Do you know the Bible story of Jonah and the whale?
It is an amazing story of a Prophet who disobeys God and ends up in the belly of a whale for 3 days and survives! The story definitely pushed Jonah into the spotlight of history; I mean, who knows someone that has been swallowed by a whale and lived to tell about it?
The whale is exciting, but I find the ending to Jonah’s story the most interesting- the story of the plant, the worm and the wind.
The story of bitterness.
Cliff-note version- Jonah is a prophet and God tells him to go to Nineveh to preach repentance. Jonah believes these people are his enemy and refuses to obey God. Instead, he boards a ship to Tarshish and goes the opposite direction. God intervenes and sends a raging storm that causes the ship’s crew to toss Jonah into the sea. He is then swallowed by a whale, which transports him back in the direction of Nineveh. Jonah is hurled onto shore (after repenting for his disobedience) and fulfills his mission to preach in Nineveh. Jonah is so successful that thousands repent and God spares the city. But, instead of rejoicing Jonah is angry that God forgave the city and goes into a bitter state of despair!
Jonah Chapter 4:
“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?””
First, God sends a whale.
Then he sends a plant,
a worm, and
finally the wind.
Most of us don’t know or appreciate the last three- yet they are important.
The plant represents our lives - a gift from God, appreciated and tended to properly will grow and thrive.
The worm represents bitterness; an element that may be small but can take over and destroy.
The wind demonstrates trials that blow into our lives in an effort to get our attention. A mechanism to take notice and to redirect our path.
For me, this story signifies God’s compassion, mercy, and willingness to give second chances -in spite of our attempts at self-destruction.
Self-destruction in the form of bitterness that can creep into our lives and go unnoticed until it has taken over and we are left with a withered scorched twig of a life.
So what is bitterness and how do you even recognize it?
Unresolved anger, unforgiveness, resentment, envy, continuous disappointments, grudges, disgust, and perceptions of injustice are all symptoms of bitterness.
God’s word in Hebrews 12:15, tells us that bitterness corrupts us and keeps us from God’s grace:
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
Once we are infected with bitterness, like the worm, it will devour and destroy the quality of our lives. It will hinder our growth, stunt our progression, distort our sight and perceptions, and block our blessings.
We can’t move forward and progress in our growth with a worm that continues to invade and eat away at our goodness.
Bitterness leaves us bitter, angry, hostile, negative and catty. We end up hurting ourselves, others and must importantly our relationship with God!
How do you know if you have bitterness in your life?
Do you have harsh winds that seem to always swirl around you?
Stop and look around- is your plant thriving or are you withering away?
Could there be a nasty worm of bitterness in your life that is eating away at you, little by little? Are you constantly angry, bitter, disappointed, hostile or negative?
What is unresolved in your life that keeps you from growing & progressing?
Past hurts from your childhood?
Loss of a job?
Deception of a friend or spouse?
Jealousy of another?
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Ephesians 4:31
If you happen to find a little worm of bitterness in your life- the only solution to completely freeing yourself is utilizing the powerful weapons of love, forgiveness and gratitude!
Don’t be bitter- be better!
Father, help us to recognize the signs you send that redirect our path and change our vision. You tell us that bitterness corrupts us and keeps us from your grace. Help us to recognize any worms of bitterness that are invading our lives and give us clarity to focus on you, to be able to express love, forgiveness and gratitude in direct combat to any bitterness in our heart. You have the power to free us from bitterness and to give us a life that flourishes and blooms.
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” Proverbs 14:10