Lesson 01: Jonah 01/03: Running Away
Have you ever tried to run away? I am not necessarily talking about running away from home. People run away from a broad spectrum of things. They run away from responsibility. They run away from the consequences of their actions. They run away from people. People are even prone to running away from God. In this message, we are going to explore the experiences of a rebellious prophet named Jonah who tried to run away from God. Jonah’s story can encourage students to stop running from their calling and start running towards it while pushing past all the distractions in front of us.
Large Group Instructions
Discuss a time when you ran away from home (or someone you know did).
One day, I approached my mother wearing a tie and carrying a folder full of papers. Most of the documents were silly doodles and arbitrary graphs, but it made me feel like a little lawyer. I slapped the folder onto the kitchen table and invited her to look over the report while I delivered my world class presentation. What was my argument? I wanted her to buy me a four-wheeler. I knew she thought they were dangerous, so I wanted to show her that I meant business. Thus, I pulled out all the business strategies I saw from my dad— the folder, tie around my neck, piles of paperwork, and the confident attitude.
Once I made my case, I sat down to get down to talk over the details. “What color do you think is best?” I asked. She gulped and then responded, “You aren’t getting a four-wheeler. Sorry, honey.” My little heart broke beneath my checkered necktie. What about the report? What about the promise to not die? What about all the chores I agreed to add to my chart? I did what any other sane six year old would do in that position: I packed my bags and walked out the front door.
I made it as far as I could go, which was the little tree fort forty yards from my house. As I unpacked, I sorted through two days worth of shirts and four weeks worth of Pop-Tarts. Then, I just smiled at my lifeless Tigger doll. “This is going to be great,” I muttered to myself.
When night came, I began hearing spooky noises and started to feel as though there were intruders surrounding me. I abandoned my stuffed animal and Pop-Tarts and ran towards the warm glow of my house. As I darted into the front door, mom welcomed me home and offered to make me some chocolate milk. I accepted the milk but insisted I was still running away again in the morning. It rained the next day, so I stayed home for the next thirteen years.
Have you ever tried to run away?
I am not necessarily talking about running away from home.
People run away from a broad spectrum of things.
They run away from responsibility.
They run away from the consequences of their actions.
They run away from people. People are even prone to running away from God.
In this series, we are going to explore the experiences of a rebellious prophet named Jonah who tried to run away from God.
Contextualizing this Passage:
Jonah’s name means “dove.”
I find this very fitting as he was prone to flying away from his responsibilities.
Just like when birds freak out before a blizzard, Jonah was prone to freak out whenever God gave him direction.
He loved running in the opposite direction, quite frankly.
Honestly, there is a little bit of Jonah in all of us. There are things that God has called us to that we want to run away from.
God was not calling Jonah to something easy. God instructed him to go to the city of Nineveh to preach.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and the people there were world renown for their violence and vengeance.
Historically, Assyria was one of the first civilizations to learn how to use iron.
However, they didn’t use this gift to make silverware and cool statues.
They used iron to make weapons. When you showed up to a battle in Nineveh, you were showing up to a gunfight with a banana. They were gifted at both making weapons and using them.
Of course, Jonah was scared!
No one wanted to go there.
They tortured people.
They killed people.
Their children were taught warfare in elementary school.
They didn’t use their turn signals.
This was a wicked city, but it happened to be where God called Jonah to serve.
Sometimes, God’s call is challenging.
God gave Jonah a challenging calling, but then, Jonah hopped upon a boat that was heading in the opposite direction.
When God’s trying to do something big in your life, there is always another boat, and there is always another distraction.
This passage says he started going towards Tarshish, which was over a thousand miles away from Nineveh. (Reference the map on the screen.)
It was literally the opposite side of the known world.
He didn’t just try to run from God’s calling; he tried to get as far away as humanly possible.
The first chapter of Jonah gives us two principles about our relationship with our destiny and God’s calling.
What are you running away from that you should be running towards?
Are you running away from the people you need to tell about Jesus or are you running towards them?
Are you running away from the changes you need to make in your life or are you running towards them?
Regardless, God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, because sometimes God's calling is challenging.
The story of Jonah is a reminder to run towards all God has for you.
Run towards your calling.
Run towards your problems.
Run towards the dream God gave you.
Run towards those things that you think will be challenging because they might actually change you.
If God is calling you to something, you better run towards it.
It’s easy for us to give Jonah a hard time for not obeying God, but he was facing a frightening calling.
Give Jonah a break because sometimes we are afraid to invite our cousin to church.
This forces us to face a critical question. What is God calling you to do that you keep resisting?
Maybe God has called you to start a Bible study in your school, but you keep putting it off.
Maybe you know it’s time to stop seeing that boy, but you just keep hanging on and thinking he’ll change.
Maybe God wants you to start taking your health seriously, but it’s easier to sit around with a bag of Butterfingers.
Maybe God is pushing you towards serving at a summer camp, but you’re afraid to give up your break.
Whatever it is, it’s time you stop resisting. Stop running from your calling, because you're missing a blessing.
When you’re running from God, you’re always running in the wrong direction. There are hundreds of things trying to block your blessing, which brings us to our second point.
There is always a distraction to your destiny.
ILLUSTRATION: Talk about a diet or weight loss. This is my story — I am fully aware that it’s extreme for most individuals, so temper this illustration to your context.
For the most part, I am an open book. I tell stories that show my shortcomings, my struggles, and even my strange quirks. That’s all second nature for me. I seldom have shame when it comes to sharing a story. However, there is one major milestone in my life that I avoid talking about. It’s not because I am ashamed of it. Honestly, I am quite proud of it. It’s just that I am frightened that it’s too soon to share. Regardless of my resistance, here we go.
I recently lost 130 pounds. I hear you saying, “Wow! That’s like a whole person worth of fat.” First of all, rude. Second of all, you’re right. For years, I knew that I needed to take my health seriously. I was watching the scale move upwards and my energy levels plummet downwards. It was getting dangerous. Common sense said I needed to take control of my health, but I just didn’t know where to start. This led me to start seeing a doctor who specialized in nutrition. My entire world got turned upside down in one session. I remember him looking over my normal weekly diet and saying something to the extent of this: “You need to eat twenty-times more vegetables and stop eating biscuits for breakfast.” I cringed at the thought of kale instead of a Chick-Fil-A biscuit, but I held onto every word he shared. It may sound silly, but I had to learn how to eat healthily. I had no idea how to count my nutrients. I had no idea that some of my favorite foods were basically poison. I also had no idea how difficult this diet was going to be.
Diet is all about discipline.
No one can flip a switch to remove all junk food from the world.
How convenient would that be? We simply have to be more focused on our goals than our favorite flavors.
There are dietary distractions around every corner.
You still have to drive past fast food restaurants.
You still have to go to cookouts and parties with junk food.
Learning to be healthy is hard.
However, it is a life-changing decision.
Distractions desperately try to get in the way of that decision, though. The same was true for Jonah. When you set out to make positive change in your life, there is always a distraction.
When you go on a diet, donuts show up on your kitchen counter.
When you choose to stop gossiping, the juiciest drama seems to happen.
When you decide to study scripture daily, Netflix drops a new series.
When you are trying to save money, you find a great deal on your dream jacket.
The devil wants to destroy you by distracting you.
Just like Jonah, if God is calling you to something big, there will be an option to head in the opposite direction.
From hours of slime videos on Youtube to streamable shows about kids running from evil dragon-creatures to a culture that’s obsessed with other’s opinions, we live in a world that’s addicted to distraction.
We are more distracted than ever, and those distractions are keeping us from experiencing our destiny.
There is always a distraction in the way of your destiny.
What is distracting you from your destiny? Maybe people are pulling you backwards.
Maybe every time you make some progress, you get roped back into the same bad habits.
Maybe your own obsession with people’s perception of you has paralyzed your progress.
Whatever the distraction, you must force yourself forward with the help of Jesus.
When you run from your calling, you are also running away from all God has for you.
There is an outstanding outcome on the other side of your obedience.
Run towards your calling.
Push past the distractions.
You’ll never achieve big things when you’re easily distracted by small things.
Your persistence will pay off.
I’ve heard it said, "delayed obedience is disobedience.”
Think of your challenging calling.
Stop resisting and start obeying.
You may not feel like you want to do it now, but the Bible teaches that God will change you along the way.
God’s will for you may not seem like what you want, but it’ll always be what you need. Stop running away from it and start running towards it.
Push past the distractions.
When you run towards God’s calling, you are running towards God’s blessing.
Small Group Instructions
TALK IT OUT Go through these questions with your circle. Be honest. Be open. Talk through the tough stuff.
Ice Breaker: Introduce yourself and share this week's highs and lows.
Q1: What's one thing that stood out to you from tonight's message?
Q2: Why do you think Jonah ran away from his calling to go to Nineveh? Are there any other reasons why we might also avoid pursuing what God wants for us in our own lives?
Q3: What are some of your biggest distractions from moving in the direction God wants for you?
Q4: How can you overcome distractions (physical, mental, or emotional) and shift your focus on pursuing something good that God wants for you?
Application: What is one thing you can do this week to actively pursue something that God wants for you? What distraction might you need to overcome to move in the right direction?
This reading plan includes:
1 John 1:12 Hebrews 4:16 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 Ephesians 2:8-10 1 Corinthians 15:10 Romans 6:11-14 John 1:16-17
Do the following with each passage:
ASK– God to connect with you here. In prayer, start by slowing down and inviting God to be present. Begin with focus and openness to see what God has for you today.
READ– the selected section of Scripture slowly. Take note of the words and phrases that intrigue you, reading them a second time if necessary.
REFLECT– on what grabs you. How does this passage personally relate to your own life and experiences?
RESPOND– to the Scripture. Speak directly to God about what’s on your mind and heart. Look for ways to live out what you’ve uncovered.
About For Ministry Resources Youth Series
FMR develops a monthly youth ministry curriculum that is free to all local churches. Each monthly release includes a sermon series, small group series, Bible devotional, and supporting graphics packs that are original, practical, and ready to use.