“Graceful” is used to describe lots of things. We speak of a ballerina gracefully executing a perfect pirouette, an athlete gracefully gliding through the air to score, a host gracefully welcoming guests with warmth and poise, or a speaker gracefully communicating their message with kindness and diplomacy.
Graceful people are great people to be around. They make the world a better place to live. We would all do well to increase the level of grace in our lives.
An Old Testament prophet teaches us some important lessons about grace and gracefulness. His name is Jonah. While he’s best known for his fish story, there’s a lot more we can learn from him.
When we first meet Jonah, he is on the run from God. He was given an assignment by the Lord he didn’t like. He was told to go to Nineveh, an Assyrian city, and tell them to repent. Jonah said “No!” He headed in the opposite direction.
Why was Jonah so resistant to God’s instructions? In the fourth chapter of the book we discover the answer.
After Jonah finally did what God told him to do, the Ninevites quickly repented, and God spared the city. Jonah then made this interesting and telling statement:
“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became 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.’” — Jonah 4:1, 2
The secret is out now! We know why Jonah ran from his assignment. It was because of something he knew about God. He knew how gracious God is. He understood how quickly the Lord would forgive these evil Assyrians.
Assyria was an enemy of Israel. Jonah didn’t want them to be forgiven. He wanted them to be destroyed. And, just as Jonah feared, as soon as the Assyrians repented, God forgave them and removed His threat of destruction. This made him very mad. While God was full of grace, Jonah definitely wasn’t!
At the heart of the Jonah story is the God story. Who is God and what is He like? He is “the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”
Here’s the real truth. We love these things about God when we’re the ones needing grace. But much like Jonah, we’re not so thrilled when God shows grace to people we feel don’t “deserve” it!
When it comes to God’s grace, there are three basic views:
- It’s available to no one.
- It’s for me, but not for others.
- It’s for others, but not for me.
The “grace is for no one” group consists of people who have a warped view of God. They see Him as mean, vindictive, angry at the world, and ready to punish everybody.
The “grace is for me, but not for others” group represents people who are perfectly fine with, and happy about, being forgiven themselves; however, they would prefer to have a say in who else gets the same privilege. These folks hold grudges, retain anger, and harbor bitter judgment in their hearts toward others. They are the “Jonahs” of the world.
The third group is the “grace is for others, but not for me” group. It’s made up of people who find it hard to accept God’s grace personally. They see and believe in grace for others, but live in continual condemnation, guilt and shame themselves. They refuse to accept God’s grace and forgiveness in their own lives.
While Jonah didn’t apply his spiritual knowledge appropriately, he understood something about God we need to grasp also. He knew God is “grace-full!” He’s “grace-full” to you! He’s also “grace-full” to others you may not prefer Him to be “grace-full” to! Grace is His nature. It’s who He is!
What spiritual lessons do we learn from Jonah? Here are three important reminders:
- Let every sign of God’s grace to others be a reminder of God’s willingness to show grace to you.
- Let every act of God’s grace to you be a reminder of God’s willingness to show grace to others.
- Live in God’s grace yourself. Be a distributor of God’s grace to the people around you!