Standing With Conviction

Malibu Memories_Lynn Abbott© 2015 Lynn Abbott

Jonah days.  L.M. Montgomery coined the term in her classic children’s series.

And if you’ve lived for any amount of time here on planet earth, you don’t even have to guess what she means by it.  You and I simply nod, knowingly.

After all, we’ve all had ’em.

You know that kind of day… at the close of it, you slam the door shut, and recite the immortal words of Judith Viorst’s Alexander, “It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day!”

Alexander wants to run away to Australia. And I totally get that.

Sometimes, life hits us tsunami-like.  At such times, I have threatened to run away from God.  Shaking my finger, I say, “Do you hear me, God?  I’ve had it! I’m not going to stand here and take this. I’m running away from home.”

Malibu Memories_Lynn AbbottAnd much like my five-year-old self, I wish to pack my Mary Poppins’ carpet bag with all the essentials, and run away from the path God has placed before me.

Yup.  Definitely a Jonah day.

One particular Jonah day stretched out into months and years: my husband started a new business in the midst of the 2007 economic slump; we moved that same year; I started chemo, and my mother died.  It seemed the waves crashed endlessly, eroding my faith.

Recently I recalled the feelings I had during those Jonah days. It all flooded back when someone close to me faced her own, even greater, emotional tsunami.

You see, her brother died of lung cancer last winter.  Then, in July, her father died; the culprit this time was prostate cancer.

At the same time, her twenty something, middle son–having been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease–walked through major surgery and physical rehabilitation.  And in early autumn, her mother died.

In my honest opinion, her circumstances went way beyond a “Jonah day.”  Her situation reminded me of Job’s on more than one occasion. And like Job, she heroically braves the storm.

I greatly admire her steadfast steps.

Had I been in her position, you can be sure I would have been shopping for real estate in Australia.

Of course,  I do know that our heavenly Father is sovereign and that He directs all for our eventual good, (Romans 8:28).  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you and I enjoy every aspect of the journey.

Precisely.  That’s why I occasionally whine in the back seat… “Are we there yet?”

More than once, I have felt myself shackled by the weight of fear and doubt.  The road seems treacherous and long; the path appears filled with obstacles and enemies.

Like Peter, standing outside Pilate’s court, I’ve watched in horror as my fears materialize, and I am unable to perceive what lies ahead, even in just three days, (Luke 22:54-62).

At times, I’ve doubted Abba’s direction just as Jonah resisted God’s call.Malibu Memories_Lynn Abbott.

From a human perspective, Jonah’s fears and anger were justified; Ninevah, after all,  was a cruel culture that had more than once come against Israel.

If he followed God’s direction, Jonah would certainly preach to his nation’s enemies.  It was a dangerous call of duty. Thus, fear and anger filled Jonah.

And he ran.

He ran, in fact, right into a horrendous headwind.

That’s actually the problem with running from God’s will.  In fear, you and I run heedlessly away from one set of problems to another.  Self-protection never works out very well.

When we seek to avoid the path God has placed before us, we not only encounter enormous waves but we face those tsunamis without the comfort of Abba’s hand. “I do it myself,” always leads to bigger problems.

Thus, we see in Jonah’s life that a storm rose and threatened to break up the ship on which Jonah had secured his self-protective passage.

Fleeing from God, in fact, put him in a dangerous place with people who were less than supportive. They were, in fact, most interested in protecting themselves.

So it was. The ship’s crew, in an attempt to save their own lives, drew lots to see who was responsible for the trouble. When the lot fell to Jonah, they readily threw him overboard.

But the hound of heaven had followed His wayward child.  In love and grace, the Father hedges us even when we run.

Of course, it probably didn’t smell much like grace in the belly of the great fish. Yet, that is exactly what it was. Grace. Amazing.

Malibu Memories_Lynn AbbottJonah’s panic had driven him deeper into the waves; he had attempted to drop Abba’s hand and find a human escape hatch. Major fail.

Yet, God’s hand had plucked Jonah from the sea. God had a plan for His runaway.

Without a doubt, Ninevah was an overwhelming task.  But Tarshish without Abba meant greater peril.

Ninevah with Abba is always safer than Tarshish on our own.

Or to borrow once more from Alexander’s wisdom, “…some days are like that. Even in Australia.”

Yes, in the midst of the storm, the waves surge and threaten me.  But the one who calmed the sea holds my hand.  And His grip is stronger and gentler than any other.

We can attempt to run.

But as Jonah discovered,  it is impossible for a child of God to hide from the Father.   David reminds us of this in Psalm 139: “Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence?”

And although I sometimes play the runaway, I’m truly grateful for the glimmer of gracious truth that follows David’s questions: “If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me.”

Despite how I might feel–despite my childish fears or my runaway petulance–Abba both rescues and redirects me.

Of course, walking with Abba has put me on some difficult paths. On the road to the Promised Land, God’s children encounter danger.

I have feared both circumstances and people. Like Abraham, my faith frequently has failed and I have looked for an easy way out.

Abraham, in fact, embraced a people pleasing, self-protecting, half-truth when the mighty Egyptian ruler noticed beautiful Sarah.

“She’s my sister,” Abraham said in fear for his life.   In this account, Scripture gives me another example of Abba’s gracious protection.  The Father pulled his child from perilous waters.

God quite simply warned Pharoah in a dream: Sarah was Abraham’s wife. As a result, the ruler dropped his plans to wed Sarah.

Yes, in spite of myself, I am never safer than when Abba holds my hand.

That doesn’t mean that you and I will escape tsunamis. Waves crash; sharks circle.

In this world, trouble inevitably comes.   Our Savior, however, will never allow us to be snatched from His hand, (John 10:27-29).

We are sealed “with the Holy Spirit of promise,” (Ephesians 1:13).

No one else can make that sort of guarantee.  Only the God of creation wields such power.

Abba also lovingly understands our weaknesses. He knows that we long for tranquil waters.  He hears our every fear and anxious thought. And He has provided for that.

He lovingly anticipates our tendency to run when trials and persecution come.  In fact, Christ addressed this as his days of earthly ministry grew shorter and more difficult.

Malibu Memories_Lynn AbbottAfter many followers abandoned Him in response to His often unpopular message, Christ asked the twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”

As I recall Jonah’s plight, I read the disciples’ response with greater understanding; I find that this little runaway echoes Peter’s words, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God,” (John 6:67,68).

Yet, despite their confession of genuine faith, the undertow would initially prove too great for them.  They would run from Gethsemane.

Foreseeing their coming persecution, Christ therefore said, “And when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit,” (Mark 12:11).

Acts records the courageous deeds of these once fearful disciples.  Through the Holy Spirit, these former runaways stood with conviction.

Thus, all my anxious thoughts, doubts and fears come to rest in a simple act of childlike faith.  When skies grow dark, Abba asks me to lean on Him and not on my own understanding, (Proverbs 3:5).

I am to bid my ineffective, self-protective tendencies “goodbye” and rest my hand in His.

For this reason, I look up and cry, “Holy Spirit, grant me grace and power to overcome the waves before me!”

Through whatever tsunamis you and I may face, God’s Spirit guides us. He comforts His children; He holds us and gives strength for that next step.

Grace, after all, isn’t just a one time gift.  To be sure, this one-time runaway thanks God that His grace is ongoing.  For by His grace, you and I stand.

“…’Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts,” ~Zechariah 4:6

“For Thou dost light my lamp; The LORD my God illumines my darkness. For by Thee I can run upon a troop; And by my God I can leap over a wall,” ~Psalm 18:28-29

“Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us…” ~Ephesians 3:20

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” ~2 Corinthians 4:17