A couple months ago, I preached a message on Jonah. My goal was to help people recognize their inner Jonah and their need for change. But what I ended up discovering was that I am the worst offender of all.
Jonah was a prophet of Israel, one very in-tune with the voice of God. One day, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh (because God loved those people and wanted them to repent and turn to Him). But Jonah didn’t like God’s mission for him, and so he wanted to run away to Tarshish in the exact opposite direction as Nineveh. And when you look at what these two cities actually represent, what you find is quite interesting.
Tarshish was a coastal city in Spain, wealthy in precious metals of gold and silver. It was luxurious, a popular place to travel, a place of peace. On the other hand, Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, Israel’s on-again, off-again enemies. It was one of the most powerful cities of the Ancient World. But it was also a place of great greed, corruption, violence, and fish slapping. It was unappealing to many.
Now when it comes to the missions God gives us, we long for Tarshish. We want to have a say in where we do ministry. Tarshish represents our hopes and dreams, our ideal calling, something comfortable and in our control. That’s what Jonah wanted, and that’s what we want as well. My Tarshish would have to be something like Washington, beautiful mountainous landscapes with majestic coastlines and forests of adventure in your own backyard, very safe and familiar. And while for many Florida’s beautiful beaches and extravagant cities would be their Tarshish, for me it is Nineveh. It is the land of swamp and mosquitoes, of greed, violence, and corruption; it is a place I do not want to be, and I tried to do everything in my power to run away from God’s calling for me here.
I inwardly protested, scouting the job landscape elsewhere to hatch my escape plan. But then I got a job in ministry working with at-risk youth, and that’s when my perspective began to change. Working at Urban Youth Impact, one of the things I’ve had to learn is that ministering to others is now always ideal, but it is intentional; not always glamorous, but necessary. Like Nineveh, West Palm Beach didn’t see seem very hopeful, so I didn’t really want to invest in anybody or get close. But Jonah was ultimately escaping his destiny, running away and protesting because it was not what he wanted; and we often do the same thing.
We love our calling, we are passionate about the gifts God has given us. But we dislike our assignment. We look at the task before us and think: this is pointless, what good can come of this? We look at the mission fields in our workplaces during the week and think, “there’s got to be something more than this. Well I’m only going to be here a little while, so I better not get too comfortable or too close to anybody.” And I’m here to tell you that every assignment God gives us is intentional in both revealing our sinfulness and making us more like Christ.
I’ve come to terms with my place in Nineveh. God may call me elsewhere one day, but for now, I’m going to be all-in to the people around me, where God’s called me to be. Because Nineveh, like Tarshish, needs Jesus, and therefore, there is work to be done.
To Be Continued…