Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

The Sign Of Jonah

I love it when God’s truth breaks through to new ground in my heart.

Two Sundays ago, Jeff spoke on Matthew 11:38-48, where the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, he calls them wicked and evil, and says that no sign will be given to them except the “sign of Jonah”. Jeff spoke about Jesus’ reaction to the Pharisees and about having the right heart before God when we ask him to show himself. Even though Jesus seemingly denied the Pharisees what they were asking for, he really didn’t. He answered them, pointing to the sure sign of his death and resurrection.

The part of the message that hit me the most was how as Christians, we may be tempted to live from “sign to sign” in our own lives of what God did/does, but the one that our faith needs to be rooted on is the sign of his death and resurrection. God used that message to answer a prayer that I had been praying for a long time: for God to correct my twisted view about him, especially in relation to his will.

For a long time, I have struggled with a bit of a skewed view about God’s will. I know that in the end, all things will work out for God’s glory and my good- but my fear is not about the ends, it’s about the means. I know that sometimes God uses difficult things in life for these ends. That scares me. Somehow, then, I’ve developed over the years a view that what God wants for me is always the hard thing or the thing I don’t want. I basically project worst-case scenarios convince myself that they will happen, of course, for an ultimate good.

Case in point: My first year in college. I felt that I needed God to humble and break me which led me immediately to think of the most difficult thing that could ever happen to me. For a while, I was seriously convinced that someone in my family was going to die that year. That’s probably the most extreme case. But then, there was also me being sure I’d end up single a lot longer or for life because of how much I wanted to get married. When Jeff and I started dating, I told him that I was surprised that I was dating so soon and he said “Yea, I thought it’d be at least not for a couple of months.” I had meant like, fifteen, twenty years or…never.

My twisted mentality about God and his will causes me to be filled with feelings of anger, reluctance, and fear when thinking about my future. For example, thinking that God will “make me” go overseas on missions where/when I don’t want to. It also keeps me fearful of celebrating and looking forward to things, just in case it ends up being God’s will that something happens to stop it along the way. It makes me afraid to pray “God, your will be done. Do whatever brings you glory in my life,” even though I really do want to.

I’ve always had fear about the future, so maybe it’s just my own anxiety and worries about the unknown that has shaped this view of God’s will for my life. Maybe it’s been shaped by hearing people saying variations of “Oooh, don’t say ‘never’ or else God’ll make you do it!” (a pet peeve of mine), or my own pessimism and fear of suffering. Maybe it’s because a lot of times I’ve seen how I’m stubborn in my own way and God, in his grace, denies me my will to give me what is much much better. At the heart of it though, is my view of who God is and specifically, who he is toward me.

Hearing the message two Sundays ago though, the Holy Spirit revealed to me the wrong way that I had been thinking. I used to wonder- how do I look back, see God’s faithfulness and goodness to me, and still be so fearful and untrusting about the future? I realized through Jeff speaking about signs, that the foundation of my faith cannot be what he’s done for me apart from his death and resurrection. Plus, just because he’s been gracious, good, and gentle to me in my past life circumstances doesn’t guarantee anything explicitly about the future; in my mind, it can even make me more fearful, just waiting for something terrible to finally happen. What I need to trust is God and his character.

During the message, when exhorted to look to the cross, I remembered afresh the Father’s love for me in giving up his Son and Jesus’ love for me in coming to walk this earth, not holding onto his glory but becoming a servant to suffer and die for me. He did all this while I wanted nothing to do with him. He loves me, and I know it not just because the Bible says “God loves you” but because He demonstrated it. The love that he showed, stirs up trust in my heart- I know, like know, through the cross that his affection, intentions, and will toward me are good and loving. He is not just working towards his glory and Christlikeness in my own life, but the way he brings that about is also good and loving because that is who he is. I cannot look to the cross, and then think about God as some cold, distant being who plans my life in a mechanical and “well, it’ll end up good in the end!” way. He loves me at all times, thus I trust that the ends that he plans are not just “good” in some abstract sense, but even the means ordained by him flow out of his eternal, unchanging, everlasting love. That’s why I’m not afraid even though an easy life is not promised to me. That’s why I will trust him even though I know there will be times things don’t make sense in my eyes.

J.I. Packer defines providence as:

The unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill, He upholds His creatures in ordered existence, guides and governs all events, circumstances, and free acts of angels and men, and directs everything to its appointed goal, for His own glory.

In overflowing bounty and goodwill. That is the way in which God ordains all things in my life. How do I know the way he looks at me and plans my life? Why do I trust him? Because…

…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:32, 35, 37-39)

I once heard a sister overseas respond to her brother asking her “Why don’t you just be a nominal Christian? Don’t be so crazy about God.” She had faced real physical dangers as well as social persecution for her faith, still she shone with joy and trust in him. She responded by saying “I can’t. God’s love has scarred my heart.” My prayer is that I would be able to say the same.

How marvelous! How wonderful!

And my song shall ever be-

How marvelous! How wonderful!

Is my Savior’s love for me.

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