The Sign of Jonah

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Seun Awolowo - May 2015

"God, give me sign"

We've all had those moments. Those moments of confusion, desperation and pure longing, wanting to know which job to take, which uni to go to, which person to date and the list goes on. Sometimes it would be easier if God just sent as clear sign. Surely, if we have a relationship with Him this should come as part of the package, so why doesn't it feel that way?

How confident are we in the decisions that we make, are we sure that God is guiding us? In this post, we will explore what happens when we go looking for signs even though, deep down, our intuition (the Holy Spirit) has already convicted us about what we should do in certain situations. In Part II we will discover that God has already given us everything we need to make all decisions in life - both major and minor ones. Maybe right now, you're at a crossroads, unsure of which way to go. This post will encourage and challenge you to think more deeply about what might be holding you back.

Let's start with Matthew 16:1-12;
The Pharisees (religious law keepers in Biblical times) where challenging Jesus yet again, pressing Him to prove Himself to them through 'sign from heaven' (v.1). He told them:

“You have a saying that goes, ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’ You find it easy enough to forecast the weather—why can’t you read the signs of the times? An evil and wanton generation is always wanting signs and wonders. The only sign you’ll get is the Jonah sign.” Then he turned on his heel and walked away. (‭Matthew‬ ‭16‬:‭1-4‬ MSG)

To summarise, Jesus is telling the religious teachers that with all their consciousness of signs, for example, to predict the weather, how is it that they have missed The One True Sign walking among them? (More of this will be discussed in Part II). It might sound a bit harsh, but at this point, Jesus had grown tired of people around him missing the most important sign of their lives. When we are not conscious of His presence, and we go looking for more signs to make decisions, the only kind of sign we are left with is the sign of Jonah.

Most of us heard the story of Jonah as children, the story of a man who gets swallowed by a whale because he didn't go to Nineveh, as God has asked him. In this session I learned that this story is significantly more applicable to my life than I would have ever expected.

The Sign(s) of Jonah

Please read Jonah chapter 1 and chapter 3 verses 1:10 for context of the entire story. You can read it online here

The original Hebrew word for 'sign' means 'a miracle or a supernatural happening'. Identifying the original Hebrew meaning will help us to develop a deeper and broader understanding of the intent of the writer (who is God, as all of the Bible is 'God-breathed', 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Let's examine the story of Jonah in further detail to identify some key signs that he experienced, many of which we experience today in a more spiritual sense. (This is because a lot of what happens in the Bible predicts what we will experience spiritually in our walk with Jesus.)

SIGN #1: "The Word of the LORD came to Jonah" (verse 1)

The original Hebrew meaning for 'word' in this case, 'divine expression of glory' or 'instruction', suggesting that Jonah received a clear instruction from God himself. How many times have you had a strong feeling that you should (or should not) do something? Sometimes we also call it intuition, the deep inexplicable knowledge that helps us distinguish between right and wrong. As we become closer to God this will be the Holy Spirit, relating to your spirit (Romans 8:16) and guiding you in every single thing you do.

A lot of the time, we draw back from this voice, we try to ignore it or shrug it off because it doesn't seem logical or 'normal'. But God doesn't work on human logic or design our lives based on what is normal (1 Corinthians 2:9); He wouldn't be God if He did. What have you had a strong, but unexplainable feeling about that you've tried to ignore that won't go away?

Face the thought head on and explore whether it could be an instruction that God has given to you, specially. You may think that God doesn't speak to you directly, but let me tell you that He speaks to all of us, regardless of who we are. It may not be the way we expect or have seen it happen to others, but He wants to have a personal relationship with you, if you let Him (Revelation 3:20). The ball is in your court.

SIGN #2: "A violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up" (verse 4)

As Jonah tried to ignore God's instruction, he boarded a ship that got caught in a vicious storm at sea. When we are running away from the voice of the Spirit, we sometimes find ourselves in more trouble than we would have found ourselves in if we had just listened in the first place.  For Jonah, while everyone else on the boat was panicking, he was sleeping amidst the storm, because he knew why it was happening.

On many occasions we say we don't know what to do, but deep down in our heart & soul we know exactly what we should be doing, but we try and ignore it. We are metaphorically asleep to what we should be doing and suddenly things get challenging. Another way we try to ignore or avoid the voice of the Holy Spirit, our intuition is by being 'productive'. After Jonah received his instruction, he travelled to a completely different town (on foot, remember, it's Biblical times), found a ship and paid a fare to board. ALL of this, just to avoid what he had originally been asked to do. Nevertheless, the storm was on its way to take him back to where he needed to be. In short, God will sometimes try to reroute you by bringing a 'storm' into your life (Seun). 

Note the fact that while the storm was violent and caused great fear on the boat, it didn't actually break up - it only 'threatened' to. This is an example of how even when we ignore God's instructions, the storms of life may shake us, but never actually break us, because God is "gracious and compassionate... slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity" (Jonah 4:2).

Even in Jonah's disobedience (or his "wanton" behaviour, to reference Matthew 16), God ensured that he was never harmed, and through Jonah's presence on the boat all the sailors came to believe God (Jonah 1:16).

SIGN #3: Jonah in the belly of the huge fish (chapter 2)

As the storm came to its climax, Jonah asked the sailors to throw him into the sea (verse 11); at the point of escalation, God will bring further instruction (Seun). The only way that Jonah knew what to do was through God's instruction - we see that despite Jonah's disobedience, God didn't excommunicate him. Never think that because you made a mistake or ignored God that He will leave you, He won't because nothing can ever separate you from God's love (Romans 8:31-39). He is always there for us, we just need to stay in contact with him, through prayer, reading the Bible and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit within us.

When Jonah is thrown into the sea and swallowed by a large fish, or a whale - the first surprise is that he didn't die. It sounds impossible, but God rarely operates within the bounds of what our minds can conceive. Again, God spared his life, while the whale (or the mess we have gotten ourselves in, through disobedience) could potentially swallow us whole, it never does.

Inside the fish, Jonah prays, and what is really interesting here, is that while Jonah is still trapped inside the whale, all his prayers about being freed in past tense:

"but you, Lord my God brought my life up from the pit" (chapter 2:6)

This is a good example of faith-filled prayer - if we really believe that God is who He says He is, then we can pray as if what we are hoping for has already happened. When we prophesy and confess things that were not as they were. Ultimately, being swallowed by the fish was his saving grace.

SIGN #4: "The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time" (chapter 3, verse 1)

God's word never changes (Matthew 24:35), so when we ignore Him, after we've experienced a few storms, the Holy Spirit continues to speak - telling us to do (or not do) what we had heard/felt at the very beginning. But still, we spend time seeking miraculous signs or advice from other people. What we should really be looking for is confirmation of God's voice, especially when it is repeated. Seun likened this to helpful teachers who continuously drop hints in class before an exam about what we will be tested on. God doesn't waste his Words, and His repetition should be taken as confirmed guidance.

This doesn't mean we should never seek advice from others, after all, "plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisers they succeed" (Proverbs 15:22), but how often do we try to hear from God first? Instead we debate, discuss and philosophise with others, leaving God as an afterthought, or a magician who will a sign to us through a crazy dream, for example. While sometimes God does speak to us that way, let's adopt a different approach: when we prioritise hearing from God first, our decision-making and confidence will improve. This is summarised in:

More revelation [supernatural disclosures from God], less advice - Seun Awolowo

Finally, Jonah listens to God and goes to Nineveh (Chapter 3)

Nineveh was one of the largest cities around, and took 3 days to go through. Jonah expected that it would take 40 days to complete his task (verses 3,4). However by verse 5 all the people believed God, including the King, and the city was saved. It's clear that God's Word achieves its aim speedily (Seun) regardless of who is there to help, God's Word will always accomplish his desires (Isaiah 55:11). As His children, we are invited to join the journey of fulfilling his plans for the earth, during which we usually learn a personal lesson, and in this case Jonah learned the value of;

Obedience. He learned to listen to the voice the first time round, instead of being swayed by his own personal beliefs (which he talks about in Jonah 4).As we close Part I of the Signs of Jonah, we have learned that the Sign of Jonah that Jesus was talking about in Matthew 16, has come full circle:

1) We hear an instruction from God, usually in a quiet 'inner voice' (the Holy Spirit)

2) For one reason or another we ignore it, and find ourselves caught in a violent storm, which won't break us

3) In the deep mess of our situations, God still protects us just as He protected Jonah in the belly of the fish

4) God repeats his message to us, just as He did to Jonah, giving us another opportunity to do the right thing

So now, let's ask ourselves some questions:

What has the Holy Spirit been telling you through your intuition?

Why are you still holding back when deep down you know what to do?

I dare you to take the risk and follow the Holy Spirit by listening intently to God's voice the first time around.

© Noterie, 2015

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