I recently read through Jonah’s story again and for the first time that I can remember, I actually saw myself in the reflection of the pages. No, I have never been caught in a storm, been thrown overboard in the middle of the sea or been swallowed by a great fish. But in a moment of honesty and transparency, I have turned away from God’s leading in moments of my life.
I had just completed my first year at bible college and was working at Crossroads Communications in Burlington. I had completed my shift for the day, made a quick stop by Mapleview mall to purchase a new Nike bathing suit and was driving home up Watertown Road. Now, if you’ve never driven on Watertown Road, it feels like a country road with rolling hills on one side and scattered homes on the other. It’s a quiet road on the outskirts of town, there isn’t anything there (or at least there wasn’t at the time of this story). So there I was, driving home and that’s when I saw him; a weathered older man with long scruffy grey hair, his body appeared weak and coated with dried out dirt. And besides, the small towel draped over this shoulders, he was completely naked. Yes, completely naked.
I had never seen anything like this before. It caught me off guard. It was foreign to me. I didn’t really know what to do.
However, in an instant, I recalled the scripture in Matthew where Jesus was telling his disciples, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.” At that same moment I knew God was leading me to stop, give this man my new Nike shorts and one of the two shirts I was wearing at the time. I knew God was leading me to stop what I was doing and take him to where he needed to go and offer him a meal. I knew God was leading me to do something. However, in the exact same moment, I began to question this man’s sanity and whether it was safe to even stop. Who was he and why was he walking down this street completely naked? Surely there is something seriously wrong with him.
Have you ever found yourself in one of these internal conversations?
By this point I had now driven passed him, his eyes didn’t leave the ground as he seemingly struggled for each step. There was this tug-of-war in my heart. I had a Jonah moment, wrestling with God’s leading and my own fears and doubts. I couldn’t take it any longer and decided to turn around. I was now several kilometres past the scene but I knew I had to do something. But when I made it back, the man was gone. I drove up and down the street, looking desperately, attempting to redeem this opportunity. But he was nowhere to be found.
I drove home that day deflated, feeling like I had missed an opportunity to be God’s hands and feet; to practice what I preach. After all, I was going to Bible College to become a Pastor, and I missed it. How could I ever hope to lead others to walk in faith and obedience if I am unable to do so myself? The feeling that I had disappointed God, that I failed some sort of test, and that I was actually a fraud plagued me for some time.
Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt like you missed a moment? That you let God down? I know I’m not alone, but I sure felt alone at that moment.
Over time and through repentance, God slowly turned this deflating moment into a defining moment in my life; something God is in the business of doing. This wasn’t the first time that happened, and I know it won’t be the last. But here are four ways I have learned how God turns our deflating moments into defining moments.
1. I need to own my part
At some point in all of our journeys, we need to empty our hands of excuses and own our choices for what they are. It’s this point of honesty and humility that allows God’s grace to redeem us and the situation for His glory. Jonah owns his choice to flee to Tarshish rather than obey God and go to Nineveh while in the belly of the fish in Jonah 2. This is the first step we all need to take in turning our deflating moments into defining moments.
2. I need to receive His grace
Where would anyone of us be without God’s grace? While mercy is not getting what we do deserve, grace is getting what we don’t deserve. Like Jonah, I knew I missed a moment. I knew I disobeyed God’s leading, not only to make an impact in the life of a stranger but in my own life as well. However, I didn’t need to live in past regret. I can (and did) receive His forgiveness through faith to keep moving forward. It was this grace that led the fish to vomit Jonah out on dry land to try this obedience thing one more time.
3. I need to learn from my experience
In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he encourages them to “be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.” Every day we are presented with the opportunity to learn from our experiences; the good, the bad and the ugly. The choice is ours. Will we allow the situation to define us or will we define this situation in our response to it?
Jonah 3 gives us a window into Jonah’s learned experience. After the Lord came to Jonah a second time, asking him to go to the great city of Nineveh to proclaim God’s message, the scripture simply tells us Jonah obeyed and went to Nineveh.
4. I need to share my story
Revelation 12:11 lets us know that our victory in life is found in two things alone: His grace and our testimony of His grace in our lives. The more we are able to share our story and God’s grace made real in our lives, the more He is able to turn our potential deflating moments into His defining moments. Unlike Jonah, I didn’t get a chance to make my situation right that day, but God has given me other opportunities to follow His leading (the first time) and share my story for His glory.
I never did wear those Nike shorts. They stayed in my drawer for the next three years or more as a reminder of that day. I eventually did give them away, but I’ll never forget the lesson I learned that day.
What about you? Have you ever had a Jonah moment? What did you learn? How did you respond to God’s leading? Were you able to turn a deflating moment into a defining moment?