And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.Jonah 1:7-10
Inevitably, any time you willingly hide from God in the midst of your self-induced circumstances, you will find yourself in over your head. There is no hiding from the One who can see deep into the recesses of your heart and mind. The Father will always pursue His wayward child in an effort to get his attention, but He will not force His will upon us. However, He will allow the consequences of your sin to exact its payment in kind. And sometimes, even in the midst of your rebellion, God will still get the attention of those observing from the sidelines.
In the fall of 1994, I actively watched my life begin a downward spiral of circumstances that were completely within my control, but I was too immature to recognize what I was doing until two years later I was a college dropout, three credit hours short of a Bachelor’s degree, and living in a city where I knew nobody. Situations in my life were spiraling out of control as I was building a life that was built upon one lie after another until I was in over my head. I became angry with my acquaintances, my friends, myself, and ultimately with God Himself. So I ran.
For two years I lived in a small apartment on the southside of San Antonio, scraping by from paycheck to paycheck. I crawled into a bottle and pretty much stayed there for a good long while. I took advantage of the very few friends I had. I was the definition of a prodigal – wasting my life knowing I was the child of the King of the Universe, but refusing to live as the Prince He desired, instead preferring to sleep in the pigpen of squalor and sin.
I would often find myself telling people, “Yeah, I’m a Christian, but I have no use for God.” I still had my Christian books on my bookshelf whenever acquaintances would visit. People would ask me about them and I would be dismissive because I was more interested in having a good time instead of being a good man.
When you allow sin to take over your life and you try to hide from God, it will always catch up with you and people will see because it will not only affect you, but it will affect those around you. My behavior during that time period would frequently put my job in jeopardy. I would find myself ostracizing my “friends” and being argumentative with them about everything. I rarely would allow myself to actually get close to anyone, even those who truly wanted to get to know me. The storm of anger became my driving force and the destruction it left in its wake is more than I have ever been able to recover, or ever will, and much of which I would prefer not to revisit.
Broken relationships. Estranged friendships. Less than edifying entanglements with people I had no business being involved with. All of which encouraged the continued descent into the inebriated black hole I found myself in. And it wasn’t long before all fingers pointed to me.
And the same was with Jonah. “So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.” (Jonah 1:7) As the storm raged around the mariners, they called upon their own pagan methods of trying to determine why the storm was so heavy upon them and what they were supposed to do in order to survive. So they took a gamble and rolled the dice, and the lot fell to Jonah. The one who had already admitted he was hiding from God. And Jonah was sober enough to acknowledge that it was his own sin that put the group in that situation.
And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”Jonah 1:9
The mariners themselves were likely beholden to a pagan god of the sea of that day, as their belief was that they must pay homage to the one who makes their livelihoods possible. Even in the midst of his rebellion, Jonah acknowledged that he “feared the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” His words spoke to the heart of their false belief. It wasn’t a pagan god that was causing the storm, but it was the Creator of the sea AND the dry land that was causing the storm in order to get Jonah’s attention, and perhaps the attention of the sailors as well.
About a year and a half into my time in San Antonio, life began to get darker and darker. My few friends began to abandon me. The timeline of events that happened in my life over that time are somewhat jumbled by my perpetually drunken state. But I do recall finally waking up one day after a night of binge drinking, passed out and not knowing how I got where I was. I was a man overboard
Then came the crusade. In April 1997, Billy Graham brought his evangelistic crusade to San Antonio. While I did not attend, the impact of his presence in town was surely felt. A series of co-workers began witnessing to me in the midst of that week in ways that were quite jarring. A Messianic Jewish lady would have her prayer time during my lunch time. The next day, a Pentacostal gentleman would hand me a small 2 x 3 inch card with a Scripture verse on it. The next day, another Pentacostal lady gave me a ride to the bus stop. Still the next day, a Lutheran student would give me a ride to the bus and challenge me to “not forsake the assembly.” (Hebrews 10:25) By the end of the week, another young lady would sit beside me and share with me her materials that she was using to serve during the crusade as a counselor.
By the end of that week, I was floored. I was drowning in my own sin and God was screaming at me to get my attention. That evening, I picked up the phone and arranged for a pickup to a local Baptist church around the corner from my apartment and that Sunday morning, every song and every word spoken was as if God was speaking directly to me. The sermon passage – the parable of the Prodigal Son. The final invitational hymn – Lord, I’m Coming Home.
Over the Moon
I found myself that day weeping on the back row of the church as God’s Spirit washed over me. To this day, I don’t understand it so much as I embrace that experience of God wrapping me in His grace. Weeks later, an older lady who was sitting on that same row would remark that she could see that God was “all over” me. It was an amazing experience to be able to survive the reckless life I was living in order to embrace the grace of God again. And that lovely young lady that shared her materials with me at work would later become by beautiful bride, who still stands by my side to this day.
Not everyone is so lucky. Some continue in their sin and rebellion only to continue to dig the hole deeper and deeper, their hearts hardening more and more with each passing moment. And it is heartbreaking when you see others following in the same path you walked and refusing to learn from the lesson of your own failure. As long as the storm is raging and your ship is afloat, it’s not too late. As long as you are breathing, you can still cry out to the Lord for grace. Even when your life throws you overboard, there is still hope.