In the book of Jonah, God models for us how to persist with stubborn people when they exhibit defiance and selfishness. And all of us have our stubborn moments. Every marriage is made up of two broken individuals trying to figure out how to be in fellowship together. We have an idea of how things should go and we get frustrated when things do not go as we planned. We buy into the lies that tell us that we deserve to have things our way. Entitlement seeps into our relationships and causes discontent in our homes. Like Jonah we can stubbornly dig in our heals or run away in the opposite direction.
Thankfully, God has a reputation for being loving and patient. In Jonah 4:2 this is actually Jonah’s chief complaint, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” He wanted God to destroy his enemies, not forgive them! But God was patient with Jonah, and we too need someone who patiently loves us and draws us back to what is really important. So how does God deal with stubborn behavior?
God’s love is unconditional and even our disobedience cannot separate us from his love. We have a tendency to withdraw our affections when someone we love behaves in a selfish manner. We are hurt by a selfish actions so we get protective and defensive. God showed Jonah love even when Jonah’s behavior was defiant. Romans 8:38-39 assures us that nothing can separate us from God’s love! God loves us even in our defiance, setting an awesome example for us!
We are not a patient culture, we want things to go our way and we want it to happen immediately. God is more long suffering; he persists long after we have had enough. Jonah was not interested in grace for Ninevah, but thankfully God is much slower to become angry! Instead of rehearsing your list of how you have been wronged, remind yourself of all for which you have been forgiven. Then your heart will more accurately reflect God’s compassion. God loves Nineveh so much that he is unwilling to condemn them without allowing them a chance to repent. He cares for Jonah so much that he keeps redirecting him, even when Jonah has turned his back in complete defiance.
Allow for natural consequences.
God could have intervened more directly, but he allowed Jonah to get on the boat and experience the storm. God could have snatched Jonah away. Rather, God allowed him to be thrown into the sea and to be stuck inside the fish. God wanted Jonah to learn lessons that would not be learned any other way. Feeling the consequences of our selfish behavior can be a great teacher. If we rescue others from their consequences too quickly, we interfere with the learning of valuable lessons.
Set Limits around bad behavior.
When selfishness is the guiding principle in the relationship, the people around are going to get hurt. Boundaries may need to be established to keep others from being hurt by selfish behavior. The sailors with Jonah did not want to toss him off the boat, but they also did not want to die because of his poor choices. The sailors were prayerful over how they should proceed and they followed through with what was needed even when it was difficult. God was not going to let Nineveh persist in its sinfulness, and neither would he let Jonah persist in his. God was done with that behavior. Without repentance, both Jonah and Nineveh would have faced destruction. Without limit setting, selfish people will hurt those around them.
Redirect to God’s Word.
God did not abandon Jonah to his poor choices, but redirected him back to his purpose. We often need the same reminders of what is truly important. Is it worth losing a relationship over getting our way? Are our preferences more important than people? How would our behavior look to God? We need to keep the perspective of following God’s plan and purpose for our lives rather than just following our desires.
We all have our Jonah moments where we feel sorry for ourselves and want the world to revolve around our needs and desires. As broken people we all need to have people in our lives who are lovingly willing to redirect us back to God. Thankfully God left us a good example of how we should persist with one another in love.
Rev. Joel Vande Werken
Rev. Joel Vande Werken