“The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: ‘Get up and go to Ninevah, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” And Jonah got up and went to Ninevah, according to the Lord’s word . . . he cried out ‘Just forty days more and Ninevah willb e overthrown!” (Jonah 3:1-3a, 4b CEB)
“‘Come, follow me,’ [Jesus] said, ‘and I will show you how to fish for people.’ Right away they left their nets and followed him.” Mark 1 17-18 (CEB)
From the two scripture passages above, it would seem that Jonah and the disciples all went willingly to the call of God in their lives. However, reading all of the book of Jonah reveals quite a different story. Many people know the story of Jonah running away from God’s call to go to Ninevah. He was the defiant and reluctant prophet who started his flight on a ship, was thrown overboard, swallowed by a big fish, spewed up on the land, and finally went to Ninevah to give his very short message of warning.
The Ninevites were enemies of Israel, so who could really blame Jonah. He was expected to go warn them of impending doom from God who wasn’t even supposed to care about them! The message Jonah was supposed to give them wasn’t one he wanted to deliver, and he certainly didn’t want to set foot in a place where such nasty and bitter enemies lived. After all, he could be thrown in prison or killed for even entering the city.
Yet, after all he experienced, he realized that God wasn’t going to give up on him, so his attitude seemed to say that he would go and get it over with just to get God off his back. Then, when the Ninevites repented and God decided to spare them, Jonah was angry. He sat under a tree and pouted. God said that it wasn’t Jonah’s decision about who God saved but God’s alone.
There are several lessons we can learn from this. Most of us resist the call of God in our lives and don’t want to do what God asks us to do. It doesn’t matter whether our call is to preach, teach, construct houses, clean buildings, serve food, provide clerical assistance, run a big corporation, raise children, or thousands of callings we can have. God wants us to do it to God’s glory. Jonah didn’t. Jonah was all about himself.
We can be like that, too. I first felt my call to pastoral ministry in my teen years. At that time there were very few women clergy, so I figured it was not a legitimate call. Even though I looked into some very wonderful alternatives, I chose to teach music and enjoyed it very much. It helped me build my self-esteem and provided me with leadership skills. But over the years, that sense of God calling me elsewhere kept coming back, and finally, twenty years later, I had many doors open to me that helped me to answer it including a female pastor at our church.
My decision has been blessed beyond anything I could ever imagine, in spite of heartaches, burn-out, struggles within the churches, and challenges all along the way. I know I did the right thing in answering God’s call because I knew God was with me all the way along with the support of family and friends, and more recently my husband (whom I married nine years ago).
For the disciples, there appeared to be no question in answering Jesus call to follow him. They left their nets immediately (an often used word in the gospel of Mark) and followed this man who appeared on the shore. We don’t really know if they were familiar with him or knew him, but there was obviously something that drew them to him, trusted in him, and led them to follow him.
I suspect most of us wouldn’t have just walked away from everything to follow Jesus – obviously, I took a long time to answer my call! However, the issue really is that we make the commitment to follow him faithfully in ALL we do. The call is to serve God in whatever our vocation, our occupation might be. Our life’s work can be in service to God no matter where we are. It is a call to live invitationally so that others can see Christ in us and want to know him, too.
Where is God calling you to follow? How will you respond?