Unwilling Missionaries

Jonah was an unwilling missionary. An odd one, but not because he was reluctant. I have known unwilling missionaries. I’ve even been one. In Jonah’s case his unwillingness stemmed from disobedience. But sometimes the reluctance comes from fear. Fear of failure. What if no one listens? What if I bear no fruit? Or if they hate me, and they stone me or something?

But Jonah was even odder than most. Knowing his mission was bound for success, he still didn’t want to embark. He only obeyed when forced to. Then as he expected, his mission was successful! The entire city, from the king on down, repented and turned to the Lord!

Any normal missionary would have raced to write that prayer newsletter! Or put it up on the blog, in huge capital letters: MISSION SUCCESSFUL!

Dear friends, The entire city turned to God, starting with the king! I expect to start dozens of churches by year’s end!

But not Jonah. He got angry.

Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish: I cried out for help from deep inside Sheol; you heard my voice.

Jonah 2:1-2 CSB

What a strange dude! A huge missionary success, and he became upset. “Kill me now, Lord!” he said. “I’d rather be dead than live with the knowledge that my prediction did not come true.”

Concern for his own reputation

It seems Jonah cared more about his own reputation than God’s. It mattered more to him than the eternal salvation of an entire nation!

“Way to go,” he must have thought. “Now I look like a false prophet. Or an idiot. Why, Lord, did you make me proclaim the destruction of Ninevah, when we both knew it wouldn’t happen?”

At this point, we would expect him to have run home in a huff. But not stubborn, egotistic Jonah. He stayed to see what would happen, even building himself a makeshift shelter. He might have hoped the Lord would still destroy the city. Then, with his reputation as a prophet vindicated, he could return home in glory.

Jonah had vision

No doubt Jonah believed his heart was in the right place. Lest we judge Jonah too harshly, let’s remember that the idea of the heathen turning to God was yet unheard of. Another century would need to pass before God, through Micah, would reveal this.

Jonah served as a prophet during some of Israel’s darkest days. Preaching for God with zeal and faithfulness. King Amaziah, in fact, restored much of Israel’s borders according to Jonah’s word (1 Kings 14:25).

Yes, as a prophet, Jonah had vision. He cared about his nation and his people, faithfully relaying what God showed him. He even had vision enough to see what God wanted from him in Nineveh. But true vision means more than hearing God’s directives. It involves following through.

But he lacked vision and love

True vision means keeping God and his purposes always in sight.

Jonah forgot that God’s ways are not our ways. His idea of what God should do clouded his vision. He believed that God loved his own Jewish people, wanting to help and protect them. But Israel’s enemies? That was another matter!

There is a lot of Jonah in us, too. When things don’t work out according to plan, we tend to sulk.

The Lord grew a plant to give Jonah shade. And it thrilled him. “Now this is the God I know!” he might have thought, thanking the Lord for that welcome shade. But then God allowed the plant to wither and die. And once again Jonah got angry.

“You’re angry over a silly plant, Jonah?” God asked. “Where is your love and sense of justice? You care more about a plant than about men’s souls? And more about your own reputation than allowing me to show that I am a God of mercy?”

And what about us?

Sometimes God has to ask us the same thing. “Where is your love and sense of justice? Where is your vision of ME?”

“Why should you care if I use others instead of you? Why should you care if your ministry is never a success, or if others laugh at you?” he asks. “The key thing is the sharing of my Word and that people are coming to me.”

If we allow concern about our reputation or hopes of success to cloud our vision, we’ll do like Jonah. Instead of pursuing God’s vision, we’ll sulk and run away.

God doesn’t guarantee that we will succeed. We are the ones who want this assurance and certainty. The Lord calls us to obey. The Lord calls us to be humble and obedient servants who leave the results in his hands.

He is not looking for people whose main concern is success. But for obedient servants who are willing missionaries for HIS glory and success! Does he find one in you?

Images: Boats by Good News Productions, FreeBibleImages.org, CC BY-NC-ND | Failure-success by 742680 | Jonah by Sweet Publishing, FreeBibleImages.org, CC BY-SA.

4 thoughts on “Unwilling Missionaries

  1. Obedience IS success–no matter what the outward appearance of numbers or dollars may show. God sometimes brings to mind the story of the unsuspecting man who led a shoe salesman to the Lord. That salesman was Dwight L. Moody. Imagine that man’s joy to STILL see people coming through heaven’s gates, due to the far-reaching influence of Moody. May God indeed find within me a missionary ready, willing, and BOLD to lead others to Christ!


    1. I love the story of DL Moody, Nancy! The influence of his simple obedience still reaches out to touch hearts today! We may be simple, ordinary people but when we obey our mighty God he can use us to do extraordinary things. How amazing, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The tendency to sulk–how hard that hit home! When things don’t work out the way I think they should have when expectations aren’t realized, I’m bothered more than I care to admit. Thanks for this reminder of Jonah in all of us. Not proud of it but I do recognize my need to trust and obey Him.


    1. Tell me about it, Dayle! I can be a champion sulker at times. Thankfully, God looks beyond our faults and failures. He helps us overcome them – and move on to do the right thing. How good and patient he is with us! So let’s move beyond our inner Jonahs to be faithful, trusting servants!!


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