One of the great tragedies of the modern western Church is the systematic way in which we have attempted to tame God and tame God’s ability to shape and dictate our life. I regularly get a chance to talk with people from different faith backgrounds and one of the statements I hear so often is along these lines, “I know a lot of Christians, but I just don’t see the difference between living a Christian life and an agnostic life. Does it really matter what I believe about God if I’m living a good life?”
History tells a story of a Christianity that thrived in its peculiarity. Even from its origins in the 1st century Roman Empire, it would not take long for someone to recognize the peculiar marks of a follower of Christ: courage and faith, bold audacious love, sacrificial lifestyles, a mandate to care for orphans and widows, a commitment to the Word of God, the unity of the Fellowship of Believers, and a willingness to forsake all for obedience to Jesus and His Word. These qualities marked Christians as peculiar then. But for some reason they often don’t mark Christians at all now. Why?
One of the pitfalls that we often fall into as Christians is a pitfall that I think is easily spotted in the opening chapters of the book of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet of God. From his perspective I imagine that he felt he was living a very faithful life. He was doing all the things a prophet ought to do and he was having quite a bit of success at it (2 Kings 14:23-25). In a sense Jonah had fallen into a good rhythm in life. It was a rhythm of expectations of how God would interact with him and what his lifestyle would look like. Then one day God showed up in an entirely new and fresh way. God crushed Jonah’s paradigm for appropriate and expected behavior from God. God said:
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”Jonah 1:2 (ESV)
I can imagine the thoughts that went through Jonah’s mind.
- “God – I got a good thing going on here in Israel, don’t shake up my life that way.”
- “God – I’ve been faithful for so long, why can’t you let me finish my career in a steady way in a world that I’m comfortable in here in Israel?”
- “God – Why would you send me to Nineveh? I don’t get what you’re thinking. It sounds foolish, perhaps even dangerous. They could kill me.”
- “God – So many people would be let down here if I just picked and left right now. I have an established life with a reputation and others who depend on me, I can’t just leave. What would happen to them?”
- “God – I’m sure there is someone else that can do this work if you really need it done, you don’t need me. Choose someone else.”
- “God – The people you’re telling me to go and preach your love to, are the very same people that others are saying will one day conquer us. Even if I were to follow through on what you’re saying to do, all that would do is speed along the destruction of my own people. This literally doesn’t make sense God.”
These excuses that likely ran through Jonah’s head are the same excuses that run through our modern minds as well. Jonah is not unique in his calling to be a missionary (though he was the very first missionary called to a foreign nation in scripture). Every Christian, at every age, is given the missionary mandate. Every Christian should be asking themselves, “I know I’m called to live boldly and missionally and perhaps even called to missions overseas. So God I’m open to you and your will today whatever that might be and wherever that might be.” In other words, no Christian should ever be surprised by God, when God speaks to us and tells us to shake up our lives for the sake of the gospel. It’s literally part of the peculiar mark of a follower of the one true God. Jonah had forgotten that, and so do we.
God is not content with our status quo. 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11 reminds us, “…to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs…” It is good to live humble contented lives. But that is not at the cost of living every day with open hands before a Holy God. God never leaves his people in a state of neutral for the sake of the gospel. He loves us too much for that. We’ve been called to participate in much more than that. Are we open to God’s revelation and fresh words of direction in our life? Are we willing to do whatever He says to do, and go wherever He says to go? Or, like Jonah, have we settled into our comfy Christianity? Oh God – may we run from comfy Christianity.