by Steve Allen
I remember the day when I realized that for me to stay in Zambia as a missionary rather than obey God and return to America was my version of being Jonah. I wanted to stay in Zambia. I feared going back to the unknown of America. I knew God was calling me back and I knew it was going to be hard.
Fortunately and unfortunately, I had done the Jonah thing before. I remembered how just like Jonah, I never won. While I ran, he was patiently raising up storms of inner chaos, disillusionment and depression. I had enough Jonah experiences in my life that I knew that while I was heading back to America with a lot of fear, difficult prospects and lots of unknown, the joy of obedience is always worth it in the long run. But, that is the problem I noticed. I obeyed, reluctantly, not because I cared about others or about what He was calling me back to do, but because honestly, I just cared about my comfort, my control and me.
The life of Jonah is pretty much the same. He was being asked to do something opposite of what he wanted to do. After three days in a big fish, he reluctantly did what was being asked to do. But, there was no joy. Even after Nineveh repented. He knew God would be gracious to the people of Nineveh. Jonah didn’t want the wrath of God to be averted or diverted from those who he thought really deserved it.
Consider the life of Jesus and the birth of Jesus. Who would have wanted to leave the Promised Land to enter into the mess of planet earth? And remember the three times Jesus pleaded with the Father to let his cup pass? Ultimately, Jesus obeyed. He wanted only what God wanted. And, after he endured incredible pain, shame and death, he provided a gift to His people that could never be taken away, that never faded, that never could be replaced.
Now, contrast Jonah, and myself and maybe even you, with Jesus, who according to Hebrews 12:2, for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despised the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. He endured, obeyed, and humbled himself for the joy set before Him.
This is the irony of Christmas. The most anticipated day of the year bringing a short lived happiness to so many people happened to be the start of the most difficult act of obedience and yet longest-lasting, joy-filled, eternal gift moment in the history of the world.
It is interesting to ponder. Jesus gave us a gift of eternity, spirit-motivated selflessness and purpose that can never be purchased and yet is never more experienced than when we give, sacrifice and share it with others.
Lord, thank you for your grace when we run in opposite ways of obedience in fear, rebellion, comfort or apathy. May we look to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, to obey, not reluctantly, but with hearts full of joy as you modeled so lovingly. Turn our eyes and hearts with eternal perspectives and may the joy of obedience be fueled by the true meaning of Christmas. Amen.
Steve Allen is the Executive Director of Family Promise of Spokane.