One of the most remarkable examples in the Bible of God shaking a man to get him to stop, repent, and get back to the important mission of serving the Lord is found in the Old Testament book of Jonah. Much of the narrative of that book is focused on a key biblical city in northern Iraq.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel into northern Iraq four times in recent years to preach the gospel, teach the Word of God, assist with humanitarian relief efforts, and strengthen the local believers. In the spring of 2010, I was invited to bring a team of pastors and staff from The Joshua Fund, the nonprofit organization Lynn and I created to bless Israel and her neighbors, to conduct a pastors’ conference in northern Iraq, near the province of Nineveh. We have a son named Jonah, and he really wanted to go with me so he could see Nineveh. Lynn and I weren’t so sure about that, but we prayed about it and felt God’s peace, so Jonah came with me. But as we were flying in, a big storm came up and prevented our flight from landing in northern Iraq. We were diverted back to Amman, Jordan. There, I texted Lynn and told her what had happened and said Jonah and I were disappointed and weren’t sure what was going to happen next. She texted back to say, “Don’t worry. This would be the first time in history that a Jonah wanted to go to Nineveh and God prevented him from going. I think God is going to actually let you and Jonah get to Nineveh after all.” She was right.
In the Bible, the Lord gave the prophet Jonah a mission: to take a warning of judgment and the urgency of repentance to the people of Nineveh (in what was then Assyria and is now northern Iraq), lest they face God’s wrath and implode. Jonah, however, refused to obey. Instead, he tried to run away from the Lord by boarding a ship that was heading for Tarshish, in modern-day southern Spain. What happened? God began to shake Jonah’s world. Let’s pick up the story in Jonah 1:4-6. “The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”
You probably know the rest of the story. Jonah was tossed overboard by the ship’s crew, was saved from drowning by being swallowed by a huge fish, and three days later was belched up onshore, shaken to his core but essentially unharmed. From there he hightailed it to Nineveh and carried out God’s instructions. He could have avoided a lot of pain and hardship if he had just obeyed God to begin with, but eventually he repented and did as God had told him. And because of his words, the people of Nineveh—one of the most notoriously evil cities of the day—repented as well.
The story turns out well, but not without a whole lot of shaking going on. Jonah—a man of God, a prophet of God, a teacher of God’s Word—was on the run from God. He was asleep to God’s voice and resistant to God’s will. How convicting is this: that a pagan ship captain had to shake a teacher of God’s Word and wake him up and beg him to pray for his salvation?
What about you? What mission has God given you? Are you obeying, or are you on the run from the Lord and asleep to his voice?
Note: This article is excerpted from Implosion: Can America Recover From Its Economic & Spiritual Challenges In Time?