Incense for the Nations

a prayer based blog seeking to inform, inspire and encourage


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The man who loved a plant more than 120,000 people

There really was a man who valued a plant, that grew one day and withered the next, more than the entire population of a city. In fact, the thought that God could love and have mercy upon the people of this city, made him so angry he wanted to die rather than to see them live.

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I’m talking about Jonah from the book in the bible of the same name.

The book begins with the word of God that came to Jonah, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me’ (Jonah c1:2 NKJV).

Jonah’s response was to attempt a 2500 miles journey, in the opposite direction, to Tarshish (in modern day Spain). I used to think the reason Jonah ran away from doing what God instructed was fear, but I was wrong.

Jonah didn’t want to preach in Nineveh in Assyria (modern day Mosul in Iraq *) because he hated the Assyrians. Assyria was an enemy of Israel. If we could ask Jonah, he would probably give us a long list of atrocities carried out by Assyria against Israel.

Jonah didn’t want to preach to Nineveh because he knew God is merciful and he hated the thought that these people, knowing what they had done, could be forgiven. How could God love those who hated Israel? They weren’t a tribe of Israel. They weren’t God’s people. They worshipped other god’s. They were responsible for great evil. How could God expect Jonah to preach to and pray for them? Rather, treat them as they deserve and wipe them out.

I’m skipping significant events, in what is a short book anyway, but I want to get straight to my point and what prompted this blog.

Last summer, when James Foley was the first of the 5 men murdered by Islamic State, in order to provoke ‘the west’ #, I was so outraged and angry. I can be a bit hot blooded and my first reaction isn’t always my best. I’m going be honest and vulnerable here and tell you that my first reaction was ‘kill them all’. Not just ‘Jihadi John’ but everyone in Islamic State. Eradicate them completely. This would have been my way of making the world a better place.

Is it right for me to be angry?
It was at this time that the book of Jonah came to mind. In c4:4 God asks Jonah ‘is it right for you to be angry’? I felt God was asking me the same thing. Jonah, probably wisely, didn’t answer but settled down to see what God would do with Nineveh, hoping, I think, that God might still destroy the city and everyone in it.

As Jonah waits, God causes a plant to grow over him to shield him from the heat of the sun and Jonah was pleased with it. (c4:6). The next day, though, it withered and died. This really upset Jonah. Then God speaks again. ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant’? (c4:9) Jonah replies this time, ‘it is right for me to be angry’.

God rebukes Jonah, ‘You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left’ (4:10-11).

I felt very challenged by this. Overcome evil with good sounds great until one is told to do it in circumstances that we’re angry about. As I thought more, it also seemed a very weak and feeble thing to do. To my carnal mind a show of strength was called for not prayers of love.

I sometimes find the love of God scary. By this I mean it scares me what God could expect of me to demonstrate and express His love to others. In this situation, being honest, God wasn’t asking much of me personally, as I hadn’t been directly impacted by the events in Syria (by this, I mean, I didn’t know the men) but God would have said the same even if I had.

This is difficult and may be offensive to some but we have to love. God moved my heart to pray for Syria, specifically, and those of Islamic State, that God’s love would rain down on a place where a life seems so cheap and ending it so easy. I pray for dreams and visions of God, that even Jihadi John be saved (not that I think he should escape justice for what he has done) and spend eternity in heaven.

You see this is victory! That we overcome evil. That lives be transformed. Transformed lives transform nations. Let there be love in hearts where there is hatred right now. Think of the difference this will make.

I have a plant too
Do you know as I type this, even now, part of me is still offended. It occurs to me that I have something like a plant, that we can all have something like a plant, that is a limiter of God’s love being expressed through us. The plant was so trivial compared to the lives of 120,000 people but for a while, at least, Jonah valued it more.

God, forgive my hard heart and I pray (scary prayer time) that any carnal thing in me, that prevents me loving souls as you do, will wither and die. Fill my heart with love. Help me to love as you do.

* ironically Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was the location of the tombs of both Jonah and Daniel. The tombs were recently destroyed by Islamic State.

# followed by the killings of Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassig, all carried out by ‘Jihadi John’.

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finding my voice

why am I doing this?
When I first posted on Facebook, to announce this blog, I stated then that I was trying to find my voice. I still am. By ‘voice’ I don’t mean my message but rather the clear communication, to you, of my intentions and motivations. Why am I doing this?

So far, my (3) main blogs have been attempts to relate what I believe God has shown me, from time with Him. What God says to me inspires me enough to want to share it, so I do, and will continue to. I hope this brings about something good. But this isn’t really the main thing for me.

something that will last for eternity
Primarily, I want to express my heart, my passion, to tell you what moves me. I want to be honest about my struggles but only so that I can tell you how God is in them and helping me. This blog is not self promotion, ‘my soul shall make its boast in the Lord’ (Ps34:2). I don’t have anything to promote except my relationship with God. My heart is to encourage. I want to make a difference, for my life to count for something. As Christians we all have the opportunity to accomplish something that will last for eternity! And I’m not talking about a blog here. I mean the chance to positively impact the lives of others.

I have big dreams from God but struggle, for example, with the inner voice that tells me I’m worthless and nothing I do is good enough. I have to battle through this and I wonder if it helps others to know about what, for some, is a shared experience; especially if I come from the battlefield having conquered what you may still be facing. I will tell you how.

The second marathon I ran, last year in Edinburgh, was a nightmare. It was a bad day. By mile 14 I was mentally beaten. But I kept on running. By mile 20 I was physically empty. But I kept on running. By mile 23 I was getting the miles mixed up. It was horrible. But I kept on running – I don’t quite know how, except that I refused to walk. I had no choice but to go on, and running (even slowly) is quicker than walking. I had to get to the finish, only then could I stop.

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My walk as a Christian is the same. I keep running, because God helps me. God comforts us so that we can comfort others. My hope is God will take what I say and it will go right to peoples’ hearts. That instead of quitting or choosing to go no further, there will be those who go on because of something I said, that God used. I would love this.

In the case of the marathon, I know where I went wrong because there is stuff out there that tells me. Books, web articles, podcasts and other runners sharing their experiences. I could just have concluded I should stop entering marathons, that I’m not up to it. But no. I’ve been encouraged by others to try again. I made some mistakes with my training and I went out too fast in the early part of the race. Next time I will get the training right. Next time, I will pace myself better and I will get a PB (or PR for those in US).

As a Christian, when I feel like quitting in an area, it is so good to be able get help from those who have been there and got through. Just to know I’m not the only one who has struggled helps.

His Voice
My desire, through the ‘foolishness’ of my blogs, is that you will encounter God Himself. That ultimately it will be His voice that you hear.

CR