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What are your vines?

"But the Lord said, 'You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow.  It sprang up overnight and died overnight.  But Ninevah has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?' " Jonah 4:10-11

This quote comes from the book of Jonah, which tells the story of a reluctant prophet sent to his hated enemy; he was sent to call them to repent and worship the only true God.  When his enemies repented, Jonah was upset, and for good reason.  Around one hundred years later, Assyria would capture Israel and take them into captivity.  Jonah was not only reluctant to go to his enemy, he was distraught when their repentance led to salvation.  In chapter 4, Jonah is demoralized, and he lies down in depression.  God asks him, "Do you have any right to be angry?"  Jonah then sits down to rest, and the Bible says the Lord provided a vine to shade Jonah from the blistering sun.  Soon after, a worm came and destroyed the vine.  Jonah responds, "It would be better for me to die than to live."  God once again reiterates, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"  Jonah replies, "I do.  I am angry enough to die."

God's response, quoted at the top of this article, displays a striking reality.  The sovereign God of all creation is the One who made the Earth and everything in it.  Instead of focusing on God, and God's priorities (the people he made, and apparently the cows), we all have our own vines.  What do you focus your energy on?  What makes you upset?  What do you think about throughout the day?  What do you spend time doing?  What do you spend time reading?  What are your vines?

There are 3,110,000,000 people in the world who have never heard the good news of Jesus (joshuaproject.net).  There are many more who have heard an incomplete Gospel and have little to no access to any Christians.  God loves these people.  He made these people.  Jonah says of God, "I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity" (v. 2).

Jesus once told a story about a farmer sowing seed.  Some seed fell along the path and the birds of the air ate them.  Jesus says these are the people who receive the Word of God, but Satan takes it away so the seed does not bear fruit (repentance, leading to salvation).  Other seed fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no water.  This seed represents those who receive the Word with joy, but fall away when tested because they have poor roots.  Another seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  This seed stands for people who receive the Word but get trapped by life's worries, riches, and pleasures; they never mature or produce fruit, and eventually die.  Finally, some seed landed on good soil. The good soil represents those with noble hearts, who hear and retain the word, producing a crop (Luke 8:5-15).

I desperately want to be good soil, but I know that my vines sometimes choke me.  They distract me from my mission and prevent me from caring about the people God desires.

Jesus later said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.  Go!  I am sending you out like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:2-3)."

It is clear that the God who created the world longs to be enjoyed and worshiped.  He wants all people and nations to be reconciled to Himself through Jesus Christ His Son.  This is the consistent message of the Bible.  The God of Israel did not only come to Ninevah, the enemy of Israel, to you and me -- who in our flesh, are also His enemies.

The mission Jesus gave the church was to care about the lost "Ninevites."  His parting words to His followers were these:

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20)."

What vines are distracting you from the heart of God?  What worries or earthly practices are preventing you from obeying the King of all creation?  What must you lay down to find eternal peace, and help others do the same?

I am afraid that many of the good things we care about distract us from the mission Christ gave us.  This is readily apparent in my life.  Frequently, I get so lost in my goals that I fail to ask God what I should be doing.  I, like many of you, desperately want to be like the good soil.  To do this, I must stop focusing on the vines God gives and takes away, and instead focus on the eternal Vine to which I have been grafted: my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (John 15:1).  

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