Take Advantage of the Opportunities God’s Grace Provides

Rob Green May 1, 2016 Jonah 3:1-10

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3 truths that can help us wisely use God’s grace

I. Remember that God is a God of Many Opportunities

A. God has a long history of offering second, third, …, chances

Romans 6:1-2 - What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

B. God cannot be presumed to offer continual chances

1. Sometimes God stops giving opportunities

2. Sometimes God gives another opportunity, but it is not the same opportunity

3. Sometimes God gives another opportunity, but it is not without consequences

II. Recognize that God sometimes calls us to the same task we refused earlier

A. Despite our previous failures and rebellion

B. Despite our inadequacies

Jonah 1:1-2

Jonah 3:1-2

The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”

C. Because there is important ministry to occur

III. We must obey God’s assignment

Jonah 1:3

Jonah 3:3

But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk.

A. Choosing to accept God’s grace in Christ

Ephesians 2:8-9 - For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Romans 2:4 - Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

B. Choosing to serve by the strength of God’s grace

Ephesians 2:10 - For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

C. Choosing to pray

Manuscript

Those of you who know a little bit about me know that my dating history was not very good. I was incredibly shy. I didn't really fit in with any particular group because I was really too athletic to hang out with those who didn’t like athletics, but I wasn’t athletic enough to be one of the athletes. I was really too smart to hang out with the ... Really the people who were just average, I guess, didn’t want to hang out with me, but I wasn’t smart enough to be with the real nerds either. I didn’t do drugs, so the druggies were out. Frankly, I was a boy without a country.

One of the many results of that is I had no idea how to be a boyfriend. My dad had modeled being a Godly husband, so I knew something about that, but being a boyfriend was a word that actually had no reference. You ever had one of those where someone just used a word and you have no idea what it means? It had no reference for me at all. An arranged marriage might have worked well in my case, but since we didn’t have that particular system, I was going to have to learn the boyfriend-fiancé-husband thing. That is where Stephanie enters the picture.

I was a junior in college and she was a sophomore. We began to get to know one another, and then in April of 1991, I asked her to go on a date. Remember, I didn’t know anything about being a boyfriend, so our first date was a little challenging. We went to go see the movie the Father of the Bride. What was I thinking? What do you talk about after you just watched the movie Father of the Bride on your very first date, seriously? Man, what did I deserve? Man, I deserved to be dumped. That’s what I deserved.

Despite the lousy first date, I actually got a second chance because, well, Stephanie's grace ran pretty deep. The second date was much worse than the first date. I won't bore you with all of the details, but I'm telling you 99.9% of the girls in the world would have dumped me right then and there, maybe 99.99999%. In fact, maybe Stephanie is the only woman who would have survived that date. Grace, forget that. It would be like, "Dude, you are out of here."

Part of the problem, I get it, part of the problem was me. You see, it was a financial thing. See, I had earned money digging ditches and busting up concrete with sledgehammers and installing brick pavers, and I was doing it for 5 bucks an hour, so spending $35.00 on dinner represented 7 hours of hard labor, and I wasn’t just spending that money on anyone. Every single date was a significant investment. If a girl didn’t want to eat part of her food, I was watching the waiter take 2 hours of my work and throw it in the trash. I was practically in tears, and she was like, "Boy, you're really emotional." "Yeah, you just threw away 2 hours of my work." I told you I didn’t have the boyfriend thing down very well.

Here was the reality, Stephanie gave me a second and a third and a fourth and a fifth and a billionth chance. Why? Because I deserved them? No way, not in the least. Simply because of grace. I'm really glad that I took advantage of every one of those gracious opportunities. The grace that’s given by people in human relationships, it's just a shadow. It's just a picture of the grace that is extended by a loving, compassionate, slow-to-anger God.

With that in mind, I'd like you to open your Bible to the Book of Jonah, Jonah Chapter 3, beginning in Verse 1. That’s on page 568 of the front section of the Bible under the chair in front of you, page 568 of the front section of the Bible in the chair in front of you. As you're turning there, I want to just remind you that our theme is loving our world. We've been studying the Book of Jonah in order to help us see a contrast, that is, the contrast between Jonah, the loveless prophet, and this gracious, compassionate, caring God. You see, Jonah and the people of Israel, who he stands for, were happy for God's grace to be poured out on them, not so excited when God's grace was being poured out on someone else.

As I mentioned, Jonah is not the only character in the story. In fact, he's not even the most important character of the story, because God is the hero of the Book of Jonah, just like he is the hero of every book of the Bible. He works to bring the sailors to a saving knowledge of God despite the fact that they began having no understanding of who Jehovah was to begin with. He works in a pagan nation which we'll see, that is, Assyria, and brings many of them to repentance. He works in Jonah, where he truly demonstrates that he is this gracious, compassionate, caring God that Jonah says he is. Please follow along as I read Jonah Chapter 3. This is the word of the Lord.

"Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim to it the proclamation which I'm going to tell you.' So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-days' walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city, one day's walk, and he cried out and said, 'You have forty days, then Nineveh will be overthrown.' Then the people of Nineveh believed in God and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.

"When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe, and then covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. Then he issued a proclamation and it said, 'In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles, do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water, but both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth. Let every man call on God earnestly, that each may turn from his wicked way and from his violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw his burning anger so that we will not perish.' When God saw their deeds, they turned from their wicked way, and then God relented concerning the calamity which he had declared that he would bring upon them, and he did not do it."

I. Remember that God is a God of Many OpportunitiesNow what I would like us to suggest is that this message is going to be titled Taking Advantage of the Opportunities that God's Grace Provides. It's a perfect picture of Jonah Chapter 3. In specific, I would like us to consider 3 truths that can help us wisely use God's grace, 3 truths that can wisely help us use God's grace. The first one is this. Remember that God is a God of many opportunities. Aren't you glad for that? God is a God of many opportunities.

I. Remember that God is a God of Many Opportunities

See, one of the most surprising things about Jonah Chapter 3, Verse 1 is you would expect to find, "And Jonah died." Instead, what you find is in Verse 1, it says, "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time." Really? The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, despite the cold heart that Jonah had had, despite the fact that the prayer, as Pastor Viars mentioned last week, wasn’t exactly the perfect picture of repentance? The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time? Wow. Wow.

Then as you're reading that text and you're just being thoughtful about it, you're reminded, well, wait a minute, that’s how God works on a lot of situations. I've seen God do this before. In fact, I would like to suggest to you that this isn't the first time that we see God offering someone a second or a third or fourth or a billionth chance. In fact, we find that from the beginning of the Bible all the way up through Revelation. See, God has a long history of offering second and third and fourth et cetera chances.

Let's just consider Abraham for just a moment. The story begins back in Genesis 12. God promises Abraham 3 things, land, seed, and blessing. Without an understanding of that promise, it's really hard to put your Bible together. Let's just chat about the seed portion for just a second. Abraham is 75 years old when he is promised a son. His wife, Sarah, is 65 and, well, the baby oven shut down years ago. They travel to Egypt, and Abraham comes up with a plan to tell everyone that Sarah is his sister, so Sarah gets taken by Pharaoh. God says, "Uh, excuse me, you are not allowed to have her," so God whacks Pharaoh hard and says, "You need to give her back now."

Here's chance number 2. If there was any doubt in Abraham's mind that maybe Sarah isn't the one through whom the son is going to come, God has given him another chance, "Abraham, I promised you a son. Yes, it has to come through you, but it's also coming through the wife that I gave you." What do they do? They decide to work at it for a period of time, like 10 years. Then they get frustrated, and Sarah offers Hagar as a replacement. That was so helpful, wasn’t it, because not only did they have a son who was not the son that God had promised, and now we have women rivalry and who had whose kid. It doesn’t go over quite so well, but God rescues that situation, provides chance number 3.

Then as Abraham traveled into another territory, there's yet another king who decides that Sarah is attractive and would like her as part of his harem, so he takes her. God actually shows up to this king in a dream and says, "Either you return Sarah to Abraham or I'm going to kill you and every single person you oversee." Here is chance number 4. Then the nation of Israel, you remember them? As the nation of Israel was coming out of Egypt, they were complaining and griping and whining and God gives them chance number 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 872,000th and billionth chance.

Then you flip forward to the time of the Judges, just before where we are. When I was little, I was told that the Judges had a cycle in it, and the Judges kind of worked like this, that God provided a judge where he ruled and provided peace and prosperity to a portion of the nation. They in turn would choose to worship idols and then the people would, after receiving some discipline from the Lord, turn and repent. Then what they would do is God would provide a judge to deliver them.

Then I started reading Judges over and over and over and over again, and I began to question whether or not there's really the repentance part. Is there just a crying out like we see in Jonah? You remember in Jonah Chapter 2, where Jonah is crying out to God and asking for deliverance, but you're asking yourself the question, "Is Jonah really repenting here? Is this a full picture of repentance, or is this just simply an acknowledgement that his life is hard and he wants God to do something about it?" I started thinking, "Well, I think that’s kind of how the Judges are." What does God do despite the fact that there is not full-blown repentance? There is still a gracious, loving, kind God who is working behind the scenes, who gives them yet another chance and another chance and another chance and another chance.

That just reminded me of a picture of God that I didn’t necessarily have when I read the Judges for the first time, and that is I could understand. In fact, I would even expect the Lord to grant forgiveness when repentance occurs, and I would expect him to provide deliverance and I would expect him to rescue his people in the midst of all that. Now what I was seeing is that God is giving people additional opportunities even when their heart isn't even exactly right. They're just crying out for deliverance, and God says, "Okay, I'll provide it for you, and I'll provide it for you, and I'll provide it for you, and I'll provide it for you." It's a picture of God's grace.

Then an event happened in our home that at least partially gelled this for me. One of our children was an infant, maybe 4 or 5 months old, and he was supposed to be sleeping, but instead, he was crying, and he was crying with great intensity. It wasn’t like the normal cry. It was the intense cry. I went to check on him, and sure enough, he had managed to wedge his leg in between the bars of his crib and couldn't get it out.

Now he did it, not me. I had explained to him that it's not wise to put your legs through the crib, but he didn’t say, "Okay, God, well, I'm not going to do that anymore," and I didn’t walk in in the midst of his crying and say, "You know, hon, as soon as you repent of your foolishness, I'd be happy to relieve the pressure." What did I do? I rescued him, right? He was crying out for deliverance. He was saying, "Dad, rescue me. My leg is stuck and I don’t know what to do." I didn’t say, "Well, hon, I told you not to do that. I told you not to be running around in your crib and getting your leg stuck." No, I said, "I'd be happy to do that." Picked him up, comforted him, set him back down. He went back to sleep.

That’s what God was doing with Jonah. He was simply providing Jonah another opportunity, and sometimes that is exactly how God does it. Now as I'm talking, are you thinking back in your own mind, "Yeah, God has rescued me"? God has rescued me, and he rescued me simply because I cried out for deliverance. It wasn’t because I was repenting in sackcloth and ashes and acknowledging my full sin before God and how I'd been so wicked. I was just simply saying, "Lord, I'm really sick of the pressure. Please just deliver me." God said, "Okay, I will."

See, when you read Jonah Chapter 3, it's possible to say this, "I can't believe God is giving Jonah another opportunity." After all, God had given opportunity after opportunity after opportunity. He gave him the storm. He gave him the captain. He gave him the sailors. Why not just say, "Lord, why bother? Why bother? Why don’t you just replace him?" or do you read Chapter 3 and you go, "Been there, done that. Oh, God, thank you for giving me a second and a third and a fourth and a billionth chance. Thank you for when I cried out to you for rescue, but despite the fact that my heart wasn’t full of repentance, you just decided to rescue me anyway, and you did it not because I deserved it, but you did it because you're gracious, and you did it because you're compassionate, and you did it because you're slow to anger."

Friends, if you're ever in a place where you messed up really bad and the thoughts occur to you that, you know, God could never use me, God's grace can cut through all of that. God's grace prevails over the mindset that God could never use me. God is the hero of Jonah, but he's also the hero of all the nations, including us. He loves us. He cares for us, and he cared for Jonah, and sometimes he pours out his grace time and time again simply because he can and he's compassionate.

Now having said that, there is a clear picture in the word of God for a gracious and compassionate God who gives chance after chance after chance after chance. We also have to remember this. In Romans Chapter 6, "What shall we say then to the fact that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more." Every time sin goes up, grace reaches higher. Sin goes up and grace reaches higher. What shall we say? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? Okay, Lord, if that’s how it works, if you just love giving second chances, great, I'll mess up again so that way I have the chance to get another chance. I'll give you the perfect opportunity to be gracious and compassionate to me.

Paul said, "May it never be. How should we who died to sin still live in the midst of it?" That right there helps us to remember that while God is gracious, he's compassionate, and he's slow to anger, that there are also times when God decides you don’t get any more chances. God cannot be presumed to offer continual chances time and time and time and time and time again. God is the one in control, and the opportunities last only so long as God decides that they're going to. Sometimes what that means is that God stops giving the opportunity.

We're studying 1 Samuel in ABF right now, and if you're not in an Adult Bible Fellowship already, I would encourage you to get in one, because one of the things that we saw was Eli. Remember the priest Eli? He himself lives a long life and he's given many, many opportunities to change, and his sons, Phinehas and Hophni, also have had many opportunities to change. When God decided that those opportunities were over, they all died the same day.

Do you remember in Acts Chapter 5, Ananias and Sapphira? Ananias and Sapphira's story kind of goes like this. They were in the early church, and the early church, they were really dependent on one another. Economy wasn’t so good in those days, and so they were relying on one another to survive. Ananias and Sapphira happened to be one of the wealthier folks, so they decided that they were going to sell a part of the land that they owned and provide that as a help to those who were in need, but they had decided behind the scenes that they were going to say, "Well, we actually sold it for $10,000," when really they sold it for $20,000 and they kept $10,000 for themselves, which was fine. They were free to do that, but they decided to tell everybody that they sold it for $10,000 and they were giving all of this.

In other words, they were lying not only to the people but more importantly, they were lying to God and to the Holy Spirit. What happened to them? Both of them died that day, that day. In other words, the opportunity for change was no longer available to them. Sometimes, therefore, God decides, "Well, I've given you a billion chances, and the chances are now over. Sometimes God gives another opportunity, but it's not the same opportunity. Sometimes he gives another opportunity, but it's not the same opportunity. God may rescue us from a particular calamity, but that doesn’t mean he's necessarily going to give us the exact same job.

After the fall of Adam and Eve, they went to work, and that work was going to be hard. It was going to require a lot of extra effort to produce the food, and they were not going to be able to live in the garden anymore. They had to be removed from the garden. They still had the responsibility to live and they still had the opportunity to have children. They still had the opportunity to be part of the beginning of the human race, but the reality is their opportunity was a little bit different. Did Adam get to live? Yes, he got to live. Did his job change? Yes, his job changed. Sometimes God gives another opportunity, but it's not without consequences.

I think about Moses, a man that God chose to lead the people of Egypt. One day Moses struck the rock in anger when the Lord had commanded him to talk to it. Moses' disobedience did not result in him being removed from his office immediately. Instead, what it resulted in is, "Moses, you're not allowed to lead the people into the promised land now." "-to lead them?" "Yes, you're going to lead them right to the doorstep, but you are not going to be given the privilege to take them in." When David sinned with Bathsheba and then with Uriah, David remained as king, but David's life and ministry were never the same. His family was never the same. The internal conflict between the various stepbrothers only grew more intense. God gave David many additional opportunities, but with each one of them there was also a series of consequences that he had to face.

When we're reading in Jonah and reminded of God's grace, "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time," we want to be thankful for that. We want to take advantage of the opportunities that God has given us, but we don’t want to presume upon God. The second thing is we need to recognize that God sometimes calls us to the same task that we had refused earlier. Sometimes God calls us to the same task that he had called us to earlier.

II. Recognize that God sometimes calls us to the same task we refused earlier

That’s what happens here. The text tells us, "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time," and praise God for second times. It says, "Arise and go to Nineveh." Arise and go to Nineveh. In other words, "I'm not letting you off. I want you to do the very thing I had called you to before."

God's will still had to be accomplished, and disobedience and rebellion did not negate God's plan. I think of many times growing up when my parents explained their will to me, "Clean your room. Make sure your laundry's in the proper place. Cut the grass." For various reasons, I disregarded their instruction, so my parents would give me a second opportunity. What was that second opportunity? Cut the grass. Do the laundry. Take out the trash. Whatever it was that I was told to do, clean my room, whatever I was told to do, that then becomes my responsibility. I still have the same job. It's not like, "Oh, you disobeyed. Okay, well, now you don’t have to do it." It was, "You disobeyed. Here's some appropriate consequences. Now do exactly what I told you to do before."

That’s what happens here. God had a message for Nineveh that had to be communicated. In fact, from his perspective, it had to be communicated by Jonah, and Jonah's lack of obedience to the call of God the first time did not result in God choosing plan B. Again, I think this is a picture of a very gracious, slow-to-anger and compassionate God. God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh despite his failures, his rebellion. Sometimes that’s exactly how the Lord deals with us. See, God sometimes calls us to the same task despite our previous failures and our rebellion.

The Book of Jonah contains a tremendous amount of irony. It's one of the major features of the book, and I hope that as you’ve been reading it, you’ve been enjoying that. In fact, you're sitting here reading your Bible, whether it's outside or in your living room or wherever, and you read in Jonah 1:3 that Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish, and you're like, "Uh-oh." That’s your internal response. It's just like, "Uh-oh." Then you start reading here, "And a great wind on the sea and a great storm," and you're thinking, "Oh, that’s going to get Jonah's attention. That is surely going to get Jonah's attention." Then you read about how the captain approached him, and you're like, "Whoa, Lord, you're going to get his attention now, for sure."

Then you read where it says, Jonah says, "Well, I'm a Hebrew and I fear the Lord God of heaven," and you're like, "Seriously? Are you kidding? Are you really serious, Jonah? You said that in the midst of all this?" Then you read Verse 14 and you say, "And the sailors called on the Lord and said, 'We earnestly pray, oh, Lord, do not let us perish on account of this man's life and do not put innocent blood on us,'" and you're like, "Wow. Wow, isn't that amazing. Lord, look at your amazing works." I hope that’s how you read your Bible. Do you read your Bible like that? You're just responding to the various things that are coming up. Then when you get to Jonah 3, it's like, "Wow, Arise, go to Nineveh. Wow, that is truly amazing. Thank you, God. You're so gracious."

See, the irony is all over the place in the Book of Jonah, and it's ironic that God calls Jonah to do the very same thing that he had refused earlier. He restores him to the exact same ministry position. Then we also see, despite our inadequacies, despite our inadequacies ... There's something in the text that’s really easy to miss if you're not reading really carefully. I wanted to show it to you side-by-side so that you could see them. The first observation I'm going to make is just a freebie, and then the second one is the one I really to talk about.

Notice in Jonah 1 it says this, "Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry ..." What's the next word? "Against it." Right? Got that? Now go over to Jonah 3, "Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim ..." What's the next word? "To it." That’s interesting that God had changed it just slightly here, giving a possible indication of what was going to come, namely, that this was going to be a call to their repentance, a call for an opportunity. Oh, by the way, who had just gotten an opportunity? Jonah had just gotten an opportunity. If he'd been paying attention and he'd been thoughtful, he would have recognized, "Oh, this is an opportunity for Nineveh just like it was an opportunity for me."

Now here's the other thing I wanted to point out. In Jonah 3, at the end of the verse it says this, "And proclaim to it," that is, to Nineveh, "the proclamation which I am going to tell you." We don’t know if the Lord gave Jonah the actual message back in Jonah 1. We don’t know if he gave Jonah the message right here. We don’t know if God gave Jonah the message when he actually arrived in the city of Nineveh. What we do mention and what we do see is that God actually gave Jonah the message that he wanted to be communicated. When I read that, I'm just reminded, "Lord, you do equip people in the areas in which they need it to carry out your will. You just do that. You just take a person and you just demonstrate to them that you are going to provide whatever is needed for them to fulfill the calling of which you called them."

I mentioned earlier that I'm a naturally shy person. Some folks don’t believe that about me, but that is my bent. Here's what happened. When I figured out that the Lord wanted me in ministry, I recognized that being shy and being a pastor was not a great combination. Since the Lord wanted me to be a pastor, what had to go? Being shy, because you can't do both. You can't be shy and you can't be a pastor, so you got to get rid of one of the two. The Lord said, "I want you to be a pastor, so that means you got to get rid of the shy thing." Does the Lord equip you for that? Absolutely he does. Here, in the midst of Jonah, he doesn’t have everything he needs in himself. It's that he is going to get the word of the Lord and the word of the Lord is going to be the thing that he needs to fulfill the ministry that God has called him to. Frankly, why is it that God would do this? Because there's an important ministry that has to take place.

I'm going to leave out most of the conversation about Nineveh until next week when Pastor Aucoin will be explaining all this, but I want to highlight several things. We know in Chapter 1 that Nineveh is a what kind of city? A great city. It has a great need. In Jonah Chapter 1, we're told that the wickedness of Nineveh has gone up before the Lord. We know in Chapter 3 that the city is great and that it is a large city. It took 3 days to cover the territory. In Jonah Chapter 4, we're going to be told that there's 120,000 people who call it home. Realize that’s larger than the cities of West Lafayette and Lafayette put together when Purdue is not in session.

We're talking about a city our size. Here, the original Hebrew says this, that it is a great city to God. It is a great city to God, which could speak of its size or it might speak to the fact that the city is important to God, that the city might actually be important to God. There is important ministry that has to take place, and the Lord knows there's 120,000 people who live in Nineveh who do not know the difference between their right hand and their left hand. He says there's a message that has to get there. Why is it that God would call Jonah to go right back? Because there's important ministry, and that might be true for us, too, that there is important ministry.

See, we've seen God working in Jonah despite his rebellion, despite the questionable prayer of repentance that he's offering. God does that very same thing with us. Then we see how God called him to the exact same task that he had before, and while he isn't obligated to do that, sometimes that’s exactly what he chooses to do, because there's important ministry. That brings me to the final point. If we're going to take advantage of the opportunities that God gives us, then we actually have to obey the assignment which God gave.

III. We must obey God’s assignment

Notice when we remember, this is how God is. He gives lots of opportunities and we recognize "Here's one of mine. God has chosen to give me an opportunity." There is [inaudible 00:33:52]. The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. That’s to me, "Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you." It's a perfect picture of God calling him back to the very same thing.

Now the question is what is Jonah going to do about it? More importantly, what are we going to do about it? Again, we see the text, and in Chapter 1, we found that Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. In Jonah Chapter 3, we find, "So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord." Jonah chooses at this point to obey. I would suggest to you that the number of practical implications for a passage like this is almost unending, but let me highlight several of them.

One of the ways in which we are going to take advantage of God's grace is we are going to choose to accept God's grace in Christ. See, I would not be surprised if there's someone here today who God has already been working on. You're here and almost you can't explain why you're here. It's almost as if God dragged you here. Maybe the Lord has been working on your heart. Don’t be surprised by that.

When our team was in Minneapolis, Minnesota, just a week or 2 ago, we were getting ready for the conference and one of the pastors there had to slip away for a little while because a man walked into the church, literally like 3 hours before the conference began, and said, "Hey, I need somebody to tell me about Jesus." He was like, "Really?" "Yes, I need someone to tell me about Jesus right now." That pastor had an opportunity to lead him to the Lord that day.

It may be that God in his grace has been working on your heart and giving you chance after chance after chance after chance, and up until this point you’ve been fleeing from the presence of the Lord. Maybe it's time to repent of your sin and trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ because he's been drawing you already, so instead of saying, "No, Lord, no, Lord. No, Lord, I'm not listening," and say, "Lord, thank you for drawing me. Thank you for helping me see the significance of my sin as an offense against you. Now, what I'm asking for is that you would forgive my sin. I want to place my faith and my trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ." That is where all this is heading anyway.

One of the perfect pictures of the Book of Jonah is actually Ephesians 2:8-9, "Wherefore by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God. Not as a result of works so that no one may boast." See, what the Book of Jonah is ultimately pointing to is the person of Jesus Christ. "He will come to take away the sin of the world," or Romans 2:4, "Do not think lightly of the riches of his kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance." In other words, what he's saying is, "Hey, pay attention. Listen to the grace of God. Listen to his patience. Listen to his kindness. Don’t say, 'Yes, it's going to come tomorrow, and it's going to come the next day and it's going to come the next day.' Instead, pay attention to it now so that you can repent."

Now for those of you who know Christ as your Lord and Savior, maybe what God is doing in your life right now is maybe there's a sin issue that God has been working on you about. Maybe it's related to your tongue. Maybe it's related to your thoughts. Maybe it's related to some particular action and the Lord has been working, and he's been calling out to you like, "Jonah, Jonah, Jonah," and you haven't been wanting to listen to that. Can I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities that God is giving you? Can I encourage you to take advantage of the second and the third and the fourth and the fifteenth and the thousandth opportunity that God is providing and to repent of that sin and again growing from that and maturing and becoming more like Christ?

It might be that the application is choosing to serve by the strength of God's grace. In other words, the way that you're going to take advantage of God's opportunity is you're going to say, "Yes, Lord," where previously you’ve said, "No." In our case, it's focusing on Verse 10 of Ephesians 2. For some, they need to focus on 8 and 9, "Where by grace you have been saved." You can't get there by yourself. For the rest of us, we're asking, "We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." In other words, we're being called, Arise, go to Nineveh. Arise, go to Nineveh.

For some, it's that SERVE '16 thing and the Lord has been working on your life. You’ve heard testimony after testimony after testimony of people who have basically said this, "Going to Children's Ministries is like going to Nineveh." It is almost like this, that the Lord is calling you, "Go to the Toddler Ministry and proclaim the message of the gospel because their cries have risen to me." That was a joke. You're like, "No, Lord, not the Toddlers. I will flee from the presence of the Lord in Children's Ministries," and the Lord is saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh."

You’ve probably been following on Facebook. This is actually a couple of days old, but that’s the Hartford Hub, and it's way more past that now. You just see that and you can almost taste the ministry. You see Jobs for Life classes doubling in size and you see Faith in Finance resulting in people owning their own homes. The Lord is calling you. Take advantage of that. Arise, go to Nineveh. Many of you are thinking about the Men's Ministry at Bethany Farms, and Greg has a number of us out to the farm last week just to pray that God would do something great.

Maybe it's just working on your heart, like God's working on your heart saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh," or maybe you're thinking about Community Ministries. We've had them around. We got 2 community centers. This is actually a picture of the time when the Mexican Consulate was here and they were seeking to serve those in our area who need help with documentation so that they are here legally and working legally. The Lord might be calling you to, "Hey, this is the kind of thing I get jazzed about. I get jazzed about Community Ministries, so I want to be there for that." Arise, go to Nineveh, where Nineveh's the community center.

Friends, I want to encourage you, take advantage, take advantage, and then choosing to pray. If God gives us life that goes on long enough, physical strength will fade. It always does. As physical strength fades, prayer is the only weapon. Prayer is always a weapon, but it is only a weapon for those whose physical strength has disappeared. We should believe this, unless the Lord builds the house, the workers labor in vain anyway, so ask the Lord to help you, to give you eyes to see and ears to hear, "Lord, what are you asking me to do? What is the Arise and go to Nineveh calling?" Then is there a willingness on your part to say, just as it does in Chapter 3, Verse 3, "So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord."

Let's pray. Father, we want to thank you that you are a gracious and compassionate God, and you do give us opportunity after opportunity after opportunity. Lord, we're asking you to help us to be good stewards of those opportunities, to take advantage of them, to not simply presume on your kindness, to not presume on your slow-to-anger character, but instead, to take advantage of it, to be thankful for it, and then to do whatever it is that you have called us to do. We're asking, Lord, that you would bring each of us to the place of service and prayer and a willingness to repent.

Maybe someone needs to repent of their sin for the very first time and trust in the death, the resurrection of Jesus Christ so that they can be made alive and live. I pray that you would work in their heart right now. Lord, for those of us who know the Lord and we have sin issues that need to be addressed, I pray that you would help us to address them. Lord, I also pray that you would then help us to take the next step and to take advantage of the opportunities that you’ve given us, because they're not going to last forever. We ask, Lord, for your help in Christ's name. Amen.

Rob Green

B.S. - Engineering Physics, Ohio State University
M.Div. - Baptist Bible Seminary
Ph.D. - New Testament, Baptist Bible Seminary

Pastor Rob Green and his wife, Stephanie, joined the Faith staff in August, 2005.  Rob’s responsibilities include oversight of the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry and teaching New Testament at the Faith Bible Seminary. He serves on the council board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and as a fellow at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

Read Rob Green's Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Green to Faith Church.