“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:8-9). From the belly of the fish, Jonah repents in the form of a psalm. His new situation has got him thinking about the idolatry that he has been following. There is nothing like the guts of a stinky fish to help you put life in perspective! Jonah has time for reflection about what has been the driving force in his actions and he realizes that it is not God. Jonah has willfully walked the other way from what God has directed him to do. Jonah’s anger toward Nineveh has become his dearest idol and it is a hard one to set down.
We all have idols that we cling to in life, but hanging on to them is a bad idea. Repentance is needed for us to move past our idolatry and commit anew to following God. Our heart needs to confess the regard that we have given to all of the idols in our life that come before our obedience to God.
Repentance is never a once and done behavior, since our hearts are bent toward sinfulness. John Calvin said, “Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” We continue to manufacture things which come between us and God--things we rely on and trust more than God. From cradle to grave, our nature draws us to our own self-interest. So we must keep laying those idols back at the feet Jesus day by day.
Jonah decides on a new path, “But with a voice of thanksgiving I will sacrifice to you.” Repentance should turn our voice from being self-serving to being thankful for a God who persists with us despite our poor choices. Gratitude should be the posture of our lives when we realize how we have been forgiven. We are called to give our lives as a living sacrifice as our spiritual act of worship. We put away the old nature and allow the Holy Spirit to make us a new creation.
It can be hard to let go of our old life, but our idols will all ultimately disappoint us. Our money will never satisfy and our families will never love us unconditionally. Possessions will only create the hunger for more and the praises of men will never satisfy the longings of our hearts. God alone will satisfy us, love us completely, and give us fulfillment of working for his kingdom. Salvation belongs to the Lord alone. God’s love is the only thing that will ever fill the God-shaped hole within us.
Our prayer needs to be that God would show us what has become an idol in our life and then help us to remove our attachment to it so we are drawn back to worshipping God alone. The words by William Cowper in the hymn O For a Closer Walk with God are a poetic reminder of the redirection we need.
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.
Jonah did not miraculously overcome all of his selfishness after his prayer. He fell back into his anger soon after his repentance, but God continued to draw Jonah back to his mission. We too will mess up and reclaim the idols that we have held dear. Thankfully God will persevere with us too and draw us to himself!
Rev. Joel Vande Werken
Rev. Joel Vande Werken