Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalms 139:23-24 NIV)
Imagine the amount of preparation that goes into a wedding.
I had a tiny glimpse into the process several months ago as my brother and now sister-in-law planned for their wedding day in February. There were hours, days, weeks, and months of preparation. Selecting the right date, finalizing the guests list, figuring out the venue, finding the right dress, the right tux, the photographer, the food, the bridesmaids, the groomsmen — the seemingly endless list goes on.
But this entire season of planning, preparation, refining, and getting even the smallest details right were all for one special long-awaited day.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
The scriptures remind us of what marriage ultimately represents: Christ and the church. A groom and bride. Christ, the groom, demonstrating His love for the church, His bride — to the point that He gave His life for her so that one day, we could dwell in His presence for eternity in heaven. A restored relationship. A complete reconciliation. A beautiful wedding day.
Of course, there is a time of preparation before this special day. We the church, the Bride of Christ, are in the process of preparation right now before the Lord returns.
Revelation 19:7a references the time when we will finally be prepared to meet Him: “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” (ESV).
When we give our lives to Christ, we begin the process of sanctification, actively putting off our sinful ways and walking in the newness of life He gives us. After all, He desires to present us spotless for eternity (Ephesians 5:25-27).
God doesn’t leave us in this process. He’s the one guiding us and perfecting us as we work out our salvation. He doesn’t simply abandon us and say, Figure it out! Instead, He patiently remains with us. Through the Holy Spirit, He convicts us. When we’re going the wrong way, He redirects us. And when we lose focus, He has a way of getting our attention.
In Part One of “Peace in the Storm,” we spoke about how earthly trials and interruptions don’t stop God’s plans for our lives. Nothing can stop His purpose, but we have the choice to partner with Him in His work.
But do we give Him our yes, or do we assume our way is right?
Walking with the Lord is a continuous process of surrender, an adjusting of our hearts to be aligned with His. God is always speaking, but our natural, fleshly instinct is to listen to ourselves. Yet Proverbs 3:5-6 warns us not to lean on our own understanding. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is desperately wicked (and so wicked, that no human being could even understand it!)
God is able to work in us and transform us when we resist the temptation to commit to our natural ways of thinking — which will lead us astray — and instead humble ourselves enough to learn God’s ways so that He can point us in the right direction.
The first step is listening when He’s trying to get our attention.
The book of Jonah illustrates our hearts and our natural response when it comes to obedience. (If you need a refresher of the story, click here.)
Take a quick look at how God gets Jonah’s attention and how Jonah responds to Him:
God first calls Jonah to go and preach in Nineveh at the beginning of the story: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2).
Here’s Jonah’s response: “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord” (v. 3).
Instead of running to God to even seek His wisdom for this bold instruction, Jonah runs in the opposite direction. God says, go to Nineveh, and Jonah goes to Tarshish. Jonah uses the same energy and time he could have used for obedience to instead disobey and do what was perhaps more comfortable and, in his eyes, right.
But God doesn’t give up on Jonah. He tries to get his attention again.
This time, He sends a storm:
“But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up” (v. 4).
What was Jonah’s response? In verse 5, the mariners on the ship were terrified in the midst of such a sudden, life-threatening storm, but Jonah was “fast asleep.”
It takes the mariners who don’t even know the Lord for themselves to wake him up and instruct him to call upon God; it was clear enough to them that what was happening required help from Someone greater than themselves: “So the captain came and said to him, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish’” (v. 6).
In verse 10, Jonah reveals to them that he was fleeing from God’s presence. Eventually, they make the decision to cast Jonah into the sea to calm the storm.
The story could have ended there, but God had another plan. He tries to get Jonah’s attention again:
Verse 17 tells us, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Other translations say that God prepared a great fish to swallow Him. God lovingly provided another opportunity for Jonah to seek Him.
And this time, Jonah actually does. Finally alone, in the most unimaginable position in the belly of a fish (which saved him from death!), Jonah acknowledges his sin and disobedience and repents before God in prayer (2:1-9).
One of the most striking aspects of his prayer is His acknowledgement of who God is: “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (v. 9).
Jonah went from being a man fleeing from the presence of God to realizing that salvation belonged to God. Thinking he could rule his own life to seeing that God ruled the earth — to the point that even a large storm and a giant fish must obey Him. And also, believing he could rely on himself to seeing how God had mercy on him as He patiently waited for him to obey. This was a heart transformation.
Then, in Jonah 2:10, the fish vomits Jonah out — not into the middle of the sea — but on dry land. Now, Jonah’s second opportunity for obedience arrived.
In Jonah 3:1-2, God speaks to Jonah again: “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.’”
This time, Jonah responds with obedience: “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord” (v. 3). This eventually leads to the people of Nineveh hearing God’s message and then turning to Him in repentance. (Ironically, right after Jonah himself had a lesson in repentance.)
Now, this short account of Jonah’s story has so much for us to take away.
As we are on this earth with the time we are given, God is in the process of refining us and using us to bring others to Him. Like Jonah, when we disregard God’s commands given to us in His Word, we are choosing to go our own way. But through Jonah’s story, we clearly see that our way leads to destruction and danger — for ourselves and others. Jonah’s disobedience put the mariners at sea in danger with a great storm, and his disobedience would have also meant that an entire city would have missed out on witnessing who God is.
When God lovingly corrects us, whether it’s through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, through others directly speaking to us, or even through us living the consequences of our actions, the best thing we can do is to pay attention.
I remember months ago when the coronavirus outbreak first occurred. From restaurants to sporting events, things around us were shut down or canceled. Suddenly, we couldn’t do exactly what we wanted whenever we wanted. We couldn’t flee anywhere or to anything like Jonah could.
In several ways since then, this year has given us a rare opportunity to pause and reflect.
God is always speaking. Have you found Him speaking to you at this time? What is He drawing your attention to? Are there things God has been convicting you about, but you’ve been putting them off?
Are there areas in your life where you have traded in your First Love for something else? Are there things that stir you more than God’s conviction? Do you choose God’s perspective or your perspective? Is there a specific sin you keep running back to? Have you seen others through the eyes of Christ? Are there any areas where you’ve started desiring or idolizing other things more than Him? Are there ways where your responses have not even pointed to Christ’s love?
In every circumstance, I’ve found myself asking, What is God’s heart in the midst of this? And also, how can I be aligned with His heart? Do I need to adjust myself?
God is always speaking. He sees all — including our own hearts — and He’s in the process of completing the work He has started. Nothing escapes His attention. He’s transforming His bride, and we can choose to partner with Him — to allow Him to transform us and draw others to join in through our lives, words, and actions that should show that the Lord is good.
Now, the process of transformation isn’t easy. Conviction is hard. Sometimes it means letting go. Sometimes it means walking away. Sometimes it means confrontation. Sometimes it means discipline. Sometimes it means being uncomfortable. And it always means humility. But when God is making something new inside you or in your life, be encouraged, because He makes everything beautiful in its time.
Matthew 24:42 says, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” It’s comfortable to stay asleep, just like Jonah was asleep in the middle of a storm, but this was the same storm that God was using to get His attention.
And so, may we be encouraged to let the Lord continue to open our eyes and refine us. May we be determined to pay attention when He calls us out. May our love reflect His amazing love and be the most distinct thing about us. And may the Lord finish the work — down to every detail — that He has started until that special day when He comes back.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
(Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV)
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