God doesn’t want only to shake individuals. He wants to shake the church.
The church is God’s messenger to a storm-tossed world. She holds the keys to the nations. She knows the answers that everybody needs to hear. How can the church sleep while the world is agonising with such colossal pressures? How can she drift while people’s hearts are failing on every side? Suicides, drug addiction, mindless brutality, abused children, elderly people terrified to answer their doorbells at night – what a world we live in. How can the church, God’s prophetic voice to the nations, become so purposeless and fall asleep?
When the church forgets her calling, when she turns her back on her obligation to the lost, she suffers a total loss of identity. Jumble sales and bazaars are hardly the mark of a prophetic people who bring God’s answers into the turmoil of our generation! Christians who rejoice only in inward-looking ministry are barely more relevant. God wants to shake us out of our complacency. If the unsaved really knew what we know about heaven and hell and free salvation through Christ, they would say to us, ‘How can you sleep?’ We must wake up to our identity and our calling. We must be restored to a true fear of the Lord.
As soon as Jonah admitted his identity and acknowledged that he worshipped God, reality broke in. Until then he had been running away, but once he affirmed his fear of God, the mystery was solved. Jonah’s admission, ‘I fear God,’ had a startling effect on the sailors. They were terrified and began to cry out to God and offer him sacrifices. That’s how revival breaks out. When the wayward church wakes up to its true identity and declares, ‘I fear God,’ people are frightened and begin to pray and seek him for themselves. This is the real distinction between organised evangelism and revival. Revival begins in the church when God’s people genuinely reaffirm their fear of the Lord and reclaim a right relationship with him. The repercussions have a powerful effect on society.
Identified with God’s purposes
In the face of Jonah’s disobedience, God would have been justified in saying, ‘Jonah has deserted his post and cannot be trusted. I’ll just let him go. Amos is much more reliable. Amos, you go instead!’
But although God could have turned to Amos, he didn’t, because he’d chosen Jonah. Having started a great work in this wayward prophet, God was committed to completing it. He loved Jonah and stood by him, just as he’d stood by Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Peter and others when they drifted from his plans. God’s faithfulness to backsliders is amazing. His covenant love extends beyond our wildest dreams.
Just as God’s purpose was personified in Jonah, so his purpose is wrapped up in the church. He sees the church’s faults and failings, but He will never abandon it. Do you think God will say, ‘I’ve had about as much as I can take from the church! I think I’ll scrap it and look somewhere else for support. Maybe I’ll ask a couple of million angels to help me out. They’d be much more reliable.’ No: God chose the church and hell complete his work through the church. We’ll reach all the nations. God has said so, and he’s 100% committed to us.
God was sickened by the wickedness of Nineveh. The people’s sin angered him. He could have destroyed the city, but he longed to show compassion, to be merciful, to offer the Ninevites the opportunity to repent. Today, God wants you to share His anguish. ‘Look at those huge cities: London, Birmingham, Manchester …’ he’d say. ‘Their wickedness has come up before me, and I’m angry at their sin, but I love the people and long to show them compassion and mercy. Take the gospel to them. I want to display my love and power in your cities, to give them the opportunity to repent.’
Are you personally obeying God in this great commission, or have you fallen asleep? The heathen captain asked the backslidden prophet, ‘How can you sleep? Have you noticed the terrifying storm? Have you seen the size of the waves? Don’t you realise we will all perish?’ Death and destruction seemed to be closing in on his frail life, and God’s servant, who knew the answers, was asleep.
God wants you not only to know about the great work he’s planning for the nations, he wants you to be involved in it. Don’t go running in the wrong direction, spending your resources on the wrong things and falling asleep to the world’s need as though it did not affect you. God will send the storm and shake you until you get back on course, until you are caught up with him in his worldwide purpose, until you get up on your feet, acknowledge your waywardness and cry out, ‘Lord, I’m coming back! I’m ready to follow your command.’
‘I care not where I go, or how I live, or what I endure so that I may save souls. When I sleep I dream of them; when I awake they are first in my thoughts…no amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep impassioned sympathetic love for human souls.’