Defining Moments: Week 4
This is the Fourth week of a six part series we are calling Defining Moments.
We’re looking at those moments when we are forced to grow by stepping up to meet a challenge and stepping out of our comfort zone. These are moments when our character can be tested and challenged to do something that is difficult and uncomfortable.
These are Defining Moments in which God will challenge you and make you uncomfortable. Sometimes even allowing your discomfort. Why is that? Why would he do that? Two related reasons.
Number one: If you are never uncomfortable, you will never grow. Just as you only burn fat or grow a muscle through the discomfort of working out, you cannot grow emotionally, spiritually or intellectually without getting uncomfortable. God knows this, and so God, who is provident, will allow situations in our lives that lead to our discomfort.
This leads to the second reason God allows us to be uncomfortable. Our character is essential to who we are. If we’re not actively developing our character, Sometimes, in his mercy and love, God helps us out.
We see this clearly played out in the story of Jonah. Perhaps you remember Jonah and the whale. The book of Jonah is a short book in the Bible. You can read the whole thing in about 15 minutes, I encourage you to do so.
For those of you who hear the story of a man in the belly of the whale and find it too fantastic to believe, it’s helpful to note that many Scripture scholars see the book of Jonah as an allegory much like Jesus’ parables are allegories. The Bible is composed of many types of literature. There is history, there is poetry, and allegories. Allegories convey meaning through symbols, symbolic actions, and symbolic events.
The Catholic church believes the bible is inerrant in everything it intends to teach. The bible does not intend to teach that a person can be swallowed by a whale and survive, etc. which may or may not be so. It intends to teach us, through this story, that no matter how hard Jonah tries to NOT do God’s will, through struggle and prayer, Jonah finds himself in Nineveh where God wanted him.
Today our passage from Jonah started with: The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, which begs the question, when was the first time. Well, the first time God spoke to Jonah, he ran away.
God wants to grow Jonah as a prophet, a leader after God’s own heart. A heart full of mercy and compassion, as opposed to Jonah’s heart. Jonah was hard hearted and judgmental.
God told Jonah to do something that was outside his comfort zone, in order to help him grow. Jonah did not want to do it. In fact, Jonah got on a boat and went in the exact opposite direction from where God wanted him.
When he was sailing in the opposite direction, a storm hit the boat. Jonah was thrown overboard the ship and that’s when he was swallowed by the whale. Whatever you think of the story of the whale, the truth of the story is obvious: when we resist God’s will and insist on our own way, we can end up in some pretty dumb places.
Jonah finally turns to prayer. Which is typical for many of us… we turn to prayer as a last resort. Jonah prays a beautiful prayer that you can find in the second chapter. In response to that prayer God rescues him and saves him. And gives him a second chance to grow.
This is Good News. Even if you have failed in the past to meet a challenge and grow, God will give you other moments, other opportunities to step up to the challenge of growing your character.
In fact, God might keep giving you those moments over and over again until you decide to grow and learn the lesson he wants to teach you. There will be, perhaps, different circumstances, different conditions, different people, but the same opportunity for growth.
The story of Jonah is the story of second chances. God gave Jonah a second chance and he wants Jonah to do the same for others by speaking to the people of Nineveh on God’s behalf. However, the Ninevites were the enemy of Israel, so Jonah was not anxious to help them.
Nineveh was also a city of wickedness and debauchery headed toward its own destruction. Jonah didn’t want the Ninevites to hear God’s word and be saved. Rather, he wants to see their destruction. But Jonah grows in his understanding of God, when he acknowledges, the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in love. So Jonah changes and grows.
Now God gives the people of Nineveh a chance to change and grow beyond their destructive behaviors. Through Jonah, God tells the Ninevites if they do not change their ways, they will wind up in utter destruction. To Jonah’s surprise the people actually do change!
The message was obviously a difficult one to hear, but the Ninevites were ready for that moment and they took it. Often we are wary to hold people accountable and point out something they are doing wrong, but sometimes people are just waiting for us to say something. One courageous word, said in love, can turn them back to God.
In Nineveh, the repentance went all the way to the very top. Even the king has a change in thinking which leads to a change of heart, which leads him to change his behavior.
The king orders that everyone who has not repented should join him in sackcloth, ashes, and fasting in response to God’s mercy. They rise to the occasion. They embrace the moment with honesty and humility and the story turns out well for them.
Throughout our lives we have moments like Jonah and the people of Nineveh: Moments in which we can either choose to rise to the occasion and grow, or resist growth and change, and just stay the same.
The moments we experience may not be quite as miraculous and dramatic as Jonah’s was, but God can still use them to point to the areas of growth we need.
Jonah needed to learn the Lord’s mercy. We may need to learn other values from God.
Here’s the thing: The moments when you are most tempted to shut down a conversation or just run away, those might be the issues you most need to address. That was Jonah: running away from growth.
Running away from growth will never yield happiness and satisfaction. If you live just to be comfortable, you will never be satisfied with life because it’s not the life God shaped you for. We’re actually most alive when we’re struggling to grow.
How do you prepare to seize moments of growth?
First, when a challenge presents itself, ignore the initial response to run. Push past the first feeling of discomfort. Stick with the moment instead.
Second, rather than run, lean into the moment. That’s what the Ninevites did, they leaned into the moment, they got involved and engaged. They lean into the challenge and that changed everything.
Three, give someone you know, [who isn’t your parent or spouse] someone who is smart or insightful and cares about you, give someone like that permission to challenge you about or in the moment. Receive their challenge with the honesty and humility that the Ninevites demonstrated.
At the end of the day, God cares more about your character then he cares about your comfort.