Jonah’s Saving Grace

Jonah

This week we started a series on the book of Jonah. I love everything about Jonah’s story because, well, it has everything: faith, fear, defiance, salvation, redemption, and that’s just to name a few.

A quick recap of the story in case you might not remember: God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach to them, but the people of Nineveh were so wicked and vile that Jonah feared for his life. Instead of going to Nineveh, he ran away as far as he could in completely the opposite direction. He actually tried to hide from God, which of course, never works. In the midst of a great storm that would likely destroy the ship he and other men were on, he fessed up that he was the cause of the storm because he disobeyed God. Then, the men threw him overboard to save their lives and left him in the sea to die.

There is much more to the story, but my focus is on what happens next. When we think of Jonah, we typically think of the big fish. I remember hearing that story when I was younger, and it was always stressed how awful it had to have been living inside the belly of a fish for 3 days and nights. I was taught this was his punishment, his consequence, for going against God and that the fish finally vomited him out (yeah gross) after he repented. This teaching implied that he would have stayed longer had he not repented.

Perspective Changes Everything

Now, there may be truth to the teaching above, but that’s not the whole story. The fish isn’t necessarily a negative part of the story. Jonah’s time in the fish’s belly could very well be viewed as a “time out” that he had to stay in until he decided to apologize to God, but let’s look from a different vantage point.

Before Jonah was thrown from the ship, he admitted what he had done wrong. He is even the one who suggested that he be thrown into the sea. He felt remorse. His heart felt regret, and he saw that his decision was hurting other people as well. Before being thrown from the ship, Jonah actually led the other men to Christ.

What would have happened to Jonah if it weren’t for that rather large fish? We can guess that he would have drowned or would have been killed by a sea creature, but he didn’t. Jonah 1:17 says God provided a great fish to swallow him. It could have said, “God made a great fish swallow Jonah to give him time to think about his actions,” but it doesn’t say that. It says the fish was provided for Jonah.

That fish wasn’t so much a “time out” punishment for Jonah as it was God’s saving grace that gave Jonah another chance to do what God initially called him to do. It was redemption at its finest. I mean, seriously, how did Jonah even survive the trip down into the belly, much less hang out there for 3 days and nights only to make that trip back up and onto dry land nonetheless? It was God’s saving grace.

God can make possible what is impossible and unexplainable for us, and he did that very thing in this story. Yes, this was a consequence for what he had done, but at the same time, it was God’s loving hand providing a way out and a way back to safety. I think this part is too easily forgotten, and the focus on the purpose of the fish has become more of a negative than a positive.

Jonah was probably not too happy about his situation, but I believe he understood he was the only one to blame for where his life ended up. However, I’m willing to bet he was incredibly thankful for that fish once he was back on dry land and realized the only reason he was still alive was because of that fish.

Doesn’t that happen to us when we find ourselves in difficult times? We get angry and wonder why God is doing this to us, but once it’s over, and we find ourselves on the other side, we realize what God was doing during that time. We see how we were being protected the whole time. Sometimes the situations we curse day in and day out are actually there to save us and get us to dry land.

In the midst of your most difficult times, it’s easy to go straight to the fear and doubt, but that’s the time to trust that God’s perspective is far greater than ours. Draw close to God during those times, and trust that it’s very likely you are being protected from something you may not even realize is out there.

Why Does God Allow Us to Mess Up?

mistakes

My kiddos have a performance for their school’s annual Grandparents’ Day program coming up soon. They’ve been working on it since the end of January. Little-by-little, they’ve practiced in the classroom to make sure they get things memorized and know when and what to do. The day before the program, they will hold a dress rehearsal, and the parents are invited to watch.

Why do they do it this way? Why do they practice in their classroom with their teacher and peers first, then get on stage to practice in front of their parents all before the big performance for the grandparents ?

By starting out in the classroom,they have a safe environment that allows them to mess up without embarrassment or fear. They’re just beginning to learn, and the teacher is right there to help guide them and get them back on track if necessary.

The stakes are a little higher, though, when they move to the stage and go through dress rehearsal in front of the parents. The parents are fully aware that it’s a dress rehearsal, so we expect it to possibly take twice as long as the real performance because there will likely be areas where the teacher has to stop and correct or guide and remind students of their lines, positions, or timing. The teacher is still nearby, but she sometimes is out of the sight of the students and is much quieter than she was in the classroom. She still stops and corrects when necessary. Although the students have somewhat of a safety net when making mistakes during this rehearsal, they may feel more pressure than before because they now have a small audience, and their teacher isn’t “holding their hands” right next to them as she did in the classroom.

When the big day comes, the students definitely feel the pressure. They not only are in full costume on a large stage in a very large auditorium with seats full of grandparents and camera flashes, but the teacher is not on stage directing them. She is sitting in the audience. The students are on their own to remember everything they’ve learned and everything they’ve practiced. All eyes are on them, and any mistakes made are not going to be corrected. This day is an all or nothing day.

This is exactly what God does for us. He gives us small areas to make mistakes in, so we can get comfortable with whatever he’s asking us to do. He’s holding our hands and giving us correction through his word and through the people he’s placed in our lives who love us and guide us as we make those mistakes.

What would happen if my kids’ teachers did something different? What would happen if they announced the assignment just moments before the students would be putting on that same performance? There’s no way anyone would be prepared. It would be a catastrophe, and all those kids would be devastated and would likely have a fear of performing at any capacity in the future.

There’s a reason the teachers announce the assignment two months before the performance. There’s a reason they walk the students through every step and give them time to practice and room to mess up. There’s a reason they don’t reprimand them for making mistakes but instead lovingly correct those mistakes. They do this because they know what’s up ahead. They know what’s needed to make the performance a success, and they’re preparing the students for that big day. They do this because they want to bless the grandparents through this program. They do this because they want to protect the hearts of the children, and in order to do that, they need small rooms to mess up in so they are less likely to mess up in the big room.

God allows us to fall not because he’s angry at us or doesn’t care about us or isn’t there. He allows it so that we will learn how to correct our mistakes so that when the time comes we will be able to bless others all while keeping our hearts protected. Just like the teacher is showing the students it’s okay to mess up, and she still loves them when they mess up, God is doing the very same thing for us.

There’s still one important piece to this analogy. I’ve been to many school performances, and there’s one thing I can be certain to see on that day. The teacher will be eagerly sitting ahead of the front row. She will not say a word, but she will be smiling from ear-to-ear, sometimes gesturing for the students to remember to smile, sometimes pointing in the direction for them to go, and I can be certain that if a student freezes or completely gets lost in their lines, she will use a still, small voice to give the first few words of the next line so that student doesn’t feel hopeless and is able to continue on with his or her part. She does not ever at any time leave them. They know they can trust and depend on her if they get lost. Why is she sitting ahead of the front row? She’s there so her face doesn’t get lost in the crowd, so the students see her before they see anyone else, and so they know she’s right there with them loving them every step of the way even if the performance is not perfect. She is their security during that time of great pressure.

God does not ever leave us. If we keep our eyes on him and not allow the crowd to distract us or our mistakes to devastate us, and if we know exactly where to look when we are uncertain of what to do next, we can trust that he will use his still, small voice to get us back on track. We have to be ready to listen and know where to look, though, but that’s why we practice and prepare so much ahead of time. Just like the teacher gives those students a place to make mistakes before putting them on stage in front of many people, God does the same for us. He allows those mistakes to happen, but he allows them in the safety of a “little room” before he opens the door to a bigger one.

Nothing Short of a Miracle

 

forsale

A while back I wrote a post called The Loss of a Dream Just Before Becoming a Reality, and I talked about something we had been praying for that slipped through our hands just days before being our reality.  One thing I didn’t mention was my purpose for writing the post and my purpose for not being specific in the dream or how it was “lost.”

I didn’t mention it because my husband and I were still waiting it out and didn’t want to hear any outside voices covering up the still, small voice of God. Never have I heard God speak to me regarding something and it end up being wrong. That just doesn’t happen. God is faithful and will always be true to his word. Months before writing my previous post, he placed this dream in front of me, and so clearly I heard him say, “This is yours. Claim it.” Over these past few months, I’ve had to repeatedly remind myself of this truth.

Never once did I question if things would work out for us because God said it would. He wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true, and that’s something I’m certain of.  My previous post was written because I didn’t know when, but I knew at some point I would get to write the one I’m writing today.  Even better is that most of this is being written more than a week before it will actually be posted. Although I was still certain the day would come, I felt we might not be quite finished with the “interesting” ride we’ve been taken on for the past few months, and we’ve come to learn that a scheduled date means absolutely nothing on this particular ride.

Earlier this summer, my husband and I were planning on building a new home for our family because our rental just isn’t large enough for a family of 6, and we wanted something to call our own. We had already made the plans, chosen the lot, and put money down for this home, but somehow things kept happening to where we couldn’t meet the builder to actually sign the contract. I became uneasy about everything. Without realizing my husband was feeling these same things, I silently started praying and questioning if maybe we were wanting more than what we actually needed in this big, beautiful, perfect home we were going to build.

It was around midnight the night before we were supposed to meet the builder to sign the contract, and I decided to look through established homes for sale . . . just to see. It was immediate.  All I saw was a picture of the front of the house, and I heard, “That’s yours.”  The details had a description of exactly what we needed, which was quite a bit less than what we were going to build. The pictures of the inside were beautiful. I couldn’t tell much about the yard, which had been a big deal for us, but I didn’t care. It truly seemed perfect. I sent an email to my husband with the subject, “I want to look at this house tomorrow!”

We walked in and knew it was the house, and I can’t go on enough about the yard that’s probably twice the size of the lot we were planning to build on. We started the process by putting down an offer, and we cancelled everything with the builder of the home we had been designing.

Everything went so smoothly with this process, but in a few short days of closing, something bizarre happened . . . and then something else . . .  and then something else. There were more unexplainable things and missing pieces that had everyone involved in this process scratching their heads and scrambling to find answers. In the meantime, we were at a point where we had to back out of the contract or risk losing our earnest money. After backing out, we were broken hearted, but there was no doubt God’s hand was controlling the situation. There simply was no other explanation. We just didn’t know why things were happening the way they were.

So I wrote about losing the dream that was about to be a reality, but I also know my God, and I know his perspective is far greater than ours. I knew he was either protecting us from something or building our faith.

Dreams are Never Lost.

They may be forgotten, ignored, or asleep, but they are never lost.

Two weeks after backing out of the contract, we did nothing regarding the house, so we were surprised to get a call that everything was “good to go”, and we could proceed. The problem? The seller of the home decided not to sell anymore and had taken this perfect home off the market just 2 days prior. Where our lender and realtor saw that as a disappointing moment, my first thought was, “That means no one else will be looking at that house!”

After a couple of weeks of talking back and forth with the homeowners, we entered into a new contract on the very same house as before!

umwhat

We still haven’t talked about it because we didn’t want any outside voices disrupting the peace in our minds during the chaos surrounding us. We wanted to continue praying and fasting and trusting that this house would be ours. We haven’t stressed about it, and we haven’t spent our days dwelling on whether or not it would all work out this time around. We just let God do his thing.

Last Tuesday night before going to bed, I said to my husband, “Tomorrow is the day.”

He had no idea what I was talking about, and I told him that I felt like we would hear something the next day that would let us know for certain if this was going to happen or not.  Sure enough. We got word before lunch time.

That’s when I started writing this because Tuesday, October 6, was scheduled to be our closing day. I’ve found little things like closing dates mean nothing when God is working.

Today is October 7, and truly there have been several more things come up since that call on Wednesday. So many things were trying to make this not happen, but we didn’t stress.  We kept saying, “God’s got this.”

We closed yesterday evening! We now own this home, the one God told me was ours back in July, the one our entire family has been praying for even through the times where there truly appeared to be no hope. But our hope is in God, and with him there is nothing that is impossible.

God is so good, and although we may never know why he orchestrates certain things the way he does, we can be certain that he always has our best interest in mind.  We can be certain that there are things he sees up ahead that we may eventually see, or we may never see, but we have to trust in his timing.

It wasn’t until my daddy’s funeral a few weeks ago that I realized we were originally scheduled to move into that house just a few days later. Had everything worked out as planned, I would have had a lot of added stress of packing, cleaning, and moving during the week we had been at the hospital with him and on through the day of his funeral. I can’t say that’s the sole reason everything happened the way it did, but I do believe part of that was to protect me during that time, and I’m so thankful.

I can’t stress enough how it is so much easier to walk through difficult circumstances with God who continually surrounds us in peace than it is to walk alone and full of worry and panic when even the most absurd things are thrown at you in an attempt to stop you in your tracks.

Prov. 3:5-6 It’s not about what’s logical or what we can understand. It’s about having faith and trusting the things unseen.

Our Home as of 10/6/15 Fitch/Gatlin Family Lives Here

Our Home as of 10-6-15
Fitch/Gatlin Family Lives Here

 

**Special thanks to one of our newest neighbors, our most wonderful and friendly realtor, Jonathan Moon, at Berkshire Hathaway Worldwide

and our incredible lender, Selena Cain, at Benchmark Financial Services

No way could we have gotten to where we are without you both.**