How to Move from Reluctance to Obedience to God’s Mission

How to Move from Reluctance to Obedience to God’s Mission January 10, 2021

How to Move from Reluctance to Obedience to God’s Mission

How to Move from Reluctance to Obedience to God’s Mission

Jonah 1:1-2:10

How would you feel if you were told by God to minister to people you dislike? How would you respond? This is what Jonah was going through.

Jonah had an extreme hatred for the Assyrians. God tells Jonah to go to the people of Nineveh. We don’t know exactly why, but it is possible that God knew Jonah had this problem of hating the people.

Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, was Israel’s worst enemy and the bane of the ancient world. They were a powerful and well-developed civilization, known for their brutal and grisly treatment of their enemies. Jonah’s response to Yahweh’s directive can be understood as fear, rebellion, or moral opposition to Yahweh’s mercy. Jonah is not interested in participating in the redemption of this particular enemy.[1]

As another Biblical scholar notes:

Jonah put patriotism above evangelism.[2]

To put it in a modern context. As evangelical conservative Christians, it is easy to reach out to people who have a similar political viewpoint as our own. But what if God told you that you needed to share the Gospel with a town of liberals? What if God told you to go to Bidenland to preach the Gospel? What do you think about the people who have a Biden or Bernie Sanders sign in their front yard?

That is a picture of the feeling Jonah had about going to Nineveh. He hated the Assyrians like we hate groups of people that dislike our tribe. Take your pick. You probably won’t share the Gospel with gays, or pagans, or witches, or terrorists, or people who look and act different than you. You say you might. But the reality is that many people in churches like ours today don’t want to leave the security of the walls the church.

In today’s context, we have allowed our political views cloud the command from God to engage in His mission. We have allowed our apathy to the community we live in to prevent us from engaging in God’s mission. We have allowed tribalism, the security of being part of a family clan protect us from reaching out to other families different than our own.We look at people around us and we know their families and their histories. So we don’t engage with them. We don’t try to speak to them about the church even though we know what churches they used to go to and we know how their families were so we don’t talk to them. Yet, we avoid them. We know how they will treat us so we are reluctant to engage in conversation with other families.

The families around us know this church and they know who attends here and they are reluctant to attend. We should not be concerned about their reluctance. We need to overcome our own reluctance. This is the greatest barrier to sharing the Gospel with other people around us: my reluctance.

Assyria was making Israel pay for protection. Israel was a conquered people who had to submit this evil empire. Yet, God tells Jonah to preach to them. Jonah hates the Assyrians so much. He’s very reluctant to go.

First Warning to a reluctant Christian:

God does not want me to hide from the mission and purpose He wants me to accomplish.

Notice that God’s desire is for all people to come to Him. He is willing to move heaven and earth to accomplish His purposes. God wants everyone to hear His words of love. Look at the ways that God intervened to bring Jonah to obedience.



Commanded Jonah to preach to Nineveh (1:1)

Caused a great wind (1:4)

Allowed the casting of lots to fall on Jonah (1:7)

Through these circumstances allowed Jonah to testify (1:9)

Was in control through the conviction of sin (1:12)

Was in control through the acknowledgement of God’s power by the sailors (1:13)

His power came in the form of a big fish (1:14)

How many times and how many ways has God told me and you to do something for Him?

Second warning to a reluctant Christian:

God notices my indifference and reminds me of it to draw me back to His purpose.

Notice the non-compliance and indifference Jonah shows:

The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel and had stretched out and fallen into a deep sleep. The captain approached him and said, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us, and we won’t perish.”” (Jonah 1:5–6, CSB)

It was considered bad fortune to travel with prisoners or condemned persons in the ancient world, because it was believed that the gods would bring storms and calamity upon a ship that carried people of bad repute—as evidenced in the book of Jonah, as sailors cast lots in order to identify the person responsible for the supposed judgment from the gods. Furthermore, death from a shipwreck was often considered evidence of a person’s guilt.[3]

Jonah’s reaction to all this is amazing.

He went below deck and fell asleep undisturbed by the storm’s tossing. A pagan captain had to call on a prophet of God to pray for their salvation. The need was so great that the men despaired for their lives – while God’s servant slept. We should awaken from our apathy as crying people perish on the sea of life.

Third warning to a reluctant Christian:

If I am willing, I can see the side effects of my personal reluctance to engage in God’s purposes and mission as a sign that I need to return to Him.

We see the side effects of this reluctancy of Jonah.

Then the men were seized by a great fear and said to him, “What have you done?” The men knew he was fleeing from the Lord’s presence because he had told them.” (Jonah 1:10, CSB)

Notice the effects of disobedience of God’s servant.


The journey to Nineveh took over a month on foot, if Jonah was going the right direction.

But the journey took longer than expected. People who needed to hear of God were dying while Jonah delayed. The journey put a whole crew of sailors at risk of death and it cost the sailors their profit. This expensive journey caused Jonah to get an uncomfortable ride home.

When a servant of God disobeys God, warnings occur that may convict our spirit. Notice what happened to David. Nathan was sent because David was being disobedient. David was convicted. The same happened here. But Jonah ignored the warning until late in the chapter.

When a servant of God disobeys God, God will use all His power to push you to His will. He will use people. He will use circumstances. This is especially convicting to a servant. It takes a keen spirit to notice this.

When a servant of God disobeys God, God will get His will done despite his servant. Notice that Jonah eventually gave his testimony – this must have been humiliating. The sailors cried out to God for salvation. They told Jonah he was doing wrong.

When a servant of God is disobedient, and God still has more for the servant to do, He will use people to tell the servant. There have been times when I know I was wrong and people told me that.

The clear lesson here is this: When God gives you a mission, do not shrink from it, do not hide from it. This brings me to the second chapter of Jonah.

Fourth Warning to a reluctant Christian:

God always provides a way to get back on track if I call out and turn to Him.

Let’s recap Jonah’s situation. He ran from God. Chaos ensued. God let him fall out of the boat, but provided a big fish to swallow him.

Let’s talk about the fish. The Bible only says that it is big fish. The KJV says it is a whale. The issue is not what kind of animal. God is still in control of all creation. The issue is what took place inside the animal – repentance. Sometimes, we need to get far away from other people and things to think – and reflect. Jonah was given the opportunity to rethink his situation. Things were looking bad, primarily because of Jonah’s disobedience. So, Jonah recounts that in his prayer. Let’s talk about the prayer.


Notice the pattern in this prayer:


I recall the experience (Jonah 2:1-2)

Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish: I called to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. I cried out for help from deep inside Sheol; you heard my voice.” (Jonah 2:1–2, CSB)

Things looked bad. He even thought he was going to drown. But even in the midst of what seemed a horrible experience, Jonah praises God.


I recall a description of the experience (Jonah 2:3-7)

When you threw me into the depths, into the heart of the seas, and the current overcame me. All your breakers and your billows swept over me. And I said, “I have been banished from your sight, yet I will look once more toward your holy temple. The water engulfed me up to the neck; the watery depths overcame me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. I sank to the foundations of the mountains, the earth’s gates shut behind me forever! Then you raised my life from the Pit, Lord my God! As my life was fading away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple.” (Jonah 2:3–7, CSB)

He talks about being thrown into the ocean and how he feared it. Jonah speaks about his desire to worship God again. He shares about his near-death experience in the ocean. Notice that even in the midst of his trials, God provided. When Jonah thought he was at rock bottom, he looked to God – and God provided.

Now Jonah could have asked help at the beginning. But he waits until all hope seems to be lost. The same is very much true with us – we wait until we think WE HAVE NO CONTROL – then we ask for help. God wants us to ask before we get into the ocean. He can provide a fish in the ocean of trouble. But He can also provide a boat that rises above the sea of troubles.


I thank God for my deliverance (Jonah 2:1, Jonah 2:9)

Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish:” (Jonah 2:1, CSB)

but as for me, I will sacrifice to you with a voice of thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation belongs to the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9, CSB)

Jonah realized the truth in his situation – when we cling to other things or ourselves, we miss out on the grace that God provides. God was merciful to Jonah – through a fish, but grace is better than mercy. People around Jonah would look to their idols for deliverance – Jonah probably had a hard time preaching this truth.

But now, Jonah has personal experience to help him preach to Nineveh. He can NOW say that God is merciful and gracious and willing to help people when they repent. It took Jonah repenting in his own situation for him to be ready to preach repentance to others.


I make a commitment (Jonah 2:9)

but as for me, I will sacrifice to you with a voice of thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation belongs to the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9, CSB)

Commitment comes after repentance. Repentance is to turn from something or someone to God. Commitment is to act alongside with God. Jonah, realizes that he disobeyed and vows to follow God. Notice that after Jonah commits, God completely delivers him onto dry land. Sometimes we have to go through oceans of distress and cry out to God. Only then will we be ready to do what God wants us to do. He delivers us, and we are ready to do what He wants us to do.

[1] James Bruckner, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004), 42.

[2] Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume Two: Psalms-Malachi (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 811.

[3] Kristofer D. Holroyd, Jonah, Micah, and Nahum, A 12-Week Study, ed. Dane C. Ortlund, Knowing the Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 17.

Photo by Ilona Froehlich on Unsplash

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