Jonah was an obnoxious character. He was delivered from the fish and saw a great revival, but still he missed the point. God could so easily have said, ‘That’s it! You’ve taken up too much of my time already.’ But he didn’t. God loved him enough to keep working on him. God really loves the unlovely and is committed to winning and transforming them.
When I look back over my own life, I’m amazed at God’s patience. I would have given up on myself ages ago. Maybe you feel the same way. Sometimes we think, ‘God, what on earth made me do that? How could I have been so unkind? How could I have said such an awful thing? It just slipped out and it must have hurt.’ Sometimes you’re shocked by yourself and realise how selfish you are. God has always known what’s underneath, but he isn’t deterred.
‘I love to see you succeed,’ says God. ‘I’m not glorified by unfruitful Christians. Pruning produces more fruit, and I’m looking for glory on a grand scale. But outward success isn’t the whole story. I want your success to be properly motivated.’
In his mercy, God refused to abandon Jonah as a hopeless case. As a master craftsman he kept chiselling away at him, using first one instrument, then another, to penetrate and shape his heart.
God appoints circumstances
While Jonah sat outside Nineveh, the sun climbed high in the sky. As the temperature rose, Jonah wondered how long he would have to wait in the sweltering heat before God judged the people. God looked down on him, took pity and ‘appointed a plant’ (Jonah 4:6, NASB). The vine grew over Jonah and sheltered him. Jonah was naturally very happy with this expression of God’s grace. He was, however, not so happy when God, in that same grace, appointed a worm to chew through the vine and sent a scorching east wind to increase Jonah’s discomfort.
In his grace, God appoints circumstances for us. Sometimes he says, ‘I’m giving you a plant to protect you and show you that I love you.’ And we say, ‘Thank you, Father. Now I know you love me.’ But sometimes God appoints a worm to remove the shade and a scorching east wind to blow down on us. It’s the same loving God at work but he’s working in a different way. His purpose is to transform us into the image of his Son, and he will appoint whatever is appropriate at the time to bring about that goal.
Have you encountered any scorching east winds recently? Maybe you’re in the business world and are getting some Chinese east wind. Their product is cheaper than yours. How are you going to survive? You could do with a plant, some protection – a tariff on imported goods, perhaps. But it doesn’t come. Or maybe it’s a Middle East wind, and oil prices are increasing so much that your business is in jeopardy. You long for protection but it’s not there. Life’s uncomfortable.
Sometimes the east wind just seems to come from nowhere. Suddenly we find that we’re facing hostility and opposition, and we cry out, ‘What’s happening to me? Lord, give me some shelter. Stop this east wind. I can’t stand it!’ But God replies, ‘No. In my love I’ve appointed the east wind for you. Receive it from me.’ But Jonah hated the wind and railed against it.
The apostle Paul’s attitude to his ‘east wind’ was totally different. What was his east wind? It was a ‘thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me’ (2 Cor. 12:7). What was this thorn? Verse ten seems to imply weaknesses, insults, hardships and persecutions. God removed his protecting hand and allowed Satan to prevent Paul from becoming proud of his revelations. Three times Paul pleaded with God to remove it, but God replied, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ The apostle joyfully accepted this because he continued, ‘I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me’ (2 Cor. 12:9). He allowed the east wind to shape his character and bring glory to God.
Since God appoints circumstances to change your character, don’t fight everything that comes your way. By all means ask God to intervene, but if he doesn’t, learn the lesson intended. Let him use the scorching heat to form the image of his Son in you – and rejoice as you go through it.
‘None of our trials come upon us by chance! They are all appointed in weight and measure – are all designed to fulfill a certain end. And however painful they may at present be, yet they are intended for your good. When the trial comes upon you, what a help it would be for you if you could view it thus, “This trial is sent for my good. It does not spring out of the dust. The Lord Himself is the supreme disposer of it. It is very painful to bear; but let me believe that he has appointed me this peculiar trial, along with every other circumstance. He will bring about his own will therein, and either remove the trial, or give me patience under it, and submission to it.”’
J. C. Philpot, The Subjection of All Things Under the Feet of Jesus