“Running away from your problems is a race you’ll never win” — Unknown. This was a life lesson that Jonah learned the hard way.
Several weeks ago, Christians around the world began their Lenten journey toward Easter with Ash Wednesday’s call to repentance. Heaven’s invitation to transformation always begins with an acknowledgment that my life needs fixing.
Jonah chose to run.
Many of us who are in faith would be quick to say, “I’m not running from God.” But a closer look at our desires and tendencies might reveal a chink in that armor. Look at all the ways we have grown to love control, hedge responsibility, navigate around our fears and insecurities, organize our lives around convenience and comfort and steer clear of being drawn into guilt, shame and accountability.
Modern American culture and consumer life has taught us to skirt around a more yielded, transparent and sacrificial life of discipleship.
True discipleship with integrity begins with self-introspection and spiritual honesty. In the Celebrate Recovery Ministry, the very first principle and starting point for biblical recovery and repentance is a confession of our neediness of God: Step 1 — We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. This principle is taken from the biblical truth found in Romans 7:18 ESV — “For I know that nothing well dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
Rather than facing his own reality and calling, Jonah fled from God. But God, and his grace, were in hot pursuit.
The story of Jonah (Jonah 1-4) and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) are stories about God’s radical mercy and forgiveness. Jonah even admits to knowing this ahead of time: “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2b ESV).
The season of Lent is a call to change our hearts and therefore our ways (Joel 2:13). Some people have come to believe that the word “repent” is a pejorative, judgmental and arrogant Christian proclamation by narrow minded bigots. In fairness, there are certainly examples of this in our culture to reinforce that stereotype. But please read more than spray-painted signs.
The biblical call to repentance (spoken often by Jesus, Mark 1:15) lives in the heart of God, but not as a declaration of accusation and condemnation. Rather, repentance is Heaven’s invitation to accept God’s grace and mercy and to start over, or anew, in the right direction!
When Christians receive the mark of the cross in ashes on their forehead, they hear these words: “Repent, and believe in the good news of Jesus Christ!” Heaven is calling us to run back home (not away from God). Many choose to take up resolutions of self-denial and dietary substitutions during lent.
Disciplines of self-sacrifice can be very redemptive, but here is the most important substitution of all. “Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.” (Romans 6:19b NLT). May your Lenten journey be filled with holy encounters of God’s mercy and your personal transformation.