Running from His Heart

God’s love and purposes were, and are, relentless. You might say he is one-track when it comes to the salvation of the world.

The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the [presence of the] Lord by sailing to Tarshish. Jonah 1:1-3 (NLT)

I don’t know why this always makes me laugh. OK, I do know why. Go ahead and put your name in the blank:

But ____ got up and went in the opposite direction in order to get away from the LORD.

See what I mean? We all have done it. We have all tried to run away from God, with the emphasis on the word tried. In Jonah’s case, God was sending him to the city of Nineveh to call them to repentance, and Jonah didn’t want to do it. God said to Jonah, “Get up and go.” Instead, Jonah got up and ran; the word means “to bolt.” God told Jonah to get up or arise. Maybe, as a prophet of God, he was on his knees worshiping in the Presence and received this call. His reaction wasn’t exactly what God had in mind.

It seems nearly every person in the Bible called by God to do something started their reply with an excuse. But, I can’t talk very well (Exodus 6:30). But, I am too young (Jeremiah 1:6). But, I am too weak and unimportant (Judges 6:15). Except Jonah, he just bolted. Apparently, David tried to escape God too.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV)

David concluded that it is impossible to run from God. After all, His very name is Immanuel, God with us.

There are always so many reasons why not to answer the call to get up and go. When we look only at ourselves, we see weakness, sin, fear and doubt. But there may be just as many excuses when we look at God. As in Jonah’s case, he didn’t want what God wanted: the salvation of thousands. Especially these particular thousands. “Knowing well the lovingkindness of God, he anticipated that He would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and he could not bring himself to be the messenger of mercy to heathen, much less to heathen who (as the Assyrian inscriptions state) had already made war against his own people, and who as he may have known were destined to be their conquerors.”[i] Another commentary explains, “he feared God’s compassion would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and that thus his prediction would be discredited.”[ii]

So what were Jonah’s reasons for bolting? Prejudice, personal pride, and self-preservation. Prejudice: the Assyrians were Gentiles, reprobate, the enemy. Pride: he had a reputation to maintain. He had been publicly calling down horrible judgements on these people. Self-preservation: the Assyrians had attacked Israel before and were prophesied to do it again (Hosea 9:3; Hosea 11:5).

But God doesn’t care about any of that. Jesus showed us what God is like and what he expects us to be like. Jesus loved everybody the same. Jesus was completely humble. Jesus determinedly and obediently walked right into his own death. God’s love and purposes were, and are, relentless. You might say he is one-track when it comes to the salvation of the world. After Nineveh repents Jonah exclaims, “I knew you were going to do that God!” (Jonah 4:2). That always makes me smile too – Jonah knew God was going to save those people because he knew God well enough to know who God is, what God is like, and to know God’s heart. We may not be so honest with ourselves as Jonah, but when we run from God isn’t that what we are running from? His heart? His relentless love? His good, life-giving, excruciating purpose for our lives?

Kurt Bennett points out, “There’s only one place in the bible where we see God running.” That place is the picture of God shown in the parable of the prodigal son. In it, Jesus describes a loving father running toward another fugitive. If you are running from God and his call for your life, turn around and run back. You will run right into His relentless love.

Grace that chases me
O relentless Love
Morning faithfully
Brings mercy to me
Your sweet mercy

—James Mark Gulley, Stephen Gulley

 

[i] Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

[ii] Pulpit Commentary. Hendrickson Publishers

 

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Dig and Dig Deep

It takes digging deep to get down to the Rock and build on His strength, in order to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Trying to love in our own strength is like building on the wave and tide-eroded sands, ever-changing with our emotions, moods, and circumstances.

I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. Luke 6:48 (NIV) 

 Two Greek words are used in the verse to describe how this person dug. The first word is skapto (σκάπτω), which simply means to dig. The second word is bathuno (βαθύνω), which means to dig deep, or deepen. Therefore, the Greek actually reads that he dug and dug deep, or deepened [the hole] until he got down to the rock. I think Jesus is saying that in order to put the Word into practice we have go farther than a few inches below the surface, the easy, softer stuff, and down into the hard, undisturbed, unplowed, full-of-gravel part. Anyone who has ever tried to hand-dig a new garden bed knows what I mean. Sod and rocks and tree roots need to be removed. You would have to dig through all of that and then dig very deep to get down to the bedrock. 

As an aside, the verb bathuno comes from bathus, an adjective that means “profound,” “deep,” and, interestingly, “very early.” Bathus is the word used in Luke 24:1, “On the first day of the week, very early (bathus) in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.” As in the digging deep picture, two words are used here to emphasize how early it was. It reads that they came at early dawn – very early. John says it was still dark (John 20:1). Mark 16:2 uses a word that means it was greatly or exceedingly, exceedingly beyond measure, sore early (maybe Mark was not a morning person?). The women didn’t just come at dawn, they came very early, they went deep, and, consequently, they received the message from the angel, and saw Jesus (Matthew 28:9, Mark 16:9). 

Back to digging. The root word of both bathuno and bathus is baino, the Greek word that means “to walk.” What does digging have to do with walking? In Luke 6:48 Jesus says the man “laid (tithemi) the foundation (themelios) on rock.” Tithemi and themelios are the same words that are used in 1 John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 3:11. 

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid (tithemi) down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 1 John 3:16 (NIV) 

 For no-one can lay (tithemi) any foundation (themelios) other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11 (NIV) 

Jesus Christ, and his life laid down in love for the salvation of the world, is the foundation, and no other can be laid. He is also the Rock upon which this foundation is laid. We have to dig deep to lay this foundation in our lives, but if we do, the promise is that we will not be shaken. We will not fall when the storms come. It takes digging deep to get down to the Rock and build on His strength, in order to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Trying to love in our own strength is like building on the wave and tide-eroded sands, ever-changing with our emotions, moods, and circumstances. Doubt creeps in, and rightly so, when we are standing on our own shifting, sinking strength. 

 What does it mean to “dig deep?” For me, it means not just to surface-read the Bible and check off a box that I did it. Rather, it means to study it and then ask the Author what it means for my life, how he wants me to put it into practice and walk it. 

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:23-25 (NIV) 

 Digging deep is hard. Hard ground, rocks and (bitter) roots make it even harder. Hardness of heart, unforgiveness, bitterness, jealousy, wrong-thinking, self-centeredness, pride, idolatries, unthankfulness, anger at God must be dug and pulled out. Maybe some structures will need to be demolished (see Sawdust). But the more you do that, the more you walk out what you are learning, the softer the ground gets, the easier to dig, and, along the way, the more the good seed from the Word can put down roots and produce fruit. Persevere, keep digging deep, get down to the Rock. He is the firm foundation. You will not be disappointed.  

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)

 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:18-19 (NIV) 

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” Isaiah 28:16 (NIV

 

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