January 17th 2021

You can run but you can’t hide.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it, because it’s wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. (Jonah 1:1-3)

Jonah – the man who tried to hide from God. I have a particular fondness for the character of Jonah. He is just so relatable. For a start, he is far from perfect; a flawed servant of God who had strong opinions about who and who was not redeemable. He didn’t like the mission God asked him to undertake and thought if he ignored it and ran far enough in the opposite direction, he could hide away. Perhaps he thought if he hid away long enough God would give up this ridiculous notion of giving the people of Nineveh a second chance. Who knows? It’s really just a story. But it is a story of tremendous significance for us, because whilst it contains a number of home truths for us which may be uncomfortable to hear, it also teaches us a lot about the mercy, grace and love God has for all people, even those as wayward as the people of Nineveh and as flawed as the character of Jonah.

God loves us, and he loves us unconditionally. He loves us despite how others regard us and he loves others, even those we may deem worthless or undeserving. Our opinions of others hold no sway with God because he sees hope in everyone. Like Jonah, we might sometimes find the idea of forgiveness being available for all, including those we deem to be our worst enemy - a bitter pill to swallow. However, this is one of the most amazing things about God’s grace, it extends to all who call on him and it makes no difference to us whatsoever whom God choses to bestow mercy upon.

Jonah knew what God was like and decided that his best option was to run – to run as fast and as far as he could to avoid carrying out God’s wishes. This was one plan he did not want to be part of, and he intended to make sure that doing so was a physical impossibility.

What about you? Have you ever tried to hide from God? Are you trying to ignore him just now? If so, let me say that your efforts are futile, because sooner or later he will get your attention in such a way that it will be impossible to ignore. Believe me, I have tried. That’s probably why I have a soft spot for Jonah. But the truth of the matter is, just as Jonah was to discover, God will get your attention eventually and the only wat to regain some semblance of inner peace is to stop running and turn around. Stop and listen to what he is saying, and in so doing you will discover for yourself the power God has to change lives for the better, including our own.

We can run, but we can never hide from God, and in all honesty, I am glad, because God’s will for us is never to do us harm, but always to allow us to develop a deeper understanding of who he is and how much we mean to him. The Psalmist puts it beautifully when he writes:

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” (Ps. 139:1-10)

We may run but we cannot hide, and surely, this must be a blessing for us. You see, it may be that you are actually longing for God to find you. Perhaps you feel so lost, so anxious or alone that you are starting to think that you are hidden from God, that he is unaware of your plight, or worse still, ignoring it. For what it’s worth, in my experience God has never abandoned me, and nor will he ever abandon you. Yes, there have been times when God has seemed absent, times when our prayers appear to have gone unanswered. The sense of isolation this brings can be overwhelming. But then I read Psalm 139 and am reminded of God’s intimate knowledge of me and how he knew before I did the struggles and challenges I’d have to face, and I am comforted. I may not always feel God’s presence, but I am assured of his loving concern and trust that in his good time, all will be well.

So it is for you. God has neither abandoned nor forsaken you. His love for us is greater than we can ever imagine. And so, even in these challenging days where physical distancing may add to our feelings of isolation, know that God understands our plight and will reveal his love to us, not least, in the care and support offered to us by both friend and stranger alike.

Jesus himself showed us how far and wide God’s love was able to reach. Throughout his ministry we witness his willingness to welcome and embrace those who sought his presence. More importantly, by example he taught us how inclusive God’s love was – caring as he did for those whom both “church” and society denigrated and disregarded. No one was hidden from him and his love. The same remains true for us today – no one is beyond his care or concern. Let us rest in the assurances he has given, trusting that he will guide us through, comforted and encouraged in the knowledge that he is with us always, just as he promised he would be (Matt. 28:20). Amen.

Prayer

Dear Lord, we thank you for the abundance of comfort and hope preserved for us in the book of Psalms. It is such a wonderful resource to draw on, particularly when we are having a hard time or struggling with the challenges life throws at us. To be reminded of your steadfast and sure love for us is overwhelming, in a good way. When we are feeling lost or abandoned, you speak to us through the words of the psalmist, assuring us of your love, even if we cannot always feel it.

We thank you for Jesus, for all that you have done for us through him. May we live lives worthy of his sacrifice, seeking only to love and serve you as he taught us. In these challenging times, make your presence known to those who feel lost, forgotten or abandoned. May your healing grace be upon those whose hearts are being consumed by bitterness and hate, that your presence may bring calm, confession and consolation that their souls would instead be quenched by your Spirit of love.

As a new week begins, we give you our heart and dedicate our lives to your will. Fill us with hope and inspire us in service, in the name and for the sake of Jesus, your Son, our Saviour. Amen.

Please click on the link below to listen to “He will hold me fast” sung by Kristyn Getty.

He will hold me fast