Posted on Monday, Oct 12, 2020 by Scott Savage
Jesus was correct when he said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” I’m also a firm believer that I may be miserable before I’m free.
Hearing the truth about my sin and blind spots is rarely easy. At the beginning of this year, I sat across from my wife in our counselors’ office (a married couple) and learned about two instances where I had not respected my wife’s voice. Both times made her feel deeply devalued, leading to deep pain and grief. She had been working through this pain and grief with her counselor, and my counselor and I sat down with them to hear this news.
The truth was incredibly hard to hear. At that moment, I realized I had three choices. They are choices we all have when the truth is revealed to us. We can fight it by arguing about why the other person is wrong, and we are right. We can take flight, running from the truth, and avoiding dealing with the discomfort it causes. Or we can face it and embrace the difficult truth and repent of our mistakes or flawed viewpoints.
By God’s grace, I didn’t fight my wife or run out of the counselor’s office. I accepted the truth and began to work through how we would move forward in strengthening our marriage. This process took a couple of months, but it all began because I didn’t shut down or reject the truth.
The Story of Jonah
This experience reminds me of the story told in the book of Jonah.
The book of Jonah was a prophetic critique of God’s worshiper’s hearts in the Old Testament. Called by God to preach the Gospel to a heathen foreign empire, Jonah ran from God’s calling by heading in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh (the largest city of the Assyrian Empire), to Tarshish. Along the way, he is thrown overboard by the ship’s crew to end a storm. In the water, Jonah is swallowed by a fish and later spit on dry ground.
Once back on dry ground, Jonah heads to Nineveh, obediently and passionately preaching a message of repentance. The people of Nineveh hear the message and heed the warning immediately. They tear their clothes, fast, and pray - all postures of worship and symbols of their desperation for God’s providence on their behalf.
How does Jonah respond? He’s livid. While the purpose of his preaching was to bring the repentance of the Ninevites, Jonah is frustrated at God for hearing their prayers and honoring their repentant, contrite hearts. Jonah wanted God to reject their worship.
In fact, these are Jonah’s words to God. “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.”
Can you imagine speaking to God like that? I’ve never been that bold or brazen in my prayers. Yet whether we say those words aloud or not, we often get frustrated when we consider God possibly showing mercy and compassion to our enemies.
Are we like Jonah or the people of Nineveh?
When we fail to worship God and align our hearts with His heart towards people, we find ourselves in an “us vs. them” battle. That’s a problem because, like Jonah, we can end up opposing God.
All too often, we get into an “us vs. them” mindset. We think God is on our side and sees the world just like us, agreeing with all of our biases. "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." Abraham Lincoln
This side of heaven, our hearts often don’t reflect God’s heart. His heart is slow to anger, longs for repentance, and seeks the humble. Our heart tends to be quick to anger, longs for judgment on our enemies, and indulges in a self-righteous sense of self.
When God confronts us with the truth, do we respond with repentance and worship like the people of Nineveh, or do we rebel and rage against God with arrogance and entitlement?
All too often, we forget the words of Romans 2:4, where Paul reminds us, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”
It’s not “we repent, and then God is kind towards us.” Far from it! God has been so kind to us that it woos us to repentance. Genuine repentance is an act of worship. That kind of worship unites our hearts with God’s heart, and we stop seeing the world through the two categories of us and them. We start seeing people as those whom God made in His image and for whom Jesus gave His life on the cross.
Desperate Worship Leads to Deep Unity
When the people of Nineveh heard the truth, they faced it and embraced God’s prophetic word. This was the proclamation of their king:
“No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”
God heard their prayer and relented. Their earnest prayer and worship unified the nation with God’s heart. In a time where we get sucked into an “us vs. them” mindset, worship unites our hearts with God’s heart.
I know it sounds crazy to encourage us to use the people of Nineveh as a model to follow, rather than the man whose name is on this book of the Bible, but they’re the ones worth emulating in this story. When we recognize God’s character and respond with humble, contrite hearts, God can use worship to unite our hearts with His transforming both our relationship with Him and each other.
God’s heart desire is summed up so well in Richlin’s song, “Love Like Thunder.”
“It's the sound that's overcomin' calling orphans your belove
It's the sound that's drownin' out every fear and every doubt
It's the force that still amazes, liftin' heads up through the ages
It's the force that's breakin' through
'Till every eye is turned to You”
Worship is that amazing force that breaks through hard hearts and deep divisions, pointing us to the one who can unite and transform us.
Scott Savage is a pastor and a writer who believes he has the best last name ever. He leads Cornerstone Church in Prescott, Arizona. Scott is married to Dani and they are the parents of three “little savages.” He is the creator of the Free to Forgive course and you can read more of his writing at scottsavagelive.com