What is Jonah doing in the Bible? He is such a different prophet from the others! I believe God put it there because Jonah opens our eyes to a hidden truth. It is the truth that God calls us to join Him in mission because of the work He wants to do in us and not just because of the work He wants to do through us.
The mission of God is to draw people into close relationship with Himself and that includes us.
We Are Included
Jonah begins like every other prophet of the Old Testament ‘The word of the LORD came to Jonah’ but it quickly takes an unexpected turn. There is something different about Jonah. He does not welcome this word. He does not welcome God’s mission. Jonah runs away from both. And this is not the last time that Jonah’s heart is revealed. After the people he has been sent to respond wholeheartedly with repentance from sin and turning to God Jonah 4:1 tells us that “it displeased Jonah Exceedingly and he was angry”. His prayer in verse three is confirmation of this. Does this sound like the prayer of a prophet after his targeted people group have a mass conversion? “O LORD please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live”
What?! How shocking! And yet God has put it in our Scripture for a reason.
Jonah’s prayer was not shocking to God.
This was why God had called him in the first place. God knew Jonah had areas in his own personal life where he needed to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. That was why God included him in the mission. God wanted Jonah to grow. But God knew it would require mission for his own need for repentance, his own need for conversion, and indeed his own need for mercy to be revealed.
This is the Jonah factor in missional community leadership. God has called us into His mission because He has work He wants to do in our hearts.
We each have areas where we still need repentance, conversion and the mercy of God. Missional leadership does not exempt us from these things. In many ways it accelerates our awareness of them.
Do It With Him
You can also see this principle at work in the mission of Jesus and His inclusion of the 12. Luke 9 has two examples that will suffice.
Jesus could have done his mission alone. But he strategically calls the twelve to do it with Him. This reminds us of Jonah. God could have reached the people of Nineveh on his own, but He strategically calls Jonah to do it with Him.
First of all, Jesus chooses Peter, James and John to come with Him to the mount of transfiguration where they are given a glimpse of Jesus in His glory. What an honor! But the experience reveals Peter’s unformed and incorrect beliefs. In essence, he says to Jesus “Lord it is so great that we are here let us build three shrines -one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. People will come from all around and you will become just as famous as those guys.”
Peter’s understanding of Jesus is still in process. Even though he is probably the leader of the twelve, he is clueless that Jesus is so much greater than Moses and Elijah. He is so clueless he is talking to God. So the Father has to give him a booming voice from the clouds, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” The cloud clears. Moses and Elijah are gone. And Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ unique and primary role as the one and Only Son of the Father comes into clearer focus. But Peter would not have gotten this new insight unless he was first invited along to be on mission with Jesus as part of his inner circle of leadership.
Lest we think that it was only Peter who needed his thinking corrected, Luke gives us another encounter in the same chapter where James and John’s hearts are also revealed. When a Samaritan village does not roll out the red carpet for Jesus these two leaders turn to Him and say, “Lord do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them” Luke 9:54-55
How shocking! Jesus is teaching “Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile.” and James and John are like, “Should we call fire down on our enemies now?”
He Is Not Shocked
But here is the thing – their heart issues did not shock Jesus. He himself already “knew what was in man” (John 2:25) But here is the good news. He is not shocked when our hearts are revealed either. He is not shocked to discover that I am short on compassion or lacking in patience. Jonah was. Peter, James and John were. Just like Peter we need to grow in our understanding of the supremacy of Jesus. We need to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. And this is why He has called us to join His mission. We would probably be blind to these things in our hearts if we had never ventured out and attempted to bring God’s word to others. If we never stepped out as missional leaders seeking to love our neighbor and to lead others on mission, many of these areas of growth would still be undetected.
My own Jonah factor comes out when I realize that I do not love my neighbors the way God has loved me. God loved me when I was not interested in being loved. When people I am trying to reach give me the “Seattle freeze” and repeatedly turn down my invitations to dinner the coldness of my own heart is revealed. Will I love them unconditionally or will I silently ignore them?
My own Jonah factor also comes out when people in our missional community do not live up to my expectations.
In Our Missional Communities
Imagine a scenario where you as the group leader send out an email message to everyone in your MC. In the message, you share with them not just logistics about your next get-together, but also personal challenges and sorrows you are facing. Now imagine that not one person replies. In that moment your heart is revealed and we have a choice. We could get angry and sulk saying to ourselves, “That’s the last time I share anything personal with this group of people” Or we could be gracious with them and remind ourselves we don’t always respond to every email we receive either. Or imagine you invite your unchurched neighbors to your Missional Community dinner because they have been asking about it and expressing a curiosity to attend. They agree to come, but when they show up, the people in the missional community talk only to each other and not to your neighbors. Unmet expectations like this are abundant in missional leadership.
We can either get angry, or we can use the opportunity to ask the Lord, “What are you trying to show me about myself in this situation?” When these things happen to me, I do not blurt out something as extreme as asking God to kill me (Jonah 4:3), and I have not yet called fire down from heaven (Luke 9:54). BUT, if I am honest, I am tempted to make disparaging remarks about people behind their backs, or to hold a grudge against them when I see them on Sunday. I used to think I was a pretty good follower of Jesus until I began living in community on mission. It was then I realized my heart is full of all kinds of self-seeking motives and idols of power, approval, comfort and control. But when we see this about ourselves, it should not lead us to despair. Instead it should lead us to rejoice that God has opened our eyes to these realities. Because once we see these realities we then have the opportunity to bring the good news of God’s grace to bear on them, and to ask the Spirit to give us his fruit.
Without God calling Jonah on mission to Nineveh, Jonah’s racism might have lasted his whole life. Thanks to the crucible of missional leadership, it was exposed, and he could receive God’s mercy to heal it and transform it into genuine love for neighbor.
When you and I find it hard to love our neighbor unconditionally and sincerely from our hearts or we realize we are impatient with our fellow missional community members, remember the Jonah factor. We have flaws and shortcomings of our own that God is revealing and redeeming.
God calls us to join Him in mission because of the work He wants to do in us and not just because of the to the work He wants to do through us.
God brought you on board so that you would see your need and ask for His mercy. Instead of despairing like Jonah did and asking God to end your life, let’s ask God instead for the fruit of the Spirit. After all He is a Good Father! If we ask Him for a fish, he will not give us a snake, and if we ask for some eggs, he will not give us a scorpion. A human father would not do that then “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13).
The same mercy that He has for the Ninevites, He also has for us.
How can you celebrate the exposure that missional leadership brings instead of avoid it?