5 Ministry Lessons from the Belly of a Fish

By Montra Weaver


Jonah was a reluctant prophet. He received a clear mission from God but tried to escape the call. But God was relentless with Jonah, while still being merciful. He kept giving Jonah chances to repent and complete the mission by following the call.

Like Jonah, we’re not immune to our own forms of reluctance when we’re called to ministry. Whether we’re called to church planting or some other form of ministry in our local church, Jonah teaches us five things to stop doing and start doing that can help us move forward on mission.

1. Don’t delay when God calls. Obey quickly.

As I carried my two large pizzas out of the pizza shop, I noticed a hiker and his dog crossing behind my car. “Give him one of the pizzas” zipped across my brain. As I watched him journey on without even looking my way, I argued with the directive: “What if I am enabling him?” and “What if his dog attacks?” and “What if I offend him?”  By the time my arguments ran out, he had disappeared from the far end of the parking lot. I sighed, got in my car, and headed the opposite way toward home.

Jonah, like me, headed in the opposite direction. When he was called to Nineveh, he went to Tarshish and promptly fell asleep, perhaps dismissing God’s call. When we believe God may be directing us, do we engage in an inner debate about how to obey? Do we wait for a more opportune time? Or do we act quickly to follow the call and not worry about the consequences?

2. Don’t be asleep to God’s work in others. Look for ways God is at work.

God sent a storm that affected everyone around Jonah. But Jonah slept during the storm, oblivious to those around him who were struggling. He was more self-focused than others-focused. Had he been open to seeing God’s work in others, he might have saved his companions much grief and distress as they lost all the cargo and nearly their lives.

Only when awakened did he participate in the casting of lots, thereby realizing the consequences of his actions for others on the ship. When he told them to throw him overboard, they rowed harder, wanting to preserve all lives, including Jonah’s. The raging storm finally convinced them that Jonah’s solution was best, but they asked for mercy for taking his life. God worked in His power and the sailors worshipped, despite Jonah’s initial indifference to them.

If I had followed through on God’s promptings, I might have been surprised to learn more of the hiker’s story. Perhaps I would have heard the hiker share how he viewed God and I would have seen how God was already at work in his life.

3. Don’t ignore God’s mercy. Accept it, no matter the form it takes.

God was merciful to Jonah. He used several creative ways to call Jonah back to Himself. He used a fish, just as He had used a storm and later would use a plant, a worm and the wind to get the prophet’s attention and offer a second chance to complete his mission.

After being in the belly of a fish for three days, Jonah determined to follow God’s call. The fish didn’t just swallow Jonah. It saved him.

God’s mercy to us may evidence itself in many forms. It may even come to us in a way that’s painful — like spending three days in a fish’s stomach. But God will do whatever it takes to draw us back to Himself. He continuously invites us to be part of His mission. As we submit to His mercy and way, He can use us however He chooses.

4. Don’t discount God’s message. Remember its power.

Jonah pronounced the same warning throughout the city. His message was simple and perhaps became familiar to Jonah as he repeated the same words.  Did he expect any response from the Ninevites, people he believed were worthy of God’s wrath?

At Jonah’s preaching, the whole city responded to God’s message through the prophet. Everyone repented, from the king to the lowliest resident.

As we repeat a similar message of repentance — the good news of the gospel — it too may become so familiar we forget its power. Perhaps we neglect to put much hope in seeing results as God works through His message.

What is my attitude as I share God’s message of love? If I had given the hiker a pizza and told him Jesus loves him, what might have happened? When I do what God has called me to do, how much do I discount His power? How much do I believe He will act on His word?

5. Don’t choose our own passions. Embrace God’s passionate mission.

As he waited for God’s judgment on Nineveh, Jonah was unhappy. He berated God for His mercy toward Israel’s enemies, feeling no satisfaction in following God’s call. Perhaps Jonah even felt embarrassed his prophecy of judgment did not occur. He had proclaimed God’s coming judgment and then God chose to relent and rebuke the prophet for his lack of compassion. Could Jonah have also wondered and worried what his countrymen would think about his warning their enemies?

Our passion and concern for the good opinions of others can dictate how we respond to God’s call. Sometimes we may be slow to respond or neglect the call altogether. With the hiker, I wasn’t willing to risk a rebuff and embarrassment. My desire for the good opinion of people can outweigh my passion for God’s good opinion, as well as for God’s passion for the lost and hurting.

I had one chance with the hiker that day. But when God gives me another chance to obey His call, will I follow Jonah’s example and hesitate to share God’s mercy and message? Or will I obey quickly, alert to God’s working in power and passion? As we live on mission, whether it be church planting or as members of a local church, God’s missional call must overrule our own passion and comfort.

Published July 15, 2021

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Montra Weaver

Montra Weaver served for two years with a home missionary in the Union Baptist Association. Since that time, she has served as a lay leader in the Bilingual Ministry within an SBC church, where she has helped grow the church's outreach and discipleship of Hispanics in her community. For ten years, she served as a high school Spanish and English teacher and for four years she also served as an elementary school principal in a Christian school in Waco, Texas. She and her husband and have three grown children and six grandchildren. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, feeding aphids in her garden, and playing with her grandchildren.