Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
Feb. 17, 2002
Some of the
finest stories ever written may be found scattered through the book popularly
known as “the good book.” The Bible contains stories of romance, intrigue,
murder, wars, shipwrecks, suicide, and adventure, just to mention a few.
and agnostics would enjoy reading the Bible. You don’t have to believe that it
is the greatest book ever written to enjoy its fascinating stories of human
struggle, failure, and achievement.
One of my
favorite stories, for example, is that of Jonah and the whale. That story has
had such an impact upon the world that the very word “Jonah” brings us the
image of the whale. But when you read the story, no whale is mentioned. Instead
it is a “fish” that swallows Jonah.
though, is where some people stumble. They reason that even if a big fish could
swallow a man, the man could not possibly survive the ordeal. They conclude
then that this is not a real story, but one like that of Jack and the Bean
Stalk. This conclusion does not really bother me, for the significance of Jonah
does not hinge on whether you believe that a big fish could swallow a man.
the Jonah story suggests some funny observations we may enjoy. The fish obeyed
God when Jonah did not. God “commanded”
the fish to vomit Jonah out of his belly on land. Jonah, however, was at sea
because he was running from God. God had commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh, but
Jonah ran the other way.
then, may not be the great exercise that health experts believe it is. It could
be hazardous to your future, if not your health, especially if you are running
best chuckle Jonah can give us is this: even a fish cannot stomach a backslider
for more than three days before it becomes sick of him. I will leave it to you
to ask your own pastor if backsliders cause preachers to be nauseated. Or you
can draw your own conclusion.
chuckles aside, in many ways the story of Jonah is the story of every person.
Look at the sequence of events. God called. Jonah ran. Jonah was miserable. God
showed mercy. Jonah stopped running and obeyed God. Then things go better for
Is that not
much like our own experience? God calls. We run. We are miserable. God shows us
mercy. Then, if we are wise, we respond to God’s mercy by obeying him.
Otherwise our story is likely to have a sad ending.
often compared my own life to that of Jonah. Not that a big fish ever swallowed
me, but for years I stayed busy thinking up excuses for not obeying God.
me to preach when I was in my teens, still in high school. But I doubted. I
ran. I tried to write my own ticket in college. But I was miserable. Only when
I surrendered to God’s call and stopped running did I find peace. Ever since
then I have pleaded for sufficient grace to continue to obey God. In his mercy
God has given me a sense of fulfillment about the mission of my life.
son, Matt, heard God call. Like Jonah he ran, and he even ran to the sea. He
spent 10 years in the Navy. He saw the world but in no port did he find peace
for all those years he was running from God.
God’s mercy overwhelmed Matt’s misery. Like Jonah he gave up and began to obey
God. You could have knocked me over with a feather when he told me, “Dad, I
think God is calling me to preach.” In my great wisdom I tried to talk him out
of it. I told him that God needs Christian men in every arena of life. He
listened patiently, then asked, “But, Dad, what if God really is calling me to
preach?” I replied, “Then, son, you had better do what God wants you to do.”
In May Matt
is finishing his final year of seminary at age 44. Like Jonah Matt has found
peace by obeying God. Is Matt a late bloomer? Perhaps. But Matt says, “I
believe I am on God’s time table, right on schedule.”
stories are useful for much more than Vacation Bible Schools. We can learn from
biblical stories much about God, and much about ourselves. I reckon that’s why
I love the story of Jonah so much. I could identify with Jonah. And I learned a
powerful lesson from his story. I learned that I could never have peace with
God while running and making excuses. That peace only comes through obeying
When I get
to heaven, Jonah will be one of the first fellows I want to talk to. And I want
to find out just how big that fish really was!