Ever said to yourself, ‘If God would just speak to me and tell me what He wants me to do, I’d do it.”
We humans are not built that way. Knowing does not automatically result in doing.
Take the prophet Jonah, for example. God gives him an unambiguous directive:
“Go immediately to Nineveh, that large capital city, and announce judgment against its people because their wickedness has come to my attention.” Jonah 1:1-2 (NET)
Pretty straightforward. “Right now. Go there. Say this.” In case there’s more than one Nineveh, God tells Jonah to visit: “the large capital city.”
Jonah has his orders. Zero confusion about what God wants. What does Jonah do?
“Instead, Jonah immediately headed off to Tarshish to escape from the commission of the Lord. He traveled to Joppa and found a merchant ship heading to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went aboard it to go with them to Tarshish far away from the Lord.” (Jonah 1:3 NET)
Jonah’s decision to go “far away from the Lord” is an act of willful disobedience.
It’s the rough equivalent of God telling me “go to New York,” an hour flight north. Instead I board a plane to Los Angeles, 5 hours west. The only way to mess that up is on purpose.
In full-blown rebellion, it’s possible to sound like a holy man. Listen to Jonah mouth religious nonsense to sailors who want his story after God sends a storm to rock his boat to Tarshish.
“He said to them, “I am a Hebrew! And I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9 NET)
That word “worship” also can be translated to “respect, revere, fear or stand in awe of.” Jonah is headed away from God’s assignment. He’s no pagan, but he’s not reverently obeying God either.
Could be our story, too. We know God loves the world and wants to save wicked sinners, which describes each of us before Christ washed us. He sends His followers as His witnesses to unbelievers. Like Jonah, we don’t always want to go. Jonah’s problem, ours too, isn’t not knowing what God wants. It is not wanting what God wants.
It’s understandable Jonah didn’t want to preach to Nineveh. The foolishness of preaching can lead to salvation. And the people of Ninevah – an Assyrian city – were Israel’s ancient enemies, wicked and ruthless. They impaled prisoners, cut off their heads. Survivors lost hands, feet, noses, eyes.
Who hasn’t wanted God to judge those who’ve hurt them? I was about to have lunch with a manager who had caused me a lot of pain. And I was certain God wanted me to pay for the meal. I felt I was doing God a favor to sit across the table from this person and break bread. When the check came, we split it. God wanted me to show mercy. I wanted vengeance.
Perhaps you have your own version of that story. How about we agree that real worship translates into actual obedience? When God’s people know what God wants, which is more often than we’d like to admit, He expects us to do it. Otherwise, a storm will find us. God never lets His people get away with sin.
“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” (James 4:17)