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Let’s pretend that you’ve adopted the FIRE strategy (Financial Independence; Retire Early) advocated by the Millennial Generation. You’ve unleashed your Bucket List. What now?
If you could go anywhere, where would you go? Americans with vacation dreams exclude itineraries to places like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea. Strong arguments against elective travel make sense in those when you have a choice.
If you were a citizen of Israel in the 8th Century BC, your list would have been different. Among the Top Five Destinations to Avoid would have included Nineveh, capital of the aggressive Assyrian Empire, who would topple Israel in the next generation. Why on earth would you go there?
“Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’” (Jonah 3:1). If God is your travel planner, His reasons for going aren’t bound by the criterion used to determine the ultimate desirable destinations. He has work to be done, and He does it through people called by Him to do it.
It’s trendy to want to “find your calling.” That’s a potentially dangerous discovery: what if the answer isn’t what you thought it would be? Jonah is coming-off a famous long-weekend in a God-designed isolation chamber. A shocking question to ask in an era devoted to self-actualization: What if enjoying “the blessed life” today is really the precondition to receiving your calling and mission, rather being the reward for doing what God made you to do, this side of your Eternal Reward?
Returning to Jonah’s account: “Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’” (3:3-4)
Jonah’s Calling? Go to a place you do not want to be. Make yourself very visible with people whom you do not like. Shout out a confrontational statement that will mark you as a contrarian voice who is more likely to be arrested than applauded. Rinse and repeat; be ready get outta-town if opposed.
What happened next? “The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’ When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” (3:5-10)
A little historic overview: in the pre-Jesus era God’s ball carriers were Prophets. The primary job description for a prophet is to speak truth to power and expose sin and its consequences. God’s reasoning: people would be informed as they make their personal decisions regarding their attitudes and actions toward God. Prophets brought bad news; God would use them to bring people to their senses regarding the fact that God wasn’t playing around.
In the post-Jesus era, God has extended His backfield: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Each has a role to play – a calling to serve – by God’s design.
We talk a lot these days about “finding your passion,” as if our preferences must be found in God’s calling. As we’ll see next time – in our final episode – Jonah’s passions were nowhere near as important as were God’s. What did God want, most?
Can’t wait to share the conclusion!