By Dr Peter Lim
Most of us are probably familiar with the main storyline of the Minor Prophet Jonah from the Old Testament. Jonah, son of Amittai, prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel during the 8th century BC. His book differs from the other prophetic books of the Old Testament by the absence of prophetic oracles.
Jonah was commissioned by Jehovah to prophesy against Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire. The idolatry and wickedness of its inhabitants nauseated Jehovah and Jonah was sent to preach against it giving it one last chance to repent before destruction ensues. However, Jonah decided to evade the divine appointment. We are not told of the reason for Jonah’s refusal to obey God. But we can surmise that he felt his assignment was a lose-lose situation. Should Nineveh indeed repent as a result of his preaching, then its inhabitants would be spared God’s judgment, which was what he felt they deserved. On the other hand, should they remain adamant about their idolatry and wickedness then his preaching would have been futile. Either result was unacceptable to him. So, he decided to reject the divine calling and run away. Little did he realise that while he could run in the opposite direction to Nineveh, he could not hide from God Jehovah by sleeping in the belly of a cargo ship. You can read the short account of his encounter with God in the book of his name in the Old Testament.
While it is highly unlikely anyone of us will experience such a dramatic encounter with God, the obvious lesson is that we should not make light of God’s calling to whatever task He calls us to. For some of us, we try to weasel out of His calling to serve by countering it with myriads of excuses like what Moses did when he was called to lead the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt (read Exodus chapters 3,4). So, you are in good company when you proffer up excuses that you don’t have leadership qualities, have to take care of your family, etc. But like in the case with Moses, God does not take “No” for an answer. It is good to be reminded that when God calls, He enables (1 Corinthians 12) so your excuses don’t hold water. While God spoke directly in the night to call Samuel (1 Samuel 3), a voice amidst a flashing light at midday to commission the apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-18), for most of us the call is channelled through more mundane avenues like a deep-seated conviction, a challenge from some church leader or during our quiet time. The question is whether you will respond appropriately when it comes. Those among us who have served whether in a lay or full-time capacity, can attest that there will always be competing demands, with family responsibilities and career aspirations being the most common. There is also the temptation that some may try to compensate unwillingness to serve with a higher level of tithe and offering. Should this be the case, then is it not deserving of Samuel’s denunciation (of King Saul) that “to obey is better than sacrifice”? (1 Samuel 15:22)
Last week-end, our church celebrated its 65th Anniversary. It was an occasion for thanksgiving and challenge. In our first 20-25 years, church work was carried out almost entirely by lay workers. However, as the congregation grew and responsibility multiplied, it was needful to employ full-time ministry staff. The danger now is that some of us may feel that church work should be the responsibility of full-time staff and lay people should play only a minor role. Most of us will agree that the ideal is a shared responsibility between clergy and laity. Since the need for lay leaders and workers is always there and will likely increase with expansion of outreach/ministry efforts, we have to respond appropriately. So, remember when God calls you to serve, “you can run but you cannot hide!”
“. . . he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21)