The Praying Life: Seeking God in All Things by Deborah Smith Douglas

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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish...away from the presence of the Lord.
—Jonah 1:3

Sometimes we “entreat God not to leave us,” as Ruth begged Naomi. Sometimes, on the other hand, we can't get away from God fast enough. Sometimes the presence of the Lord seems to be the last thing we want.

Jonah, the most reluctant prophet in all of Scripture, seems to have heard clearly enough the word of the Lord commanding him to “arise and go to Nineveh.” His swift response, however, was to run with all speed in the opposite direction. 

Not until his disobedience had caused a terrible storm and led to his being cast into the sea, swallowed by a great fish, and miraculously returned to dry land, did Jonah finally (when God repeated the invitation) “arise and go to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.”

Sound familiar? How often, I wonder, have I quite clearly known what God wanted me to do and rushed to do my own will instead? How often have I known God to be present with me and tried to run away? So often that it occasionally occurs to me that that lovely question in Psalm 139—“whither shall I go from thy presence?”—might have arisen from a panic-stricken quest for solitude as much as from the blessed assurance of God-with-us.

When we admit our disobedience and ingratitude, our lack of trust in (and lack of taste for) God's will for us, we can take consolation in Jonah, who is surely the patron saint of reluctant pilgrims. We can draw strength from remembering that while Jonah was yet far from land, still deep underwater in the belly of the great fish, he gave thanks and praise to God: “Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9)

Thomas Merton suggested in his book The Sign of Jonas that we are all traveling toward the promised resurrection in “the belly of a paradox.” We all, like Jonah, live in the tension of our rebellious wills, the uncertainty of our futures, the conflict of our hearts. But we nonetheless may still fare forward, may still head toward that promised light.

God of all deliverance, you brought Jonah back to the road you had chosen for him. Help us, as we travel toward your purpose in the belly of our own paradoxes, to live in your presence with swift obedience and joyful trust instead of reluctance and fear.

Copyright ©2005 Deborah Smith Douglas.