God’s Compassion in the Mess - Jonah 2:1-10

One of my oldest and closest friends is an agnostic. She knows I am a Christian and has always respected my decision, but we have never had a deep discussion about religion and faith because of my complacency to leave it alone since we don't see eye to eye. I've recently felt compelled to share the Gospel with her; however, I find that I'm afraid and I don't know where to start. How do I begin the dialogue? I don't want to lose our friendship or come off as pushy, but I don't want to run away if the Holy Spirit is calling me to do this. I also don't want to go on thinking that I could have done or said something to change her mind. What do I do?   

Thanks for your very personal question. The good news is that your friend is agnostic, so she’s open to spiritual things. That’s a great start! The better news is that the results of your conversation with her are up to God. And that includes whether or not she gets angry and decides to end the friendship. That doesn’t make the situation any easier, but if God is telling you to have this conversation, then you have to be willing to do so even if it costs you the friendship. But given that you’ve been friends for a long time, hopefully, she will see this as an act of love and not being “pushy.” Besides, a friendship that doesn’t address eternal issues is temporary, at best, and the most loving thing you can do for her is bring up eternal issues so that your friendship lasts forever.

Now how to begin? That depends on a lot of things. Probably the best place to start is to be open about what Jesus is doing in your life. Make everyday conversations points to Christ. Something as simple as that may get her curious as to why and how Jesus is changing your life and whether He can do the same for her. 

The Jonah story seems so preposterous that it is hard to defend as a historic event. How do you see it?

Great question. My encouragement to you would be less concerned about how I see it and instead be concerned with how Jesus sees Jonah’s story. Because what Jesus thinks about Jonah is far more important than what I think, what you think, or even what modern science thinks.  

In Matthew 12, some Pharisees demand a miracle from Jesus. The did this a few times saying that they’d believe in Him if He did a miracle for them. But Jesus knew their hearts and that even a miracle wouldn’t convince them. So instead of a present day miracle, in Matthew 12 Jesus appeals to a miracle that’s already taken place. What miracle? Jonah’s miraculous story (see Matthew 12:38-41).  

If Jesus was convinced that Jonah’s story was real, true, and miraculous what should someone who follows Him think about it? We should probably believe everything that Jesus believed. Otherwise, we’re telling the guy whose miraculous resurrection we’re banking our eternity on that He believed something that was preposterous.  

Did people of the Old Testament, such as Jonah believe in eternal life?

Great question, but it has a complicated answer. The answer is “it depends.” Revelation from God is progressive in the Bible as you are hinting at in your question. You intuitively know that the New Testament more clarity about eternal life than the Old Testament. That’s what I mean by “progression revelation.”  

But that progression isn’t just from the Old to the New.  Even in the Old Testament, we see a progression of revelation. So some people in the Old Testament had a better understanding of eternal life than others, and we’re blessed with an even clearer understanding because we have both the Old and New Testaments.

So Pastor Josh talked a lot about the way we're "supposed to worship" with arms raised and such. How I've always thought about worship is that it matters how your heart is reacting to God's presence and not about where you place your arms. Some clarification on how this is incorrect would be helpful. Thanks.

First a clarification and a bit of “insider’s information.” I preach from a full manuscript.  Meaning every word you hear me say during a sermon is in my hand while I preach. So I’m confident that I didn’t say “the way we’re ‘supposed to worship’ [is] with arms raised and such.”  Now that may have been how you understood my words, but to clarify, that’s not what I said.  

But what I was driving at leads to your second point, which is that worship is a matter of how your heart reacts to God’s presence. And I don’t think it’s possible for your heart to respond to God’s presence while having no accompanying physical reaction. That physical response doesn’t have to be “arms raised,” but something should happen. Even singing is a physical response because we sing louder, softer, not at all based on our hearts response.  

For instance, when you watch a great movie that moves your heart, do you shed a tear, laugh out loud, or clap when the good guys win? Probably so. Or when your favorite college football team wins or loses a game, sure your heart is deeply involved in the game, but what about the rest of your body? I’m sure your hands raise when they score a touchdown, or you get vocal when the other team scores because your guys blew the play. Or what about when you meet someone famous. Now we tend to grow out of this with age, but don’t we get excited on the inside when we meet them, and it results in outward gestures? We forget our name, we get the shakes, we say things that are incredibly embarrassing.  

So if we do that for movies, sports, and celebrities...what do you think would be our bodies response will be when our hearts are stirred by God’s presence during worship? David danced. The elders in Heaven throw down their crowns while they bow down before God in worship.  Others played trumpets, shouted, and raised their arms. All being physical responses to their heart’s worship of God.