In the spirit of transparency, I want to tell you upfront that this will likely be the most disgusting devotional you have ever read. That said, I hope it will also encourage you in those “messy” spots in life. After all, isn’t the messy where Jesus does his best stuff sometimes? Let’s dive in.
In my very first adult job, I worked with a man named Ed. Our job required a lot of time on the road, so he and I shared a lot of stories. Some of them I remember. Many I’ve forgotten. But this is one I will never, ever forget.
Ed was a big guy, well over six feet tall, broad-shouldered, bald on top with a finely trimmed, snow-white goatee. He was a kind man with a big laugh, and he loved to ride motorcycles. It was definitely an intimidating sight at times as he donned his leather jacket, bandana, and helmet and left work on his huge, loud motorcycle.
During one of our long car trips, Ed told me about a time when he rode his motorcycle through the Black Hills of South Dakota. He said he was cruising along, enjoying the beauty when he passed some roadkill. Of course, seeing occasional roadkill is not an unusual experience for a motorcyclist. But the roadkill was not the only thing there that day. There was also a vulture. And, as Ed approached, that big ol’ vulture got startled mid-meal, tried to take off across the road, and collided directly with Ed’s chest.
At this, Ed found himself hurtling down the highway at sixty miles per hour as the vulture began to defend itself. Its first strategy (which I found horrifying) was attempting to peck out Ed’s eyes through his motorcycle visor. However, it was strategy number two that really got me. Anybody know what a vulture’s primary self-defense mechanism is? Vomit. That’s right. When vultures are startled or upset, they will throw up (as far as ten feet!) on anything bothering them. That’s just what this vulture did. It threw up roadkill all over Ed right there in the Black Hills. He said it was the most disgusting thing that’s ever happened to him.
Every time I think about that story, it makes me think about Jonah, who also experienced a little animal vomit, albeit from the belly of a large fish and not a vulture. Just as a refresher, Jonah’s story is found in the book by the same name, just shy of halfway through the Old Testament. As the story opens, God calls Jonah to travel to Nineveh and prophesy to the people there. Jonah is not thrilled with the assignment (or the inherent value of the Ninevites) and chooses to sail elsewhere. God churns up a big storm, Jonah recognizes he’s the cause, and he ends up with a return ticket via the belly of the fish. This is the scene as he gets dropped off:
“And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” (Jonah 2:10 NIV)
When we study Jonah’s story, often we focus on his rebellion or repentance. What we sometimes miss is the in-between space. Even when Jonah recognized his problem and started heading back in the right direction, it was unpleasant for a while. His repentance and steps back toward God did not result in immediate peace, comfort, and ease. In fact, if I were Jonah, I’m not sure I could discern that being vomited out onto a beach was affirmation that I was headed in the right direction
This kind of mess and lack of assurance sometimes repeats itself in our journeys as well….
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