I’m a firm believer that root of a lot of sin is selfishness. We are constantly trying to repair our own inner brokenness, but we do it at the expense of doing things God’s way. Think back to the Garden of Eden. God planted a garden full of trees and put one in the middle that they could not eat from. Adam and Eve’s desire to be the creator rather than the creation caused them to eat of that fruit. It was their own selfish desire to do things their way rather than God’s way that caused them to fall for the temptation. They knew what the right thing to do was, but they gave in to that selfishness. The problem is, the devil still uses our selfishness to draw us into sin and away from God.
Think about each person in the Bible and how they sinned, and you will almost always find selfishness at the root. David was selfish and wanted Bathsheba rather than the women he was already married to. Jonah didn’t like the people of Nineveh, so he went in the opposite direction of where God was sending him. Cain killed his brother because he didn’t like that God approved of his offering better. The list goes on and on of how we are drawn away by our own selfishness into sin. However, the other side of the coin is that God has a plan that is better than our own. If we will follow it, instead of our own selfish desires, He will prosper us.
Proverbs 28:25 says, “Selfishness only causes trouble. You are much better off to trust the Lord” (GNT). When we do things our way, instead of God’s, we end up more broken than before. The great news is that we don’t have to live life giving in to our brokenness. We can choose the healing that comes from doing things God’s way. You don’t have to understand why He wants you to do something in order to obey. Faith is trusting His plan and His way, instead of yours, even when you don’t understand. When we get better at that, we will begin to live the life we were created to live. The better we understand our own brokenness, the better we will understand where we are tempted to do things selfishly. Don’t fall for the trap. Choose to trust God’s way.
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My pastor said something that really resonated with me. He said, “In the history of the world, church has never been done better than it is today, yet never have we had such little impact on our culture.” It has me thinking, “Are we focused on the right things corporately and individually?” What are we concerned with? Is the music too loud? Is there too much fog in the sanctuary? Is it too cold? Are we concerned more with our entertainment than reaching the lost? Are we too focused on our comfort and not enough on the lost? Do we spend our time talking about God rather than to Him? I don’t know, but I know that if our ability to impact the culture around us is going to improve, it has to start with us as individuals.
After Jonah preached to the city of Nineveh, he went outside of the city, sat down and waited to see what would happen. Even though he had obeyed God, in his heart, he still wished that God would destroy the city. To expose his heart, God caused a plant to grow up and provide him with shade. The next day, the Lord sent a worm to eat the plant. Jonah was mad enough to want to die over it. God responded in Jonah 4:10-11, “This plant grew up in one night and disappeared the next; you didn’t do anything for it and you didn’t make it grow—yet you feel sorry for it! How much more, then, should I have pity on Nineveh, that great city. After all, it has more than 120,000 innocent children in it, as well as many animals!” (GNT)
God is concerned with people and their salvation. Scripture says that it’s His kindness that draws us to repentance (Romans 2:4). We need to pray what Bob Pierce prayed, “God, break our heart for the things that break yours.” Jonah was more concerned for his comfort than 120,000 people dying. That’s a recipe for not having an impact on culture. God was able to move then, and He’s able to move now despite our heart. It’s much better though when our heart is aligned with His. I wonder if the story of Jonah ends abruptly right there so we don’t miss that point. As Jonah pointed out in verse 2, God is loving and merciful, always patient and kind, ready to change His mind and not punish people. Shouldn’t we be the same way?
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Having been raised in church, there’s a time in my life I like to refer to as halftime. It’s a period where I chose to quit making my life about God and decided to make choices that were selfish. I lived the opposite way of what I knew to be right. It wasn’t long before God started trying to get my attention. Things in my life started to go wrong. I was losing the blessings God had given me. Stubbornly, I kept going in the direction I was headed ignoring God’s attempts to get my attention. Finally, things started getting so bad that I had no choice, but to surrender. I laid down on my living room floor one night and prayed, “God, I give up. I can’t do this any more.” The storm stopped, but I still had to live with the consequences of that period in my life.
As I read through the book of Jonah, I see some similarities. He was a God fearing man who lived the way he was supposed to. When God asked him to preach, he ran from his calling. While he was going the opposite direction in a boat, God sent a great storm to get his attention, but he ignored it. The Bible says that he was sleeping in the boat when the others had to wake him. As the storm worsened, he knew the only choice was surrender. Jonah 1:15-16 says, “Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him” (NLT).
Even when you’ve made choices to run from God, He can use it for good. These sailors would never have given their lives to the Lord if Jonah wouldn’t have run away. They saw a powerful God who would stop at nothing until one of His lost sheep surrendered and came back into the fold. If you’ve been running from God, don’t wait until the storm gets so bad that you lose everything before you surrender. If run away, but you’ve already surrendered, get rid of the condemnation. God can use that period in your life for good, plus He can still use you for His purposes. Jonah led an entire city to God after he had run away. Your choices in the past haven’t negated God’s calling on your life. It’s time to move past your mistakes and start moving towards your calling.
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I’ve known many people in my life who have followed the call of God only to return when hard times hit them. I call it the Jonah effect. The thought process goes like this. If they really were following God’s call then they would see whole cities saved as Jonah did when he finally went to Nineveh. They go, they show up, and everything works out perfectly. However, when they’re faced with constant obstacles and apparent set backs, they feel like they went the opposite direction from God’s will. Therefore, they feel they need to quit and go back to square one.
Think about Moses for a minute. I think we can all agree that in Exodus 3 and 4, God called him to go to Egypt and set His people free. So why didn’t Pharaoh just release them the first time Moses asked? Why did Pharaoh make their workload harder? Why did the people whom Moses was trying to get set free urn on him? Because there will always be resistance when you’re in God’s will. The enemy is unwilling to just surrender territory he has built strongholds in.
When you and I face obstacles and challenges while following God’s voice, we shouldn’t turn around and go back home. We should stay and fight the spiritual battle in front of us. We need to put on the spiritual armor that God laid out for us in Ephesians 6. We need to be prayed up and dressed for battle expecting a fight whenever we are following God’s call. We shouldn’t expect an easy road just because we are following God’s call.
More often that not, those obstacles in our way tend to be people. Moses had Pharaoh, David had Saul, Elisha had Jezebel, and you may have someone too. I think it’s important to remember that Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (NLT). The people who stand in our way are not the enemy. We must fight the enemy who is behind the scenes if we are going to win the victory. It may take some time and a lot of effort, but God called you to that particular battle for a reason.
Don’t be like so many who run when there’s trouble. Don’t fall for the Jonah Effect. If you’re facing resistance, and it appears that people are blocking you from accomplishing God’s will, look behind the scenes. Your battle is not with that person or people. Your true battle is with the enemy behind the scenes. Fight on your knees, but still show up to accomplish God’s will day in and day out like Moses did. When he faced resistance, he went back to God each time looking for help. Moses fought his way to victory and so will you if you don’t get discouraged and turn around.
I was listening to Carlos Whittaker’s song “God of Second Chances” the other day. I tried to think of the people in the Bible who had been given second chances. David came to mind first. He had served God as king of Israel, wrote praise songs, brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem and then had an affair with a woman. He then had her husband murdered to cover it up. He asked God to forgive him and was given a second chance to continue serving as the king and spiritual leader of Israel.
Jonah was another person who was given a second chance. He had been called to be a preacher, but ran from that calling. After heading in the opposite direction of where God called him to, the Lord sent a violent storm to stop him. He decided he would rather die than to be a preacher, so he had others throw him into the sea. As he was drowning, a giant fish swallowed him whole. He had a change of heart while inside the fish, and God agreed to give him a second chance. He spared his life and with his second chance, an entire city was saved.
Peter was a person who also needed a second chance. After following Jesus for three years, he denied he even knew Jesus to save his own skin. Peter was distraught at what he had done. He didn’t get to ask Jesus for forgiveness at that point, but we know he was forgiven. Jesus found him after the resurrection and asked him to feed His sheep. Because of Peter’s second chance, the early Church was born.
In Matthew 18:21, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” (NLT) He was asking Jesus, “How many chances should I give someone?” Jesus replied, “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!” (NLT) Jesus then told a story of someone who had been forgiven much, but wasn’t willing to forgive someone who wronged him a little. The person who wouldn’t give a second chance to someone else was given the initial penalty he deserved.
If God is the God of second chances, you and I are to be people of second chances. To be like Christ is to forgive even those who continually wrong us when they ask for mercy. In Matthew 6:15, Jesus bluntly said, “But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (NLT). Just like God will forgive you for as many sins as you commit, we are to forgive others for their many sins. God has a history of giving people second chances. You and I can start today and write our own history of being people who give second chances.
In II Timothy 2:1, Paul says, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf and give thanks for them.” When I read those words, I wonder if they challenged Timothy as much as they do me. Paul didn’t tell him to just pray for people he liked. He didn’t tell him to just pray for Christians. He told him to pray for all people and to ask God to help them.
To me, that’s hard to do. There are people that selfishly I don’t want God to help. I’m like Jonah a lot of times. I know God’s desire is to bring others to repentance, but I don’t always act in accordance with that. When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he disobeyed because he didn’t like them. We know that because later, when God spared the city, Jonah threw a hissy fit. He said, “I knew you were a merciful God. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.”
I wonder if Timothy was beginning to show the same signs. I wonder if he was being selective in who he shared the Gospel with. It’s not up to us to be selective with it or with our prayers. God doesn’t want anyone to perish. When we truly get that, we will start praying for others. We will intercede on their behalf. We won’t hold back from sharing the Gospel because we know that’s what God’s heart is.
God knows we let our human emotions get in the way of His will. We let how we feel about someone to override how He feels for them. Paul knew the remedy for the situation is to pray for them and to give thanks for them. When we begin to pray blessings on people we don’t like and thank God for them, our vision of them changes. We stop seeing them as humans and start seeing them as souls. We quit looking at their value to us, and see the value God places on them.
I’ve always heard that prayer changes things. One of the biggest things it changes is us. That’s why Paul urges Timothy to pray. He knew as a young minister, he could fall into the trap of being selective with the Gospel. He knew that Timothy needed a greater vision. One that included all men, not just a few. It’s a vision that you and I need today. The way we get it is to begin praying for all and asking God to help them. If we truly want to see the world changed, we have to get on our knees and spend some time interceding.