‘Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:5-11)
Summary: God works on us through what He gives and by what He takes away.
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An essential truth to keep in mind is that our Heavenly Father is sovereign over all aspects of our lives, giving and taking away as He ‘works all things together for good’ in our lives. While we often recognise His blessings in the good things, we may overlook the fact that hardships and losses are also used to shape us for our benefit.
I remember well praying for a particular job that I wanted; I felt that God was going to give it to me; I was extremely disappointed when I didn’t get the position. In hindsight, I see that God closed that door in order to teach me things and to allow me to take a different path in His service.
It’s very helpful to read what Paul writes in Philippians 4 on the subject of God giving and taking away:
‘…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’ (Philippians 4:11-13)
Paul has learned a vital lesson: to be content in all circumstances. This is undoubtedly something we all desire, yet Paul did not acquire it through a classroom or a blog post. One of the significant ways we learn is by facing circumstances that require us to apply what we've learned. As we can see, Paul learned contentment by experiencing both abundance and lack, which were provided and taken away by God.
When thinking of loss, of course, our minds go to Job. After experiencing the tragic loss of his family, Job responds with the words that inspired Matt and Beth Redman’s song, Blessed be your name:
‘At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.’ (Job 1:20-22)
It's possible that you've recently experienced some losses. Although it's a multifaceted issue, at its core, do you recognise that your Heavenly Father is using these experiences to work in you? Consider the example of Jonah: God gave him a plant, but He also sent a worm to take it away. Through this loss, Jonah's heart was revealed. Let's be prepared to trust and learn from what our Father gives and takes away.
COMMUNITY GROUP NOTES AND STUDY
It might be good to begin with notices. Please share from this week’s Church News.
What has God been speaking to you about from His Word this week?
3. RECAP OF SUNDAY’S MESSAGE - PLEASE SHARE IN YOUR GROUP
A LESSON IN COMPASSION
MAIN IDEA: GOD WANTS TO REMIND AND TEACH US OF HIS COMPASSION SO THAT WE CAN SHOW COMPASSION.
Please read Jonah 4:5-11
The main purpose of God through the event of this book was to get Jonah to understand His compassion and grace. The main purpose of the book of Jonah for us is to get us to understand God’s grace and so show His compassion to the lost.
GOD IS TEACHING US ABOUT MERCY
We all need to learn about the grace of God that is offered to us through Christ, which is necessary for our salvation. It is only when we realise that we are helpless sinners who deserve God's wrath but have received the gift of righteousness and eternal life in Christ that we can enter into the faith. Nevertheless, just as Jonah needed multiple lessons about God's mercy, we too need to continue learning more deeply about grace.
God uses various ways, even the likes of big fish and leafy plants, to teach us about His unconditional grace. For example, a challenging relationship puts our forgiveness to the test, and we realise that we are not as forgiving as we should be; as we allow negative thoughts and fears to consume us, we discover that we are not as convinced about grace as we thought we were. Oftentimes it’s the exemplary example of others’ mercy tower us that we learn. Nev, in his message on Sunday, gave the example of receiving gentleness instead of ‘wrath’ when he damaged the family car just after passing his driving test. Tim Keller wrote:
‘Most of us are like Jonah. We must have multiple exposures both to our need for God’s grace—which usually come through experiences of disappointment and failure—and to the gospel message. To get God’s love and Christ’s grace down into the motivational principles of our hearts, to the foundational layer of our identities, is a process, and often a slow one.’ (Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal Prophet)
LET’S SHOW GOD’S MERCY
We can all, I’m sure, empathise with Jonah’s angers. He’s been through a lot! This plant is an object lesson. God is teaching him about compassion. Jonah grieves the loss of this plant. Likewise, God grieves the loss of the heart of this city. A small worm destroyed the plant, so sin destroys lives and God is moved with compassion.
God wants us to be active in showing mercy in our words and works. We are to Serve, Invest and Invite (SIV) in the communities that God has put us into. We will only do this if we are filled with God’s compassion. Nev reminded us that as, at this time of year, we experience greater warmth from the sunshine, so, God, by the Spirit, is warming our hearts toward the lost.
Firstly, how can you and I regularly reflect on God's mercy?
This will lead us to, secondly, faithful, compassionate prayer.
Which, in turn, will lead, thirdly, to loving words and works in our communities (SIV)
In conclusion, I leave you with the words of Tim Keller, which I hope will be the ultimate outcome for all of us after having gone through this book::
‘If your compassion is going to resemble God’s, you must abandon a cozy world of self-protection. God’s compassion meant he could not stay perched above the circle of the earth and simply feel bad for us. He came down, he took on a human nature, he literally stepped into our shoes and into our condition and problems and walked with us.’ (Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal Prophet)
What was God teaching Jonah through this object lesson of the ‘leafy plant’?
In what ways had God shown mercy to Jonah through this letter?
Why will a remembrance of the grace of God keep us from pride and disdain?
How have you Served, Invested and Invited in your communities this week?
How have you got on with making a list and praying for your non-believing friends each day?
Let’s now pray for specific people that God has put on your heart and in your life.
Let’s pray for each other that the Spirit would fill us with His compassion this week.