I never thought I had much in common with Jonah. The whole running in the wrong direction thing, thrown out of a boat, being vomited up by a big fish. I’m definitely not like Jonah. Anyway, when God called, I went. Right?
Yep. I’m here. Living in an overcrowded grey metropolis, my apartment indistinguishable from the thousands of others that overlook me when I stand on my balcony.
This balcony has always been a favourite place of mine. Though it is just large enough for a single chair, I can get outside, look at the trees, listen to the birds, and enjoy quiet time in the morning shade. There have been two flame trees below the balcony which flash into bloom every year in summer. I look forward to it because it is the prettiest time of year in this beauty-starved concrete city.
Here is a noisy place. Kids, cars, donkeys, horns, calls to prayer. We get used to them all. But I arrived home to an unfamiliar noise last month and went to investigate. I followed it all the way to my balcony, and discovered that I was hearing the noise of a chainsaw doing its work on ‘my’ flame trees. And they were due to bloom in two weeks…
I watched from above with barely controlled dismay as three men chopped down my beautiful trees. Within the hour, the birds were gone, the stump removed and all I could see was a concrete, rubbish-strewn courtyard. The single bit of beauty and colour I could see from my flat – gone in an hour.
I was angry about my tree being chopped down. Every time I looked down at the ugly ground past my washing line, my anger was refuelled. What is wrong with this culture that they would chop down such a beautiful tree when every bit of green should be so precious in this city? I was still moping the next morning when I sat down on the balcony for a quiet time.
But my conscience had started to hum and, like a mobile phone on vibrate, I felt urged to look at Jonah. Fast forward past the big fish and Jonah’s sitting on his hill in the sun (Jonah 4:9–11). God’s grace is about to fall upon the entire city of Nineveh, but Jonah is preoccupied with the loss of his shady vine. So God says:
”Do you have good reason to be angry about the tree? You are concerned about the tree for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow. I am concerned about the millions of people in this great city.” (my paraphrasing).
Now I know God cares about the environment. But so much more than that, God longs to pour out his grace upon this city.
And my part in it? Ouch. What a humbling reprimand. Maybe I’m not so different to grumpy old Jonah after all – no big fish required. Am I more concerned about my tree than those who cut it down? In my pride for ‘being here’, have I got this so wrong?
God is definitely reminding me to get back to his priorities. This is something I’ve asked before but I so quickly get distracted. And not just by trees.
Forgive me Lord. Thanks that your grace extends to me and my failures too.
Break my heart with what breaks yours, Lord.
And help me truly live a life worthy of the calling I’ve received. Amen.
The author is a Partner in the Arab world.