But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11 NIV)
Our detour through Jonah is just about at an end, but it would be a shame to miss the finale.
As you know, Jonah was a runaway prodigal because God had instructed him to go to Nineveh and he refused. Jonah was prejudiced against Israel's enemy, the Assyrians, and he hated the people of Nineveh. Ultimately, God put Jonah in a tight spot (the belly of a big fish) and Jonah relented. He agreed to obey God, but with an "I don't have to like it" attitude. Jonah did not have a burning desire for the repentance and transformation of Nineveh. He didn't care about the people. He was simply trying to get out of trouble with God by his obedience. It is surprising to me, but God blessed the grudging obedience.
After everyone had repented and God had relented, Jonah pouted and was angry with God. I often wonder why God would have used Jonah at all, and then I remember that He chooses to use me. Jonah's fruit is a reminder that God can use anyone, including you and me.
While he was pouting, Jonah went outside the city, built a little shelter, and sat in the shade. God made a vine grow up over Jonah to give him better shade. Jonah was happy about the vine but, when God allowed a worm to chew the plant so that it withered, Jonah was angry. God blessed Jonah with a hot sun and a blistering wind. Jonah was irate.
God responded with words that cut to the heart. "You care so much about the plant I created. Shouldn't I care about the people I created? (Leanna Paraphrase)
Aren't we just like Jonah? I sometimes care more about the plants and "stuff" in my life than I do the people God has entrusted to me. Surely not, you may say, but a quick look at my daily life will make that clear. I hate this, but it's true. I have a little garden. Every day I check my plants, look for bugs, water them, mulch them, trim away diseased leaves. Every day my plants receive tender, consistent care and they are thriving under my care.
There are lots of people in my life, but very few of them receive consistent, tender attention on a daily basis. I care a great deal about the plants in my garden, but do I attend to the people in my life with that same attention?
Do I care about people the way God cares about people? Lost people? I have to admit that I do not. I am burdened for the people in my life with fractured, broken lives. I am burdened for the people of the world who are trapped in lifestyles of violence, terror, abuse, hopelessness. It's not that I don't care at all, but that I don't care like God cares.
In an awful, shameful way, I don't want to care like God cares. I don't want to care because it will require change on my part. Perhaps that's what keeps you from God-care, too. Caring like God cares might require me to get outside my comfort zone, go somewhere unpleasant to minister in the name of Jesus, deny myself something in order to provide for others. I might have to do more, face my fears, take a risk.
I hesitate. But Jonah. Jonah didn't want to go, but he did, and God changed the history of 120,000 people who didn't know their right from their left. He used Jonah's radical, grudging obedience to bless His own people fifty years later.
What would God do with my sacrifice if I opted for radical obedience? How would He change the world if I were willing to go when He says go, speak when He says speak, care when He says care, love when He says love? How would God change the world if you and I were willing to follow Him with radical obedience?
If we are to deny ourselves daily, take up our cross, and follow Him, and we are, then perhaps it is past time for the kind of obedience that says, "Sure, God. Take me to the meanest, toughest, most lost people on earth and love them through me." It's not the people who don't know God who are making our world such a dark place. It's the ones of us who know God but fail to shine our light in the darkness. We are the ones who have allowed the darkness to persist.
Today, let's offer ourselves to God, willing to follow wherever He leads, love whomever He loves, give whatever He requires. Be the light in the darkness and let God shine through you.