This week, we were back in our home at Tillman and broke fire codes to hear the wisdom that Stacey Tarrant had to share with us! She moved to Anderson, SC from the east coast of Australia about three years ago, and she said she felt a strong urge to escape–just like many of us do in college. She wanted to escape the small town with cows outside her window, but we often feel the urge to escape the presence of God.
Stacey used the story of Jonah, when he ran to Tarshish instead of traveling to Nineveh like God had told him to, to show us the warning signs in our lives. Jonah deliberately headed in the wrong direction to avoid the face of God, and though it may not always look like jumping in a boat for another town for us, we still try to escape God in our everyday lives.
Jonah 1:3 says: “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”
The three actions Jonah takes in this verse can be used as warning signs in our own lives to show when we’re headed in the wrong direction. Here’s a recap of Stacey’s points on each of them:
1.“Found a ship”
The first warning sign that we are headed in the wrong direction is that we will find an escape. Jonah sought out a ship that was going away from the place God wanted him to go, and we will often find opportunities to flee the face of God in college. Stacey encouraged us to ask ourselves: what is my opportunity for escape? It could even be something good. She admitted that often the ship she finds is ministry. She will use it to feel valued, and will get busy and distracted trying to do it well. In the same ways, many of the ‘ships’ we board to escape God can look like great things on the outside.
2. “He paid the fare”
The second warning sign is the price we pay for the things we pursue that aren’t Jesus. We come to college prepared to sacrifice some of our relationship with Jesus: maybe some of the time we used to devote to praying or reading the Bible because college is busy, or maybe more. We expect to pay just a little bit. But the enemy wants us to believe the ticket is a lot lower than it is. Many people come to college and look for ways to escape God. They believe it is a small price to pay, but they graduate emotionally bankrupt. As Stacey reminded us, it is not free or freeing to flee Him. We always end up paying a price for choosing something else.
3. “To go with them”
Jonah got in the boat with other people. God was inviting him somewhere, and he attempted to escape with regular people who were going in a different direction. The people we surround ourselves with, in the same way, will determine the direction we go. Sometimes we think that we can get in the boat with a group of people and convince them to change directions and go where we want to go, but it’s not possible. The people in your boat are catalysts toward or away from God. He is inviting us somewhere, just like he was inviting Jonah, and we have to choose people that are going in that same direction. Ask yourself: who’s in your boat? Are they taking you to the place God is leading or are they taking you away from Him?
These three things combined: searching out an escape, paying the price, and surrounding himself with people going in the wrong direction, led Jonah to an awful place. The belly of the whale.
Like Jonah, we often let the world tell us that there is treasure to be found away from God. Often our sources of escape aren’t inherently bad things, but we can only find true joy in His presence.
Jonah attempted to run but wasn’t successful. We won’t ever be successful running from God either. He will always come find us.
Return to God this week and every week. Lay down the busyness and stress of life and be committed to running to His presence. That is the only place you’ll find your purpose and your joy. What an encouragement it is that we have never run too far in the wrong direction for Him to find us!