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What happens when we run from God?

10.24.16 | Jonah

We run a lot. We run home, run to the store, run away for the weekend or run to the bathroom. We sometimes run stuff up the flag pole, run with an idea or even run around with the wrong crowd. The Old Testament book of Jonah recalls the story of a man who was on the run spiritually.

Jonah was a prophet who possessed a strong patriotic spirit and enjoyed prophesying the positive messages God had given to him to share with Israel. But the time came for Jonah to tell some bad news to some bad people from another nation—Israel’s most hated enemy and oppressor.

Jonah didn’t want to do what God asked him to do, so he became a man on the run. Maybe you can identify with Jonah. Although the Bible calls our spiritual journey a walk, you find yourself on the run. Jonah is a book about God’s steadfast love for a man on the run. Let's look at Jonah’s story and see how God’s grace and goodness run to us when we are on the run.

Good People Sometimes Run from God

In Jonah 1:1-3; God gave Jonah a clear assignment to go to Nineveh and cry against it. He was to go and preach, but Jonah got up and went the exact opposite direction. Why? Because Nineveh was wicked and it was Israel’s primary enemy. Nineveh wanted to see Israel wiped off the map, but God wanted to give them an opportunity to repent. God was offering this wicked nation compassion and giving them a chance to change.

It’s easy to understand why Jonah ran. He was scared of the ruthlessly violent people he would have to face. Jonah was patriotically prideful and didn’t want to see a pagan nation share in God’s grace. And it’s possible that Jonah was just passive and felt he deserved a getaway on the Mediterranean coast. Can you blame him?

But the Bible says Jonah wasn’t just running from God’s directions but also from God’s presence. If God was going to send him to do something he had no interest in doing, then he wasn’t going to listen to God any longer. Jonah wasn’t a bad man. He was a prophet, not a pagan. Sometimes good people run from God. We all have our reasons:

  1. We run because we’re scared.
  2. We run because we’re prideful or rebellious.
  3. We run because we’ve been hurt.
  4. We run because we believe the lie that God’s presence is not what is best for us.

But the truth is that the only real joy can be found in God’s presence. Psalm 16:11 says, “You will make known to me the path of life, in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

Your Running Can Hurt Innocent People

God sent a powerful storm over Jonah’s ship. It was so bad the boat was about to break into pieces. The sailors, no doubt notorious “cussers,” called a prayer meeting for everyone to pray to their god…except for Jonah. He’s below deck sleeping. Oftentimes when we run from God it can seem like we’re getting away with it, but after awhile a storm will start brewing all around us.

Jonah has gone from being a blessing to others to being the possible source of their demise. The sailors have no choice but to throw Jonah overboard to spare their own lives. Bad things can happen to innocent people when you run from God. Think about the ripple effects of a pastor’s indiscretions. His running affects his family, his church and the community he is called to reach. Or consider the foolish choice of a fraternity brother that lands the entire chapter on probation. How about the child whose trips in and out of rehab have left the parents completely broke? Your running can put others at risk of doubting God, turning from God or even hating God.

The sailors now know they have a runner on your ship, so what do they do? Look at Jonah 1:11-16. They rowed harder, they prayed, they released Jonah and finally they worshipped. If you have a loved one who is running from God and it’s affecting you or people you love, here’s what you can do:

  1. Do everything you can to help them, but know that you aren’t their hope and you can’t fix them.
  2. Pray to God and run to God on their behalf (Lamentations 3:57).
  3. If they won’t turn around, turn them over to God trusting that God will do the work in them He has to do.
  4. Worship God and continue to serve Him and run to Him.

When You Run, You Can Miss God’s Blessing, But You Can’t Escape His Love

Running from God has real implications for our lives:

  1. We can lose our spiritual power. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the lord will not hear.” Disobedience will ruin our ability to pray with power.
  2. We can also lose our sense of purpose. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has a plan for our lives, but when we run from God, we step away from the very thing we were created to do.
  3. We might lose our desire to live. Jonah didn’t think he would survive if he jumped off the boat. He was ready to die rather than to do what God said. But God wasn’t done with Jonah. That’s why Jonah 1:17 said that God appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah. It didn’t happen by accident.

From the moment Jonah decided to run, God was saying this is NOT okay. He tried getting Jonah’s attention…but it was not working, so God kept taking His loving discipline down another notch. Hebrews 12:5–11 reminds us that God disciplines us, not because He’s mad at us or a bad father, but because He’s good and He loves us.

You can miss the blessing of God and your purpose for life, but you can’t get away from the presence of God. Psalm 139 says there is no place you can run to, and no place you are right now, where God doesn’t see you, God’s not with you and God doesn’t love you. He sees, He’s here, and He loves you perfectly right now…even though you are running.