God came to Jonah and told him to, “Arise, go to Nineveh…and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). And if you are familiar with the story, you know that Jonah fled the other direction. He simply ran away from Nineveh. Humanly speaking, who wouldn’t have blamed him. Nineveh contained a ruthless, barbaric, and violent people who were enemies of God’s people. Going there to call out against them could go one of two ways. First, he could have been killed. Second, they could repent and therefore experience the grace and mercy of God—thereby becoming somewhat of allies of Israel. Either outcome overwhelmed Jonah. Thus, he ran from the place God was calling.
We must realize by now, that the call of God is rarely, if ever, easy. In fact, it (the call of God) challenges the very sinful heart of man. For he calls us to do what our flesh cannot, or does not want to do. We learn this from Jonah. And just like Jonah, churches easily allow the flesh to get the best of them; and rather than running towards Nineveh with a missional heart and posture, they run from Nineveh. If we will be a people set to be, as well as sent to be on mission—being the conduit and vehicle by which God reaches people far from him—we must allow God to tear down some barriers that our sinful heart easily erects.
First, if we will be a people sent on mission running towards our Nineveh we must be willing to allow God to tear down the walls of our presuppositions and pride. Like Jonah, many times we allow our presuppositions (assumptions without prior knowledge) to infringe upon God’s call in our life. Since we think we have God all figured out—who he is and how he works—we are not open to God’s fresh call, a fresh direction. For Jonah, he thought that God must be making a mistake. Didn’t God know who the Ninevites were and what they were capable of? God was asking Jonah to have an open mind to how and where he wanted to work. Jonah’s presuppositions prohibited him from embracing God’s call. His presuppositions led to a prideful heart, a heart that knew better than God, and as a result a heart that took him the opposite way. Talk about a prideful heart, one that created a box just for God. It is easy to manufacture a box to house God and his mission—thinking to ourselves that this is exactly how God works, or should work. The more accustomed we become to the boxes we build for God, the more prideful our heart becomes. Therefore, we must humble ourselves in the sight of our mighty missional God and be willing to allow him to call us out of our own box to the people and place he has called us to go.
Second, if we will be a people sent on mission running towards our Nineveh we must be willing to allow God to tear down the walls of our prejudices. Jonah despised the Ninevites. He thought them to be fierce, immoral, pagan, barbaric, and violent people who were not special like the Israelites. Jonah possessed a sense of nationalistic, religious, and self-centered pride that figured Israel was better than everyone else, given their special relationship with God. He had forgotten that God chose them, not because of how mighty, holy, or special they were, but because of how they were the least of all the nations, in order that he might greatly use them. God was asking Jonah to put his prejudices aside, and go to a “different” people who were destined for destruction and preach a message of hope and redemption. (It is fairly clear that, although Jonah went, he really did not put his prejudices aside). But before we dump on Jonah, let us remember our flesh is no different. Our flesh is ethnocentric, segregated, prideful, and selfish. Although I see some pockets of movement among multi-cultural and ethnic churches, Sundays are still the most segregated day of the week. And if we want to continue to see movement among diverse churches that mirror their context we must allow the gospel to deconstruct the prejudices of our heart.
Third and finally, if we will be a people sent on mission running towards our Nineveh we must be willing to allow God to tear down the walls of our current paradigms. While I believe God is clearly on mission in the Old Testament, there is not a clear cross-cultural missionary paradigm in the Old Testament. In other words, God is not sending his people (Israel), or his prophets, throughout the world preaching a message of repentance and redemption. However, Jonah provides a foreshadowing of that type of missionary paradigm. Yet, since Jonah was not familiar with this paradigm, God was asking him to tear down the walls of his current paradigm (nations coming to Israel), in order to embrace a new one. The comfort of Jonah’s paradigm initially prohibited him from taking up another paradigm. He had never heard of this type of mission, nor has he ever done it this way before. Just like Jonah, the church today (whether they know it or not) is built upon models/paradigms—ways of “doing” or structuring the church and her mission. Anytime another “way” of doing things is presented, it is easily rejected. Given the fact that we are creatures of habit, it is uncomfortable to do something that you have never done before. Again, we must be open to God working through us in different ways to achieve and fulfill his mission of reaching people far from him.
Let us learn from the narrative of Jonah, that if we will be a people set on and sent on mission running towards our Nineveh, we must be willing to allow God to tear down these barriers that are easily constructed in our hearts and lives.