Any 2nd grader in Sunday school could easily tell you that I’m talking about Jonah, the story of a runaway prophet who tried to avoid the plan of God and proved that hiding from the all-seeing God is impossible. We learned back in the days of coloring pages and flannelgraphs that you can’t run away from God, and that Jonah wasn’t necessarily the nicest of the prophets.
Don’t run away from God kids, it’s useless, we were told.
God saves everyone, if only we repent, we were told.
Are these things true?
But often times we neglect in popular bible stories to actually dig through the fat, muscle, and sinew to reach the heart of the story. Without the heart, the entire story fails. Recently reading through Jonah, I was struck with the revelation of the heart of this story.
We know that Jonah ran from God, but do we know WHY he ran?
Why he failed to understand the mercy and love of the God for whom he spoke?
Because if you’re like me, you fail to understand why, after running away from God, being swallowed by a fish, being spat out on dry land and preaching a message of salvation to an evil city, Jonah remained bitter and unmerciful towards Nineveh.
How could he be so unsympathetic?
How could he fail to have mercy and love towards these people when he had just received the same?
Because although he knew the heart of God, he did not have the heart of God.
In chapter three of the book, Jonah converses with God and laments the fact that Nineveh is repenting. He declares the reason he ran away from going to the city in the first place was because he knew that God would relent, because God is merciful and loving, gracious and slow to anger.
He KNEW the heart of God.
But he did not HAVE the heart of God.
He was close to God, knew him much like a person knows a friend, conversed with his creator, and gave messages to his people on his behalf.
But that wasn’t enough.
Knowing God does not mean you have his heart.
I can know my friend well, and know what he feels about certain things, and how he will react to certain circumstances. But does that mean I feel LIKE him, and react the same way he would in certain situations? No. That would mean he was influencing me.
Knowledge doesn’t necessitate influence.
And influence is a choice.
No one is influenced unless they want to be. Unless they think, “hey, that person is pretty neat. I wanna be more like them.”
Jonah did not desire to be influenced by God, so he neglected letting the Creator of the universe transform his mind and give him his heart.
I wonder sometimes the reason why we fail to see things like God would see them is not because we need to be closer to him, or read more about him and increase our knowledge of his character, but rather, because we know his heart, but do not have his heart.
If Jonah had fallen in love with the Maker of Galaxies, desired intimacy with him, and desired transformation more than information, maybe he would have heard that God desired Nineveh to be saved, and thought “Wow God, that makes me so excited that you would give such a wicked people mercy, and because I love you and desire to follow you with all my heart, I will go and preach your message of salvation and love to this wicked people, and pray that they might see your glory and turn from their ways.”
That’s someone who has the heart of God, not just knows it.
It’s someone who has been transformed, not just informed.
Someone, who has fallen in love with the WHOLE image of God, his entire character and being, not just the parts and pieces that fit well into their finite mind and carnal thought processes.
Oh, may we desire to not only know the heart of God, but to have it.
We are in the age of information. Everyone knows everything, and everyone seems to know what they are are who they think they are. Even in western Christianity, we are surrounded by a church obsessed with knowing God; never before this time has there been so many books published within the church on every topic of Christianity and God imaginable. We do not thirst for lack of knowledge, but lack of adoration.
We are surrounded by people who know the heart of God.
May we be a people who have the heart of God.
In a generation of Jonahs, may we stand out as Jeremiahs. People who know and feel the heart of God in every situation, and who longingly pursue the hard errands of God, not because we know that running from God is futile, but because we know that running with him is all we want, and to do otherwise would not only break his heart, but it would break ours’.
Note: I also LOVE how the end of the book of Jonah ends with God talking about his love to be merciful to the city filled with people, and how he also talks about the animals. God’s so loving, he doesn’t even want the cattle to suffer. What a heart. What better heart to desire than this one?