Sunday, September 16, 2007

What's your Nineveh?

Are you feeling like you'd rather head to Tarshish?

Our pastor spoke this morning on the story of Jonah. I don't usually write about my faith or personal issues beyond the love and exasperation that I feel for my children, but God was speaking this morning and I felt compelled to blog about it. I don't necessarily think this is for me. Is He speaking to you?

Most of us know the story of Jonah, or at least the Veggie Tales version. Johan, prophet of Yahweh, is given a directive from the Lord. "Go to Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up against me." (Jonah 1:2). But Jonah didn't obey. Instead, he fled in the complete opposite direction. He bought a ticket on the last boat to Tarshish.

You know about the great storm that came up, and how it began breaking the boat apart. The sailors, they were terrified. Jonah, he slept. The crew cast lots to see whose fault this was, and sure enough, the lot fell to Jonah. These sailors, who didn't know the Lord, were convinced of His power and might because of this terrible storm and they asked Jonah what they needed to do to him to make the sea calm. Now, Jonah had a choice here. He knew what this was all about. And actually, so did the boat crew. Jonah had told them he was running from Yahweh. At this point, Jonah could have said, "Turn this boat around. I need to get to Nineveh." But no. Instead, he would rather have committed suicide. "Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will be calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." (Jonah 1:12)

We all know the rest. Jonah got tossed, the sea immediately calmed, the boat sailed on and Jonah was swallowed by a great fish. He hung out in this creature's intestines for three days and three nights until he called out to Yahweh. He was honest with the Lord, humbled himself, gave thanksgiving, and decided to obey. The Lord made the whale vomit him up and he went to Nineveh.

In that whale, he was transformed. The whale was his askesis. This was the first time I'd heard this word. According to my pastor, it is "an environment in which we are at God's mercy to shape us."

Are you in an askesis?

Like Jonah, some of us are in an askesis because of our own choices and actions. Others of us are stuck in one due to no fault of our own. And still others have willingly placed ourselves there. No matter how you get there, this is usually an unwelcome place. Painful and lonely, possibly really smelly, as in Jonah's case, I don't think many of us want the askesis we've been placed in. Yet, it can be the best place for us and a tremendous opportunity for growth. Are you fighting your askesis or are you letting it mold and shape you? Are you being honest and humble? Are you allowing it draw you into a stronger relationship with the Lord?

Maybe this is not for you. Maybe you don't feel like you are in a storm or an askesis. Great. I'm really happy for you. Enjoy it. Because really, if you currently are not experiencing a storm, you will. And then, how will you respond?

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