Thursday, September 18, 2014

A man, a fish and a second chance: What happens when we run?

Do you believe in second chances?  What about the Creator of Universe giving second chances? Arguments go both ways but for me, I am a die hard believer in the fact that God does give second chances.  In fact, I am living breathing proof that He is the giver of second chances.


Whether you grew up in church you are probably familiar with the story about a man named Jonah and his encounter with a large fish.  You may not know the details but you’re familiar with the points.  Let me give you a quick synopsis.  


  • Jonah was a prophet chosen by God to speak on His behalf
  • Jonah was told by God to travel to Nineveh and deliver a message that He would destroy the city.  Nineveh was a wicked place and the fiercest enemy of Jonah’s people.
  • Jonah boards a ship and “runs” in the opposite direction towards Tarshish.  A city as far to the west as any Israelite had ever traveled.
  • The ship encounters a horrible storm in which the lives of the sailors on the ship are threatened.  The sailors ask Jonah to call out to his God and ask for favor.
  • Jonah admits to the sailors that the storm is his fault as he is running away from God  and volunteers to be thrown overboard in order to save them.
  • The sailors are terrified to throw one of God’s people overboard and attempt to row back to shore but fail.  They finally throw Jonah off the ship.
  • Jonah does not die but instead is swallowed by a large fish and stays there for three days and three nights.  
  • While in the belly of the fish, Jonah cries out to God and thanks Him for saving him from  being swallowed up by the sea.  Jonah has a change of heart and chooses to obey God’s command to go to Nineveh. The fish “spits” Jonah out right back where he started.
  • God comes to Jonah a second time.  Back to the place he first started and God gives Jonah the exact same message: Go to Nineveh and give them my message.
  • Having learned his lesson the hard way, Jonah travels to Nineveh.


Wow.  Quite the story.  Hard to accept? A man being swallowed by a fish?  Maybe.  But I consider it to be true.  I also believe it to be a beautiful story of second chances.  An amazing story of God’s grace and redemption.  


How often do we hear God’s voice and walk in the opposite direction due to fear or pride?  I know I have on more than one occasion.  I have allowed fear to take the reins and lead me down into the belly of the fish. A place where I felt all hope was lost until I cried out to God to save me.  And He has.


It is easy to get lost in this crazy world.  There are so many wrong turns we can take, each leading us down a winding path of chaos and destruction but there is also a pathway leading out.  Residence in the belly of a fish does not have to last forever.


Nineteen years ago I was married for the first time.  I made a choice for myself.  I thought it was the right choice.  I thought I was doing the right thing.  Do you see the “I” in each of those statements? The “I” was my downfall.  For as much as I wanted to be doing the right thing, I was  far from it.  At twenty, I had been living in the belly of the fish for many years.  Unlike Jonah, I was unaware because my relationship with Jesus was distant.  I knew Him and “followed” Him the way in which I understood, but it was not with the entirety of my life.  I lacked the understanding of giving Him complete control and surrendering everything to Him.  Choices and all.  At the time, my understanding of God’s will was lacking.  


When I got married, I married believing it was forever.  Divorce was not an option and did not exist in my vocabulary.  Even knowing I was not where God wanted me, I recognized I had to endure the consequences of my choice. And so I forged ahead and accepted the path I had chosen.


One of the greatest discoveries for me in my thirty nine years of existence is this: When we are a follower of Jesus yet choose to go our own way without Him, we will fail.  No matter how hard we try, how much work we put into the fight, if we go at it alone, we will not succeed.  God cannot fix what is broken if we will not release it to Him.  


We also cannot force someone else to “be fixed” or to choose Jesus.  It is unfortunate and sad when Jesus is not in the picture because all hell breaks loose. Things falls apart and when you are left hanging by a thread, sometimes you have to let go and trust.


That was me.  Sitting in the belly of the fish crying out to God asking for clarity and direction.  I wanted to be rescued.  I desired to be right where He wanted me.


What a revelation when you realize that God allows things to happen in order for you to find Him.  He shakes us up to expose what is truly in our heart. He allows us to make our own choices.  We are not His puppets.  We choose whether to go left or right completely on our own.  If we choose wrong, we face the music.  We fight through the consequences.  We get swallowed up by the fish and God waits.  


Then through our tears and repentance, He rescues.  He picks us up and sets our feet right back where we were before we took that wrong turn and says, “Let’s do this again. But this time, let’s do it My way.”


Think of Jonah. He ran in the opposite direction.  God chose him to deliver this great message that would save a people group and he ran. His disobedience led to consequences that involved spending three dreadful days in the smelly darkness of a fish. However it led to a heart that softened to God’s purpose for his life.  For Jonah, the fish was the provision that saved his life and led to a complete redo.  Back to square one. The opportunity to say yes a second time.  WOW!  A second attempt to be used by the Creator of the Universe.  To be a part of His story.  


For me, my redo became me saying “I do” a second time.  The opportunity to find love and to experience marriage the way in which He designed.  To love like I have never known.  To be loved in a way that I cannot put into words.  To walk each day with my best friend as we share God’s love with those in our life.  He has given me a purpose and message to share His love and grace while offering hope to those who have none.  To continue telling His story of second chances.


Second chances are real.  God DOES give second chances when we choose to trust His hand and His leading.  He does not give up on us when we’re ready to give on ourselves.  He extends His grace and pours Himself into us making us usable.  Our mess can become His message if we say yes!