Our Unique Existence
V.1: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah…”
Jonah received a distinct word from God.
- The Bible doesn’t say exactly how this word came to him.
- Just that it did.
- Do you hear any such word spoken to you?
- How do we know when this happens? How can we hear it?
- How does God speak to us?
Today’s context is very difficult to hear God’s word spoken to us.
- So many distractions.
- Don’t even have blank moments where we just stare at the ceiling lost in our thoughts, because we’re too busy staring at our screens.
- Just like the theme “deep calls to deep” – God speaks to us in the recesses of our hearts.
- But to hear God’s voice, we need to listen to the inner voice in our hearts.
Jonah was called to go to Nineveh.
- This was a unique calling just for Jonah.
- God did not call a whole bunch of people. This was a special calling reserved for Jonah.
Each of us have a unique life to live.
- Just like the DNA of each individual is entirely unique, the pattern and shape of our lives are meant to be unique. Irreplicable.
- We are not all meant to go to Nineveh.
- Each of us have our own Nineveh to go to.
When we think of calling, often we might think of it in terms of a job or career.
- But calling in the biblical sense is much more than that.
- It is about the shape and pattern of our existence.
- That shape and pattern might affect our jobs, but not necessarily.
- It is much greater than our job or career.
- It is the overall direction and shape that our lives take.
There is no ready-made template for your life.
- God has fashioned you uniquely, to live a life that only you can live.
- But what often happens is that instead of pursuing our unique life, we try to follow a template.
- We seek to go down paths that have been prescribed for us.
Jonah was uniquely called to go to Nineveh.
- But he chose to flee to Tarshish.
- Tarshish is a city near Spain. Which is the complete opposite direction of Nineveh.
- Instead of a life pursuing his unique calling, he chose to run away.
- More specifically, he chose to run “away from the presence of the Lord.” (v.3 – twice)
It’s an interesting way the author explains it.
- By running away from his unique calling, he is running away from the presence of the Lord.
- In other words, living the unique life that you are called to live is to live a spiritual life in intimacy with God.
- When we are running away from our own unique existence, we are running away from God.
Are you pursuing your own unique life, one that God has fashioned you for? Or are you running away from your unique existence? Perhaps trying to fit your life into a template that is not uniquely yours?
Life of Running Away
The life of running away: that is what we see here in Jonah.
- This can depict our lives too.
- There may be many reasons why we run away.
- It will be a good exercise to reflect together why we do that.
- My sense is that the underlying reason is fear.
- Fear of insecurity.
- Fear of loss.
- Fear of well-being.
- The specific fears we have are as unique as each person.
- The way these fears manifest are unique to each person too.
- Part of living your unique existence is discovering and uncovering these unique fears.
What are the fears that lead you to run away?
Many people say: “Well, I don’t know what my unique calling is. That’s why I’m not pursuing it.”
- That’s the most common sentiment today: I don’t know my calling.
- That makes sense: how many of us actually hear a word from God saying this is what I’m to do, or this is where I’m to go?
- Not many I would say.
- But here’s the question: is not knowing your calling pushing you even more to live out your unique existence, or is that not knowing an excuse to run away?
Jonah went into the hold of the ship and fell asleep.
- Running away and falling asleep.
- Are these things two sides of the same coin?
- When we say we don’t know our unique calling, it can be an excuse to fall asleep in life.
- If we don’t know the unique path of our calling, then we should be seeking all the harder.
Jesus said: “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.”
- Our modern, technological society says we need to know everything.
- We have algorithms that predict with great accuracy many things.
- They know about our tendencies and can predict what we want.
- We can be deceived into thinking that our spiritual life is like this too.
- But the true spiritual life is all about not knowing.
- It is accepting the great mystery and unknown nature of God.
- It is being humble.
- It is entering by faith into a trusting relationship with God.
- While we don’t know, we continually ask God to reveal, to make more known just some of the mysteries of God.
But instead of asking and searching like how Jesus says, somehow we choose to fall asleep.
Are you asleep in life? In what ways are you sleeping through life?
“…such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up.” (v.4)
A mighty storm came and threatened to break the ship up.
- In our lives too, we face many storms.
- That is a fact of life.
- Storms that threaten to break apart our carefully built lives.
- A broken relationship can break our fragile emotional state.
- Getting fired or laid off from a job.
- Failing a big test in school.
Just like in nature, storms in our lives are just a fact of life.
- But the great question is: how effect do storms have on us?
- In the case of Jonah, why did God unleash a great storm on the boat?
- What was the purpose of God doing that?
- (Ask for any suggestions)
If we look carefully at the text, what was Jonah doing in the boat?
- He was fast asleep!
- He was sleeping through life.
- God unleashed the storm to wake him up.
When storms hit us in life, it’s an open question as to whether they’re caused by God.
- That’s really hard to say.
- But the important question for us is: when storms hit us, do they wake us up?
- Or do they only create more fear in us and make us run away even more?
Storms can make us more fearful, more angry and more bitter.
- What does that response say about our faith?
But storms can also be moments of real awakening.
- St. Paul experienced this on the road to Damascus.
- He experienced a blinding light.
- It was a moment that awakened him to who he really was and what he was doing.
- This awakening shaped the pattern of his life in a completely new direction.
Only God Can Cease the Storm
The sailors were good folks.
- They tried not to throw Jonah overboard.
- They rowed hard toward the shore.
- But in the end, only God could make the storm stop.
We are blessed with friends and family.
- But there are things that others cannot solve for us.
- Living out your unique life is something that others cannot do for you.
- There are some things that only God can do with you.
When you are not living your unique life, the pattern of life that only you can live, then you are running away from God.
- When that is the case, there will be storms in your life.
- The storms that come from you running away – no one else can make those storms stop.
- Only God can make them cease.
What storms are you or have you experienced that no one else could stop?
God stopped the storm only after Jonah took responsibility.
- He was taking responsibility for his life.
- He was awaken from his sleep.
- He was aware that the storms were a result of his running away.
- He didn’t know what would happen once he was thrown in the sea – most likely death – but he took responsibility nonetheless.
Our calling begins when we take responsibility in life.
- Taking responsibility can seem like diving into the raging sea.
- There is a great unknown.
- It can be fearful.
- But answering the call to live my unique life begins with that responsibility and plunge.
Have you taken responsibility for your life? Or have you lived a life of running away?
God’s Ever-Pursuing and Intimacy with God
This is a story about Jonah. But it is also a story about God.
- In fact, perhaps this is more a story about God than Jonah.
It is about a God who calls.
- When the recipient of that call runs away, God does not leave that person alone.
- God pursues.
- God tries to awaken the person from their sleep.
- God may allow calamity to even come.
Many people ask why God seems so absent.
- Maybe the real question is: are we really listening?
- The difficulties and challenges in our lives: are they awakening us and opening our eyes? Or are we just becoming more blinded by our fear?
The good news is that God always pursues and never gives up.
- God will try all manner of things to reach out to us.
- But God is always in pursuit of us.
- That is good news for us.
When I look at Jonah, I sense a sort of intimacy that he had with God.
- I sense a history that Jonah had with God.
- Of previous intimacy and knowing God.
- I think this is why he was able to hear God.
- He heard God, but just didn’t like what he heard.
Our problem today is that we have trouble hearing God in the first place.
- We seek to hear God amidst all the noise in our lives.
- Elijah: didn’t hear God in the storms, thunder or majestic noises. Only in the quiet wind that came by.
In the same way, God often speaks quietly in the recesses of our hearts.
- We have to learn how to listen closely and carefully to our hearts.
- This takes discipline, cultivation and time.
- Jeremiah said that the heart is deceitful above all else.
- Often, we believe what we want to believe, and think that’s our heart speaking.
- As complex human beings, we have many emotions, many passions, many desires.
- Fears and desires are very mixed together, and we cannot easily distinguish one things from the other.
- This is where God comes in to help us, if we let him.
We need to always reflect on what is going on in my heart.
- We need to ask God for clarity, to know our heart.
- When we know our heart, there we will hear God.
How clearly can you hear God’s voice in your heart? How attuned are you with your own heart?
May God lead you on the journey of listening to your heart.