And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.Jonah 2:10-3:2
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
When we finally reach a place of humble repentance, God has you right where He wants you and He will place you right where He needs you for His purposes. And there is no better place than we’d rather be than in the place where His will is perfected in and through us. A safe harbor of dry land on the shores of a stormy sea that rages around us, no longer buried in the belly of a fishy situation that threatens to slowly eat away at our patience and resolve. It is can sometimes be a violent adjustment from being under your circumstances to being ripped out and place above those circumstances on rocky, dry ground.
A Violent Upheaval
Imagine Jonah, sitting snug in the stomach of a giant fish, still consigned to prayer for three days. He’s slowly being digested. His skin is likely bleached and ulcered. His hair likely falling out from the stomach acid. His fingernails soft and decaying. His clothes falling away in tatters. Perhaps after three days of no food, and only salty sea water to drink, Jonah is growing weak and tired. Suddenly, there is a jerking convulsion and the mouth of the fish opens and in pours the light of day and Jonah quickly finds himself propelled back into the ocean and onto shore, covered in seaweed.
Just as sin is a violent rending of the relationship between mankind and Almighty God, redemption in itself has violent repercussions. Redemption requires a price, a price paid in blood. It was the price of God’s own Son who was betrayed and then scourged and beaten beyond recognition. He had a crown of thorns jammed down on His head – thorns hard as nails that likely pierced through to His skull, as blood ran down His head and covered His face. Patches of His beard remain, having been ripped out of His cheeks and chin. He is forced to lift the weight of a heavy wooden crossbeam and carry it over a mile through the busy streets of a festive Jerusalem and up a tall hill of a smelly, filthy garbage dump called Golgotha. As the blood congeals on His back, His sparse clothing sticks to His raw, torn skin. The Roman soldiers ripped the clothes from His back, reopening His fresh wounds. They lay Him down with His ripped back against a dry, rough, splintered stake and attach the crossbeam as they drive iron spikes through His wrists and ankles. As they lift up the cross, the soldiers guide it and then drop it violently into a hole in the ground, causing Him to lurch forward against the weight of the nails under the weight of His own torn and worn body. Over the next six hours, He would struggle to breathe under His own weight, occasionally using His legs to push up against the spike in His angles to utters words like “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). All of this while enduring the shame of a mocking crowd of onlookers and soldiers gambling over pieces of what remained of His only worldly possessions – the clothes from His back. Near 3pm in the afternoon, the sky grows dark as He lifts Himself one last time to cry out “Tetelestai! It is finished!” (John 19:28) as He died and immediately an great earthquake shakes the world.
Just as Jonah experienced a violent redemption, so did we. Jesus endured the most immeasurable pain and suffering in order to restore our relationship with our Father in Heaven. Once and for all, the punishment that was reserved for us was meted out upon Himself as He hung in our place as our sacrificial Lamb. In so doing, He made a way for us to be able to stand on the safe, dry ground of life.
A Safe Haven
Interestingly, the Hebrew word used in Jonah for “dry ground” (הַיַּבָּשָֽׁה יַבָּשָׁה – yabāšâ) is the same word used in Exodus 14:16, 22, 29 to describe the safe pathway that God provided through Moses for the Israelites as they crossed the divided Red Sea fleeing the slavery of Egypt. Just as the dry ground was safety for Jonah, so was the dry ground a safe pathway for the Hebrews. Just as the dry ground was a safe haven for the Hebrews, so is the dry ground at the foot of the cross a safe haven for us fleeing the slavery, bondage, and captivity of sin.
We were not meant to spend our lives tossed about in the stormy sea of life, pushed here and there, to and fro by the waves of circumstances and emotional turmoil. He set us free from the bondage of sin and gave us one another as the church to be a safe haven for growth and guidance so that we might not be carried away by the winds and waves of life and circumstance and the lies of the world. The body of Christ is our dry ground. The bride of Christ is where God intends for us to be for the sake of His kingdom.
Anyone who says they don’t need to attend church in order to honor God is surely deceived. You can believe that God exists all you want, but even the devil believes this and it isn’t enough to redeem them. (James 2:19) Not only does our redemption require our repentance, it expects our obedience and fellowship. If you are married, you honor your spouse by not only defending them and wearing your ring as an outward expression of your covenant relationship, but you also listen to them. You honor your covenant with them with your loving and caring fellowship with them. In terms of covenant relationships, including that with your spouse and with the bride of Christ, love is spelled “T-I-M-E.” It requires your time and investment of yourself. God has gifted you as a believer by the power of His Holy Spirit to be a part of His bride for the purpose of building up His bride. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14)
A Restored Purpose
As we are redeemed from our sin and restored to a right relationship with the Father, He not only gives us purpose, but He restores our originally designed purpose. If you are a believer that has been rebellious or resistant to God’s call on your life, once you humbly repent and submit to Him, His call doesn’t change because His design for you hasn’t changed.
30 years ago this summer was the first time I went on a summer mission trip – Cochise County, AZ. I spent 10 weeks traipsing across St. David, Sierra Vista, Tombstone, Bisbee, and other parts of what was once known as the Gadsen Purchase on the Mexican border of Arizona. My partner was a young man by the name of Clay Bogle, from the sprawling metropolis of Bowling Green, KY. It was a wonderful summer, but was full of personal challenges due to my own immaturity in my faith. However, even then I felt the call of God upon my heart to full-time vocational ministry. Two years later, I sought to nurture this call as I further explored ministry opportunities through missionary endeavors as I traveled to Hong Kong for 8 weeks, teaching conversational English in an effort to develop relationships that would lead to gospel conversations. During that trip, I firmly believed that God was calling me to the mission field full-time. However, as I returned home, my life slowly began to unravel in a sea of incremental compromises of faith until eventually in 1996, I left my faith and fellowship altogether.
Much of my Christian experience between 1990-1996 was marked by being a “Lone Ranger” Christian. While I had grown up in the church, I wasn’t saved until 1990 a week after graduating high school. After that point, however, I did not experience any discipleship other than what I could seek out on my own. I floundered endlessly in a sea of confusion. I found myself participating in both the Baptist Student Union and the Assembly of God Chi Alpha campus ministry. Over the years, I gained many friends through both organizations and I am still friends with many of those same people today. However, being new to my faith, my involvement in these two widely different Christian faith communities led me to more confusion than discipline. I was torn in two different directions out of an altruistic, naive belief that I could reconcile my Baptist upbringing with a more charismatic faith experience that appealed to my emotions and love of modern worship and music that was not common in the Baptist experience at that time. Because I had not experienced any discipleship during my years as a new believer, I was tossed here and there by various doctrines, some of which were mutually exclusive of one another and often led to more confrontation than fellowship.
Since my restoration to my faith, the call of God on my life has not changed, but it still took me a few years of struggling with discipleship to finally reach of point of surrendering to that call, which led me to where I am today as a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. One thing that I have learned and that has become a personal passion of mine is the importance of discipling new believers in their faith. Titus 2 teaches us that it is important to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1) The chapter goes on to explains how older men are to teach younger men and older women are to teach younger women how to live out their faith in their families and in their doctrine, their careers, their behaviors, and way of life so “that the word of God may not be reviled.” (Titus 2:5) It is critical that mature believers seek out new believers and teach them the fundamentals of the faith in order to give them a solid foundation upon which to build their new life – dry ground, if you will. It is imperative that we recognize that the initiative must begin with the mature believer. An immature, new believer doesn’t know what they don’t know. In fact, they are not likely to seek out discipleship unless it is clearly explained how important discipleship training is to their growth and development in faith.
If you are a mature believer looking for resources on how you can influence new believers in the faith, I have some resources available for you listed by age group of your target disciples:
- For children from preschool up to 5th grade: https://www.awana.org (This is designed to be used in a group teaching context. Check with your local church to see if they participate in this discipleship program.)
- For middle school through high school: https://disciple6.com (This is a 100% free resource)
- For adults: The Disciple’s Path (1 year program, 4 13-week sections – very low cost resource)
- For discipleship leaders: Real-Life Discipleship (This is a resource for training disciples to be disciple makers. It teaches the discipleship cycle and provides insight into the importance of disciples making disciples.)
When God sets you down on “dry ground”, be ready. You have a mission to prepare for. It might not look pretty, and your life might not look like you have it all together – still covered in the grime, stink, and filth of your past life. But Jesus is there to help wash you off, clean you up, and build you up so that you can be prepared for the life He has in mind for you. A life that is guaranteed to blow your socks off and give you a renewed sense of wonder as you walk through the wilderness of life.