I can remember the first stroke of grace I could distinguish on my heart's palette. I cried as one who had just finished a marathon of works trying to please a relentless coach of the law. For a people pleaser like me, I had gone through years of performing to be worthy for some unknown entity out there who would finally tell me I was good enough. And after many failed attempts to become more of an image than a person; more of a shadow rather than a saint: I had found the artistry of Jesus’ love covering the canvas of my earthen heart with colors more exhilarating than I ever imagined. I was transformed from irrelevance into a son crowned with gold from the hands of Jesus. The grace of Christ's love is the ultimate in transformation for one’s life, but we can certainly adulterate our hearts rapidly by selling that which is invaluable for that which is corruptible by making for Christ's grace a substitute statue.
As I was meditating on the prophet Jonah's digestive experience, I was struck how profound the transformation of Jonah’s heart while captured in the grip of death, only to so quickly deconstruct bestowed grace into a new idol when freed from the Sovereign’s squeeze. For me what was even more astounding was the historical fish story wasn’t so much about a wayward prophet, as much as it was about a wayward grace-idolater like me. How does this happen to me? How does this happen to any of us who know heaven’s heart for us? Looking into the prophet’s actions, we can see the insidiousness of our idol-making hearts that eventually return us to the cross for another brush of grace. How does this happen? Take a look with me.
JONAH 2:8, 9
“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. 9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
Recognize where you are and why:
Jonah starts out from his deluge of grace well. He understands God has him right where he’s supposed to be: “For you (God) cast me into the deep…” Like Jonah, we must understand what happens when we act contrary to God’s commands to us. Remember Jonah was in fish soup because he had thumbed his nose to God’s call and found he was about to die a deserved death. But God provided a “think tank” for the prophet to digest his predicament. The conclusion for Jonah was the same we need to come to and that is this: When God speaks to our hearts that’s grace and if we try to take His grace and turn it to our agenda, God often gives us a place to recall that it’s His grace and not ours to manipulate for our advantage.
Jonah finally recovers from amnesia and prays! What does he pray? Lord, I took your grace and made it an idol. I didn’t do what you said I should and instead of putting an end to my life, you put an end to me. Lord, thank you, I’m going to worship you for how wonderful you are because in putting an end to me you saved me from me, grace. Then Jonah does what God commanded him to do.
We are not always in difficult circumstances because we’ve been disobedient. In fact, many times things are hard because we're obedient. But the truth is we know the difference in most cases, and when we’re sure we are not doing what God commands we need to repent and pray very similar to what Jonah prays and get going with God’s grace.
God’s grace can soon become something we try to own rather than what is bestowed on us. Grace is only grace when we receive it as well as give it. When we grab grace as though it is permission for self-centeredness, we take that which is beauty and exchange it for idolatry.
It might go well for us if we would stop for a moment and think, “Where does God have me right now?” Do I need to rejoice and dance, or rejoice and repent? The answer may determine whether or not you should go fishing!
Amanda Williams is a forty-year old wife and mother of two who can still swing her pony tail and display just a tad of sass. She is also a Jesus loving girl who realizes she is nothing without the One who saved her. Amanda has two degrees specializing in serving students with special needs and is currently working in the field of Leadership Development. She is a Christian author, speaker, blogger, and publisher who loves serving beside her husband at her local place of worship, First Baptist Church of Ocala.