Soon after thinking about a summary of Noah’s ministry, I recalled a sermon my husband preached at a supporting church on the book of Jonah. We had fun contrasting the two “ministries.”
Mission field: the very wicked people of the world
Message: total destruction
Converts: only his family (eight people)
Reaction: a sacrifice of thanks
Mission field: the very wicked people of the capital city of Israel’s enemies
Message: total destruction
Converts: everyone, from the greatest to the least
Reaction: anger, wishes to die
What fantastic irony! Can you think of two more polar opposites in Scripture? Noah preaches and prepares an ark for salvation but sees no fruit from his efforts outside of his family. But he praises the Lord for their salvation, this little fruit that came from his long ministry.
Jonah, on the other hand, doesn’t want to see the salvation of the Ninevites, even though he himself has been so miraculously saved from a watery death. His sermon is as short and perfunctory as can be (eight words in English), and yet he has incredible success in a mass revival that involves even the beasts fasting and wearing sackcloth!
His angry reaction is even more incredible. I mean–what missionary doesn’t long to see a revival like that? We can’t even tell if he made it the three days the Bible says it took to cross the city before repentance falls on the people. But he is angry at God’s great mercy, at his goodness. His emotions are extreme: “It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.”
He spits out his prayer, which with your permission, could be summarized in modern speech, “I knew you’d be like that! You know… GOOD. I’d rather die than see this!”
We can learn so much from the book of Jonah. But for now, what can we learn from a comparison of Noah’s and Jonah’s ministries? I think we can be encouraged by the answer to a natural question that might come up when comparing the two ministries.
Why was Jonah’s ministry so successful, though so vehemently undesired, when Noah’s ministry was dry as a desert? (That is, ahem, until the waters covered the earth.)
There is only one answer. I’ll use Jonah’s words:
SALVATION is OF THE LORD.
That is the only explanation for such vast differences between the two ministry results, especially when we consider that Jonah actually worked and prayed against the salvation of the Ninevites!
Look at all the actions the Lord does in the book of Jonah:
- He calls Jonah. “The word of the Lord came unto Jonah…, saying, ‘Arise, go.'”
- …the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea…
- …the Lord…which hath made the sea and the dry land…
- …the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.
- [according to Jonah] “He heard me…thou heardest my voice. For thou hadst cast me into the deep….Yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.
- And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
- And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go…and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”
- And God saw their works…
- And God repented of the evil that He had said that He would do unto them; and He did it not.
- He gently questions Jonah, “Doest thou well to be angry?”
- …the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief.
- But God prepared a worm…
- …God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun…
After being attacked by criminals, a few pastors asked if I was struggling to believe in God’s goodness. Honestly, at the beginning, I wasn’t struggling very much on that point. I knew God was good, if for no other reason than that He saved our lives!
Actually I admitted that where I struggled to believe in God’s goodness and love towards us was in the extreme difficulty and scant results of our evangelism efforts. I am sure many missionaries can relate to struggling with a feeling of bitterness towards our Lord. “I gave up all ___ for You, and where are You? Why aren’t You blessing our ministry? Where’s the fruit?”
This is actually nothing but a feeling of entitlement that God owes us certain glories for what we’ve sacrificed for Him, an expectation of a certain minimum of results. But hasn’t it been said so many times in the Bible, that God is the One responsible for our ministry successes?
- “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
- “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”
- Even the pagan sailors whom Jonah sailed with admitted, “…thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee.”
It is initially discouragingly humbling for us to realize that it is not our charisma or plans or goodwill or activities that effect revival. It is the wind of God blowing where it will.
But there is one thing that we can do, that we must do, in order to see God’s hand at work. We must go. And we must preach.
Why God, with all of His amazing power and mercy, has chosen to use such a weak tool as the foolishness of preaching, is a mystery to me. But He told us to go, and He said that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and He said that they cannot believe unless they hear, and they cannot hear without a preacher. So…
…don’t be discouraged by the truth that God is ultimately responsible for the salvation of souls on your field. Let that truth encourage you. He said He would do it. It may not be as immediate as it was with Jonah; in fact, it could take quite a long time, but He will go with you, and He will build His church.
And what should be our only response?
Definitely not anger:
“Why are You doing it this way?”
But gratitude and humility. Embrace humility:
“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?”
“You saved me and included me in Your plan of salvation for the Tsonga people? Thank You, Lord. You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.”
Salvation is of the LORD.