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.

What My Students Taught Me in 1 Short Week

As I go into a new work week, I am reminding myself of some things I learned last week.

In a 5 day workweek, I learned that I need to stop being so sad and reaching the edge of depression over the fact that I spend my days with other people’s kids while I miss out on so very much of my own kids’ lives. I learned that I need to stop whining to others and to God about how much I want to be home so I can be involved with my kids’ day and so I can take care of my home the way I feel I should. I learned that I need to not whine about how I’m so exhausted by the end of the day that I can barely help my kids with their own homework. I learned that I am being incredibly selfish every time I even think about these things – every time I allow myself to feel guilty for telling my babies I can’t be there for them.

It only took 5 days for me to remember there are kids who don’t go home to parents. There are kids who leave straight from school to work (or from work to school) because they are already forced to support themselves. Some are already supporting a family they started earlier than they intended while some are working to support their parents. I was reminded that my kids have a mom and 2 dads (or 2 moms and a dad for my step-sons) who love them and help them with homework and who cook (or purchase) meals for them to ensure they have food and even snacks for every meal every day while some of my students go without. I was reminded that my kids have not 1 or 2 but THREE parents who teach them about life and God’s love, protection, salvation, and forgiveness. They go to a school where they are loved on by their teachers and learn about God in everything they do. I was reminded of how my kids have parents who protect their eyes and ears from things that rob them of their innocence and parents who want to know where they are and who they’re with at all times although we are made to feel by our kids and outsiders as if we’re horrible for being too involved and overprotective . . . all while I beat myself up at least 20 hours of the day for not being able to be involved enough. I was reminded this week that there are kids who yearn for parents to be even somewhat involved in their lives because they would at least know they’re loved. I was reminded I have students who don’t even see their parents because they live hours away from them.

I was reminded that the enemy has such a hold on people that they are willing to diminish themselves just to be able to say they have a friend or a significant other. My kids don’t get to have me at all times, but they are constantly reminded of their worth, while I have students who have never once been told they are valuable. In fact, some are consistently told of how worthless they are.

I was reminded that while we constantly worry that we’re about to have a driver in the family, there are kids who have to work hard to pay for their own broken down cars and work on them for a couple of years to get them running just so they have something to drive.

And while we spend many nights trying to figure out how we will be able to help pay for our kids to go to college, for the first time in all my years of teaching, I learned there are kids who are living in fear and hate themselves for decisions they’ve made to do something out of character and illegal in order to make money so they can one day go to college.

This week, I was reminded that I take for granted how easily we go to God whether we want to talk to him just because or whether we’re in need or  someone else is hurting or when we are excited. I was reminded that there are so many people who have no idea who he even is. I was reminded that I was called to do what I do because there is a need for someone to love on these kids and not necessarily tell them about God’s love for them but to show them.

My heart breaks for them.

My kids get that every day whether I’m with them or not. God made sure of that. I think he did that so I would be free to be what my students need.

I was reminded that I’ve missed many opportunities to do that this year and that I need to stop focusing so much on myself and take a look around me at the tears falling from the eyes of my students who are trying to do school work while real life is breaking them. I was reminded that God called me to do what I do. To go to him with discontent or whine about my situation means I’m completely missing my purpose.

This week I learned that God has placed me exactly where he wants me to be, and he has given me the opportunity to do exactly what I’ve prayed almost daily to do – to impact lives, encourage others, build confidence and help people realize their identity in Christ. I learned that my pleas for it to change have been completely in vain. I learned that all this time I have been  praying against my own prayers to be used by God in this exact way.

I’ve learned so much in just 5 short days. My students don’t realize just how much they teach me when they walk into my classroom.

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.