The story of Jonah, the prophet who at first refused to carry out the task with which he was charged, never fails to fascinate. What kind of man was this who turned his back on the work of the Lord?
It is clear that he was not a novice in the service of God. He knew his God, and towards the end of the book he states, "I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful " (4.2). Despite this, however, he sought to travel to the furthest point he could find, away from God and the responsibilities of service. He had been given the message from God but decided that Nineveh would not hear his voice. He was capable of carrying out the task but was persuaded that this particular service was not for him. The Ninevites, he considered, were not fit to enjoy the blessing of the Lord, and he would not bring such a message to them. Thus, he determined that his days of service were over. The way of escape opened up and "he found a ship" (1.3) going to Tarshish. This was to be the way out to an easier life and an untroubled future.
How many of us, Jonah like, seek to find a "ship" to escape from the responsibilities of service. We look at others who seem to do little for the Master, and their lives seem easier and less stressful than our own. Perhaps we would like to move to another area and have fellowship with a larger assembly where we can fade into the background and live a less busy life. It may be that we decide to "retire" from the work of the Lord and enjoy the remainder of our days in quiet restfulness. Some may simply feel the strains of service or of shepherding the flock overwhelming, and as a result, seek to ease up. Young believers may think that the energy put into spiritual work would be better used in furthering their careers. Or is it that we feel aggrieved at some of the other believers in the assembly? What ship are we seeking to find? If we look for a way out the ship will be found, and we may even satisfy ourselves that it is the provision of God. Jonah could have considered that the presence of that ship destined for a suitable port was the confirmation that his decision was correct. Likewise, we can look at circumstances and see in them the sign that the Lord is behind a decision which we have made. Circumstances alone, however, are not a reliable guide for the believer!
There was one matter that could not be ignored. His pathway was contrary to the word of God. No matter what "signs" we see, a pathway contrary to Scripture can never gain the favour of heaven. Giving up, taking a back seat, failing to put our all in His service is never His will. Those who are older may not have the energy which they previously used, but there is still a vital part for them to play in any assembly. "Finding a ship" is a retrograde step.
Jonah, however, had to learn another lesson that we all have to understand. The Lord has given us all work to carry out. It is not only His will that it be done, it is His will that we do it. The storm that engulfed the ship was Gods way of bringing him back. We will learn that we can attempt to abandon His work, but He will never abandon us, and it may take a tempest to turn us round. Let us never embark on the voyage of disobedience and find that we have to face the storm that the Lord sends.
Is there a reader who is standing at the crossroads of service? The desire to set service aside has gripped your heart and you have found the ship, and, Jonah-like it seems just right and exactly what you are after. Beware! Stop, calm yourself, and think again! Is the pathway you propose taking one that you know is for your sake and not for His? If your assessment is that it is for your sake, the ship is a means of running away. In that case the alternative may appear onerous, the task not to your liking, but it is His work and He has not called you away. Remember - the duty against which Jonah rebelled, when carried out, proved to be for the benefit of thousands. Better to work at His bidding and enjoy true rest and satisfaction in His service.