12th May 2024

The backsliding Prophet

Passage: Jonah 1, 2, 3:1
Service Type:

This sermon explores the story of Jonah, highlighting his initial disobedience and following repentance. It emphasises the grace of God, who offers such second chances to those who stray. By drawing parallels between Jonah’s experience in the belly of the great fish and our own moments of failure and despair, the sermon encourages listeners to trust in God’s gracious and forgiving character to hear and answer our cries for help. Ultimately, it underscores the joy and fulfillment experienced when we, partly because of His magnanimous enablement of His divine grace, live out an obedience to the divine call.

Automatically Generated Transcript

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Well we're back into the minor prophets. Now, the minor prophets are in distinction from the greater prophets... Elisha... not Elijah, Elisha...no, no. I'm not talking about the prophets I'm talking about the books of the Bible. You've got Isaiah and you've got Jeremiah and Ezekiel as major prophecies because of the size of them. You have some Minor Prophets in the Old Testament. Jonah is one of them. There's only three or four chapters in Jonah. Some of those little books like Micah and others, they're near the back of the Old

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Testament, called Minor Prophets. It doesn't mean that Jonah was written or was about events immediately before the arrival of Christ in the New Testament. There was a number of hundred years, 400 or more years in between the Old Testament and new, but as well as that, this is back in the eighth century BC where the events of Jonah are recorded and there's a lot more recorded of him than just what we have in the Book of Jonah. The Book of Jonah's coming at the end of his having a very successful mission

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in terms of being a prophet that God used and being respected but he got familiar with his own success and he became a person rather lazy, to want to run and fulfill what God wished, which is this setting we have in the Book of Jonah Where he runs away from the call of the Lord and so Here we have in the Book of Jonah and last time in the evening service we're on Jonah we're looking at the fact of his running away and then in chapter 3 verse 1 it says the word of the Lord came again to Jonah a second time

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and it's a bit of a picture of the grace of God someone who is a failed prophet or one who has given up his enthusiasm, one who is described in the book of Jonah as running away from the presence of the Lord nonetheless has God give him a second chance and the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time as what we're on about last time. The chapter that we went across, in order to get to that chapter 3 in verse 1, is the chapter, chapter 2 which is about Jonah's experience inside the great fish.

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Let me repeat again that it's never worked as a whale because their language didn't distinguish those types of marine creatures to say whale or shark or whatever. It's just a great fish and we do not know whether it's a megalodon that's come up from one of the trenches, whether it is a specially designed shark that God saw to feeding it a bit more, they go on growing. as they're eating, you know. Or just what is this great fish but it's one sufficient enough to do the job and swallow Jonah whole, which is the storyline that we have been looking at last week.

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Now there's a number of aspects in the storyline of this event of Jonah running away from God and then him being thrown into the sea by the other sailors and the big fish getting him. And in the belly of the fish he comes to a place of repentance. Now it's level 100% certain whether or not he actually has died in the fish and he's in Sheol, but it does mention him as though he's in the state of like being dead down under the earth which is

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how the Hebrew people in the Old Testament picture what happened when he died to you every day. Everybody died the same and went to Sheol its a Hebrew word and its equivalent in Greek is Hades Jesus himself went to Hades, but then just before we get past the point Jesus finished doing all that was necessary for our Falvation by the act of actually dying and prior to his death his bearing our sins and the wrath of God on them on our behalf, and that's how Jesus paid the price for our sins, so he did not go down to hell.

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as some of the creeds say, when translated into English and translate the word Hades as Hell. Hades certainly is a place where the dead went, but it's equivalent to Sheol in the Hebrew where both the good and the bad went to Sheol, or Hades. And even in Jesus' story of the rich man and Lazarus, there's Lazarus who goes to the better part of Hades and the rich man is being rather self-indulging goes to the worse bad part and there's a gulf that's fixed-between. So when Jesus talked about Hades

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he gave it the description that it is as we now believe it to be a place where there is both the good and the bad, and those being punished and those who are going to go eventually to glory. And one of the things that happened because of what Jesus died from, because of Jesus' death and he's paying the price for our sins is that the people who were to be saved, intended by God for salvation because of whatever reason in their lives, or whatever faith that they had, Abraham, for example, they're in the better part of Hades.

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So in Jesus' parable about that, he pictures this gulf in between the good and the bad parts, and he pictures the better part of Hades where Lazarus, the fellow who was the poor bloke died, and went to. So when we want to say about Jesus's suffering on the cross, don't follow the creeds where, in English, they read he went down to Hell because implication of that was that Jesus continued the suffering for our sins after his death. The truth is that the final thing that Jesus said at the end of his dying was, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

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And so it was God's looking after the soul of Jesus in the better part of Hades, so he went down and the thief who was repentant, Jesus was able to give him the assurance, he says, this day, he'll be with me in paradise. Paradise being a Persian word that meant place of comfort Just as the Garden of Eden was on earth, it still is called paradise because it was a place of everything being a place of comfort, everything was provided in the Garden of Eden. So, the word paradise, in Jesus' lips to the repentant thief, is about his being forgiven, and he's going to go with Jesus

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down to paradise, to a place of comfort, which was the better part of Hades. Now, just getting that little bit of understanding correct in our minds, we here have the storyline of Jonah going down into the fish. and I call out to the Lord out of my distress and he answered me, out of the belly of Sheol I cried.' So, it's not certain whether he's still talking about the belly of the fish but he's doing so with an awareness of its Sheol for him, a place of beings, almost dead, or waiting for something to happen. But what is of good instruction for us

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is something I wanted to try and bring at last time and maybe just scroll across the top, but that's when we get into some depression. When you and I get into something that has taken us low, whichever way you want to read it, there's a number of things to be reminded of that will help you get out of it. And one is that you do not have to take the negative interpretation of what has happened to you. I called out to the Lord out of my distress, yes.

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and he answered me, Out of the belly of Sheol I cried. In other words, no matter how deep you consider your scenario that you've fallen into, God can still hear you and answer. Isn't that a fantastic thing? That is a fantastic thing and there's many a person who has been through whatever circumstance that has to do with life and health and relatives dying and things like this, have gone into places of depression whereby in that very place of depression

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you have a choice. And the choice is that you can give in to the sadness of it, you can give into the what about Jonah, inside the belly of a big fish. Well he goes on to describe the seaweed wrapped around his head. This would be the worst nightmare I could have. The worst nightmare I could have is when you're gone somewhere you can't see a thing. And then in the place where you can't see anything, something grabs you and you've got stuff around your head.

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That's the worst nightmare that I could imagine ever having. And if you knew you've been swallowed by a big fish because you were thrown into the sea and the smell of it must have given away a clue or two being in the stomach. That's where you were and he obviously knows because he says, in the belly of Sheol I cried. It's possible that he actually died and he's down in Sheol but I think it's metaphorical he uses the word Sheol as to his description of what it is

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to have been put in such a place of no hope. And no hope is what's being described of him in the belly of the fish. But at that moment when you get taken to a place where there is almost like no hope. You never are actually in such a position that you have to decide to give in to the no hope. You can do what Jonah did, and he called out to the Lord out of my distress.

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He's in the distress, but from the position of distress he called out to the Lord and he answered me. Now that's a fantastic thing to be able to say to people what God can do. Jonah being an example of it, but Jonah actually being referred to in the New Testament by Jesus and by the Christian gospels to be a picture of what actually happened to Jesus himself. For he's the one who did with the thief who repented, go down into Sheol, but there he didn't have to give up hope,

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because his hope was with the God, who is in charge of Sheol, Hades, all the rest. And he heard my voice. And so Jesus refers to this event of Jonah as being like a sign that happened to Nineveh, and it was a sign that made them all repent and there's lots of explanations, people imagine could be explaining why they all repented. One of them being that if the stomach acid got to Jonah and got rid of all of his hair and made him bleach white all over and then he gets spat out and then he runs into the town waving his arms, I think there's been a lot of people watching. And especially if he told the story of where he'd been. there was every good reason why they were listening.

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And they did. They all repented from the kingdom down, and God spared what happened to that city Nineveh. Now my next point has to do with understanding a little bit about how the Eternal God in us Earthbound creatures, us limited by our circumstances creatures, us who have life and death, who have ups and downs, who have bodily capacities to get run down and almost pass out. For us to be in that position and yet the eternal God relates to us, there's actually a mystery here that you

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can't fully explain. I want to make it clear to us though that God is a God who bridges the distance in terms of our created beings. If ever that's proven, it is by the birth of his son, the lord Jesus Christ, who is God's son, the second person of the Trinity, who came down and took on humanity in order to bring God to us. Talk about someone who's going out of his way

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to be the one that takes the step. God took the step to become human. And the Book of Hebrews speaks to us about how God got through to us. In earlier ways he spoke to us through many in diverse matters as the Book of Hebrews begins, but now in these last days he's spoken to us through this son. And he goes on to describe that Jesus coming into the world is the outreaching of God making the difference. There's something about God, who even though he's infinite and even though he knows all things from beginning to the the end, even though in his person has no limitations, he knows how to step into our scene in order to reach out to us.

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And many an occasion where God begins to relate to human beings, there is a story from the Earth's point of view of how God didn't just know eternally and flick his fingers. because he doesn't need to do that, and it all happens. But he takes on a human aspect in order to come and look. And so, in the Old Testament, it teaches us that God sometimes sends an angel down to have an investigation and bring back a report. This report is bad about some the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, further angels come in, one of whom is actually probably the Person of the Lord Jesus, before he incarnate, You call that the pre-incarnate Christ.

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And he's coming down and he's the head person amongst the ones, they all look like humans, but he's actually Divine. And that becomes clear to Abraham along the way, that he's actually God himself, or the second person of the Trinity he's come to investigate. Now God doesn't have to investigate anything, he knows the beginning from the end, the Alpha to the Omega, the first thing and the last thing. Of all those letters in Greek mean in the alphabet.

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at the beginning and the end. He knows a lot before, even starting. He does all you're going through. He knows what you will go through. He knows even your reactions. He doesn't have to do a thing because he already knows. He's omniscient. But somehow or other, God sets himself in the scene of entering into our domain and coming to have a look, coming

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to have a listen, coming to see how you're going. Or you say, Jim, you're being a bit fanciful here aren't you? Surely he's the eternal God and he just knows a lot and doesn't have to leave heaven at all? Well, you haven't really read your Bibles, if that's what you think. Right at the beginning of creation in the Garden of Eden, what did God do when they had sinned? Did he say from heaven I know you have sinned, I'm going to press the button, off you go, you know. Did he handle the fall? At a distance from heaven because he knew it all anyway

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and have some theologians try and teach us he knew it and decided it to happen bad? They call that God made a decree before the actual creation and before the actual fall. And He decreed the fall, I don't believe that for a moment. God didn't decree the fall. But it did come after the fall, and the actual narrative of it and the Garden of Eden and seeing in the book of Genesis is that he came and walked in the Garden. Now just think for a moment, the eternal God doesn't have legs.

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The eternal God doesn't need a body. The eternal God knowing all from beginning to end would have known before it happened he didn't have to come and investigate. What is this business of the Lord coming and walking in the Garden of Eden? It is the illustration of exactly what I'm talking about here that God reaches out to join you in your scene because of your limitations, because of our being human. People proposed... The theologians, they're good ones to talk about who can say that's their fault People who have been thinking about the Bible for years and years and years

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But this is actually another example of the pre-incarnate Christ. Why do I so say, is because when God wants to say anything to us, he does it through the second person of the Trinity, the Son. He's called the outthinking of God. When it says, in the beginning was the Word, he's saying that the expression of God, the part of God that speaks, He's done through the second-person of the Trinity. He's called the Word and the word in the Greek is the logos. It means the expression. It means the outspeaking.

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It means taking the initiative to communicate. The one who does that, God doesn't have to, the Father can speak if he wants to, and sometimes I suppose he does. But the second-person of the Trinity has a special role, He's also the creative one. was at the word of the Word that all the constellations sprang into existence and that all the stars began to shine. Some of them maybe having begun as though they've been there for billions of years and so some stupid atheistic scientist say, oh, the world must at least that old for the sunlight to be coming from those distant planets and to have arrived to us. That proves it's not an early Earth.

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Doesn't prove it at all. God made the world and at the voice of the Sun they all sprang into existence and activity as they were going to be! And so he comes and walks in the Garden of Eden and by his presence he calls to Adam and Eve. Adam, where are you? Do you think he needed to be told? Adam is hiding there behind some big bushes. Got big leaves. We've got some in our house.

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They are so big I thought they were, never mind, spinach at first, but they are too big for that now. Were there some plants that have big leaves that could hide, and then there is Adam still naked, mobging, hoping he wouldn't get seen, he was there as well. And God comes walking. I think that is the pre-incarnate Christ. But what does he do? He doesn't say hey! Do you think you can hide from me behind that silly bush. No, he didn't say that. He said, Adam, where are you? To let his voice come to Adam and give him a chance to hear

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and to reply. And Adam comes out from behind the hiding. The voice of God has been coming down to humankind ever since. It's one of the things he does through his son. He calls to people. And there are many moments when a person has come eventually to say is that there was some strange sense in which I knew that God called to me, God spoke to me. Sometimes it's been that he answers a call of distress like is found in Jonah, I call out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me. Because God is in the business

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of bending to take up the difference between him and us that we may have a relationship. I have a favour first, and I'm always going to be telling you this It's in Second Chronicles 16-9 In Second Chronicles 16-9, I like this verse. I love it for several reasons Because it says, The eyes of the Lord run to and fro. That would make a magnificent cartoon, to see these eyes running to and fro, It's speaking as a metaphor of God on the search. He doesn't need to search anything.

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He knows the lot from beginning to end. He knows what it was, he knows what it is, he knows what is going to be. He knows every piece of geography, every piece of action, here on Earth he knows, He knows our entire civilization and every sentence and everything that people say. Why does he need to, why does his eyes need to be looking to and fro throughout the whole Earth? It's a part of the nature that God has that he reaches out to us to make the distance. And why does he do it? To give strong support to those whose hearts are blameless toward him. Now the word for blameless means in our English today a little different from what it meant originally. It's the word they use for perfect in the sense of totally developed. A person who has allowed themselves to grow towards God.

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And when you become a Christian, and you're justified, that's the first part of salvation, you get forgiven, and he treats you as though you've never sinned, and you're given a total forgiveness because Jesus earned it, and deserved it, and paid for your failing so to do on the cross. So you've been justified, you've come to Christ, you've become a Christian. But you're still not blameless, because the word blameless, in its real meaning there, is developed to become more perfect.

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It means sanctified, it means to have grown, to become more like God wants you to be. Because your Christian conversion is for the purpose of making you... giving you a start. What he intends from then on is to gradually get you to change, to become more like he wants you to be. And so if you have a heart that's blameless, or a heart that is perfect, the word prefect there, others may put the word complete. In other words you are someone whose totally surrendered over to him. He hasn't had to wrestle it off you anymore like he sometimes does with us. If your heart is trusting him, like Jonah, Jonah's little heart in the middle of the

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whale – oops sorry. Big fish. In the middle of the big fish Jonah's heart made a decision to trust God. Even though every appearance of things was that he was, excuse the picture, going down the gurgler in the intestine of the big fish, all the acids eating him up. Not much of a hope, is it, if you're realizing if he's already in the process of being sizzled a bit? And if that picture of him that some people have is that when he did get spat out he was completely bleach white? He didn't come out the way he went in...

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well, he didn't look like he was when he went in, but he got spat out the way he came in. But God moved the fish to spit him out on the shoreline of some place where he could get up and run and find his way. You know, it's one of the fantastic things when you go and I go at times to conferences or people who are involved in Christian outreach And there's different conferences and I love them all because of the stories that they tell.

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When Michelle and I found ourselves amongst 10,000 evangelists in the Ray Rye, the Former Center, there in Amsterdam, and all of these people come from all over the globe, and they were people who were involved in evangelism one way or another. And there were a lot of very famous people, and we could have taken the time to try and get them and sit next to them and we decided not to bother with the famous ones. But just to talk to anybody and particularly ones that came from places where they were unknown, some of those that were barefooted evangelists from Africa for example, And when they told their stories of being chased around by those who didn't like their gospel,

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they really were in need of someone to understand their stories We listened to them. We had a great time. But to be in that conference and to feel the heartbeat of people who are doing God's work, one way or another, of course some of them are having their ups and downs, there were some downs, there were some backspliders who got restored by being in that conference but none the less to be amongst people who have discovered a purpose of life to be those just like John it was going to get to be.

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When he gets regurgitated out, well what happened to him was this is the grace part of that story. In the beginning of the next chapter. We're only doing chapter 2 tonight The word of the Lord came to him a second time to go to Nineveh and he went. And when you've been somehow ironed out a bit by the Lord... and the Lord knows how to do that with all of us, we all have our things and we need to get ironed out...

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and we get made to be what he's been wanting us to be all the time and we get obedience. Actually, I want to tell you something. The greatest joy of the Christian life is connected to obedience. When at last, like Jonah, I can just picture him. I don't know whether he's still naked and all white, all over because he's been bleached by the acids, or whether he gets himself something to wear, I don't even know. But as he instead of running in the opposite direction, that's we tried to do going to Tersha,

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the very opposite direction of Nineveh where God had sent him. He turns and begins to go where God has sent him. That's when you know joy. When the Lord has shown you something that you are to do and you say yes, Lord. Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening, which is what little man Samuel had to do as a boy in the temple when God called him. It's what many other Christian person one way or another

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has come to a place where they suddenly realize they've been a joner doing their will and not the Lord's. And at last they say, okay Lord, I'll go your way. And you know what happens? It's like what happened to CS Lewis. And he wrote a book. What did he call the book? Surprised By Joy, For the greatest joy you can have is one in the fish where you have more problems and you realise God has even designed those problems and you realise that you can trust Him even no matter how bad the future looks and you make that decision not to be the depressed person

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but to trust the Lord. He believed the Lord and when you trust the Lord to show you the way out, which God surely did with the fish vomit in him. That's when you find joy. And when at last you're doing what he wants you to do. Sometimes that's because you have big plans and that didn't work out, and you had a Christian friend come along and say, Jim, well, this one did to me. God's got his plans, or to the effect,

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in fact he knows what he's got for you. And that didn't come about, but this will. And you haven't got this yet. You're yet to be coughed up out of the fish. You're yet to find what it is to go God's way. And when you just obey, the most fantastic thing that I have to report is the shear JOY of being a Christian and doing what God gave you to do. And even though you sometimes miss out on some things,

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you might end up being poor all your life, or you might end up having a group of friends you were aspiring to get into, or you might have been wanting to have a career in some sport, and now you're ripped up and taken off to another state and you miss all your opportunities to do what you were planning to do. what he gives you to do is far better, far greater

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and the joy of going in obedience to him this is the joy of the Lord that will be your strength the Bible says and it's something available to us when we last give in to him and as Romans 12 says, we give ourselves to be a living sacrifice to let His mold and make us to what He wants us to be in it you turn out not the person you was always planning to be you're planning this way and do these famous things and you got to go another way, sometimes a way other people not noticing or not being necessarily in the world's eyes famous

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heaven's eyes are watching We're here to you tonight to report again the eyes of the Lord. Let's go back to that verse 2 Chronicles 16, disease 9, and the eye of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole Earth to give strong support to those whose hearts are blameless toward him Now the original quote the people quoted that had not done what was right had not had hearts, right, they made bad decisions

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and they made alliances with nations they shouldn't and now the prophet Esther says and now you have wars But you don't have to be a person I've met Christians like that amongst the pastors I had to do who said to me I made the wrong step I knew God wanted me to go overseas and I just said no and then their lives didn't have a sense of his outworkings that they would've had. Or people who back slid in the way and set their lives going in a way they can't change

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like when you go to a jail to speak to the prisoners and discover and they're a good Baptist man who did the wrong thing and broke the law. What can you say to him? Well, don't worry though it doesn't matter, well, it did matter. The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth seeking to prove himself powerful that's how some of the old versions read seeking to prove himself powerful On behalf of those whose hearts are perfect toward him they're given over to him

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And God knows, that even though he's eternally the one that makes all the decisions, that even though that's true, he knows we have a part to play, that he by his eternal sovereignty chose to give us. So don't try and take away God's decision that he decided to do. And the Adam and Eve story of them being given a choice. And the choice was one that interrupted them up in Sin. But he still met them have the opportunity of the choice. And when after they had Sinned and they hide themselves in the garden and he comes walking in the cool of the evening and he says, Adam, where are you?

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He knows where they are. He knows where you're at. But he deals with you by taking up the slack in terms of his infinite potency and omniscience of wisdom, all that is God. Funding relate to us, to give us opportunity to choose, to give us a chance to work at coming close to him. And when you realize that, I had great blessing to read the storylines, the biographies of people that God has used and some of them And when you read their storyline there is this moment when they have a choice. And sometimes the choice is to seek God and try and go deeper with him. When I went to Wheaton College, they kept telling me the stories because the previous

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student there had been Billy Graham, in decades previously. But they told me that when the preacher gave an appeal, he came forward every time there's something more I can do to get close to God I don't know whether it was every time but that's what they had the picture of, that he'd respond every opportunity and pray with a person, weep with them to go on further and he had a bit of a favourite saying that they all got time, now he's a student at the college, I went to the same college later. And he'd say, I'm going on further, I'm moving on. I'm not gonna stay where I'm at. I'm gonna go deeper, I'm gonna go further.

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And the eyes of the Lord are looking in our church for people who will take that attitude of I want to go further Lord teach me more. Let me be disciple and know what the truth is. is, let me become someone trained, save me from my sins, someone that says to him, and Billy Graham didn't care what he looked like, if there was someone and someone gave an opportunity for you to go deeper, he wanted to do it. Well, there is lots of biographies, not just his. I met some other people who may be not as famous. But they had similar stories of there being a time when God met with them

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and ask them to work on their hearts so they'd be blameless toward him. And he has eyes looking everywhere. Not that he needs to, this is a part of his condescension to relate to us. The eyes of the Lord row to and fro, and so the Old Version runs to and fro throughout all the Earth. Why? He's looking to see on whom he can be powerful on behalf of that person. You've received an invitation from the Lord to take him up on this promise. He's got eyes looking for someone that he can give strong support to those whose hearts are developed, blameless, mature toward him and then there is that final statement to the people of the day of the Prophet. You've done foolishly and from now on you're going to have wars.

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You know that happens to nations. You know that happens to families. You know that happens to Christians who invite on to themselves things that they have to bail as hand-breaks the rest of their lives. Or on the other hand, you can say, Lord please help me to get this heart of mine to be blameless toward you. If you pray that prayer tonight when you go home and get down by your bed, tell him, Lord, Second Chronicles 16, 9, I want to be one of those people,

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will you make me such? In Jesus' name, pray that way tonight when you get home. Heavenly Father, I thank you for, Lord, the story of Jonah. What was it that changed him from the runaway lazy prophet, who'd been a success and didn't want to bother anymore, yet his reasons not to like the people of the city he was meant to go and help them repent. Oh Lord, would your eyes find us out as ones who are ready to want you to find us out that you can prove yourself mighty on our behalf? We ask that in Jesus' name. Amen.

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