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Responding To What You Can’t Control

Responding To What You Can’t Control


When you think about your life story, you’ve probably got a few situations that you wish happened differently or didn’t happen at all. When I wrote about failure a few weeks ago, the context was that we all have situations inside of our control that we wish we handled differently. This time, I want to talk about those situations that are outside of our control. Sometimes these moments are incredible surprises, and other times they are tragedies.

You Can’t Choose Everything

When you were born, you didn’t get to choose your country, ethnicity, family, or even your healthiness. Someone reading this might have been born into a loving and middle class family, and someone else may have been born into riches and abuse. No one gets to choose these sorts of conditions. And yet, we all respond to them in different ways. Some people become spoiled by the blessings they’ve received, and sometimes heroes are molded through adversity. We may not be able to control everything in our lives, but we can choose how we respond to each situation.

The book of Jonah has an incredible lesson to learn in all of this. God wanted to use Jonah to bring a message of Judgement to Nineveh, but Jonah didn’t even want God to choose him. He tried fleeing from God, which is how he got his Sunday school reputation of “Jonah and the whale”. In just a few verses, Jonah gets swallowed, spat out, and consequently saved by the whale. After all of this he finally decides to obey God and go to Nineveh.

However, Nineveh doesn’t react the way Jonah wants. Instead of fire and brimstone destroying the city, the people repent and God shows them mercy. Instead of rejoicing with their salvation, Jonah becomes angry:

He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah 4:2-3

God responds to him: “Is it right for you to be angry?”

You see, Jonah decided to go to Nineveh, but the results were outside of his control. Jonah didn’t get what he wanted, so God teaches Jonah a lesson about compassion. As Jonah is sitting outside of the city in the heat, God grows a plant to provide shade. Of course, Jonah is very happy about this; he has gained a blessing without having to work for it. However, God caused the plant to die the next day. Instead of being thankful for the temporary relief, here’s how Jonah responded in the following conversation:

When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah 4:8-11

That’s it. That’s how the book of Jonah ends. We don’t get to see if Jonah accepts God’s lesson, or if he rejects it and stays upset at what is outside of his own control. However, we can learn from God’s teaching here. Jonah cared for a plant that he invested absolutely nothing into, but had no compassion for the thousands of people in Nineveh. When he was faced with a situation outside of his control, he responded poorly.

God’s Promise and Your Response

You might not have Jonah’s attitude about compassion (I should hope not), but your response needs to leave room for God. When nothing goes as planned or your blessings are taken away, will you allow God to work in those situations? Will you believe and trust God’s promise that He will turn everything for good in the end? There are elements of your story that are outside of your control, but they are always inside of God’s hand in your life. And as he promises, He will not let you down:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

No matter what you’re going through, good or bad, God will always use it for your good. It may not be pleasant now, and it could be even heart wrenching, but you can trust that God will use it for good. He is bigger than your pain. He is bigger than your problems. And He never breaks His promises.

Are you responding with God’s promise in mind? Leave a comment below, or reach us here.

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