Everyone on this earth has a God-given calling on their life that is far greater than what they can imagine with their own mind. More times than not, this calling actually has nothing to do with vocational ministry. No matter what color collar a person may wear to work, the Lord created everyone specifically for the purpose of using their talents to glorify Him in ways that they may never have deemed possible. Take it from a single man in a tiny apartment making a very average wage selling insurance forty hours a week: the Lord wants to use each of us exactly where we are. Nothing miraculous has to occur nor do we have to live an exciting, jet-setting lifestyle to be difference makers.
I feel fulfilled in where I am at this very moment. I embrace it, and I’m thankful for everything I have. It wasn’t always like that.
“15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea…17Now the LORD had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:15,17 (NLT)
Like Jonah, I set sail for Tarshish about ten years ago. In the midst of my storm I was thrown out to sea and found the pit in the belly of a great fish that felt like it had swallowed my life, my hope, and my dreams.
The all-American, “apple-pie-ness” of my life was a constant theme throughout my childhood and teenage years. My family lived in a middle class home in a middle class town and went to a middle class church. Everything about my life was very unremarkable, yet extremely blessed; God always provided and took care of me. As I discussed last week, my relationship with the Lord was tight-knit as a child.
However, in high school, a seed of doubt was planted. I began to notice that I didn’t think like other people thought, and in the process, I began to believe that maybe I was not just unremarkable, I was weird—and not in a good way. In college, that seed festered and I began to notice that when I drank, I received more attention. When I was sober, the enemy turned the vision for my life into a burden that consisted of complete doubt in my abilities to do anything worthwhile that didn’t involve being a really fun guy to party with.
Post graduation, the festering turmoil sent me completely off my path, over the side of the boat, and into a giant sea of disappointment where I was swallowed and consumed with my inner struggle.
“5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.” Jonah 2:5-6 (NLT)
Since graduating college in 2004, I’ve had 10 jobs, 11 addresses and 3 lengthy stints on unemployment. Nothing I did felt fulfilling, so my commitment to my job–and every part of life–wavered constantly. I wore a smile on my face much of the time, but deep down I was in a valley of depression. Whether it was drugs, alcohol, or late night fast food binging in front of the TV, my actual addiction was never what was put in my body but rather the numbness that came as a result.
There were times that I would call out to God, looking for a religious experience to cure me from my reliance on drugs and alcohol and bring happiness into my life. It was always temporary. I would begin to find different drugs to escape my reality, even occasionally taking them away from the party and into my home to find a release when I was alone.
After all those years of bad decisions, I sometimes contemplate how I’m still alive or why I didn’t spend any serious time in jail. To God be the glory because his protection is the only possible answer. Jonah was no different. Inside of a giant fish, he undoubtedly was tossed around mercilessly and often submerged beneath the water, yet the Lord never left his side.
“6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit.” Jonah 2:6 (NLT)
A few years ago, I experienced my final time of unemployment and it was one of the hardest, longest mental battles I’ve ever faced, lasting more than a year. In that time, I began to finally realize how fortunate and blessed I was even to be alive, though my life was a complete personal disappointment. After months of wondering when I would find another job and losing all hope, I looked up from the floor of my apartment one evening, crying, and shouted to God,
“If you are who you SAY you are, then I need you to help me. If you are who you SAY you are, then I give up. If you are who you SAY you are, then I need you to fix this mess because I have no idea what else to do.”
I cried a lot more after that. No answer came immediately.
Not long afterwards though, a series of events happened that led me to obtain my health insurance license. The irony in it all is that I proudly stated many times, “I will work a lot of jobs, but I will not sell insurance.” God had other plans.
“10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” Jonah 2:10 (NLT)
It turns out the Lord did hear my cry, and more importantly, He saw the change in my heart. My battle was not over, but I can confidently say my complete recognition of Him as my one Source calmed the storms in my life and delivered me on land.
If, like me, you find yourself in a battle of addiction or unrest, don’t try to attack it alone. First and foremost, recognize your Source and no matter how weak or unworthy you feel, that your Creator loves you and wants to enable you beyond your wildest dreams. Secondly, find Godly people to stand in the gap who won’t persecute you for your shortcomings but will help you overcome temptations through prayer support and faith in the Lord. You must also realize this is a raging battle, not just a street fight, and it will take time.
However, God will deliver you onto the beach and give you a new hope.
Today, I wake up and go to a job that I find less than fulfilling making a wage that I feel is less than what I should be making, yet I count it all joy. God has been so merciful and good to me, despite momentary circumstances.
At the end of Jonah chapter 2, Jonah finally finds himself on dry land after spending three days inside of a giant fish. While the Bible doesn’t go into details, I have to imagine that Jonah looked, smelled, and felt a little bit like a mound of crap after so much time rolling around in the muck and seaweed contained in the giant belly. You see, we serve a gracious and merciful God that is willing to deliver us from the pit, but sometimes we forget that there are still physical consequences to our actions.
Jonah shed the muck and he arrived in Nineveh, a city so big that the Bible says it took “…three days to see it all” (Jonah 3:3, NLT). Once there, he fulfilled his calling and he bravely delivered the word of God.
“4 On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” Jonah 3:4 (NLT)
After Jonah did his job and announced the forthcoming destruction of an entire city, the people of Nineveh heeded the word of God and turned from their ways. The Lord spared Nineveh, much to Jonah’s surprise. He was outraged, after everything he had been through, that God’s will wasn’t shaped the way Jonah felt that it should be.
“ 1 This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. 2 So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. 3 Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” Jonah 4:1-3 (NLT)
Sometimes I don’t understand why, after asking the Lord to rescue me, what followed was prolonged singleness and a job I was not crazy about.
The truth is I found joy when I stopped trying to figure it out and I started to just thank God for being in control of my life, no matter what direction it heads. And the truth is, I don’t know which way my Nineveh is. I have an idea of what my passions and gifts are, but my calling is still very unclear, and that’s all okay.
If you find yourself fresh out of the muck, don’t convict yourself if there are still consequences that don’t immediately disappear even after you decide to trust God. His grace is sufficient and enough for you each and every day, despite any struggle or addiction you may still be overcoming.