to be redeemed. Jonah had become judge and juror, already giving sentence on the stubborn people of Nineveh. When God clearly was going to offer a way for the people to reverse direction and had chosen Jonah to be the herald of this good news, Jonah refused. Jonah knew that God is loving and forgiving. He knew that when the people were offered another chance, they probably would take it and God would forgive their mistakes. This is not the outcome which Jonah wanted, so he chose to run in the other direction to avoid Nineveh.

Maybe some of Jonah’s story resonates with you. I know that it does for me. There have been times when I have chosen to be judge, juror, and sentencer for individuals. Multiple times I have not wanted to do what the Spirit was encouraging and guiding me to do. I have tried to run and hide from God because I resisted what I knew was God’s intention in a specific situation. God has seemed unfair and unreasonable to me. I have my own plans and my own desires which apparently God was not taking into account. There were justified reasons for me saying no to God and I could back those up with reason and good judgment.

The Outcome

Jonah’s story concludes with Jonah eventually going to Nineveh, sharing God’s opportunity for a second chance with the people, and the people reversing their direction which results in God’s forgiveness. Now there is a lot in the story between Jonah’s escape and this conclusion but as I mentioned above, God always wins. The reason for God winning is that God is love and always works for the good of all God’s people (Romans 8:28). God chooses humans to carry out this work. Since God operates differently than us (Isaiah 55:8-9), we often see them in conflict with our personal desires. This is what tripped Jonah up, and what has tripped me up each time.

A variety of reasons are behind my attempts to not go in God’s direction. The one which we see in Jonah’s story is that Jonah did not like the people of Nineveh and did not see them as worthy to receive God’s grace. I hate to admit that I have felt this way about certain individuals at various times in my life. I want to justify these feelings based on how they have acted towards me or others. Other times I have resisted because I am concerned about the perceptions people may have about me. Then exist times when the direction God may be leading does not coincide with my hopes and dreams for my personal outcomes. I have become quite good at justifying all these reasons to head a different direction.

Whenever I embark in a direction different from what God may intend, I find that God will let me set off on my own journey. Times have existed when I even fool myself into believing that I have actually beaten God. I can also convince myself that apparently God has seen the wisdom in the direction I have chosen and is actually blessing my efforts. But, even in the midst of my celebrating, I know the effort is a misguided attempt at exerting my power and control.

Like Jonah, the end result is always the same for me. After taking time to try it “my way,” I end up exactly where God intended me to be from the start and doing the work which God had desired. Again, as the story of Jonah shows, my journey is usually filled with storms, havoc, and panic. I make a mess of the situation. I create more hardship for myself and others then is necessary. Yet God is patient. God waits for me to go through all my attempts and welcomes me back with love when I return (Luke 15:11-32). My running away has ended once again (for now).

What might you be running from? Why are you running? Do not worry, God will let you get your exercise and will be waiting for your return as God sets you back on the right path. There may even be a day when you trust that God has the right idea (Proverbs 3:5).