“But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the LORD by sailing to Tarshish.” (Jonah 1:3, NLT) 

God chose Jonah for a special assignment, but the result was one very unhappy prophet. We know little about the man except his name and his father’s name, but we are all familiar with his story. It’s a favorite of children, but the lessons within this short four-chapter book of the Bible are definitely for adults too.

God instructed Jonah to go to Nineveh and give them a special message from the Lord. Nineveh (near modern-day Mosul, Iraq) was large, affluent, and wicked. Cruelly wicked. This was not a place the prophet would choose to intentionally visit. The Assyrians were Israel’s enemy.

east . . . or west?

God said go east (approximately 500 miles from his homeland). Instead, Jonah quickly turned west and determined to go as far as possible in that direction. He ran from God’s mission. But bad decisions often come with bad consequences. In Jonah’s case, the result was a violent storm at sea and an encounter with a very large fish.

Spending three days inside a fish’s belly will cause one to reconsider their ways. Jonah repented, the fish spewed him out, and he belatedly headed to Nineveh to delivered God’s message. But it seemed to be reluctant obedience. Obeying God’s will did not make Jonah happy. Quite the opposite. He became angry that God showed mercy toward the repentant Assyrians.

If you are a parent, you may know what reluctant obedience looks like. Your child may clean his room, take out the trash, and put the dishes in the dishwasher, but that doesn’t mean he carries out these tasks with a happy face. Chores may be done grudgingly, half-heartedly, and sometimes sloppily. Children may not understand that we want to teach them self-discipline, responsibility, respect, and cooperation.

loving obedience

If anyone had the “right” to be less than joyful in his missionary work, it might be the apostle Paul. After all, he endured numerous hardships during his years of ministry and travel. This passage in II Corinthians 11 details some of the dangers he faced.

“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (verses 24-27, ESV)

What a list! But Paul did not falter or run in the opposite direction as Jonah did. Paul’s love for the Lord kept him pressing forward. Nothing indicates that he begrudgingly endured these hardships. He served because he loved.

Psalm 100:2 tells us to “Serve the LORD with gladness.” We serve the Lord joyfully because we love Him deeply. Prayer is not an obligation but a delight because of our relationship with Him. Church attendance isn’t a duty to fulfill but a time we anticipate and enjoy. We choose to live a holy lifestyle because we love Him. It’s not a burden.

Our attitude toward God and our service to Him is determined by the depth of our love for Him and our desire to fulfill His purpose in our lives. Reluctant obedience will never fill us with gladness. Love deeply! Serve joyfully!

  • “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” (Isaiah 1:19, ESV)

  • I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:8, ESV)

Oh, Lord, I want to serve you willingly, obediently, lovingly, and joyfully. May my love for You to grow deeper each day.


Mary enjoys traveling, meeting new people, and spending time with old friends. Although directionally challenged, she would rather take the back roads with their discoveries than the boredom of the interstate.

1 Comment

  1. Love this reminder!
    I really have nothing to complain about, but I do have a lot to praise Jesus for.

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