Running Away From or Walking Toward Your Father?

Running. I think I have made my position clear in the past, that in my opinion there are only two good reasons to run. First, is if you are chasing after a ball and second, if you are being pursued by a ravenous beast. Seriously though, I am impressed by those who have the discipline to run, especially those who run great distances, such as marathons. What about those who combine running with biking and swimming? The Ironman competition is a triathlon that consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon 26.22 mile run, raced in that order and without break. I heard on the news just the other day that there is a man who has made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the Ironman competitions. He made it in the Book of Records by racing thirty Ironman triathlons! That in and of itself is a great accomplishment but what got him into the Book was that he completed thirty, in thirty days! Thirty Ironman competitions in thirty days! No rest for his body, no rebuilding after a tough day but one right after the other, for thirty days! That is amazing. What a feat of physical strength and endurance. What lengths some are able to go, to accomplish their goals!

What of us, non-triathletes? How far are we willing to run to accomplish our goals? Let’s move away from the physical world into the spiritual realm. Are we running? Are we running away from our Lord and Savior? This past Sunday, Pastor Marcus continued a series on the book of Jonah. We saw in the past few weeks that Jonah was given the task of a prophet to deliver a message of judgement to the city of Nineveh, a task that he did not want. So, he ran! He boarded a ship to head in the opposite direction. He went down to Joppa, down into a ship, trying to flee from the Lord. Down, down, down, seeking to flee from the presence of the Lord, fleeing from the calling on his life, fleeing from his Creator and God.

Jonah’s flight would take one more downward spiral. Once on the ship, the Lord “hurled a great wind” at the ship and the sailors were terrified. To save them Jonah suggested they throw him overboard, seeking to further flee from the Lord one more time, choosing death over obedience. Jonah would sink down to the depths of the sea and would be swallowed up by a great fish. Jonah was trying to get away from the Lord, running over land and over sea and now he would be immobilized, inside a fish, his flight now brought to a watery and fishy end.

How silly it was for Jonah to have thought that he could get away from a Father Who loved him. The writer of Psalm 139 asks a similar question. “Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (vv. 7-10) The Psalmist knew that he could not flee from an omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (everywhere present, at once) God. But what the Psalmist knew as well and what Jonah would discover, is that along with all of these other omni-characteristics, God is also omni-loving! He is love! He will pursue his children when they seek to flee. Just as a parent will run after their child as they scamper to the edge of a busy street, cars racing past, so too will a loving God pursue us, never abandoning us, even when we seek to run from Him. He has paid the ultimate price, the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, as a substitute, given for our sins. Having paid such a huge cost to redeem, to buy us back from our sin, why would He now abandon us?

When Jonah experienced the unique pursuit of the Lord, a giant fish circling under him, swallowing him up and taking him to the depths of the sea, he prayed. He confessed his sin and gave himself into the hands of the Lord. God didn’t send the great fish to kill or punish Jonah for his sin but to swallow him up in His love. A strange deliverer indeed, but deliver Jonah, God did. He had the fish rescue Jonah from certain death in the raging sea but even more, God delivered Jonah from his own wayward and rebellious heart. How is the Lord pursuing you today? Might the hand of discipline that is upon you be an act of Godly mercy, pulling you back from further sin and consequence? Might the difficulties that you are facing actually be a loving gesture from a loving Father?

Remember the story of the Prodigal son in Luke 15. He too experienced a willful, downward spiral away from his father, into sin and misery. Remember the galloping father rushing down the path at the sight of his returning son, running toward this haggard and desperate offspring? What a wonderful picture of a son returning in repentance and obedience to his father. What an awesome picture of a forgiving and loving father. With Jonah, we find this wayward prophet at the end of chapter two, spat upon the shore line, returning in obedience, walking to Nineveh, delivering God’s message.

Now what about us? Jonah entered a ship to flee from the Lord. What is your “ship of disobedience”, that vessel that you are using to flee from God? Is it food, or sleep or the internet or a relationship? Almost anything can be used as a “ship” to flee from the Lord. As the Psalmist discovered and as Jonah found as well, when the Lord has extended His hand of love to us, through His Son, there is no place that we can run, no destination away from Him and no “ship” of disobedience that we can descend into, where He cannot reach. He will run after us and He will lovingly return us to the path of obedience. The question is, will we stop running? Will we walk in obedience to Him?

If you are walking with Him today, give thanks for the faithful hand of your Father Who is keeping you on His Path. If you are running from your God, confess this and plead that He will draw you back. If you are contemplating running today, remember that you are loved by a faithful and pursuing Father. Turn from your anticipated “ship” of disobedience and walk in the path laid before you.