Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thoughts from Jonah 2

During my devotions this morning, I was reading Jonah 2. Verses 7-9 really struck me:

When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.

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!"

The setting of this poem is inside the fish as Jonah contemplates the consequences of his disobedience. The phrase in verse nine "what I have vowed I will pay" is recollection of how, as a prophet he had vowed to speak the words that God told him to speak. He had broken that vow by running off. Now, he commits himself to being God's spokesman, to being the man that God had called him to be.

As I considered this, my mind went back to the day that I was diagnosed with cancer. That night, as I lay there, I was reminded of some dear Christian girls in their early 20s whom I had met a few years earlier in Ethiopia. Their testimonies had spoken so powerfully to me. Desperately poor, with so little, living in abysmal conditions, sometimes forced to beg on the streets to survive, their eyes shone as they spoke of what Jesus meant to them and how they had no regrets about following Him even though their poverty was a direct consequence of that decision.

And I remember saying to God that night as I faced the uncertainty of living with cancer, "Lord, if these people can stay faithful to you in their situation, so can I. I will not dishonour you though this."

I made a decision that day to trust God. I planted a flag of faith, you might say, and have often gone back to that decision and reaffirmed it before the Lord.

What I vowed, I will pay
I will do what I say
Salvation belongs to the Lord!

Verses 8 also made me think about why so many fail to trust God in the face of tragedy and setbacks, doubting that God really loves them since He has allowed these things to come into their lives. This verse seems to say that those who abandon a hope in the steadfastness of God were worshipping a vain idol in the first place. Idolatry, of course, is far more than just bowing down before some clay figure. Idolatry begins in the mind. We are not free to think about God any way that we like, but only as He has revealed Himself. Our tendancy, however, is to pick and choose what we will or will not believe about God. Rather than worshipping the Living God who has revealed Himself in the Bible and through Jesus Christ, we tend to worship a god made in our own image, affirming attributes that we feel comfortable with, denying those make us squirm. We all tend to do it. But such a god has no hold on our loyalty in the time of trouble. We abandon any hope of such a god's steadfast love. "God doesn't love me!" we cry, "Or He wouldn't have allowed this." What "God" are you talking about? Jonah would say that we must not really be worshipping the true God but a vain idol; a creation of our own imagination.

I know whom I am trusting today in my situation. And it has made all of the difference.

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