Jonah’s troubles began right at the beginning of the book that bears his name.

the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying

It is important not to over-dramatize or over-spiritualize this experience.”The word of the Lord” does not come only to those who are highly spiritually evolved or mature. Indeed Jonah appears to be one of the least qualified characters in the Bible to receive a “word of the Lord.”

By the end of the book of Jonah, although the “hero” of the tale has finally obeyed “the word of the Lord” his heart  certainly does not appear to have changed. He remains a vindictive, angry, small-minded bigot who longs for God to punish the people Jonah has deemed to be beyond the reach of God’s mercy. Jonah hardly seems worthy of receiving a “word from the Lord”. And yet, not just once, but twice “the word of the Lord came to Jonah.” Receiving a “word of the Lord” is not about worthiness, spiritual maturity or even being ready.

Everyone has had “the word of the Lord” come to them. It happens all the time. It is not usually highly dramatic. It does not come accompanied by surround-sound orchestration, flashing lights, and a drum roll. “The word of the Lord” does not usually come in the sonorous tones of a James Earl Jones voice-over from the sky.

Most commonly, “the word of the Lord” comes as a consistent quiet inner urging. It feels like a compelling nudge, a gentle prompting to proceed in a particular direction.

When I am receiving a “word from the Lord” I just know that something is right. There is a settled conviction about a word that needs to be spoken, a time for action that has come, a plan that needs to be implemented. I just know that I know. I may not entirely be able to articulate all the reasons that have brought me to this conclusion, it just has the internal sense of rightness.

The only question in face of “the word of the Lord” coming to me is how I will respond. I can take the Jonah strategy and

set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:3)

This may work for a time. Usually “the word of the Lord” can be ignored for some time; eventually it may dissipate and over time it will probably disappear altogether. But, as Jonah discovered, there is nowhere to go to remove myself from “the presence of the Lord.” The “word of the Lord” will return. No matter where I flee, there is nowhere I can go that is beyond the reach of the God who is present in every aspect of life. (Psalm 139)

And so the Book of Jonah says that, although the prophet has fled as far as he can go and hidden as well as he could hide,

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying… (Jonah 3:1)

I know I am often Jonah. I do not want to pay attention to those small nagging inner urges that are prompting me to go in a certain direction. I do not want to listen to that person I find awkward and uncomfortable. I do not want to say I am sorry. I do not want to give sacrificially to that need that is before me. I do not want to offer myself in service.

But, the nagging sense of the rightness of what I am called to will not let me go. It is not guilt or peer pressure. It has nothing to do with keeping up appearances or trying to be a good person. It is just an irrefutable settled inner knowing that I can either obey or choose to disobey. These promptings come every day; they challenge me to ask myself who or what is truly directing my life.

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