Dr. Richard L. Strauss
May 22, 1983
Have you ever wanted to run away? I wonder whether there is anyone who has not wanted to run away, at one time or another. I know I have. There have been moments when the pressures are squeezing me in and the problems have been mounting up, and I was convinced that what I really wanted to do was get away.
What seems to come to mind in situations like that is the thought that if we can just get out of this situation or if we can just get away from here, everything will be OK. I want you to think with me tonight about this tendency we have to run away. I think we all have it to some degree.
The Tendency to Run Away
It starts when we're kids. Mom or Dad yell at us; we feel unloved or unappreciated, like we can never do anything right. We tell ourselves they don't really want us around. Maybe they'd miss us if we were gone. So we wrap up a couple sandwiches and put them in a handkerchief and tie it to a stick, and away we go. It doesn't take very long, though, to realize it was a dreadful mistake, especially if the first night is cold and rainy. Running away is not always everything it's cracked up to be. The Great Escape sometimes turns out to be The Great Mistake.
There are tens of thousands of teenagers tonight who are missing. Many of them have chaffed under parental rules and regulations, or ached under a lack of parental understanding and concern and love. They've told themselves that life would be beautiful if only they could get away, if only they could have some freedom. So they disappeared.
But for some, that freedom turned out to be bondage--greater bondage than they ever knew at home. The bondage to dirt and filth, and drugs, and hunger, and abuse. Meaningless days and sleepless nights in uncomfortable surroundings. Their Great Escape turned into a great bondage from which there seems to be no way out.
You'd think we'd grow out of this urge to escape when we get to be adults. But unfortunately, we don't always grow out of it. There are many, many adults--perhaps some right in this room tonight--who are having trouble in their marriage and thinking that maybe running away from the marriage is going to be the answer. Some just dream about it. Others actually do it. Some just disappear. It happens every day. Suddenly a mate is gone, sometimes leaving the children behind with the other spouse. Some begin to take steps to dissolve the marriage. They think that's the way out.
Sometimes it's the job that gets us. It gets tougher. The boss is bearing down on us. We want to find another job--things will be better somewhere else.
Maybe it's a falling out with a friend at church, so we just have to get away from it. We think, maybe we'll go to another church and make new friends, and everything will be all right there.
Get away! Escape! Run! We hold it out as the great solution to many of our problems.
In our great escape, we may attempt to escape from God, just as Jonah did, when we feel pressure in our Christian lives. Sometimes it's our fault, as pastors, putting that pressure on. People may begin to feel like they don't meet up to God's standards, and they become overwhelmed with guilt. And instead of welcoming God's love and forgiveness and acceptance, and using the resources He makes available for victory, they decide the answer is to shut God out of their lives and they become spiritual drop-outs. They've disappeared. They're not here; they are somewhere else tonight. Maybe there are some right here who are toying with the idea.
There is a tendency in all of us to run away. We think it is the easiest thing to do. Now let's think about the futility of running away.
The Futility of Running Away
Jonah discovered the futility of running away in all its reality. In Jonah 1:3 we read, "But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa and he found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down into it to go with them from the presence of the Lord."
The Jews thought Tarshish was the farthest-away point on the face of the earth. Most Bible scholars believe it was in southern Spain, about 2500 miles from Israel. Surely God didn't live there. It was so far away--surely, He wouldn't be there. He wouldn't be able to find Jonah there.
Evidently, Jonah forgot that great psalm of David. Jonah was a prophet, so he certainly had in his possession the psalms. Most of them were written by this time. He certainly would have known of that great psalm of God's omnipresence where David said (Psalm 139:7-12):
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me,"
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
The message of that psalm is that you can't run away from God; it's absolutely impossible. You can run away from home, but God knows where you are. You can run away from a marriage. You can run away from a job. You can run away from your friends. You can run away from your church. But God knows where you are. He's watching you every minute. You can go into a bar; you can go into a porno movie; you can go into a massage parlor. But God is there. If He is in Sheol, He is certainly in those places.
David taught us that God is everywhere. The Scriptures are filled with that concept. It is futile to try to run away from God; it's impossible. You can't run away from a God who is everywhere.
Running away is futile for another reason as well: You can't run away from yourself. Wherever you go when you get there, that's where you're going to be. You'll be the same person you always were, with the same weaknesses, and the same faults, and the same guilt, and the same hangups, and the same needs, and the same desires you always had. They're going to go right along with you. You'll be right there with all those problems.
You'll have the same problems relating to people in your new location as you did in your old. You won't find people any more willing to give into your wishes as they were before. In that new location, they aren't going to be any more willing to bow to your demands or live up to your expectations than they ever were. Our selfishness and pride are our biggest problems and we take them right along with us. Wherever we go, there we are.
Running away is futile, not only because we cannot run away from God nor run away from ourselves, but also because we often create another mess where we go. That's what Jonah did.
"But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep" (Jonah 1:4-5).
You see, he's created a bigger mess than he had before. Now he's got a boatload of sailors whose lives are in jeopardy, and they're down on him when they find out what he's done. It doesn't sound any better to me than preaching in Nineveh would have been.
Swimming in the middle of an angry ocean down in verse 15. "So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging" (Jonah 1:15).
And before you know it, he's in the slimy belly of a great fish. "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:17).
As far as I'm concerned, all of that is far worse than preaching in Nineveh would have been, as bad as that might have been. That's what usually happens when we try to run away. It happens to kids. It happens to teens, who sometimes end up in detention centers or jail--that's far worse than home. It often happens to adults who have landed in a worse marriage than the first one, or a worse church situation than the first one. It's futile to try to run away!
The Alternative to Running Away
It seems to be so simple and self-evident: The alternative to running away is staying right where we are and doing what God wants us to do. You see, it isn't our location that needs to be changed. It's us.
It wasn't Jonah's physical location that needed to be changed; it was him. What Jonah lacked was a basic submission to the will of God, to the revealed Word of God. He wanted his way rather than God's way.
There are two problems in Jonah's life the account for his unwillingness to go to Nineveh. Bible commentators have suggested these two things.
The first is the one implicitly revealed in the book. If he warned the people of Nineveh that God would destroy them unless they repent, and they did repent, then Jonah thought that would make him look bad. He didn't really know what God was going to do. He said God would destroy them and God doesn't, that makes him look bad. He loses face.
"So he prayed to the Lord, and said, 'Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, One who relents from doing harm'" (Jonah 4:2).
We have a God that is compassionate and slow to anger. It's hard to believe what Jonah is saying here. "God, I knew You'd do this. I knew You'd change Your mind and not destroy Nineveh. Now look how bad I look." That's incredible. But don't be too hard on Jonah. We might have done the same thing.
The second possible explanation for Jonah's flight. You see, Assyria, of which Nineveh was the capitol, was a growing power in Jonah's day. It threatened to overrun the nation Israel and Jonah was patriotic. He didn't want his nation destroyed by Assyria. If Nineveh continued in its sin and God destroyed Nineveh, then that would, of course, protect Israel. He wanted to see Nineveh destroyed.
Maybe it was both of these things. Maybe one or the other. I don't know. But in either case, it was selfish. He wanted it his way rather than God's way.
One of our reasons for running away is self-will. We want things our way but things don't always work out our way. Rather than run, God wants us to stay where we are and submit to Him. In many cases, that will mean submitting to others as well. Ephesians 5:21 reveals to us that when we are filled with God's Spirit, we often submit to one another.
It means looking out for others' welfare before our own. Considering their opinions, and sometimes giving in to their opinions if there is no Biblical principle at stake.
I was surprised when I got home after this morning's service and sat down with the paper to relax, and I ran across a Dennis the Menace cartoon. Did you see it? It's called the Dennis Soliloquy. He's sitting on a chair facing the corner.
I wonder how much longer I gotta sit here. Don't I get time off for good behavior? Mom sure gets upset about mud. She oughta play in it sometime, she don't know what she's missing. I wish my folks would stop picking on me. Maybe I'll run away and go to a cowboy school. Nah. I started out with 'em years ago and I've been with 'em ever since. Guess I'll stay with 'em a little longer.
That's what God wants us to do. I don't know the author of Dennis the Menace or his spiritual state, but I do know that God wants us to stick with it, in many cases, a little bit longer.
Another reason we may try to run away is that someone has hurt us. We don't like to be hurt, so we protect ourselves by running. But God may want us to stay and confront them, in love and meekness. There are a number of passages in the Scriptures about that.
"Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother" (Matthew 18:15). Good passage of Scripture.
"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1).
Confront. Lovingly, graciously, but honestly, confront. Not with accusations or blame from the perspective about how we have felt about that situation, but what we would like to see happen. That's speaking the truth in love and we talked about it this morning. Ephesians 4:15 is the passage.
Rather than run, God wants us to stay and lovingly confront, because that brings healing. God can use it to bring healing, and healing is far better than running. Always.
The Cure after Running Away
For some it may be too late to stay and obey. You've already run. What can you do now?
For those who can, the cure after running away is to do exactly what Jonah did: repenting, returning, and obeying. After the fish experience, he returned, he repented, and he did what God told him to do. God is merciful. He's always ready to forgive and give us another opportunity to obey Him. No matter how often we run away, God never locks the door behind us. He gave Jonah another opportunity to obey Him, and He'll do the same for us.
Are you running tonight? I don't know what from. Or maybe in your mind, you're just thinking about it up to this point. It's one of the options you've put in your mind. One of the options to work out the problem. Don't keep thinking about that. Thoughts often turn to deeds if we let them linger. Turn your thoughts to the Lord. Turn your thoughts to His Word. Turn your thoughts to His will. Then ask Him to help you obey.
God never said living the Christian life would be easy, but He tells us it will turn out for the best. It will bring more satisfaction than any other course of action we could take. Obeying Him. Doing what He wants us to do. He always holds out hope to us if we will obey Him. Don't run. Stay and obey.
Now for some, it's too late to go back. You've gotten involved in new things and have new responsibilities. God does have a plan for your life from this point on. He wants us to confess our sins, to yield our wills to Him, to claim His power to become the people He wants us to be. And we can do that right where we are. God is loving and forgiving. And the great mistake, the mistake of running away, can yet become great usefulness and great joy.
If you will confess your sin, yield your will to him, and claim His power to obey, there will be great usefulness and great joy. Don't run away. The greatest escape is to escape to Him and His will.
Father, we thank You for an evening together in the things of the Lord, for the ministry tonight of the children, and for the message of the book of Jonah. I don't know what's in the hearts and minds of each individual here, but You do. I pray, Lord, if there are some that have been toying with the idea of running from responsibility, from situations from which they find no other solution, that You'll give them the will to go on. Give them the desire to obey Your word. And Lord, give them great blessing and joy in their obedience. We ask it for Jesus' sake, amen.