Having appointed some circumstances to shape his servant, the Lord resorted to another method, namely reasoning. Jonah was in no mood for rejoicing. He was angry at the way things were turning out and didn’t think twice about showing it. We would probably have left him to stew in his own rebellious juice, but not God. He drew alongside Jonah and began to reason with him. ‘Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?’ (Jonah 4:9) God asked him. ‘It grew overnight and died overnight. You didn’t contribute anything, did you?’
God has the authority to command us and to expect our obedience. He knows what’s best and shouldn’t need to debate with anyone. But God is so merciful. Often he discusses things with his servants. ‘Come, let us reason together’ he invites. He grants us the dignity of reasoning with him. Jesus told his disciples, ‘No longer do I call you servants but friends.’ God loved Jonah, so he tried to stop him from wallowing in his emotions by asking him to face up to a few facts.
God reveals his own heart
‘Look, Jonah,’ said God, ‘You’re concerned about the welfare of a little plant, so why can’t I have compassion for the thousands of people in Nineveh?’
When Jesus saw the crowds, ‘he had compassion on them’ (Matt. 9:36). When we see the crowds, they look happy enough. They look self-assured and confident, secure with their big houses, shiny cars and all the latest gadgets. ‘Surely they don’t need God,’ we think. ‘They appear to be so comfortable.’ But Jesus sees right through all the frills and into their hearts. He sees the anxiety of the man who is about to lose his job and the distress of the mother who can’t cope with life any more. ‘I see them flung down’ (NIV margin), he says. ‘And I’m filled with compassion for them.’
Sometimes the image of God shines through ungodly people. Jonah told the sailors, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will become calm’ (Jonah 1:12). At first, compassion prevented them. They tried their hardest to save him. In much the same way, people today often display kindness to relieve others of their suffering. Indeed, even the toughest individual can reflect something of God’s character, because he’s God’s offspring.
God looked with compassion on the heathen in Nineveh, recognising that they were his offspring, captive in the hands of Satan. ‘Shouldn’t I be concerned about them?’ he questioned Jonah. Today, God looks with pity on the lost and says, ‘Shouldn’t I be concerned about them? Yes, they’re sinful, but they’re my offspring. I love them and I gave my Son to save them. I’m not far from any one of them. They could hear the gospel message and respond and their lives could be changed. I want you to share my compassion and reach out to them – not with cold professionalism but with tender mercy.’
Alone with God
So often we’re more concerned about the ‘plants’ than the people. We preoccupy ourselves with our own ministries rather than sharing God’s yearning for the human race. Even our evangelism can be an ‘ego trip’ or an endeavour to prove ourselves. We can be very like Jonah, with muddled motives. God wants to change and purify us so that our actions match our attitudes and there’s no room for hypocrisy.
Every one of us will experience a ‘Jonah, chapter four’. The curtain will rise and you will be alone with God. Actions will be weighed. Secret motives will be revealed. The things hidden in darkness will face the light.
How will you score when God unearths the attitudes you’ve kept so well concealed? Will your works stand the test of fire? God wants to reward you. It gives him no pleasure to find you out. That is why his word warns you that this final scene will certainly take place for you – with you as the star of the drama!
Be motivated by that. Let God search your motives now. Develop accountability to others now. Prepare to meet your God. Christ is coming for a bride who has made herself ready, adorned for her husband. Get involved in actions motivated by love and faith that he will delight to reward.
‘Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me and I will give to everyone according to what he has done’ (Rev. 22:12).
‘A life once spent is irrevocable. It will remain to be contemplated through eternity… The same may be said of each day. When it is once past, it is gone forever. All the marks which we put upon it, it will exhibit forever… Each day will not only be a witness of our conduct, but will affect our everlasting destiny… How shall we then wish to see each day marked with usefulness!… It is too late to mend the days that are past. The future is in our power. Let us, then, each morning, resolve to send the day into eternity in such a garb as we shall wish it to wear forever. And at night let us reflect that one more day is irrevocably gone, indelibly marked.’
Adoniram Judson, The Life of Adoniram Judson, Anson, Randolph & Company, 1883, pp. 13-15.