Channels of Mercy

Jonah 4:1-4 (NKJV) 1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” 4 Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

In our study of Jonah and the mercy of God, we have seen that Jonah rebelled against the Word of the Lord for his life and ran in the opposite direction. Even though he deserved punishment, God showed him mercy and through a number of extreme circumstances he found himself back to where God wanted him in the first place. We would think that his gratitude for God’s mercy would have caused him to rejoice over God’s mercy for others but it did not.

Chapter 4 of this book is very interesting. In Chapter 3 he finally does what God wanted him to do. He preaches to the city of Nineveh telling them that in 40 days they were going to be overthrown. In response to his preaching, the king and eventually the whole city repent. God’s mercy, so important in Jonah’s life, was released in Nineveh because of Jonah’s obedience. This is a wonderful result to his ministry, correct? Not in Jonah’s eyes.

In today’s scripture we read that Jonah was angry. In modern language Jonah said, “I knew you were going to let them off. I knew you were gracious and merciful and I would go say all these things and you would hear their cry and not do it. Now I look like a fool. I would rather die than live with this kind of reputation.”

What was Jonah’s problem? He cared more about himself and his reputation than he cared about the people of Nineveh. He was a prophet of God. If his words came to pass in Nineveh, the world would know him as a great prophet. When God honored Nineveh’s repentance and did not destroy the city, Jonah thought that the world would see him as a false prophet. Jonah did not care about the people of Nineveh. Jonah cared about Jonah!

God puts Jonah through a series of experiences and questions designed to show him how wrong he was. As we look at them, we should put ourselves in Jonah’s place. Jonah climbed a hill overlooking the city where he waited to see what might happen. I think Jonah was hoping God would change his mind and the city would be overthrown. While he is sitting there a plant grew up that gave him shade from the hot sun.

As we read the account we find that this was not just a normal plant. This plant “was prepared” for Jonah by God. Do you remember the fish? It was also prepared by God to be available to save Jonah. This plant was another manifestation of God’s mercy. This time God was trying to save Jonah from himself! Jonah enjoyed the shade of the plant for one day. It was very hot and the plant became very important to Jonah.

When the sun came up on the second day, the Bible tells us that God had something else prepared for Jonah. He had prepared a worm. What was the function of the worm? It was to eat the plant. Jonah’s precious shade tree was gone but God was not done. God prepared an east wind that drove the temperature even higher than the sun alone. Jonah was miserable but he has not learned anything yet.

Jonah 4:8 (NKJV) 8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah was so self-centered that he simply did not get what was happening. God asked him a question. “Is it right for you to be angry about this plant?” Jonah answers, “Yes, it is. I have the right to be angry even enough to want to die!”

Never try to argue or reason with God. God reminds Jonah that he had nothing to do with the plant. He did not plant the seed from which it grew. He did not cultivate it and nurture it to maturity. Even so, he had compassion for the plant. God says to Jonah, “I created the people of Nineveh and they are in sin because they do not know any better. You cry over a plant that gave you comfort but that you had nothing to do with creating. I gave mercy to people that I created. If I want to preserve them and use you to do it, that is my choice.”

The book ends there. We do not know if Jonah got the message or not. God poured out his mercy on Jonah when he was guilty. He deserved punishment. Nevertheless, God did not punish him. Jonah had to go through some discomfort and even some fearful and trying times because of his sin but God had a fish prepared for him that saved his life.

In Jonah’s own words he acknowledged that it was God’s mercy that saved him and he promised he would never forget God’s mercy. When it came time for God to show the same mercy to others, all he could think about was himself. How would it look to the world if his words did not come to pass?

As the story plays out, I see profound disappointment in God’s actions. God shows Jonah how he felt toward the people of Nineveh. Jonah felt deeply for this plant because it gave him comfort. God felt deeply for the people of Nineveh because they were his creation and they were innocent because of their ignorance.

There is a great deal to think about in this story, but let me get right to the point. How much mercy has God shown you in your life? Beginning with your salvation, you have been spared most of the consequences of your bad choices and bad decisions because of God’s mercy. God wants you to walk in that power of mercy but there is more to mercy than what it can do for you. You are not just to be a recipient of God’s mercy. You should be a channel of that mercy to others. That is a major part of our message (2 Corinthians 5:17-21.)

Do you want to see revival? When you deal with the people in the world who seem so evil, remember God’s mercy to you. Let that temper how you respond to them. When God showed mercy to you, it was not something you created. It did not come because you deserved it. It came because God chose to give it. Repentance releases mercy in my life, but mercy flows from God’s sovereign choice.

How can I get angry when God does not judge someone else? I must remember God’s mercy to me and ask him to help me be a channel of mercy to the world around me. This is easy in the abstract but If I make it personal it will become a force that will extend the Kingdom of God in my world.

Jonah received mercy for himself with great gratitude but was angry when God showed it to Nineveh. In Jonah’s eyes Nineveh was an ungodly city that deserved destruction. He was right. They eventually were destroyed but that was not Jonah’s business. We look at the world today and we see a great deal of evil. It is destressing to us. We know something must be done but judgement is not our business. Mercy is our business.

In my next post, we are going to look at some things in Jesus teaching that drives this point home. For now, think about Jonah and about yourself. Remember God’s mercy in you life and ask the Lord to help you become a channel of that same mercy to the world. He will take care of judgement, you take care of mercy.

Mercy Restores

Jonah 3:1-4 (NKJV) 1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

In our last post, we saw that repentance unlocked mercy in Jonah’s life. He was swallowed by a fish but that fish represented God’s mercy. I believe we need to allow our failures, faults and even sins be swallowed by the Mercy of God. We must do a number of things to access it.

1. We must accept responsibility for what we have done or not done.

2. We must repent. That means we must acknowledge before God that we are wrong and ask forgiveness.

3. We must leave what happens next to God. One of the elements of repentance is that we give up control.

4. This will release God’s mercy into our circumstances. Things may not go the way we want them to. Sometimes mercy will look like the belly of a fish. It will always produce the best result possible for us and those around us.

One more thing we must remember is that God’s mercy does not excuse us from God’s will. Whatever he asks us to do he equips us to do. We may think we are too weak or the task is too hard but God knows it is not. When he gives us mercy it will always lead us right back to the will of God. That is what happened to Jonah.

God saved the lives of the sailors by having them throw Jonah overboard. God saved Jonah’s life by “preparing a fish” to swallow him. I want to point out that word again. God prepared the fish. It did not just happen by at the right time. When Jonah repented, mercy was waiting for him. It is the same with you. If you are in need of repentance, God has already prepared a way for you to get back on track.

In today’s scripture, we find that the same word comes to Jonah again. Mercy has put him back on track and now he must follow through with what God has said. I want you to see again that the message does not say, “Repent or in 40 days you will be overthrown!” It just says that in 40 days Nineveh is going to be overthrown. Nineveh is a huge city. It takes three days to go through the city and Jonah preaches the “Word of the Lord” to all of it.

Mercy will restore our ministry and the effectiveness of our Christian witness. It will put us back to where we were when we left the path of God’s will. There are times when certain consequences of sin and rebellion cannot be overlooked. Jonah did have to endure three days and nights in the belly of the fish. That was not exactly pleasant. He did not know how or if he was going to get out. He endured the ignominy of being “vomited” onto the shores of Nineveh. However, in the end he was back where God wanted him to be.

I have talked with many people who have made mistakes. Among those who have truly repented there are those who think they will never do what God wanted them to do. They believe that their effectiveness is over and they settle for a life that is less than God’s best. I cannot say that you will never lose if you allow the flesh to lead you to rebellion. However, I can say that God will restore everything it is possible to restore in your life. Mercy is a very powerful thing and it leads to a release of grace. Remember, mercy is not getting what we do deserve but grace is getting what we do not deserve.

Do not waste the second chance that comes with mercy thinking about what might have been. You do not know what might have been. You may think you know what God was going to do in your life but you cannot be sure. It did not happen. What you can be sure of is that God will use you where you are now and I am confident that he will get us as close to where we were supposed to be as he can. I know that if we will apply ourselves he will cause us to do great things for his kingdom. If we wallow in despair, we will miss out on what mercy was sent to provide.

Let me share a story of someone who did not understand the mercy of God. This person felt that God told her to fast until 5:00 o’clock on a given day. If she would do that, God would move in their church. She was the Pastor’s wife. I do not know why but for some reason she got discouraged and stopped fasting at 3 o’clock. She was convinced that because she had not fasted for 2 more hours God had abandoned her. She thought she lost her salvation because of this mistake.

In my opinion, I doubt that God was in any of this. I pastored for more than 38 years. I wish revival was that simple. It is not. Nevertheless, even if God did say that and this woman failed, all she needed to do was repent. She took responsibility for being wrong. She probably even went to God in repentance. What she could not do was accept that the mercy of God was more powerful than her failure. She spent years miserable because she stopped her fast two hours early. She not only made herself miserable but she made her husband, children and those around her miserable. What a waste!

What she should have done is go to God in repentance, receive his mercy and kept on going. Maybe God would have said to start the fast over. Maybe he would have said make up the two hours. I think he would have let her know that the whole thing was just the devil to begin with. She could have been restored to her place in both ministry and her Christian walk if she had only understood God’s mercy.

Remember, God’s mercy is stronger than any mistake we can make.

Read Psalm 51. David had done terrible things and there were unavoidable consequences. However, when he repented he received God’s mercy and God restored him. It was after this that God calls David the “sweet psalmist of Israel.” In the New Testament, he is still called a man after God’s own heart. Mercy will restore us if we let it. Jonah was given a second chance and he did what God asked him to do.

The results of Jonah’s preaching are immediate. The King believes him! He orders that the whole city should repent. Look at the decree of the King of Nineveh.

Jonah 3:7-9 (NKJV) 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

The king declares that even the animals must fast and “be covered with sackcloth.” I am not sure how that is possible, but the king is really serious! The whole city repents before God and the happy result of Jonah’s ministry is that Nineveh is saved! Praise God!

Jonah should have been grateful that so many people were saved because of his ministry. God’s mercy prevailed just as it had in his life. Tomorrow we are going to find that this was not the case. In Jonah’s prayer, he said he would always be grateful for what God had done for him. However, when it came to Nineveh he was not at all happy. Understanding Jonah’s reaction will help us see the next phase of mercy. God does not only want to give mercy to us. He wants to manifest mercy though us.

Jonah: Swallowed by the Mercy of God

Jonah 2:1-2 (NKJV) 1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. 2 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.

We have been looking at God’s Mercy in the life of Jonah. In the last post, we looked at chapter 1. There were several things we gleaned from this chapter

1. God gave Jonah clear direction.

2. Jonah chose to disobey God.

3. Jonah’s disobedience did not just affect him. It almost cost him his life as well as his destiny. It also nearly cost innocent sailors their lives.

4. Jonah repented by eventually taking responsibility for his disobedience and told the sailors that if they threw him overboard, the storm would cease.

5. He went into the waves putting himself fully in the hands of God.

As we continue today, I want to emphasize that last statement. He put his whole life in the hands of God. He knew he had disobeyed and he knew he deserved to be punished. There was no indication that he would survive. His death was probable but it was now in God’s hands. We must learn this lesson.

When we know we are wrong, the best thing we can do is put our lives completely in God’s hands. We often try to do one of two things. We justify and rationalize our position or we try and fix the situation so we can present it to God. In both cases, we are trying to control what happens. This never works. Repentance releases the mercy of God. However, what happens next must be left up to him. We cannot be in control.

Jesus last statement on the cross was, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) He had no control over what happened next. He placed everything in God’s hands. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God’s mercy. As long as Jesus was walking the earth as the Son of Man and Son of God, he controlled what happened to him. Once he had been handed over to the Romans, it was totally up to God. There was nothing he could do. That is the essence of mercy.

Jonah is often seen as a type of Jesus. He was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Once he went into that water his death or life was completely up to God. Mercy is a manifestation of God’s sovereignty. It is up to him if and to whom he gives it. We know that God is a merciful God and yet in any situation what his mercy looks like and how it plays out is out of our hands. It is completely up to him.

Until we come to that level of dependence on God and until we relinquish control to him, his hands are tied. That is the point of repentance (1 John 1:8-10.) When we leave our future to him, mercy is always the result. What happens may not always look like mercy. Jonah found himself in the belly of a fish. However, God’s mercy will always work things out for our best and will also bring about the fulfillment of God’s plan.

At the end of chapter one of the book of Jonah, mercy, in the form of a fish, had swallowed Jonah whole. Oh that we would allow God’s mercy to swallow our weaknesses and our failures. I am sure that where he found himself was not comfortable. It did not seem like a “long term” solution to the problem. It is better than the alternative. To be in the hands of God’s mercy is always better than the alternative.

Jonah has no control over where he is going. He has no ability to provide for himself. He has no control over how long he will survive. He does know that God has done something to help him. He also recognizes that he does not deserve what God did for him.

Chapter 2 is Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving to God. The language of this prayer is beautiful but we need to be sure we see the reality and attitude behind the language. To start with, Jonah recognizes that God has shown him mercy and saved his life. He cried out to God and God answered him. What a powerful statement. I do not know when Jonah cried out. It might have been as he was flying through the air after the sailors threw him overboard. He certainly could not have expected to be swallowed by a fish and still be alive. Yet as he comes to himself in the fish, he knows it is God that has saved him.

Sometimes we do not appreciate God’s mercy when it is not what we want. Let me encourage you as I encourage myself, look for God’s mercy. Have you been spared something you deserved? Thank God for it even it you are in the “belly of a fish” so to speak.

As we read on we can see that Jonah knows it was his own actions that led him to this predicament and that he was going to die (Verses 3-6.) In verse six we see that Jonah knows how close he came to death.

Jonah 2:6 (NKJV) 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.

Jonah is not just talking about physical death. He is seeing into hell itself. I think verses 4 and 7 are significant.

Jonah 2:4 (NKJV) 4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’

Jonah 2:7 (NKJV) 7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.

Most people’s reaction when they know they need mercy is to hide from God. That response goes back to Adam in the garden. We must remember that no matter how bad our situation, even when it is of our own making, God is still ready to answer our cry. We must, like Jonah, take responsibility in repentance. That frees God to move on our behalf. We must accept whatever he does as the best thing for our lives and the lives of those around us. However, we must go to him.

The last thing Jonah says in his prayer is that he will never be like the heathen who take the mercy of their God’s for granted. He will remember the mercy of the Lord forever. We often feel that way until we need God’s mercy again. In Jonah’s life, we will see that his memory is not nearly as long as he says it will be.

The last verse of chapter one shows God’s mercy in the form of a fish swallowing Jonah. In the last verse of chapter two Mercy causes the fish to “vomit Jonah onto to dry ground. Once again, mercy has not provided a pleasant solution but it is far preferable to what Jonah deserved.

To what dry ground did the fish deliver Jonah? He had traveled with the sailors in the opposite direction from the will of God. Yet after three days and nights in the fish, God has delivered Jonah exactly to where his will wanted him. We must understand that the mercy of God is always going to place us back in the will of God. Jonah is in Nineveh. Now it is up to him to obey what God told him to do in the first place. The plan has not changed. Mercy did not say, “I guess my will was just too hard for you.” Mercy put Jonah back on track. So it is with us.

Mercy is wonderful. Thank God that in our disobedience God will always show mercy to the repentant. However we could save ourselves a great deal of time and trouble if we would simply obey to begin with. Maybe that is a lesson we could learn?

God’s Mercy in the Life of Jonah

Jonah 1:1-3 (NKJV) 1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

When we began 2017, we were facing tremendous change in our lives. I was handing the baton for leadership in our local church to my son. We were entering the next phase of life and ministry. In the world, there has been tremendous changes in leadership and consequentially in every other area as well. I was searching for a thought to express what I felt and the Lord led me to Lamentations 3:22-23.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NKJV) 22 Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

The idea is that we can expect something new every day because the Mercy of God is new every morning. With all the change we see this year, that is an encouraging thought. However, as I was looking at this section of scripture it was the idea of mercy that really caught my attention. Compassion is what moves God to our need. Mercy causes God to withhold from us what we deserve. This all leads to grace which is God giving us what we do not deserve. We need God’s mercy.

This week I was praying for more revelation about God’s wonderful mercy and the Lord led me to Jonah. This is a short little book with a tremendous amount of insight packed into a few pages. The book begins with a directive from God. “Go to Nineveh and cry out against the wickedness that I have seen there.” The direction is clear and so is the implication. God did not say that Jonah should warn them. God gives no indication that they will or can repent. It seems Jonah’s assignment is to tell them that judgement is coming.

Jonah’s response to the “Word of the Lord” is to run the other way. He is willfully disobedient to God. I believe we can relate to Jonah. We are all quite happy to obey God when he tells us to do something that we want to do. It is not quite as easy when we hear something we do not want to hear. Whether we passively or, as in the case of Jonah, actively disobey God, we all disobey. In those times I am thankful for the mercy of God.

As chapter one progresses we see that Jonah has boarded a ship headed in the opposite direction from the will of God for his life. We often find our will and God’s opposed to each other. When we choose to follow the flesh the consequences are always less than what God wants for us and often disastrous. That was the case in Jonah’s life. There is a storm that comes up which threatens not only Jonah but the rest of the crew as well.

Most of the storms of life are not because the devil hates us. He certainly hates the people of God and is committed to doing all he can to destroy those who serve him. However, there was no storm brewing in the direction God told Jonah to travel. Although being in the will of God does not guarantee that we will never have a storm in life, I believe it does guarantee that we can overcome any storm we do face. Jonah went away from the will of God and that led him to the storm. It was not God and it was not really the devil. It was his own disobedience that brought him to the storm.

I want to point out something about our disobedience. It does not just put us in jeopardy. It puts everyone around us in jeopardy. It will rob us of our destiny and the blessing of God. It also robs others of what God can do through our lives. You are not an isolated person. You are a cause and effect in the lives of everyone you touch.

In verse 4 of chapter one we see that God sent the storm. We might say it was God’s judgement for Jonah’s disobedience. It was also God’s mercy. The captain recognized that Jonah was a prophet and called him out of hiding to do something about the storm. We do not know much about these sailors except that they were not Hebrews. I have found in my own life that God sometimes uses strange channels to communicate with me in my disobedience. It never helps to hide from God. Jonah was in the bottom of the ship because he feared the storm. When we find ourselves in a storm of our own making, we need to run to God in prayer not try to hide from him.

The sailors decided to cast lots to find out who was causing their trouble. The lot fell on Jonah. It was at this point that Jonah finally accepts his responsibility for what has happened.

Jonah 1:12 (NKJV) 12 And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”

As the saying goes, better late than never. However, the sailors show more compassion for Jonah than he did for them or for Nineveh. They try to overcome the storm but finally realize that if they are going to survive they must do as Jonah has said. They throw him overboard.

All this has happened because Jonah disobeyed. He nearly lost his own life and nearly cost the sailors their lives. It is important that we understand the consequences of disobeying God. I was a pastor for 39 years. I saw many people become offended and others simply fall into sin. They made decisions to leave the church and sometimes to go back into the world. It was difficult for me to watch them endure the consequences of their choices but it was even harder to watch their children suffer and many fall away because of their disobedience.

Obedience to God carries great blessing. I did not say it was always easy. I said it always carries great blessing. It carries blessings for you and for those around you. Disobedience opens the door to the devil in our lives and in the lives of those about whom we care. Jonah suffered because he disobeyed. To his credit, he recognized that it was not fair for him to bring the sailors down with him. He could not bring himself to jump overboard, but he allowed the sailors to do what was needed to save themselves.

I imagine that Jonah thought he was probably going to die. He was abandoning himself to God’s will. He knew he was wrong. As soon as the men threw Jonah into the sea, the storm stopped. They were afraid and sacrificed to God in the hopes that God would not punish them. He did not and as we read on we find that God had a different idea.

Jonah 1:17 (NKJV) 17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

I find the wording here interesting. Jonah fully expected to die. However, God had prepared a fish. God was ready for Jonah’s repentance. As soon as Jonah was in the water, the fish was there ready to receive him. I like to think the fish had a name: Mercy.

All of us do things that deserve some kind of judgement. I know I have often gone to God to apologize for some foolish thing I did. The wonderful truth is that God’s mercy is already prepared for us. It does not always look like we expect it to. I am not sure the belly of a fish sounds too appealing but it beats drowning. Whatever form God’s mercy takes, it will always lead to restoration.

We must not think that Mercy is automatic. I believe our repentance releases the mercy of God. Nevertheless, it is already prepared for us just as it was for Jonah. If you know you have done something or are in a place you know is out of God’s will, repent and mercy will be waiting for you.