The other morning, after spending some time reading a devotion, I decided to randomly flip through my Bible. Do you ever do that? Just wander aimlessly through the pages, occasionally stopping to read things you’ve highlighted or notes you’ve jotted down? That’s what I was doing. And then, I arrived at a verse I’d never really paid attention to before. It wasn’t highlighted or surrounded by notes; it was just there. And I’m convinced God led me to it. Here’s what I stumbled upon:
“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” –Jonah 2:8
Now, in the past, I’ve probably just skimmed over this verse without getting any meaning from it. I mean, obviously, if you worship a statue of Buddha or something you’re missing out on Jesus. But, recently, God’s been showing me things—at rapid-fire pace, it seems—that can be summed up by this verse.
That sentence up there was part of a prayer uttered by Jonah. It happened after he’d refused to go to Nineveh to share God’s message. According to the book of Jonah, Nineveh was pretty messed up. It was perverse and darkened by sin. So Jonah said “no way!” (that’s a paraphrase, of course). Instead, he tried to hide from God (which seems absolutely ridiculous, but haven’t we all tried that at some point?) and ended up being swallowed by a huge fish. While he was in there, he came to his senses (and we’re not just talking olfactory, even though you know a fish belly had to be rank) and realized he couldn’t run from God. In summary, he realized he needed to trek it to Nineveh and God caused the whale to chuck him back onto dry land.
So, why did that quote stand out to me? Recently, God revealed an area of my life to me that I hadn’t fully given to Him. If any one asked me, I would tell them I was letting God work in that area and so I wasn’t worrying about it, but I’d still struggle with it. So one night I decided to completely, totally, whole-heartedly give the situation to Him. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and I’d have to remind myself daily that it’s out of my hands, but I’d given it totally to God.
Once I did that, I felt God leading me to surrender another area of my life to Him. When I became a Christian, I gave myself fully to Jesus. Or at least, that’s what was supposed to have happened. Instead of surrendering all of me, I realized I’d give certain areas to Jesus, but still tried to control others. Take my writing for an example, and try plugging in whatever your dream is into my story:
I’ve always said I wanted to be a writer. That was my dream. But not only did I want to write; I wanted to write for God. I wanted to write books that pointed others to Him and help fill the positive-message void that’s out there in the literary realm. I was a girl who wanted to use my writing for God. Man, isn’t that honorable? But I realized I was wrong.
Yes, I have a desire to write, but before that, I have a desire to live for Jesus. Which means that I have to surrender my dream of writing—even writing for God—to Him. Trust me, I’d battled doing this for a long time. After all, I wanted to write to bring glory to God. But that was the thing: I trying to take something I wanted to do and figure out a way to make Jesus happy. I realized that if God was really in control of my life, I needed to give up all of my aspirations. I needed to say, “God, use me in whatever way brings you the most glory. I want to do your will. And, if that involves writing, I’ll be thrilled. But if it doesn’t—deep breath—I’ll still be thrilled.”
The reason that was scary was because I knew once I gave my dreams to God, I’d fully given them up. I had no more control over them, which meant I couldn’t do things my way anymore. Yes, I still feel like I’m called to write. After all, God has given me the love of writing. But even more than that, I’m called to be used by God—in whatever way He knows is best. There’s a whole lot of trust involved there, and I have to daily remind myself that I’m surrendered to His will. Because surrender means you’ve given something away…and you’ll never take it back.
I’m learning to let Jesus work through me. Mark 8:34 says,
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Deny myself? That includes my hopes and dreams, fears and doubts, past and present and future. It’s everything. The cool thing is: I don’t have to worry about any of it! I just have to remind myself God is working for my good (see Romans 8:38).
So, what are your dreams? As a Christian, we have to make a decision: be sold-out for Christ or allow the world to invade our thoughts. Revelation 3:16 says,
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Wow. You know what that tells me? If I’m calling myself a Christian but I’m still living like the rest of the world…well, you read the verse. That’s intense. God wants all of us. All.
So back to my Jonah verse from the beginning of this post. See, when I realized I was planning out how I’d do what I want and figure out a way to glorify God with it, I realized I’d made my dreams my idol in a way. And because I was so focused on choosing how I’d serve God instead of listening for His call, I was missing out on His grace. The grace that says, “Anna, give it to me and you won’t have to worry about the next step. I’m already ahead of you, and I’ve already got it mapped out.”
I can honestly tell you that after I stopped wrestling with myself over this and finally told God to take my future and mold me into exactly who He wanted me to be, I felt so much peace. I’d decided not write my own life story, and I wasn’t in control. But I knew God was. And that’s awesome, because He knows what He’s doing. He’s got a future planned for me that’ll completely trump anything I could’ve planned. I don’t have to worry or stress about it!
When I surrendered my life to Christ years ago, I promised God I’d live for Him. And believe me, I’m still working on it. That’s why, the day after I read the Jonah verse, I went back to reread it. Except this time, I kept going and read the verse right after it:
“But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” – Jonah 2:9
My word, is that not sweet?? It completely follows the train of thought I’ve been having. I decided to “make good” on my promise to follow after God. And I’m determined to make the sacrifice while giving thanks to God. Because it’s out of my hands, and God loves me and cares about my dreams. It’s like the ultimate solution. Actually, it is the ultimate solution.
So…now for the title of this post. To be honest, I named this before I even started figuring out how I’d arrange it all. Jonah prayed from inside the guts of a fish when he was at his lowest point. He acknowledged he was trying to go his own way and asked God to use him. And, lo and behold, God met him right where he was. Jonah gave God his future, God sent him right on into Nineveh, and the people came to know God. All because Jonah gave it up. All because he realized God knew best. All because he stopped steering his own ship and let God lead.
Take my fish guts—my life—Lord, because if I try to lead myself, I’ll end up in a mess like Jonah.You know a way to use me that’ll be more meaningful, more awesome, and more impactful than anything I could come up with. Amen.