Years ago my son Jonathan, who was 3 or 4 at the time, got lost in a hotel. He loved to push the button for the elevator, and on this particular day, he ran ahead of me down the hall.
I called after him, “Now Jonathan, wait for Dad! I’m almost there.”
Just as I turned the corner, I saw the doors of the elevator close with Jonathan inside, alone. I panicked and pushed every button until finally the elevator doors opened again. But by then, there was no Jonathan. I raced down to the lobby, where the desk clerk was on the phone.
“Ma’am, my son is lost somewhere in this hotel,” I said to her. “Please call security! Call SWAT! Call the Green Berets! Call the Navy SEALs! You have got to help me find my son!”
She was still on the phone. “I’m sorry, sir,” she whispered. “Just hold on.”
But I couldn’t hold on. I was in pursuit of my son, and failure wasn’t an option. I ran back to the elevator and pushed every button. On every floor, I called out Jonathan’s name. Finally I found him, five floors up. He was just standing there in the hall.
In the same way, God is pursuing you. Maybe you think he is out to ruin all your fun, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible tells us that God is good. As Psalm 106:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
Have you ever tried to run from God because you thought he wanted to mess up your life? The Bible tells the story of someone who did this. His name was Jonah. Usually when we hear that name, what also comes to mind is a whale. We may even dismiss the story of Jonah as a myth. But it’s a true story, validated by no one less than Jesus Christ himself. He said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40 NIV).
As a matter of fact, the Bible doesn’t actually use the term whale. The technical translation would be “sea monster.” It doesn’t matter whether there is a fish in existence today like the fish that existed then. All we have to know is that it once existed. And whatever that beast was, God used it to swallow the man who tried to run from him.
God always will have the last word. He had said to Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2 NIV).
This tells us that not only is God good, but he also is loving. The Ninevites, the people to whom Jonah was called to preach, were wicked. Historical records include graphic accounts of the cruel treatment captives received at the hands of the Ninevites. They would burn boys and girls alive. They would torture adults, tearing the skin from their bodies and leaving them to die in the scorching sun. Yet despite the wickedness of these people, God loved them.
Jonah’s hope was that God would judge Nineveh and destroy them. He was a patriotic Israelite. His fear, which was effectively justified, was that God would forgive Nineveh. That’s why he didn’t want to go. So he found a ship going in the opposite direction.
The book of Jonah tells us, “After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord” (Jonah 1:3 NIV). That’s how it is with sin. It will take you farther than you want to go, it will keep you longer than you want to stay, and it will cost you more than you want to spend.
As Jonah was on his way to Tarshish, a storm came. But this wasn’t just any storm; it was so hardcore that even the sailors started to panic. They were no strangers to rough seas, but they had never seen anything like it. In a way, it was a loving storm. God was allowing it to get Jonah’s attention. Jonah had a choice. He could have stayed in the gut of that fish, but he decided to turn to God.
Maybe you’ve had a crisis in your life recently. Maybe you’ve had a close brush with death. You got a scary call from the doctor about some test results, or something happened that reminded you of your mortality. C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Sometimes it can take pain, or a storm in Jonah’s case, to get our attention and show us that we need Him.
God loved the Ninevites, and he gave them a second chance with the message Jonah delivered. I want you to know that God loves you, too. And no matter what sin you have committed, he will forgive you. But you need to turn from that sin and make a commitment to follow Christ.
I’m no prophet, and I have never been swallowed by a fish, but I do have a message: There is only one lifeline that God has dropped from heaven for us to be forgiven of our sins. It is his son, Jesus Christ, who was born in a manger, died on the cross, and rose from the dead three days later. He now stands at the door of your life and knocks. And if you will hear his voice and open the door, he will come in. That is your answer. That is your only hope.
God’s plans for you are better than any plans you have for yourself. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 NKJV). In other words he was saying, “I came that you might have a life that is full and rich and meaningful.”
God loves his kids so much that he will not let them go. He is pursuing you today. Are you running from him?
Greg Laurie is an American author and pastor who serves as the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, Harvest Church at Kumulani in Kapalua, Hawaii, and Harvest Orange County in Irvine, California.