West Bromwich: lessons from Jonah on mission

This is a transcript of a 10 minute talk I gave on Monday 9th May at a West Bromwich churches prayer meeting, UNITE.

How many of us know the stories of Gladys Aylward or Jackie Pullinger? Both women really wanted to be missionaries. They were both rejected by mission agencies, yet both paid their own way, overcame great obstacles, did great feats of faith, were used by God to do amazing things. They are great heroines of the evangelical missionary movement.

In the bible, the prophet Jonah was also a missionary, greatly used by God, but with a very different sort of attitude.  Jonah was a very reluctant missionary.

Who hasn’t from Sunday school age known the story of the man who was called by God to go to the city of Nineveh and to preach the message of God’s judgement against that city.  We all know it, don’t we?  Did he go?  No! He ran away, boarded a ship, was caught in a storm and was thrown to the sea lions, actually he was swallowed alive by a great fish.

He prayed to God and God gave him a second chance.  Jonah was spat out on the beach and that’s the end of the story for most of us.
The message, “God is the God of second chances. He gives chickens, scaredy cats, cowards like Jonah a second chance.” We can all have a second chance like Jonah.

I want to read the end of the book of Jonah tonight, because the story of Jonah is not really about Jonah, its about Nineveh.  A town the size of West Bromwich with a reputation to match.

Jonah 1:2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

Nineveh was wicked but God gave the whole town of Nineveh a second chance and he’ll give West Bromwich a second chance too. Let’s find out how.

We’ll pick up the story at chapter 3 verse 4 and read to the end of the book.

The question I want us to ask ourselves as a challenge is “Do we love West Browmich like Jonah or like God?”

God loved Nineveh, he was concerned about that great city and he is concerned about West Bromwich, God loves West Bromwich.  How does he love this city?  It has a reputation like Nineveh’s and God’s love is no different today than it was then.

On Friday Amanda and I met a woman at the library who told us that as soon as she has earned enough money she will leave West Bromwich, she will run away, board a ship, escape the wickedness. She does not want her little boy growing up in such an evil place. That’s the pattern of the world. It’s called the doughnut effect. When a town becomes undesirable to live in, those who can move and leave a hole behind and so the heart is torn out of the city and it is left to bleed and die.

But God does not give up on the city, instead he sends his messengers, his prophets, like Jonah, to preach against the city.
Jonah 1:2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it.”

You see, God loves this city too much to let the wickedness continue.  As wealthy people withdraw and move away, God will not give up. He calls me to preach against wickedness. He calls you to preach against the wickedness, because that is what is best for the city. It is God’s will.

More than that he calls us to preach about the coming destruction, the judgement of God.

It’s not the sort of stuff that makes us leap to our feet, is it? I’d far rather curl up in front of a blazing fire with a good book and hot chocolate or a glass of something stronger or laze away the days by a swimming pool sipping a cool iced drink. Or I’d preach a different message, a message of love, kindness, sweetness, with an idea of judgement removed.  Why on earth would I want to preach against the city about the judgement of God? The answer to that question is “It is God’s word not mine, God has said “Go and preach my judgement and salvation in Christ.”  That is the message of God that stops hardened criminals dead in their tracks.

And the mystery of the story of Jonah is the way God used an ordinary, and quite frightened man to do an extraordinary work. Jonah was a reluctant missionary. But Nineveh was made ready.

When Nineveh turned away from its wickedness and God relented from the destruction he had threatened, there was great revival, a coming together of the people in common confession, prayer and repentance, a seeking God together. The king of Nineveh himself led the revival.

It was a great work of God through an ordinary man. Jonah had no idea of what God would do through him and we have no idea what God will do through us. God had prepared the city to receive his word. It is our place to preach against the city and to leave God to prepare its heart.

We only need the confidence that God will do great things through ordinary people as we follow his commands and preach his word, even when that word is unpalatable to those who will hear it.

Jonah was obedient in the end, but his must have been a reluctant obedience, a grudging adherence to the command of God, and STILL God used him.

We can hardly think that Jonah went joyfully into Nineveh and shouted enthusiastically for the city to turn from its wickedness. “Hey Nineveh, turn from your wickedness, God’s going to destroy your city.” I imagine him sheepishly and reluctantly saying “hem, hem, hem, excuse me, hem, God said that in forty more days Nineveh will be overturned. Hem, thank you.”

But God took those small words, his own words, and by a great work of his Spirit turned people from their wickedness so that they might live. God had compassion on the city.

And God will have compassion on West Bromwich. He is concerned for this town. His heart longs for the people of this town to turn and live. Verse 2, He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

God will prepare this city to receive the word of God.  We might be reluctant but God will make West Bromwich ready.  I believe that time is coming.  A policeman said to me this week “We are beginning to see that we can’t force people to have morals.”  An ex-ministerial speech writer said “The government has lost its confidence in the past two to three years.”  The Labour government spent money to apply sticking plasters to social problems.

As ordinary and nervous as we are, and I am both, we must trust God to do a great work, “Go and preach against this city” the principle is the same but the message a little different. Jesus loves this city. He died for this city. The judgement has fallen on him. So turn from your wickedness to Christ and live with him or carry on without Christ and be destroyed.

Reluctant as we are we must find all sorts of ways to preach this message and leave the rest to God.  Let’s pray.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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