I don’t know how often you screw up, but I make a lot of mistakes. I’m not perfect, of course; nobody is. But in the instances when I know the right thing to do, sometimes I choose to do what I know I shouldn’t in spite of the fact. And I have spent a lot of time worrying over my past mistakes and how my actions have affected the people around me.
But I don’t think it’s healthy to live your life looking backward and second-guessing what you could have done differently. You can’t change it. Yes, you can change the way you live because of what you learned, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but after a day when I am less than perfect, I can sink into a deep pit of self-loathing because I didn’t live up to my potential. And I feel like a wretched person because if I had done right, maybe God would have used me to help others.
Today’s verse is Jonah 1:16.
The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
I have always glossed over this verse before. It didn’t really matter to me. After all, the Book of Jonah is about Jonah, a godly man who God sent on a task and who promptly ran the opposite direction. Don’t be too hard on Jonah for trying to escape God; we’ve all tried it too and failed just as miserably.
So what’s important about the sailors?
Well, you really should read the whole first book of Jonah. Actually, you should read the whole book if you haven’t. It’s pretty phenomenal. But in any case, the sailors were the men on the boat to Tarshish, the boat Jonah got on when he was running away from God. And God sent a storm, and the sailors freaked out. Jonah convinced them to throw him in the ocean, and the storm stopped. That’s the story in a nutshell. But a couple of things stand out to me.
One, if you read the whole fist chapter, you’ll see that the sailors knew Jonah followed a different god than they did. Two, they knew Jonah was running away from God. Three, they already respected Jonah’s God enough to pray that He wouldn’t strike them down for throwing Jonah overboard.
And so they threw Jonah over the side, and the storm stopped. And that brings us to verse 16.
The sailors were changed by what they had experienced. And though Jonah played a small part, it was mainly God who did the work.
Do you realize that Jonah probably never saw those sailors again? I mean, it’s possible that he did. But if you know the story, as soon as he gets out of the fish that God sent to save him, he goes directly to Ninevah, where he should have gone to start with. And Ninevah is in the opposite direction of Tarshish. So it’s really unlikely that Jonah would have ever encountered those men again. Jonah would not have known how his circumstances affected them. He wouldn’t have known about their decision to serve God. All Jonah would know is that he screwed up.
Yes, he made the right call on the ship when he told them to cast him overboard. And God redeemed that one good decision to reach the men on the ship. But Jonah didn’t know that.
So how does that apply to us? Well, we’re going to screw up. We just do. You can try to be perfect, but it won’t work. Does that mean we shouldn’t even try? That’s not what I’m saying, so please don’t misunderstand me. We all should aim to be like Christ, to live the way God has directed us. But once you make the decision to do wrong, that decision is made. You will face the consequences, and hopefully you’ll learn the lesson and change the way you live afterward.
But after you ask forgiveness and after you change your thinking, don’t go back and regret what you did. Don’t live in the past. God has forgiven you, and — what’s more — He will use what you did to bring glory to Himself, even if it’s something you screwed up.