“Here’s how you know you have really met God”, says Tim Keller. “You limp”.
He is speaking, from the story of Jonah, about reaching a postmodern world. Towards the end he relates a story he remembers Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones once recounted.
The young Dr was with a number of older ministers in Whales and they were all getting excited about an up and coming minister who was preaching the gospel powerfully and taking Wales by storm. “Could this be the beginning of a revival?” they wondered. Then one of the older minsters said, “well, maybe, we must pray for him, but I just want you to know, I don’t think he has been humbled yet”. All the other ministers then suddenly became grave and started shaking their head as they realised the implications.
Someone with a massive gift may not actually realise how much they need God, and what his grace really is and how only God can ultimately advance his kingdom. Someone may powerfully preach the gospel of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, while in their heart they are sitting on a throne of their own abilities and accomplishments. They may say they are a sinner saved by grace but it’s just words. “Unless something comes into your life that breaks you of your self-righteousness and pride, you may think you are a sinner saved by grace but you’re not, you don’t really believe it … in the depths of your being, and you are not a sign of the gospel. You are not a ‘strength out of weakness’ person. And he will bring you down if he is going to use you. You will have to have the sign of Jonah in your life. Life out of death. Strength out of weakness.”
God’s power is made perfect in weakness. The greatest display of his power was in Jesus on the cross where he defeated his enemies. Jesus humbled himself. We need to humble ourselves “under God’s mighty hand” 1 Peter 5:6 (there is a great link in the surrounding verses to anxiety which I should follow up at some stage…).
John Newton wrote a hymn about Jonah’s Gourd:
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.
‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”
I love the way Tim Keller links Jonah, asleep in the boat, with Jesus asleep in the boat. The cause of the storm is Jonah’s disobedience to God in not going to Nineveh and telling them to repent (Jonah knows that God is merciful and that if he does that they might actually repent and then God will forgive them and he doesn’t want that because they are so bad and he hates them so much). Jonah saves the lives of the sailors by getting them to throw him overboard, at which point he is eaten by a fish.
Jesus was cast out in to the ultimate storm of God’s wrath. He is innocent and we are guilty but never the less he willingly gives up his life to save us. Tim Keller points out that Jesus could truly say the words of Psalms 42:7 (A messianic psalm if ever there was one centuries before the cross but so vividly to describing the mocking that Jesus suffered as he hung there) “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”