Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Where do your priorities lie?

Yesterday I was preaching from the book of Jonah. He was probably the greatest missionary that ever lived, preaching a short sentence after which the entire Nineveh came to repentance. What a man! But of course, his life followed another route before he eventually became a missionary. The book of Jonah is truly remarkable. Although Hebrew was one of my main subjects at university, unfortunately I’m not fluent enough in reading Hebrew, which is actually the ideal in order to understand this wonderful book.
There’s a number of themes in the book. One (I think my favourite) would be something like: If God calls you to work for Him, you’d better listen, because He’s not gonna let you go! Another (the theme I used yesterday) is: God has the freedom to shower His grace upon any person, regardless of who or what they are. But there was also another theme which came out as I was busy preparing my sermon: Where do your priorities lie?
At the end of the book, after Jonah had been on the ship going in the wrong direction, then in the belly of a fish and then back to Nineveh where the people of Nineveh actually listened to his sermon, he became totally depressed. Why? Amazingly because God had shown grace to these murderous people. The prophet Nahum calls Nineveh the city of blood (Nahum 3:1) because of the terrible things which took place there. But once they repented, God accepted them and showed mercy to them. So Jonah was angry, saying to the Lord: O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity (Jonah 4:2)
God then sends some kind of tree or shrub which grows overnight, a la Jack and the beanstalk style, to such a height that it gives shade to Jonah as he is sulking in the desert. But the next day God sends a worm to destroy the tree and directly afterwards He sends a boiling hot wind which almost causes Jonah’s death. At this point Jonah is so angry with God that he really wants to die (the third time in the story.) And then the book ends with God’s rhetorical question: You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city? (Jonah 4:10&11).
What God is saying to Jonah is something like: Your priorities are wrong. You’re more concerned about the vine than about the 120,000 in Nineveh. I, however, am more concerned about the lost people in Nineveh than this vine.
And that was the question with which I left the congregation: What is your main concern as Christian: The vine (your personal needs and comfort) or the people of Nineveh?

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Monday, February 18, 2008 - Posted by | Church, Grace, Mission, Theology

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