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How to Be a Winner, in Spite of Yourself

Jonah 3:1-10 


Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, [2] "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you." [3] So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days' walk. [4] Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown." 

[5] Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. [6] When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat on the ashes. [7] And he issued a proclamation and it said, "In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. [8] "But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. [9] "Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?" 

[10] When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. 

Jonah had every right to be pleased with himself. Hearing his message, Nineveh repented, God relented and an entire city was saved from the wrath of God. Now tell me the truth, if you spent a day walking through San Francisco, preaching the judgment of God, wouldn't you be pleased with yourself if the city repented of their sins and became known for its righteousness instead of its immorality?

Anyway you want to keep score, Jonah's mission was successful. Why? What was the secret to his success?

Next month I'm flying a thousand miles to cover a conference for Baptist Press led by Zig Ziglar. Top Business Executives will pay over a thousand dollars a piece to learn the secrets to success. The brochure lists things like strong motivation, communication sills, leadership, vision and a winning attitude as essential elements to be a strong CEO in the twenty-first century. Can we find these kind of traits in Jonah's ministry? Let's look closely.

  • •Was he successful because of his work ethic and superior skills?
Actually, no. Jonah was a reluctant missionary who preached in a half-hearted manner. Look again at Jonah 3:3-4 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days' walk. 4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown." 

This was a large city, it would take three days to walk through it, but Jonah only spent one day preaching. He was a minimalist-doing the very least he could to get by.

  • •Did he succeed because of his skill as a communicator?
His message was short. He spoke only 5 Hebrew words. I usually don't complain about any sermon as long as it isn't too long-the only problem with this sermon was that the Assyrians didn't speak Hebrew.

How could they respond if they don't understand the words? 

During my term on the California State Executive Board a few years ago, we were discussing how to get the Ethnic Baptist Churches involved in the State Mission promotion. We identified almost 40 language groups, and knew we couldn't print the study material in all the languages but we decided to provide the material in English and three other languages.

We felt the churches were more likely to use material printed in a language they could read. Common sense, right? Personally, I was surprised to learn the next year that it didn't work-there was no greater participation in the study as a result of the translation process? 

"Was it properly advertised?" I asked. "We mailed a letter to every pastor in the state," was the reply of the worker in charge of the project. "In what language?" I asked. "What do you mean 'what language?'" "What language did you write the letter in?" I clarified. "English," was the answer I received.

If they couldn't read the letter, they couldn't order the material. If you want people to understand a message, you must communicate it in their language. If Jonah was only going to say 5 words, couldn't he learn them in their native tongue?

  • •Was it because of his captivating message?
I don't think so. Jonah's message, even if they understood it, offered no hope. Even the darkest sermon should point people to the light. A sermon on judgement should always end with a plea for repentance and a message of forgiveness. Jonah had no hope. I can hear the smirk on his face as he preaches: "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown." 

The only joy in his message is his hope that it is true. He relished the thought of the punishment of his enemies in Nineveh.

If Jonah didn't succeed because of his work ethic, communication skills or captivating message, what was it?

  • •Jonah was obedient.
He didn't want to go. He tried to outrun God and conspired with others to try to out-row Him. After a three day seminar at the bottom of the ocean, Jonah finally agreed to go. Jonah's attitude stunk. His work ethic was sick and his message repulsive, but God still used him.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying good attitudes, communication skills and motivation aren't important, they are, but it is clear from reading the Scripture that Jonah didn't posses any of these. But he did obey!

God can even use rascals. Remember Paul's response to his disciples' complaints that some preachers were preaching out of wrong motives? He said, "Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice." Philippians 1:15-18 

God demands obedience. Saul tried to justify his disobedience to God by saying he had pure motives-he was going to offer a sacrifice to God with the plunder he didn't destroy. Samuel set him straight in I Samuel 15:22 "Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams."

Before his untimely death in the arms of James Dobson, Pete Maravich said, "One thing I don't want to be is out of God's will for my life. I know he has a plan for me and I want to be in it daily. God does not need Pete Maravich's fame, his name, his wealth or his popularity; what God really wants from me is my obedience." (Copied)

Next week, we will rejoin the story by taking a different look at this same chapter. We'll discover what happens when we "Gossip the Gospel." Before we dismiss this morning, I want to ask you about your willingness to obey God. 

At the very least, are you obedient to Him? Do you follow His clear instructions? It begins by obedience to Believer's Baptism and continues with a willingness to faithfully attend worship, diligently study the Bible, regularly pray and cheerfully give.

Want to be successful? Then obey, don't second guess Him-do what He says. 

Impact Preaching: A Case for the
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