Leadership Is Not A Personality Type

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Since I’m on this journey to know myself better and become more effective, I’ve been thinking a lot about personality types recently. There are many tools to determine how and why we display certain behaviors in our life and work: Myers-Briggs, Strengthsfinder, DISC, Enneagram, and so on.

Regardless of the type of test you take, it’s really important to know yourself and put your natural strengths to work for you. If you don’t know (generally) what your results are for these types of tools, I’d recommend searching the internet for a free assessment and see what comes up. Understanding who you are is the first step to living in the fullest potential of who God made you to be.

One of the most helpful tests is the DISC test, which measures four types of personality behaviors: Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Compliance (C).

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If you did a survey of many of the top business and church leaders, you would find that most of them have a high “dominant” personality. Dominant leaders are usually go-getters, confident, good decision makers, and like having the reigns of control. This makes them great at starting companies and leading organizations.

But what about the rest of the population (including me) who have other personality types? Does that mean you can’t lead? No way! The good news: leadership isn’t a personality type. 

You might be more of a “steady” person, or maybe you like to follow directions rather than telling others what to do. That doesn’t mean you can’t lead others. Being a good leader is about knowing your strengths, caring about people, and taking responsibility. It’s not about being bossy or mean or even charismatic.

Know your strengths: A leader knows his or her strengths and operates from those. I have a friend who just isn’t very good at organizing the little details of a project. Instead of pretending to be something she is not, she has people who are very detailed come and support her in her role. Leaders are self-aware without being insecure, knowing that everyone has weaknesses and that’s ok.

Care for people: Leaders, by definition, put other people ahead of themselves. People who simply use others to get what they want aren’t leaders. Leaders want to use who and what they are to benefit others. You don’t have to be out in front of people to care about them. Sometimes the best leaders aren’t even on most people’s radar.

Taking responsibility: Leaders go first. In fact, that’s what “leader” literally means. It doesn’t take a certain type of personality to notice a problem and be the first to step forward with a solution. Any personality can own up to what’s wrong and try to fix it. Boldness and initiative aren’t bound up in extroverted personality types, they may just express themselves differently.

No matter who you are, you can step up and lead. You have an arena of influence and you have opportunities for making the world around you better for the sake of others. Find a way to leverage your best gifts and go lead!

My Rebel Heart

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/peajayhow/11513173615
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/peajayhow/11513173615

It’s not easy to admit your faults. I think that most of the time we live our lives (unconsciously or otherwise) trying to avoid taking a long and hard look at ourselves, warts and all. The problem is we simply can’t escape ourselves. Everywhere I go, there I am.

I’ve shared a little in a recent post about how God has been inviting me into greater authenticity through some personality/value/strengths assessments. It is difficult to see ourselves in this light at times, because these tools are (generally) objective and don’t lie. You may try to alter your personality to avoid how you’re wired, but it doesn’t change who you are. It’s like looking in a mirror…before you’ve done your hair and shaved. What you see is what you get.

And let’s not sugarcoat it: it’s not just “flaws” or “weaknesses” that you see. Any time I look at myself and invite God into the process, what I see is not just my weakness but my sinfulness.

One of the massive things I’ve uncovered in this season is an undercurrent of rebellion against authority. This one runs deep in our human DNA and goes all the way back to the beginning. At the heart of the sin of Adam and Eve was disobedience – rebellion against God’s right to decide what they could and couldn’t do. We follow suit and buck against authority almost every chance we get.

God has better things for us. But this one is tough for us Americans living in the twenty-first century. We live in a context that generally rewards rebellion as “individualism” and “self-expression.” Don’t like your boss? Quit! Don’t like your church? Leave! Don’t like your president? Complain! In fact, many go way beyond complaining. Some of the most hateful language can come out of the heart of someone claiming Christ as Lord, simply because of a difference of theological stance or political philosophy.

God has helped me to see that I have lived in un-addressed rebellion in much of my life, mostly in the way that I posture my heart toward authority. Looking over my past, I can’t think of a boss, pastor or leader that I have served under that I haven’t at some point and on some level despised in my heart and thought “I could do that better.” That attitude leads to criticism, coveting, and isolation. It eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the relationship breaks down.

Here’s the reality: Everything looks easy from far away. My pride has a really high opinion of me, too high in fact. I start to believe that I’m smarter, more gifted, or more capable than another human simply because I can see their weaknesses. I forget that I have my own weaknesses in spades.

How quickly I can forget that God is the one who puts people in authority (Rom. 13:1, 1 Pet. 2:13, 1 Tim. 2:2) and requires me to submit. God appoints leaders, not me. God wants me to trust him, and he puts authority in my life to teach and grow me. When I refuse to submit, I shortcut the character growth God is trying to produce in me.

Of course there are times when submission is not godly, and there are authorities who abuse power and need to be removed. But I’m not talking about dictators here, but people in my world that I just might not like that much. I’m not called to act as an agent of justice toward a person who is just…not like me.

The freeing part is that when we submit to the authorities God has placed over us, we live life in his economy, the way he designed us to live. Walking in obedience to the way God wants us to live opens up all kinds of doors. I will see people in a different light when I understand that their place of authority is one thing, their personality is another. God uses all kinds of people to do his work, and I won’t agree with all of them. God’s church is a body, and we all have different strengths. God’s not interested in me making everyone like me, he wants me to be more like him.

Maybe there’s someone in authority in your life that you struggle with. I’d challenge you to do the wrestling with God required to walk in obedience and let him use that person to make you more like Christ.

Put Your Shoes Out

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These days it seems like everyone is busy. Ask anyone how they are and you’ll probably get something like, “Man…things are good but crazy!” We spend our days busy trying to get all of our work done and, if possible, not take our work home with us. We’re busy with family events, sports, parties, church, trips, you name it. Even our days off are busy.

I’ll admit it, most of the time I feel pretty busy too. I have to fight to stay sane in the middle of lots of activity. It’s hard to prioritize family with a busy schedule. Even though I have to be at rehearsals, events, and special services from time to time, I try really hard to be home for dinner and bedtime as much as possible. I’ve got a long list of people I’m waiting to hang out with (if you’re one of them I’m sorry). Ever feel like you should schedule social events three months in advance? Yeah, me too.

In the midst of all of this, I am making an effort to be as consistent as possible with hitting the gym. It’s easy when you’re busy to make excuses about why you can’t exercise, but staying in good shape is crucial to your short and long term survival.

Without trying to toot my own horn, I would say I’ve been pretty successful with consistent exercise over the past few months. Most of the time I get up around 4:30 and head to the gym so I’m back home before the family gets up. Going early gets my day going and I don’t miss out on the quality morning time before I have to head off to work. Yes, getting up that early can be tough, but I’ve discovered a little trick that helps me win the daily struggle with the snooze button:

I put my gym shoes and shorts out in the living room before I go to bed. 

Sometimes the most difficult step toward any kind of progress is the first one. But I’ve learned that if you can remove even the smallest obstacle it can make a world of difference.

When the gym clothes are out the night before I have already set an expectation for myself when the alarm goes off. When the sounds of “cascading rain” come crashing into my dreams in the wee hours of the morning, I don’t have the luxury of “well I don’t want to rummage around for my clothes” as an excuse. I’ve set myself up for success. When my plan for the morning is mapped out in 15 minute increments, I know that any delay will start a chain reaction that puts me in catch up mode for the rest of the day.

Turns out this strategy can be applied in many other areas of life. If you don’t want to eat all of the potato chips in one sitting, try dosing them out into ziplock bags before you go for a snack. Portion control is real. Try putting only a few cans of that beverage or soft drink in the fridge at a time and see if it helps prevent you from going for another one. If you don’t want to waste your whole night watching TV, decide a specific limit to your view time (or better yet, don’t turn it on in the first place).

Small victories go a long way. If we focus on “going to the gym for a year,” or “getting in shape,” or “saving for retirement,” we won’t get far. I don’t have to do everything to “get in shape” today, but as long as I lace up my shoes and get in the gym I have won half the battle. If I can do that, I’ll be in good shape.

 

Worship and Leadership

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I have three passions in my life apart from my faith and family, summed up in the phrase that has become my life purpose mantra: Teaching worship leadership. 

I am a teacher because I am a learner. My personality makes me gravitate toward a constant influx of new information, researching and seeking to understand things that surround me or interest me. Because I love to learn, I love to teach. Teaching the things that I have learned not only helps me further absorb them, it gets me more excited about learning. I’ll admit this sometimes gets me into trouble. Not everyone likes learning the way I do, and not everyone would like me to be their teacher. Also, the phrase “nerd alert” comes to mind…

Worship has been a passion of mine since my early teens. A profound experience in prayer led me to pursuing a ministry path and ultimately career in worship leading, one that I plan to follow until I can’t anymore. At first I thought that a calling in worship meant that I’d constantly be in front of people with a guitar in my hands, but that has only been partially true. Education and experience has deepened (and widened) my understanding of what worship is. Worship is much broader than music, singing or a Sunday activity. When we see worship as a way of life, a perspective-orienting posture before God, it changes everything from our thinking, our work, our relationships and our priorities.

I owe the focus on leadership to some years spent in an incredibly rich leadership culture. My time on staff at 12Stone Church has made a tremendous impact on how I see my life and various roles, helping me to understand the importance of skilled, intentional leadership over myself and others under my care. Leadership skills are some of the most fundamentally important skills one can ever learn, and they have the power to change your life completely.

Lately I have been searching for ways to articulate the connection between worship and leadership, two of my biggest passions. At first it seemed incredibly difficult. What could Good to Great and Engaging With God possibly have in common? I thought, maybe I just have two things that I’m passionate about that are basically unrelated. It wouldn’t be the first time!

But more reflection has shown me I was wrong. There is, in fact, a very strong connection between worship and leadership if you take a closer look.

Worship is essentially about glory. God is glorious, THE only being in the universe whose essence and character are so magnificent we could spend eternity (literally) captivated by all he is. Even attempting to write a description of God’s glory seems feeble at best. In corporate worship, we gather as the people of God to celebrate and proclaim God’s glory in prayer, songs, preaching and proclaiming the scriptures, and by participating in the sacred acts of the Christian church (baptism and eucharist). Worship reenacts the Story of God’s creation, our fall into sin, God’s redemption, and re-creation of all things. These activities are both participation and proclamation that God is glorious, the Greatest and most Beautiful One of all.

Human beings were made for God’s glory (see 1 Cor. 10:31, Col. 3:17, CS. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory) and thus made for worship. It is a self-verifying truth that glory is of paramount importance to the human soul. Humans everywhere are drawn to the ocean, the mountains, spectacular sporting events and feats of human skill and achievement. Why? Glory. When we worship God, we experience his glory by experiencing him and experiencing what we were made for.

Leadership is essentially the right ordering of ourselves and our relationships. It is intentional stewardship of who we are and how we interact with the world around us. God has created a right order for our lives and for our relationships, made clear in the Bible. Leadership teaching (well, let’s say good leadership teaching) is the distillation of the principles of self-leadership and right relationships that God has designed.

This brings us to the connection point between worship and leadership: righteousnessRighteousness simply means “right-ness,” the proper order of things in the world. God sits on a throne of righteousness and justice (Ps. 89:14) because he makes things right and just. When I live my life to God’s glory, I am essentially living a righteous life, living the way that God intended me to live according to his design. He has designed me to behold his glory, and as I gather with his people and sing and pray and kneel, my eyes are opened. He has also designed me to be disciplined, to be honest, and to live in right relationship with others. If my life is meant to be lived to the glory of God, then my leadership of self and of others will be expressions of worship. Leadership as worship takes worship from the church building and puts it in my calendar and my conversations.

I love to be out in nature. There’s nothing quite like climbing to a higher altitude and looking out across the space below. There’s nothing quite like a sunset, a clear starry sky or the pounding surf of the ocean at high tide. These sights remind me that God is glorious and powerful and has made a world that is very good. In the same way, seeing a man or woman seeking to live life to God’s glory, working hard to make the best use of the time, talent and treasure they have been given, reminds me that God is glorious and his creation of humankind is very good. He has made humans to be the crowning glory of his creation, and we have the chance to display his glory when we live in righteousness.

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!”
Ps. 150:6

 

Image: http://www.twanight.org/newTWAN/guests_photos/5001422.jpg

 

Traffic

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Traffic jams are the worst. Ok, there are worse things, but who likes traffic?

Traffic is the product of a bunch of people trying to get to the same place the same way.

When it comes to success, there are lots of people trying to get there, but the only roads that are crowded are the “easy” ones, the quick-fix routes that don’t take a lot of discipline, thought or diligence.

In reality I’d say the road to success is less like a backed up freeway and more like a Mt. Everest basecamp. What’s holding you back is not a bunch of people who can’t (or won’t) get out of your way. It’s actually just you. Doing the right thing isn’t overpopulated, it’s just difficult. It takes a lot of work to get there.

Before you start honking your horn and blaming all the idiots on the road in front of you (we’re back to the metaphor), try looking in the mirror. How can you train yourself to take the hard steps to achieve success? It’s highly unlikely that luck (or, “missing rush hour”) has made the difference in those who have reached their destination. 

 

(image credit: https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7058/6952295112_46da082194_b.jpg)

The (en) Courage to Do What’s Right

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“Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”
John Wayne

I am the type of person who loves to get advice from wise people. I can remember a teaching from youth group several years ago that said “if you want to know the right thing to do, check three places: the Bible, prayer, and wise counsel.”

In general, getting counsel from others is a great rule of thumb. We are not as wise as we think we are on most issues, and we are sometimes blinded by our…well, blind spots. An outside perspective can reveal critical insights to our situation that make a huge difference in our lives. But sometimes an outside perspective isn’t what we need.

On more than one occasion, I have been in the middle of asking trusted friends for advice and gotten this pointedly painful piece of truth:

It sounds like you already know what to do, but are just afraid to do it. 

Yeah. Ouch.

But it’s true, isn’t it? In many cases, asking friends for advice is an effort to have them reinforce what we already know we have to do. We aren’t really looking for advice per se, we are looking for encouragement, someone to help us have the guts to make the bold move.

Knowing this tendency helps me in two ways:

1. As a listener:  If a friend is asking for advice, I can ask myself if they really need suggestions or just encouragement to do the thing they already know they have to do. By asking, “What do you think you should do?” I can save some time I might spend trying to think of solutions for them if what they really need from me is support.

2. As an asker: Before I seek advice from others I can ask myself “Do I really not know what to do, or do I just need courage to do something hard?” Knowing the difference can help me ask the right people for the right kind of help and get on with what I need to do.

Encouragement is oxygen of relationships, especially for those of us in leadership. What can you today to pour “in – courage” to someone that matters to you?

 

Image credit: http://rahzy.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/mountain-climber-1000×457.png

4 Tips on Self-Leadership

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No matter where you are or what you do, leadership matters to you. Several years ago I was not convinced of this myself. I thought “leadership” was the theoretical, not-so-inspirational jargon that littered those motivational posters and self-help books. Boy was I wrong.

John Maxwell has perhaps the simplest definition of leadership:

“Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Leadership is the ability to get people to follow you, to believe in what you believe in, and to get things done together.

The beginning of leadership is self-leadership. Before leading others, we must learn to lead ourselves. Performance at work is an overflow of what is inside of us, our character. We cannot expect to have great results at work while living sloppy the rest of the time. Want to change your team or your work environment? Look in the mirror.

I have only scratched the surface of learning leadership, but since I’ve recently been reminded of how important it is to my life and ministry, I thought I would share four of the most helpful self-leadership principles I’ve learned. These are things that dramatically changed my life when I learned to put them into practice, and make a huge difference in my daily successes (or lack thereof).

1. Get out of bed. Whether or not you are a morning person, if you want to be productive in a day you have to start by waking up…early! There are exceptions to this rule, but in my experience most people are more productive toward the beginning of their day and less productive toward the end of their day. If you are a constant “snooze” button pusher, you probably find yourself one step behind your whole day. The quicker you can be up and at ’em, the more likely you are to spend your best energy on what matters. So find a way to get up and get ready to face the day.

2. Get it out of your head. Many people spend a lot of energy trying to keep tabs on all the things that are important to them or on their to-do list. This drains focus and will eventually cause you to forget something important. To avoid this, write down the things you need to do, the ideas you have, and the stuff you don’t want to forget. I use the “Notes” feature on my phone, but there are a number of ways to do this. I may be in the middle of reading a book or about to fall asleep and suddenly I remember that I forgot to return an important call. I simply stop what I’m doing and put it on my “work list” so that when I get to the office I will have it there in front of me. This is a win-win because I not only accomplish that thing I wanted to do but I also save myself from being distracted. When I write it down I am free to return to what I was doing (reading, sleeping, etc) without being “haunted” by the things I have to do tomorrow.

3. Do the important things first. Anyone can make a to do list, but a good leader knows how to organize it. If you make a list of all the things you need to accomplish and randomly start trying to cross things off, you will probably get to the end of the day not feeling very accomplished. Instead, ask yourself “What is the one thing that I must get done today that will make everything else feel like getting ahead?” and do that first. The added bonus of this is that accomplishments build momentum. So when you do the hardest thing first, you will find that you can tackle several other not-so-important things with ease.

4. Let habit do your work for you. One of the most powerful self-leadership principles I have learned has to do with habit and willpower. The twofold principle is (a) you have a limited supply of willpower in any given day and (b) habit requires little to no willpower. Let me illustrate: What is your technique to brushing your teeth? How about the way you massage your scalp with shampoo? Are you thinking about these actions as you do them? Chances are you don’t. Why? Because these are habits, things you do so regularly that you don’t have to use any of your mental focus to accomplish them. Many people spend a lot of mental energy on the things that are basic to their job and life, things like daily tasks at work, going to the gym, time for reading or reflection. If we can build habits around the things that would make us effective on a daily basis, our minds are freed up to spend our focus and energy on going above and beyond “just getting by.”

What are some of your best self-leadership practices? Where did you learn them? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s learn to lead together!

God Loves A Full House

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There’s a parable that Jesus told about a great wedding feast. The man throwing the party invited all of these people to come and celebrate with him, but they made a bunch of excuses as to why it wasn’t a convenient time for them to come. So the master told his servants, “‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:23)

There are lots of things in that parable worth talking about, but the thought struck me recently: God loves a full house!

I don’t want to over-emphasize (no pun intended) the importance of the size of any group gathering in Jesus’ name. Jesus said that two or more can gather and he will be there. But as a leader of groups of people (i.e. church services) I have this problem of looking at the numbers. If lots of people come to worship it makes me happy, and if fewer people show up I tend to be less happy.

There are lots of things at play here and I have to admit that my motivation for wanting a full house isn’t always a noble one. I sometimes want to feel more justified in my preparation, or perhaps I just like the way that it sounds when I full room sings.

But regardless of the selfishness tainting this desire, I really do think that at its core it is a godly one.
Jesus wants his house to be full! This is true in heavenly sense and I think it also applies to worship.

One of my favorite quotes is by archbishop William Temple:

“Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His Beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.”

Worship really is the thing that we were created for, the thing that God wants us to be occupied with for eternity! And of course I don’t mean singing or sitting through an eternal church service, but worship, the submission of all that we are to God and finding in him our deepest joy and satisfaction.

So let me encourage you with this: When you find yourself wishing God’s house was full, use it as fuel for the fire of prayer instead of just dismissing it. When we are motivated by a jealously for God’s house, by zeal for his glory and a conviction that he is the greatest, the desire for people far and wide to come and experience him is a really good desire.

Keep praying, keep working, and don’t give up. There are LOTS of people out there who need to find a place in God’s house!

JV

What I Love (and hate) About Sundays

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There is a popular country song about loving Sunday and I have to admit I like it. The song paints a picture of a perfect day that includes worship, community, family time, rest, fun, and pretty much everything you could ever dream of doing on a perfect lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s extremely unrealistic, but I like it nonetheless. It’s catchy and tells a story that I can pretty easily imagine.

I’ve been leading worship for a decade or so, which means that my “normal” routine on a Sunday is far from that lazy, laid-back picture that we all wish it could be. It usually involves getting up WAY too early, getting dressed in the dark, and being forced to hit normal (or not-so-normal) human notes with a froggy morning singing voice.

You want to know something? Sometimes I hate it. There is the occasional Sunday when I hear the alarm waking me up too early on a Sunday and I would give anything for the chance to sleep in, have brunch and coffee with my family, mozy on in to church and sing some songs and then go home and veg out to some football.

Sometimes I hate the last minute problems with the sound system or the guy who forgot he was scheduled to play (or somehow forgot to practice).

Sometimes I hate that feeling of trying to drag people toward worshiping God, something that I know in my core is what’s best for them.

Sometimes I feel so crushed that all my work didn’t pay off like I thought it would.

Sometimes I have a vision of what our worship will be, a scene taken right from heaven’s glory, and drive home disappointed that people wanted to watch the game instead.

 

Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing this all for. Leadership is lonely and NOT for the faint of heart. So why go on?

 

I go on because I love Sundays more than I hate them, and I can’t…not do what I’m called to do.  I have been captivated by the gravitational pull of a deeper affection and this drives me to keep on going.

I love what I get to do as a leader in the church, serving people by helping them sing out praise to God.

I love getting to play the role of using music to point people to their ultimate purpose in life, loving and serving God.

I love Sundays because a bunch of people gather together and are part of something special –namely the worship of God Almighty –in an amazing and supernatural event.

I love Sundays because I get to see people that I know and love, I serve alongside of them, sing with them, pray with them, and eat a meal with Jesus right next to them.

I remember that I share in a bond of peace with people all around the world that I don’t even know, all because of what we do on this day.

I love Sundays because the gathered Church is something that we can never be alone, even in our best moments of private worship. We stop being individuals trying to figure things out and we become a body, a family, called by God to be his Bride.  When we gather, we envision the heavenly scene of the redeemed creation living in a perfect world and worshiping our King with all that we are. And regardless of the results that we can see with our eyes, that worship is happening and will happen for eternity. We are simply invited in.

So I don’t know if you share any of my sentiments. Maybe you find yourself a little discouraged as a leader, wondering what you’re doing it all for.
Just remember that your ability to fight through the fog and remember your calling makes you a leader. I think everybody wakes up in the morning and doesn’t feel like doing the work of getting over their pride, arrogance and selfishness. But when you put in the work and you get to the place where you once again see Christ as the best thing in the world, then you can say with confidence that the work is worth it. And THAT, my friends, is a leader that people want to follow.

JV

Swallowed-up Salvation

jonah_by_henryz-d390e3mRecently I was reading my daughter a bedtime story and came across something I hadn’t really thought about before. And yes, bedtime stories are awesome.

Of course most of us know this story: Jonah and the “big fish.” Don’t worry, I’m not going to take sides in the “Whale vs. Great Fish” debate. I’m not really sure that matters. But what does matter is that God used something that Jonah thought was surely his demise to save him.

Let’s review the story: God calls Jonah to go to Ninevah and preach a message of repentance. Now, Ninevah isn’t exactly Disneyland. It’s a rough place known for it’s rampant sin and debauchery. Jonah didn’t exactly jump with excitement at the idea of going to Ninevah and calling these people out in their sin. Who knows what may happen to him? So he did what many of us would probably do: he ran away.

Ever done that? Sensed God calling you one way and head (quickly) in the opposite direction? Yeah, that never happens to me either…

So on the way to Tarshish (the opposite direction as Ninevah), a really nasty storm pops up and the good ship and crew are in peril. The crew starts to throw cargo over the side to lighten the load. Jonah is (amazingly) sleeping during this whole thing, until he’s awaked by the ship’s captain asking him to pray to his “god” to calm the storm and save them (apparently these weren’t all good, God-fearing men on board…plus they were desperate so prayers to any god would do).

The men casts lots (Kinda like rolling dice to find out something about someone. Isn’t that weird? It seems to happen a lot in the Bible…and it usually works! Go figure…) and they determine that Jonah is the one causing the turmoil. He tells them if they throw him overboard the storm will stop and they will be saved. At first they don’t buy it. But after all their efforts have failed, they pray a quick “God forgive us” and throw ol’ Jonah into the violent sea. Immediately the waves subside and the storm stops. (Side note: the passage implies that these guys fear God after this incident, and who wouldn’t? Imagine throwing a guy into the water and the giant wave pool just shuts down. That’d get my attention.)

Now here’s where the story gets interesting. The next verse says “the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). I just love how matter-of-fact that is. Yeah, no big deal, just hanging in the belly of a fish…for three days and three nights. But just take a second and think about what must have been going through Jonah’s head.

He had just walked the plank off the side of a ship into a giant sea-sized jacuzzi. He’s gotta be thinking, “Well, now I’ve done it. I disobeyed God and now I’m going to die.” And I’m sure his assessment of the situation didn’t change much when a HUGE fish swallows him whole. At that point he’s thinking it’s over for sure. (Ever thought that? “I’ve messed up one too many times. Now I’m done for.” Not so with God.)

But what does the verse tell us? It tells us that God provided a great fish to swallow him. The thing that he thought was his death sentence was the saving hand of a loving (and patient) God. Not only was this dark fish belly a great place for Jonah to do some thinking and praying (which is what led him to the sequel: Call to Ninevah: Part 2 – and this time he got the point and said yes to God), but it may have been the only way he could have made it back to shore safely. I’m guessing Jonah didn’t do much long-distance swimming before he made the trip.

So the insight is this: Sometimes the things we think are the end are just the beginning. The things we’re sure will kill us can end up saving us. The darkness we face, the things that are cramped, smelly, and a little bit scary, end up being the things we needed most. Sure it’s cheesy, but God is interested in our growth more than our comfort. And fish-belly doesn’t sound very comfortable (Unless Jonah could speak whale).

So take heart if you’re in a tough spot. Hold on to what you know is true of God. He is providing a way to save you in ways you may not understand.