Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
All around the world (especially in the US) pastors are giving up. And who can blame them? The burn-out rate for a pastor is ridiculously high. what with the rewards for their job being low; being under constant attack from the devil, nonbelievers, and even church members; facing huge odds as they try to bring a dark world to the light of Jesus; and constantly having secular science spit on the book they’ve built their lives on. It’s an exhausting job to say the least. Sometimes, being a layman has its advantages. Certainly the folks outside of the clergy have more peace than men of the cloth. You know, people give Jonah a hard time, but many Christians (not just pastors) are in his seat. Honestly, he’s a pretty good example to those who are struggling with their calling (well, except for the whole thing with the giant fish).
Hear me out on this. Jonah’s story starts off simply enough, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me’’ (Jonah 1:1-2). Jonah was called by God. We too are called by God when the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual gifts. In fact, everyone who has come to Jesus Christ as their savior has been sealed by the Holy Spirit and is therefore able to call on these gifts as to each has been given. For Paul tells us,
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
So to each person in Christ, spiritual gifts have been given. Jonah had been given the gift of prophecy by God. Since he was given this gift, he was called to use it as a prophet. But there are many different callings, since God calls all Christians to something. Paul notes,
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
We’re all called by our Lord for some purpose, be it to spread the gospel, or to teach others, or just to be good Christian examples on how one should live. Everyone is called to something in the Body of Christ.
Now Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, which was an evil and dangerous city. Since the people of Nineveh did not believe in God, by going there to preach destruction, Jonah was taking his life into his hands. Jonah also gives a further explanation to God as to why he didn’t want to go in chapter four after the people of Nineveh repented and were spared by God,
But Jonah was greatly displeased and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:1-2).
Jonah already knew that God was gracious and that he was going to win anyway, whether Jonah went to Nineveh or not. So rather than risk his own life, Jonah ran away hoping that God would replace him with someone more willing to associate with the people of Nineveh. A lot of Christians feel the same way. They’re under pressure in their callings (be it preaching, teaching, or any other job or duty the Lord may have them in right now) and they know that since God has all the power, he can just as easily replace them if they fall back. I especially think of pastors who are having difficulties with their members or maybe some bad press about the church. Consider how much pressure they’re under, trying to live a nearly sinless life, keep the peace, and still manage all of their duties (and some churches put a lot of weight on the pastor’s shoulders). Considering that God is God and all Christians are called, it can be easy for one to want to just stop and let someone else deal with it.
However, God doesn’t see things like we do. When God calls you to something he calls you, not somebody else. When we’re tempted to quit and ask God to find someone else to do the work he’s called us to, it’s like a fork telling its owner to use chopsticks. The owner picked the fork because he wanted to use a fork; sure chopsticks work, but that’s not what the owner chose. Likewise, someone else probably can do your task- but God called you, by name, when he brought you to a saving knowledge of his son Jesus Christ. So what’s a burned out Christian (pastor or otherwise) to do? Well, the Bible teaches us to just get over our junk and do what God has called us to do. Don’t believe me? Check out Jonah, after his fish adventure we find him in Nineveh,
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city- a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned” (Jonah 3:3-4).
Jonah sucked it up and did his job. Take note though that he didn’t even do a particularly good job of it, he just walked around and said everyone was going to die. Now I’m not trying to endorse his method but once Jonah got past his stuff and obeyed God great things happened. We read in Jonah 3:5, “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.” By just doing what the Lord had called him to, Jonah saved an entire city from destruction.
How was he able to do it? I’ve heard many theories, largely dealing with how scary a guy must look when he’s been sitting in a stomach for a few days, but the reason is much simpler: God chose Jonah to preach to the Ninevites. Maybe you’re not seeing any fruit in your ministry right now, but don’t let that get you down. God didn’t choose you to be a failure; you will succeed in whatever the Lord has put into your heart to do. If Jonah can do it, so can you! And if you aren’t with Jesus yet and feel your life is meaningless, don’t be surprised: it is. But that can change as early as today. Give your life to Jesus, who died on a cross to save you from your sins. After that, pray and see where God takes you.
Trust in the Lord will all your heart
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him,
And he will make your paths straight.