Thursday, June 27, 2019

Offering a Cure for the Proud, Petulant and Pouting

In my last post, I addressed how God can take His children going through times of brokenness and employ His own divine “Kintsugi” repair program. We don’t like the process of becoming broken, but it’s a part of the Lord’s plan for each one of us, shaping and molding us into the people He intends for us to become. And He often fills in the broken places and cracks with “glue” more precious than gold or silver.

I thought I’d revisit this briefly because it raises a good question: Why is brokenness so important to God?

For an answer, we can consider an excellent biblical example – Jonah in the Old Testament. Nestled between the books of Obadiah and Micah, the story of Jonah is a curious one. In that short book we read about the Lord’s call for Jonah to go to the prosperous, pagan city of Nineveh, inhabited by the Assyrians. He becomes the most reluctant of prophets, first attempting to flee in the opposite direction to Tarshish, spurning the call to lead a revival among the Ninevites.

Illustration courtesy of
God foils his flight by sending a severe storm on his Tarshish-bound ship. This results in Jonah being tossed overboard but, instead of drowning, being swallowed by a huge fish that became his “home” for three days and three nights.

Humbled and broken, helpless to change his circumstances, Jonah utters a prayer of repentance: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry…. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple…. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:2-9).

Alas, we quickly discover that even after times of brokenness, we often fall back on our attempts to fix ourselves. The huge fish spits Jonah out and he does go to Nineveh with his message, “Repent. The end is near.” To his dismay, the despised Ninevites, led by their king, humble themselves and confess their sins, turning back to God. Jonah becomes a petulant prophet, pouting because of God’s compassion.

“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 4:2).

Apparently the prophet thought it was all right for him to turn back to God in repentance, but for a huge city of people he hated – not so much. It seems more breaking was in order for Jonah.

This is a cautionary tale for us all. Perhaps you, as it was for me, discovered your desperate need for God during a time of feeling broken and helpless. It’s often said, when there’s nowhere else to turn, look up. However, we remain a headstrong people and quickly can forget all the Lord has done for us. 

When the chaos has turned to calm, we recapture our smug, “I can do it myself” attitude. More than once, perhaps not in so many words, I’ve thought, “Thanks, Lord. I’ll take it from here. If I need any more help, I’ll let you know.” When we take that attitude, God politely removes His hand of protection and waits. “Let Me know how that works for you, My child!”

For a time things might go smoothly, but then we find ourselves back at the end of our self-sufficiency. So we have to enroll in the School of Brokenness again. And again. And again.

Thankfully, as Jonah said, we worship and serve a God who is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” When we again declare our independence and spurn the Lord’s kind offers to intervene, He’ll let us return to brokenness school for a refresher course. 

Some of us are slow to learn, but our God is a patient teacher. When we finally reach a point of surrender, as King David did in the following prayer, He’s ready to welcome His “students” with open arms of grace and mercy:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your generous Spirit.”
         – Psalm 51:10-12

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