There’s a place on the way to the beach called Tin Top Café. I’ve never eaten there, but it looks like one of those wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurants that people boast about frequenting. It’s a little run down, like it’s been in that middle-of-nowhere stretch of highway for ages. The thing I like most about it, though, is the sign out front.
It reads, “Tin Top Café. Good food.”
It’s simple and a little sassy. I like that.
I like that it’s not claiming to be anything that it’s not. The restaurant doesn’t claim to have the best coffee or service or atmosphere. It just says, “Hey, we have good food. Take it or leave it.”
It seems they are completely secure in their identity, and I’m a little jealous of that.
Too often, my insecurities follow me around like a small herd of stray cats. They want to be fed with more fear and jealousy and people-pleasing. I’ve tried kicking them out and I’ve tried praying them away. But these insecurities show up persistently and relentlessly, begging to be kept around a little longer in my heart.
I hate that. It makes me feel like I’m not as strong as other believers—not as bold or secure in my standing with God. I tell myself that I’m clinging to humility and meekness, but then I look at the Gospel and my life doesn’t line up. I look at Jesus and I find myself feeling more and more like Jonah, running away from God’s beckoning call.
I recently reread Jonah, this Bible story that I grew up knowing by heart. I could hardly make it through, though, because I was crying those ugly tears and they kept blurring my vision. I was reading and crying while the TODAY show was on in the background. Al Roker was talking about the weather in Orlando and my dog kept looking at me confusedly, like “What the heck is wrong with you?”
God keeps messing up my tidy little life. . . THAT'S WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME, COPPER.
But the story hit me harder than ever before, because I saw myself so clearly as Jonah. God called him to go to Ninevah, a city filled with evil and strife. But Jonah knew that God might show up big-time there, that He might forgive the people of Ninevah despite their wickedness and prevailing sins. Or maybe he even feared for his life, which doesn’t seem all that crazy to me.
Jonah was full of fear and insecurity about the Lord’s commands, so he ran. He boarded a ship, but God made a storm. He was thrown overboard, but God gave him a whale. Jonah cried out to God, and He answered. He always does. When the whale spit Jonah on dry land, he finally followed God’s command. Jonah was so angry about God’s forgiveness of the wicked people that he just wanted to die. But God kept saving him. The Lord poured out compassion even when he didn’t want it.
I saw myself as Jonah because I am filled with fear in stepping out into the wildness that is the full grace of God. I saw myself as Jonah because I’ve tried to be holy and perfect, but God keeps knocking down barriers and handing out mercy to the least deserving. I saw myself as Jonah because I keep finding myself in the belly of a whale, desperate and insecure, and God keeps showing up anyway.
But I also saw myself as the people of Ninevah, sitting in sackcloth and ashes and begging God for forgiveness. I think their part of the story hit me the hardest. Because when you’re at the end of your rope and you realize your sins, what choice do you have but to come to the throne in desperation and ashes, crying out, “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (3:9).
The Lord is so full of extravagant mercy, y’all. I just can’t wrap my mind around it. God’s relentless pursuit of us is unnerving and ridiculous, wild and unruly. His love is crazy good.
There’s one part of the story that I haven’t addressed yet, and I think it might be my favorite part. After Jonah boarded the boat that was headed to Tarshish and the storm rose up to a scary level, the crew of the ship found Jonah beneath the deck. They angrily told Jonah to “call out to [his] god” to save them. The crew obviously did not believe in this God that Jonah served, but they were desperate. When they found out that Jonah was the reason for the storm, they hurled him into the sea after agreeing they were out of options. The storm ceased immediately, and the crew was amazed. In Jonah 1:16, it says, “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.”
How amazing is that? Jonah wasn’t supposed to be there, on that boat, in the midst of a storm. In fact, he was directly defying the Lord’s commands. But God cannot be limited, and He used this interruption for His glory anyways.
Not only did God reveal Himself to Jonah and the 120,000+ people of Ninevah, but He also showed up to the crew of the boat- the very boat that Jonah was using to flee the Lord. I think that’s incredibly reassuring. Not that we should defy the Lord’s commands, but that He’s there when we mess up.
He can use any circumstance for His glory. The Lord is not limited by kings or countries, timing or timidity, lands or seas.
I’m going to keep praying for bravery, for the removal of the unholy kind of fear and insecurities. I'm going to keep stepping in the direction of faith and boldness. But I’m also going to rest in the assurance that God is going to keep showing up anyway— no matter if I’m confident in my calling or in the belly of a whale.