Icebreaker: Think about what it is like to be very deeply asleep – what words would you use to describe that state? How is your awareness of what is happening around you when you sleep really deeply?
The Old Testament prophet Jonah had been given a job by God. It was a job that he didn’t want to do, which was to go to a very Godless city and tell them that if they didn’t repent, they would be destroyed. Instead of following God’s command, Jonah tried to get as far away from the city as possible, and in the process tried as hard as he could to run away from his relationship with God. He was purposefully disobedient and as we know, when we disobey God in that way, it never ends well. There are all sorts of consequences that come from Jonah’s action, but today’s reading shows us one that is still a real danger for us in our own relationship with God – this danger is what the Bible calls a “deep sleep” – some even call it the “deathly sleep” – let’s hear about how Jonah experienced that…….
Text: Jonah 1: 3-5
There are some things that we can think and pray about today, so that we can learn from Jonah’s experience and so avoid the “deep sleep” in our own relationship with God.
What is this “deep sleep?”
It’s really tempting when we hear how Jonah went below deck at the very height of the storm and fell into a deep sleep, to assume that he was really relaxed, comfortable and trusting in God for whatever happened. But if we go back to the Hebrew word (radam) that is used for Jonah’s deep sleep, our ideas have to go in a very different direction.
The suggestion is that the depth of the sleep does not come from relaxation, but from a hopelessness and lethargy and from a deep disconnection from spiritual joy and peace. It suggests too that the sleeper has a depth of sorrow and a sense that nothing matters – remember later in the book of Jonah, the prophet wishes to die and this sleep gives a sense of that beginning – he doesn’t care what’s happening. The unconsciousness of this sleep, has also been linked by some Bible scholars, to the sleep that God gave to Adam in Genesis when God removed the rib from which Eve was created; this in itself suggests that it is a sleep that produces numbness, almost as if Jonah was anaesthetised to his surroundings and to the danger that was very obviously felt by the sailors that were on the boat with him.
In the New Testament a similar word in Greek, is used to describe the sleep of the disciples whilst Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. In this case it is a dark sleep, one that comes from desperation and exhaustion and sorrow.
So…. this is not a good kind of sleep and it is a symptom of Jonah seeking to remove himself from the relationship that he has had with God up until this point – it is something that we need to look out for in our own relationship with God.
How can we know if we are experiencing the ‘deep sleep’?
It’s interesting to understand what the Bible is actually telling us about Jonah, but it is far more important that we go beyond that to see if we can see any signs of this sleep in our own life.
I think we all know what it is to try to run away from God in some area of our life – to try to drown out His message to us, by numbing ourselves with all the noise, entertainment and distractions of the world. In this way we keep focusing on what we want rather than on what God has planned for us – especially when what God has planned doesn’t sound like something that we are going to like or enjoy. We might think “Well who can blame Jonah for running away?” – but whilst we might understand what happened to Jonah, it’s really important that we don’t sleep walk into the ‘deep sleep’ of Jonah in our relationship with God.
We can ask ourselves whether we are trying to be god in our own lives. Although Jonah was a man who had a long, and in earthly terms, successful relationship with God, he had come to the point of believing that he knew better than God, and this was one of things that led him into the ‘deep sleep’. Whenever we rely on ourselves, it will only lead to desperation because we are not God.
We can ask whether we have a sense in our lives of obeying God. Much of what happens to Jonah, happens because of his disobedience. Doing the opposite of what God asks us, or just ignoring his call on our lives to be His people, can really do us a lot of damage. Our spirits become dry and dusty, we lose the joy and the peace that we are guaranteed, regardless of our circumstances, when we continue to walk with God.
We can ask ourselves whether we are producing fruit in our lives and whether the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are becoming more apparent in our lives. (This is not to say that we will have all of these things, all of the time, but that we can see how God is transforming us so that these things are beginning to grow in us). Jonah was bitter and angry, he hated that God wanted to show compassion to the people of Nineveh, he didn’t really care about anything that was going on around him on the boat. He was far from God and whether he understood it or not, it was hurting him. If we are experiencing bitterness, hatred, anger, or a lack of compassion for others, then it’s a sign that something isn’t right in our relationship with God and it’s time to do something about that.
How can we be awake in our relationship with God?
God wants us to be awake, ready, alert, close to Him and living in Him – he wants us to avoid the “deep sleep” of Jonah.
Over the last two weeks we have been considering how spiritual discipline is a vital part of our relationship with God, and here, in Jonah and in what he can help us to understand about ourselves, we have a perfect example of what happens when we neglect those things.
Think back to what we have talked about over the last two weeks, and see if there are any of those aspects of your relationship with God where you need to be more awake, and where, having had time to reflect, you can see that there is a danger of falling asleep.
Perhaps it is spending time in the word, perhaps it’s prayer and listening to God, perhaps it’s setting time aside that is only for God and that you don’t let anything else take over. Maybe for you it will be making time to be in fellowship with other Christians, or serving or coming to God more often to confess your sin and to receive God’s forgiveness and guidance through the power of the Holy Spirit in your life. Whatever it is, decide today that you will commit to working on that, and to asking God to show you how you can work on it. Ask God to make you awake to Him and to make you aware of any areas of spiritual discipline where you are in danger of being sleepy. The good news is that despite all the things that Jonah got wrong, God was still with him and, eventually the plan that God had for the city of Nineveh came to pass. It’s never too late to wake up in our relationship with God.
It is so easy in this world to be sleeping when we need to be awake, but God wants to fill us with the full and abundant life that Jesus won for us on the cross. Do you want to be fully awake and living for God in a way that you could not imagine is possible in this moment? God wants that too so let’s pray that He shows us how it is possible to be wide awake for Him in this life that He has given us……