When you think of Jonah, odds are you picture a tiny man inside of a giant whale. Maybe the story even makes you reminisce about Sunday school lessons when you were a kid.
However, the book of Jonah contains key takeaways that Christians can easily miss if they write it off as a mere children’s story. So, if it’s been a while since you’ve revisited Jonah, here are the most important lessons hiding in the details.
1. God Can Remove You from Your Comfort Zone
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, right? Well, apparently Jonah wasn’t quite ready to leave his when God called him to Nineveh.
As a prophet of Israel, Jonah was pretty comfortable in his hometown of Gath-Hepher. That is until the Lord asked him to visit Assyria, the country’s longstanding enemy. An entire ocean lay between Jonah and a destination he never wanted to travel to, but he set sail anyway, albeit in the opposite direction. From that point on, Jonah was outside his comfort zone, and God used that discomfort to test and expand Jonah’s faith.
Likewise, God can and will remove you from your comfort zone when you start becoming a little too cozy. Of course, His doing so is for your own good as trials and tests produce perseverance, according to James 1:3.
2. Sin Has Its Consequences
The story of Jonah is one of forgiveness and hope. However, it’s also a sobering reminder of the consequences of sin. On one hand, you have Jonah who disobeyed God’s command to go to Nineveh. The Lord ultimately punished the prophet’s disobedience by tossing him into the belly of a great fish for three days. However, He also disciplined the sailors who tossed Jonah in the sea by sending a storm to rock the boat.
While it’s unlikely God was punishing them for throwing his prophet into the waves, they still suffered consequences because of Jonah’s sin. Thus, it’s entirely possible for your sin to indirectly affect those around you.
Thankfully, the Lord chose to spare the crew, but the story of Jonah became a superstitious tale among sailors, thereafter. If there was any possibility of someone bringing a curse upon the ship, they weren’t welcome aboard.
3. You Can’t Outrun God
In an attempt to avoid God and his commandment, Jonah boarded a boat and headed to Tarshish, which was 2,500 miles from Israel and in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Yet, try as he might, Jonah still couldn’t manage to outrun God — and neither can you.
Psalm 139 reminds believers that there’s nowhere they can go to flee from God’s presence. Because He is omnipresent, you’ll never be able to hide from Him or cover up your sin. So, While you can try to get away — either physically or emotionally — Christ will always be there, which can be equally frightening and comforting depending on why you’re running from Him in the first place.
4. God is Merciful
Contrary to popular belief, Jonah wasn’t the good guy in this Bible story. Rather, it was God and his unending mercy. Think about it. Jonah didn’t concern himself with the sailors’ or Ninevites’ wellbeing. In fact, he was so angry that God spared the Ninevites’ lives — even after they repented — that he wished himself dead. Instead, God provided a plant to shade his prophet from the desert sun.
God’s mercy is also evident in His decision to spare everyone’s lives, even though they didn’t deserve a second chance. For example, God could have let Jonah die in the giant fish, but He gave him another opportunity to obey his commandment.
Likewise, the Lord could have let those sailors die after they tossed Jonah overboard. They were certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet, he chose to accept their sacrifices and calm the storm. Meanwhile, the Ninevites walked free after turning to God in repentance.
If the Lord is so willing to forgive such disobedient, unmerciful humans, how likely will he be to forgive you? Odds are he’s already rained mercy on you today in ways you aren’t even aware of. A Christian’s mission, then, is to extend that same level of mercy to others, unlike Jonah, who would rather have died than watch God spare Nineveh.
From Awareness to Application
It’s one thing to recognize key takeaways from Jonah, it’s another thing to apply them to your life. God calls his believers to not just read his word but put it into practice, which means application is an essential part of your spiritual journey.
First, search your heart. Is it aligned with Christ or have you somehow sinned against Him? Maybe you’re blind to your wrongdoing the same way Jonah was unaware of the terrible storm on the way to Tarshish. Ask God to reveal your sin, repent and turn from your old ways. Only then will God bestow his mercy and grace upon you so you can continue serving Him with a pure spirit.