When I met my wife, one of the biggest changes that I made was that I became a boater. I call myself a boater by association because, while I enjoy boating and wake boarding and being out on the water, my wife and her family live for it. Every summer for the last 8 has been consumed by boating. No joke, if you are looking for my wife’s family and I on a nice day, the likelihood that w would be out on the boat is near 100%. We boat on a stretch of the Fox River that flows from the boarder of Wisconsin down to Algonquin, IL. It is to my understanding one of the most crowded inland waterways for boaters, as well as one of the most polluted. They have done a great deal to clean it but all growing up I always swore, as we drove over the bridge that joined East and West Algonquin over the river, that I would never go in the Fox. Low and behold, the last eight years has seen me in that river countless times.
This summer however has been different however. It started well, being one of the hottest Junes in history. But the hottest June quickly turned into the driest June. The river depth continuously lowered and more and more boats were bottoming out proving to be costly for boaters and making it only possible to only boat in certain sections of the river. Those sections only proved useful for a short time however. As the rains held off, not only did the water level remain low but also the water flow was weakened and slowed. This provided an optimal habitat for dangerous bacteria, which began to get people sick when they ingested it inadvertently from being in the water.
Its crazy, what started as such optimal boating conditions turned into the same reasons we were prevented from going into the water.
One of my favorite stories from the Bible also has some epic boating scenes. It is the story of Jonah. We don’t get the backstory, we don’t get the surrounding details, and we simply get God getting down to business. His word comes to Jonah, who we find out to be a prophet. Not only was Jonah supposed to be someone who proclaimed to follow God, he was supposed to be sort of a model for those who would follow God. Being a prophet meant that he was someone God was going to use specifically to speak through. So already by the end of verse one, if you were to guess what this story would be about, you might assume it has a lot to do with this guy Jonah following whatever God told him to do.
By verse two however you realize how had the task is going to be for Jonah. He is instructed to go speak against Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria, because their wickedness had come up against God. He was not the only one who had experienced their wickedness. Jonah would have known the Assyrians all too well. They were ruthless warriors and killers. Historical accounts of the Assyrians discuss how they beheaded their foes bodies and hung the heads from trees outside their cities. Other accounts discuss how they would kill women and children at leisure. Still others discuss how they would burry their opponents bodies in the sand and put a stake through their tongue into the ground and let them die slowly.
So wait, why should Jonah go speak to them? It doesn’t mater. We read that Jonah ran. He bailed. He is supposed to be this guy who others are supposed to look to as a model for following God and instead he boards a boat for a city literally in the opposite direction of where he is supposed to go. And what transpires in the next scene is perhaps one of the best-known biblical stories. The boat Jonah jumped on finds itself in the midst of a violent storm. The sailors all do what they can to bring the vessel through, including praying to their gods, but we read that Jonah was fast asleep below deck. The one that was the cause of the impending destruction just wanted a nap! When Jonah comes back up he requests to be thrown overboard and killed before asking God to save the boat, a prayer he likely knows would have led him back towards Nineveh and his task at hand. The sailors do as he asks and Jonah, instead of meeting his demise, is swallowed by what Scripture says was a large fish.
Within the fish, Jonah has a bit of a change of heart, asking God to save him and low and behold. God answers Jonah. He shortly after finds himself in Nineveh proclaiming that God will soon destroy the city should they not repent of their evil ways and turn toward God. They were probably the most unlikely candidates to respond to such a message. In every military campaign they were accustomed to victory after victory, how could they even comprehend that this God might destroy one of the world’s superpowers? And yet they did respond. We read that the ruler of Nineveh encouraged his people to turn towards God, and in turn, God spared the city of over one hundred thousand.
Jonah, after his proclamation duties were completed headed to a hill to watch and see what God would do. Remember asking, why would God want Jonah to go speak to Nineveh? It wasn’t so God could gloat before their destruction; it was because God wanted to remind them that the doors of salvation were still open.
It is often assumed that Jonah didn’t not want to go to Nineveh out of fear; perhaps. But given what we read toward the end of the book, Jonah’s anger was not because God made him go, it was because God saved his enemies. Jonah wanted God to destroy the city. He didn’t want them to hear of God, he didn’t care if they repented. This was a people who had slaughtered thousands and Jonah wanted them to get what was coming. They were not worthy of his God. And as he watched with frustration, God relented from the city of once unbelievers.
It’s a dangerous thing when we start to stake claims of God, what he cares about, and whom he cares for. John, one of Jesus’ followers, and author of some of the New Testament wrote of Jesus described his presence in a person’s life as water. “Who ever believed in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them,” (John 7:38). Two things start happening when we begin to stake claims over God. First, our faith begins to shallow. What may have once been great depth of love and compassion becomes a small puddle of concern. What was once deep pursuit of God becomes a fleeting thought of spiritual growth. Second, bacteria begin to grow that isn’t only harmful for you but to those you come in contact with. It actually gets people sick.
What we see in the story of Jonah is the trite but true reality that something is either growing or dying. It is perhaps best represented within our faith. Here is a man who God had called upon who would rather journey across country, risk shipwreck, prefer drowning, and spend three days inside the gut of a large water dwelling creature than follow where God was calling him. He would rather gloat in the destruction of a people than contribute to their salvation.
Spiritual vitality is dependent upon our outpouring of who God is unto the world. Another prophet reflected that the thoughts of God are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways. I have heard so many times from the students I have worked with that they don’t want to invite certain people because this church is their church. I remind them that the church is the only place that exists for its non-members. Are we more concerned about what we want, or what God might be willing to do in the lives around us?
When we choose to pursue his thoughts and his ways we pour deep clean waters into a hurting world. When we pursue our ways, we get people sick. We poison ourselves and the world around us. All too often we don’t even know it. Before we would think of putting the boat back on the river this summer we would want to know the depth is sufficient, and certainly we would want to know that the water is safe. I pray that those are our thoughts as we seek to pour out the love of God upon the world. They need to be reminded that God is still open to them, still calling to them. They don’t need to be getting sick.