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One of the most hopeful verses in the entire Old Testament is Jonah 3:1, when God speaks again to Jonah after Jonah had been swallowed by a whale for his disobedience:

 

1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Jonah 3:1-3

 

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. Doesn’t that fill you with hope? If Jonah could get a second chance, so can you. But there’s a catch:

 

 

Stop waiting for God to tell you something different.

 

Just as it’s important to note that God gave Jonah a second chance, it’s also important to note that when God did give Jonah a second chance, He didn’t give Jonah a different directive. God gave Jonah a second chance to follow through and obey what God had originally told Jonah.

And that’s important for us to remember today. Many times we’re on the sidelines, not because God put us there but because we put ourselves there by refusing to do what He’s asked us to do. Some of us have this mistaken notion that if we don’t like something God has asked us to do, if we just wait long enough God will change His mind and ask us to do something more agreeable to us. God doesn’t work that way.

It’s God’s world, we’re just living in it. If you would say, “God hasn’t spoken to me in years. I haven’t heard His voice for decades,” I would tell you: go back to the last thing God told you to do and do it. God is always waiting for us at the point of our obedience to what He’s already told us to do. If God’s clearly told you something to do but you don’t like it and you’re waiting until God tells you something different, just a heads up, you might be waiting around awhile. Stop waiting for God to tell you something different.

 

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The most famous part of the story of Jonah in the Old Testament is the moment in his life when he was swallowed by a huge fish:

17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 He said:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry. Jonah 1:17-2:2

Jonah had a “come to Jesus” conversation in the belly of a whale. It’s hard to keep your dignity and pride when you’re being partially digesting by a whale. So, he decides it’s as good of a time as any to get his life right. Here’s the finish of his prayer:

8 “Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.

9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 2:8-10

Some of you have been there. No dignity, no pride, life has beaten you up and literally vomited you back onto dry land. You never, ever, ever thought you would be where you are today. You never thought your career would turn out this way, that your marriage would turn out this way, that your kids would turn out this way. You never thought you would grow old, that you would lose your health, that you would lose your retirement.

Whatever it might be, some of you have been and maybe you are right now in the belly of the whale. When you’re there, when you’ve been humbled by life or by God, you can give up, you can get angry, or you can get right.

 

If you’re in the belly of the whale, make the most of it.

It’s no fun being in the belly of the whale. No one asks for it, you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. But sometimes you find yourself where you never thought you’d be. So, when you’re there, make the most of it. James, the half brother of Jesus, talked about this in the New Testament:

6 That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:6, 10

This is called repentance. You can either humble yourself, or you will be humbled in the belly of the whale. Either way, we will all be humbled. That’s not a fun fact we like to celebrate, but it is a fact. So, when life has you beat down, you can give up, you can get angry, or you can get right. It’s never fun being in the belly of the whale, but when you’re there, might as well make the most of it.

 

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If you look at the Old Testament story of Lot (Genesis 13-14, 19), you’ll see a cautionary tale of how quickly life can get out of control when our bad decisions start to snowball. Where did things start to go wrong for Lot?

It was when his uncle Abram gave him the choice of where to live:

10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. Genesis 13:10

Lot couldn’t get past what his eyes saw, because what you set your eyes on you begin to value. This is completely contrasted with Abraham, who didn’t go by what his eyes saw. Here’s how the writer of Hebrews put it:

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. Hebrews 11:8

Abraham lived by faith, Lot lived by sight. The reason it’s so dangerous to simply live by sight is because the eyes are deceptive, and whatever you set your eyes on you begin to value. Once Lot saw the plain of Jordan, he couldn’t get it out of his head.

So, what are you choosing to put in front of your eyes? Is it God’s Word, or is it television? Is it God’s Word, or is it your phone? Whatever you put in front of your eyes, for better or for worse, that’s what you begin to value. So be careful.

If you read Daniel 3, you’ll discover an amazing real-life story of three men who courageously spoke truth to power even at the threat of their own lives. In a previous post I share four harmful ways we respond to trials in our lives. From the positive standpoint, what can we learn from the lives of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?

 

1. Your excellence gives you a platform to speak truth to power. Don’t walk past the fact that these three men spent the best years of their lives serving a ruler that had killed their families and enslaved their people. They probably didn’t agree with his policies nor his values nor even the direction he was taking the country. In spite of all that, they chose to honor God and serve with excellence, wherever they found themselves, and their excellence gave them the platform to even have an audience to speak before the king. How you excel at where you work, the dedication and excellence you put into your career, either builds or erodes a platform from which you can tell others about God.

 

2. Trials are not always a sign of God’s absence or punishment. That’s a popular lie that has permeated parts of Christianity today, that if God loves you he would never allow you to go through difficult times, and if you are, it must mean that you did something wrong or you don’t have enough faith. When they were threatened with literal fire, it wasn’t because they had done something wrong or because God had turned away and forgot to keep his hand on the wheel. God had bigger plans, plans that they weren’t party to.

Many times when we walk through the fire we immediately assume the worst. Is God punishing you? Is God absent? That’s where our minds will always go, but many times our trials are part of a bigger plan that we can’t see and it has nothing to do with punishment or abandonment.

 

3. Sometimes God will choose not to deliver us from the fire so that our testimony through the fire can showcase the glory of God. Right now in my daily personal Bible reading I’ve been going through the book of Job, another legend who went through suffering. God allowed Job to suffer, just like He allowed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to suffer so that through their suffering their testimony would showcase the glory of God.

That’s so important for us today. When things go wrong and when we go through the fire, we immediately reach out to God for help and relief. So what happens when that relief doesn’t come? What happens when the radiation doesn’t work on the cancer? What happens when the marriage isn’t restored or the prodigal doesn’t come home?

Sometimes life doesn’t have a happy ending, sometimes we don’t get to go riding off into the sunset, sometimes we don’t get to live happily ever after. Sometimes it’s through that pain, through that fire, that the world truly sees what faith in God looks like, not when things are going well for us, but when we’re standing in the midst of the fire.

 

4. Instead of asking God to remove us from the fire, start looking for Jesus with us in the fire. Whether God delivers you from the fire or not, and he delivered these three, instead of just asking for relief, start looking for Jesus. That’s the beauty behind the song we sang. There was another in the fire, standing next to me.

If you’re in the fire, if you’re walking through trials, know that Jesus is right there with you. Church, we are called to be the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus. When you see someone walking through the fire, they will see Jesus with them when you choose to be the hands and feet of Jesus and willingly step into the fire with them. That’s why we have to do life together in community.

But know this, if you’re in the fire right now, Jesus is right there with you.

 

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