Leadership, “they” say, is about keeping the main thing, the main thing. Every morning, refocusing on that main thing is the challenge of the leader.
That refocusing seems to come for me as I read the scriptures each new day. Rising early, sometimes too early, allows me ample time to enter a place with God alone in my spirit. It is within that space that the scriptures come alive, often in some surreal C.S Lewis wardrobe kind of way.
This morning it was the Book of Jonah, a brief story that I have heard all my life and a text read by me scores of times. Yet again, each reading is a “first time,” convincing me that these ancient words are alive in some way!
Here we have a man off mission, running from God and yet, the finger prints of God are all over his story. His aversion to God is the antithesis of the Christ and yet the similarities of his story set up an uncanny contrast for the story of Jesus soon to come. Jonah, like Jesus, had fallen asleep in a storm. Jonah’s ship mates, like those in the boat with Jesus centuries later get all in a tizzy: “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your God! Maybe He will take notice of us and we will not perish.” (Jonah 1:6 NIV).
It seems that they, like the sons of Baal in Elijah’s day, had already exhausted their own attempts at divine intervention, even throwing their goods over board as a last resort. (Jonah 1:5).
My questions are many? What had Jonah done previous to his falling asleep to cause them to turn to him for leadership? What did Jonah possess that like Jesus, allowed him to sleep through such a major storm event? Was providence more at work in Jonah’s struggle than his own disobedience? The latter would seem to be true given that when he was awakened he was so on point in his response and so readily open to what was required for the sake of others, that even the sailors resisted his recommendations.
Jonah’s response after the lot (another story) fell on him was extraordinarily powerful: “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the land.” These are not the words of a Judas, but rather a man stayed in his faith, though strayed in his journey.
The next verse is interesting, “This terrified them….” He was so full of faith that his God talk both before the incident and afterwards, shook these calloused men to their core. “They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.” If there is a calling on your life, it’s hard to hide! People knew he was different and thus their expectation of leadership, even if it came in somewhat bizarre fashion.
They are the sailors, he a fleeing saint; yet their question, “What should we do to make the sea calm down for us?” His testimony had already cultivated a supernatural trust.
Jonas’ answer, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea.” Unlike today’s American Christian, Jonah knew that his life on this earth was about sacrificial leadership among those caught in life’s storm, even if he himself perished. In fact, he brought his own storm, not intentionally, though that was exactly God’s plan for Nineveh’s wake-up call. Can I ever relate to that!
Spiritual leadership definitely marches to a different drummer; sometimes the recommendations of one such leader may make no sense to others. In fact, the sailors rejected his first response and simply tried rowing harder. If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten! The sailors’ initial attempts at their proverbial “insanity” simply intensified the storm, until they finally acquiesced to Jonah.
Yet it was not the storm, nor the outcome of the story that caught my attention this a.m., but rather the wonder at how these scriptures set up the Christ. Both the huge contrasts and the perfect parallels between Jonah and the Christ are important in the framing a future moment when God will become flesh.
God was so in control of the storms in the life of this ancient mariner, that subtle nuances were constructed, such that when a 21st Century Jonah reads this story, he or she may find refreshing for the contemporary storms of life in the now. I challenge you to compare the response of the sailors with that of the disciples when Jesus slept in their boat. Jesus was God, Jonah was of God, and both brought calming effects when they responded to the spirit. Jonah was cast into the sea, Jesus was cast into Hell; both acts were about calming the storms of life and reclaiming the lives of men! Needless to say, both required extreme faith in a God who could rescue.
That’s spiritual leadership and in fact the main thing!