Funky fish and the next generation

29 02 2012

Nineveh.  Have you heard of it?  If you remember the story of Jonah then you will recognise it as the city that he eventually visits to urge the people to turn from their wickedness and put God in their lives.  (I have blogged about Jonah before, so if you would like to check it out, pop “jonah” into the search box and it will take you back to April 2011.)

The people respond to his message and trust God – rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.  But their new-found faith doesn’t last long.  Within a hundred years or so, Nahum describes it as, “a think-tank for lies that seduce and betray” (Nahum 1:11 The Message). Not a great tourist destination, then!

Nahum’s generation in Nineveh cannot piggy back on a previous turning to God.  Nor can we presume that any experience of God we have is a once-and-for-all event; rather, “we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)


Does prayer change things?

9 04 2011

I’ve been troubled over the last few days – ever since I read the sentence in Jonah 3:10 “God changed his mind.” 

It reminded me of a Charles Schulz Peanuts cartoon.  Linus is kneeling by his bed with his hands together, not in traditional “prayer pose” but together pointing downwards.  Lucy is standing watching him as he says, “I think I’ve made a new theological discovery….If you pray with your hands upside down, you get the opposite of what you ask for.”

There are mysteries here.

So, “Does prayer change things?”  (By this I don’t just mean does it change things for me – ie do I “feel better”, am I more “spiritually connected” as a result?)

I’m going to have a go at thinking this through.  (My guide through this tricky topic is Don Carson – A call to spiritual reformation chapter 9.)

There are two big truths taught in the Bible and I need to grasp how to hold them together.  It’s another example of tension.

  1. God is King, he wears the crown and calls the shots.
  2. We are responsible creatures – we choose, believe, obey and there is moral significance in our choices.

If only the first proposition is true, we would reduce God to Fate, so we need to hold the two ideas together – God is transcendent: he exists beyond all time and space and is King of his universe.  Yet he is personal in his dealings with you and me: he presents himself as a loving Father.  It may be difficult (it is!) to understand how both can be true at the same time, but just because it is difficult does not make them untrue.

So what about prayer?

The biblical truth that God is King is never a disincentive to pray for people in the Bible or for me either.  Jesus does say that we shouldn’t babble on thinking that God will hear us for our many words, because he already knows what we need before we ask him; but he also endorses persistence,  telling his disciples stories “to show that they should always pray and never give up”. (Luke 18:1) 

Like I said, there are mysteries here.

“Despite the fact that God’s nature is in many respects profoundly mysterious to us, we shall not go far wrong if we allow the complementary aspects of God’s character to function in our lives…Then we will learn the better how to pray, and why we should pray, and what we should pray for, and how we should ask.”

“Sometimes it is more important to worship such a God than to understand him.” 

Don Carson

Does God change his mind?

2 04 2011

…and do I want him to?

The depths and the heights

2 04 2011

We’ve been to the depths with Jonah; now it’s time for the heights.  Two link words lead us there –

This time…

“This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command.”  And – “The people of Nineveh believed God’s message…and God had mercy on them.”

(It’s worth an aside here.  Nineveh was not in Israel, so the people were not Israelites but Gentiles. So the question raised is, “Should God’s mercy extend to all?”)

I’m cheering for Jonah – he has turned around, he has obeyed God, the people have responded, God has had mercy.  Result!

But then we loop the loop. 

Instead of celebrating God’s loving intervention, Jonah crashes down.  He moans and complains, he’s angry and upset.  Why?  Because God has shown he is God and that Jonah does not call the ultimate shots.


“I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” (Romans 9:14-15)

Hopeful vomiting

2 04 2011

darkness forest night image 31000 pictures, backgrounds and images
Have you ever been in a place of deep darkness?  A place of fear, or despair; a place of hopelessness or isolation?  It may be painful to go back there, but try to for a moment and see if you can pull up feelings that will help you identify with Jonah.

Jonah finds himself inside a fish.  That sounds pretty desperate, but in a sense the fish rescues Jonah from the storm and provides a placeholder, a live pause, an opportunity to re-evaluate, and realign his life with what God wants of him.

Hear Jonah’s despair – “I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble…from the land of the dead… I sank down…I sank beneath the waves… I sank down…I was imprisoned… my life was slipping away…”


But listen for the note of hope – “I remembered the Lord, and my earnest prayer went out to you.”

Jonah has a sea change of heart, recognising God’s saving power, and vowing to go God’s way.  The fish has served it’s purpose and vomits Jonah on to the beach.


Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you.” (Psalm 42:6) 

Way down in the middle of the ocean

1 04 2011

You know what I was saying about choices, well here is a perfect example to illustrate my point – someone who chooses to take a holiday in Spain rather that go God’s way.  Who’s this?  (There’s a clue in the post title.)

My reading has taken me away from Paul back to the Old Testament.

Need another clue?  A funky fish!

Read the rest of this entry »

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