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Rejoice in God’s Gifts as Though They Were Rights

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February 8, 2009

“Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine 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.’” Jonah 4:6-8 (NIV)

God did a double restoration in Jonah’s life. He sent a storm and a fish to deal with Jonah’s open rebellion, and God used a vine, a worm and then a wind to deal with the hidden anger lurking in Jonah’s heart.

This is a wonderful story about the faithfulness of God. Jonah is telling us “God knew how to deal with me in my rebellion, and He knew how to deal with me in my anger. I ran from God, and He brought me back.

I became angry with God and he met me in my anger. God brought me through. Salvation is from the Lord.”

The Remarkable Story of the Vine, the Worm and the Wind

“Jonah went 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.” (Jonah 4:5).

Put yourself in Jonah’s shoes. You are filled with resentment, and you are feeling miserable. You are not happy about life. You are on your own, sitting in the desert sand, just a few miles east of a city you really don’t like.

The sun is beating down on you, so you decide to make a shelter. You don’t have much to work with in the desert—a few stones, some water and some sand—enough to make some mud bricks. So, when you put it all together, it’s not much of a shelter. Then God steps in…

The Vine

“Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort.”

(Jonah 4:6)

“Miracle-Gro” never produced anything like this! This was a miracle vine! It sprang up literally overnight. Picture a time-lapse video, showing the growth of a plant from seedling to full maturity in a matter of seconds. What we can create the appearance of with some good camera work, God actually does. Jonah wants us to know that this vine was a gift from God.

God is good. He saw how miserable Jonah was, and he gave him a special gift to ease his discomfort. This vine in the desert was a wonderful expression of the kindness of God.

Notice Jonah’s reaction: “And Jonah was very happy about the vine” (v6). I can imagine Jonah looking at his man-made, baked clay shelter, and then looking at the marvelous mass of green foliage on the vine, and saying “God’s shelter is much better than mine.”

The vine was God’s gift that brought comfort, joy and blessing to Jonah. Jonah was very happy about the vine! What is your vine? Think about the blessings of God in your life—the gifts that bring you comfort, joy and blessing.

Here are a few in my life: My wife and children, and the home that we love, good friends, the church, good health and fulfilling work. Thank God for His gifts in your life that bring you comfort, joy and blessing.

For the guys who are married… When you give your wife a Valentine’s Day card, you can tell her “You are my vine! You are the gift of God in my life, you bring me joy and comfort and blessing; I love you and I thank God for you.” And ladies, you can say the same if you like.

What else brings you comfort, joy and blessing? Have you had success in business? It is a gift from God. Do others speak well of you? That is a gift from God. Have you enough money to spend some on your pleasure? That is a gift from God. Thank God for the vine.

The Worm

“But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered.” (Jonah 4:7)

Jonah woke up ready for another day of comfort joy and blessing under the vine that has made him so happy, only to find that the vine has been chewed up and withered. It’s gone!

Put yourself in Jonah’s shoes: “God, what in the world are You doing? You give me comfort, joy and blessing in a vine, and then a worm comes and destroys my happiness! This vine disappeared as fast as it came! One day You pour out your blessing, the next day You take it away!”

One day the vine brought comfort, joy and blessing into Jonah’s life. The next day the worm brought sorrow, loss and disappointment. What is your worm? What is the source of sorrow, loss and disappointment in your life right now?

You marry in the confident expectation of having children, but a child is not born. God gives you children, but then they grow up and leave, and it feels like there is an enormous hole at the center of your world. The one you love is taken from you.

You build a business and it is a source of blessing, but as times change, it becomes a burden. Your ministry sees evangelistic success. It grows like the vine, but then the worm comes and destroys all the good work you have been doing.

This is a really helpful way of thinking about what is happening in our economy today. God sends a bull market, and we all rejoice in the vine. God sends a bear market and we all complain about the worm. The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. We all know about the vine and we all know about the worm. That’s what Jonah is experiencing here, and its painful stuff.

It’s also a helpful picture of those times when you fall back into an old sin after you thought you had victory over it. The victory made you happy like the vine, but then it gets chewed up by the worm of a fresh failure. Your victory has withered. And then it gets worse…

The Wind

“When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint.”

(Jonah 4:8)

Try to put yourself in Jonah’s shoes again: “Its bad enough to lose your vine. But on the very day that the vine is chewed up, God also sends a scorching east wind! The sand is blowing into Jonah’s face. The sun is beating down on his head. “God, if you are going to take my vine, you might have done it on a cool day.”

The vine brought comfort, joy and blessing. The worm brought sorrow, loss and disappointment. The wind brought affliction, pain, and distress. What is your east wind? What in your life is causing you affliction, pain, and distress?

The Surprising Truth About the Worm and the Wind

The vine, the worm and the wind: Which of these comes from God? Notice what the Bible says: God provided the vine (4:6), God provided the worm (4:7), and God provided the scorching east wind (4:8). It’s the same word that is used in each verse. Jonah wants us to understand: “God’s hand was as much in the worm and the wind as it was in the vine.”

God was working as much in the wind that brought affliction, pain and distress and in the worm that brought sorrow, loss and disappointment as He was in the vine that brought comfort joy and blessing.

God uses each of them for our sanctification

“But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).

Notice Jonah used the same word “provided,” back in chapter 1! The God who saved Jonah by providing a great fish now sanctifies Jonah by providing a vine, a worm, and a scorching east wind.

It’s good to learn these two important Bible words: Justification is how God forgives us through Jesus. Sanctification is how God makes us like Jesus. The first is an event, the second is a process. How does God do this sanctification process in our lives?

God provides for our sanctification through gifts that bring joy, trials that bring sorrow, and experiences that bring pain. The fish is God’s fish, the vine is God’s vine, the worm is God’s worm, and the wind is God’s wind.

Now it’s easy to see why God provided the vine. God is good. All good gifts come from him, but why did God send the worm and the wind?   What possible good can come in my life from the worm and the wind?

God used the worm and the wind to save Jonah from a vine-centered life. A vine-centered person is one who is so taken up with the joys and blessings of God’s vines in this life that he comes to love his gifts more than the God who gives them

God’s vines often mask our problems

“’Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?’ ‘I do,’ he said, ‘I am angry enough to die?’” (Jonah 4:9)

When God took away the vine, Jonah’s anger intensified. Jonah was already angry (v4), but when God gave him the vine (v6), he was happy. The anger seemed to go away. But now that the vine is gone, his anger is back. Here’s a man who is fundamentally angry with God, but the vine masked Jonah’s problem for a time.

Friends, money, family, and success can do that. God’s gifts in your life bring you happiness, but if your greatest joy is in the vine, you will live a vine-centered life. And when the vine is gone, what happens is that your antagonism towards God starts coming out.

Jonah lost his reason to live. He found his own comfort and joy in the vine to such an extent that, when it is gone, he no longer feels he has a reason to live. So he says “It would be better for me to die than to live…  I am angry enough to die” (v8-9).

Something has become so important to you that you say “If you take away the gifts that bring me comfort joy and blessing, I do not have a reason to live.” The extraordinary thing is that Jonah is saying this to God, who is the reason to live!

If you live a vine-centered life, your reason for living withers with the vine. The vine is not the reason to live! Your family, your friends, your work, and your money are good gifts from God, but they are not the reason to live. Thank God for the vine, but don’t live for the vine. The reason to live is not the gifts, but the Giver!

The Extraordinary Contrast Between Nineveh and Uz

Now I want to show you an extraordinary contrast between two people who experienced very similar things. Jonah was not the only person to experience the joy of the vine, the loss of the worm, and the pain of the wind.

The man from Uz

Think about Job’s vine: He had one wife, seven sons, and three daughters. Besides that he had 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys and a large number of servants. That is fantastic wealth! The Bible says “He was the greatest man among all the people of the east” (Job 1:2-3). That’s some vine! He is supremely blessed in terms of comforts in this life.

What was Job’s worm? His financial security, represented in his animals, is completely devastated. Then the greatest tragedy of all: The house where Job’s children were enjoying a party collapsed, and none of them survived (v19). That’s some worm!

What about Job’s east wind? His wife, who he might have looked to for support, says to him “Why don’t you curse God and die?” (Job 2:9). His own health breaks down leaving painful sores all over his body (v7). Then his friends arrive (v11)! And instead of bringing comfort, their trite religion only increased this poor man’s affliction.

Anger or worship?

Notice the contrast in the way that Job and Jonah responded to the vine, the worm and the wind in their lives. Jonah responded with anger: “I am angry enough to die” (Jonah 4:9). Job fell to the ground in worship and said “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Maybe you will want to confess with me today “I’m much more like Jonah than Job.” Often we love the vine so much that when it withers we wonder if there is any reason left to live. We love God’s gifts more than the giver. We live vine-centered lives more than God-centered lives. The Bible has a name for loving the vine more than loving God. It is called idolatry.

We said last time that God’s grace will either lead you to anger or worship. The same thing is true of the vine, the worm and the wind.   God’s gifts will either lead you to anger or worship. You see the one in Jonah and the other in Job.

Loving God more than His gifts

All of us are on a journey leading in one of two directions, either we are loving God more or we are resenting God more. When Christ winds up human history, there will be two groups of people: One will worship God forever, the other will hate God forever. Every person is moving along one of two lines, either to perpetual joy in God, or perpetual resentment towards God. All of us are moving nearer to heaven or nearer to hell every day.

How can I cease to be one who is angry with God? How can I love God more than I love His gifts? How can I overcome idolatry in my heart? How can I find my reason to live in God rather than in what He gives or takes away?

The New Testament clearly answers how you can grow in loving God.  John writes: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19 AV). The more you see God’s love for you, the more you will grow in loving Him.

The way to love God more is by taking in more of His love for you. That’s why we in all our worship and all our preaching we keep coming back to the center of all things, the cross of Jesus Christ, where God’s love for you is demonstrated, poured out, placarded and put on display.

The Glorious Love of God Put on Display

The outcome of Jesus’ endurance

Think about the vine, the worm and the wind in the life of our Lord Jesus. What was the vine that brought Him joy and comfort and blessing in His experience?

Jesus chooses 12 disciples and calls them to be with Him. He has the comfort, joy and blessing of their companionship (Mark 4:14). He sends them out and their ministry is blessed with such success that with His heart full of joy, He exults “I saw Satan fall like lightning” (Luke 10:18).

Then the worm came. The disciples, who had brought Him comfort, joy and blessing, all forsook him and fled. Judas betrays Him with a kiss. Peter denies him with a curse, and Jesus is plunged into sorrow and loss.

And then the east wind blew. Not only did the disciples desert Him, but he was scourged and mocked and crowned with thorns. He was nailed to the cross, he was plunged into total darkness, and in His affliction, pain, and distress, He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

Why was all this happening to Him? The Bible says: Christ bore your sins in His body on the tree (I Peter 2:24). The Son of God loved you and gave himself for you (Galatians 2:20). He endured the worm and the wind so you could be brought into an eternity under God’s vine, under his blessing and receiving his goodness.

Examples of God’s love in the Scriptures

Do you see God’s love for you in Jesus? King David had a greater vine than anyone else who ever lived. He enjoyed the greatest of comforts and he tasted God’s love, and here’s what he said “Your love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). “Your love means more to me than the vine. Your love is better than any of your gifts in this world.”

Job saw that too. Oh, he went through a thousand agonies in his sorrow, but for Job, the worm and the wind were his finest hour. For in his pain he worshipped, and there is no higher worship than that which comes out of your pain and your loss.

The good news is that Jonah got there too. God did not leave Jonah in His anger. That’s the point of the story. If Jonah had remained angry this story would never have been written! The very fact that we have this story is evidence that God brought Jonah through his anger.

We’re going to see next how God met Jonah’s anger with a display of His own love! God did not abandon him in His anger. God brought him through. And what God did for Jonah, he is able to do for you.

Three prayers and a story

I want to suggest three very simple prayers for all of us who want to love God more than we love the vine. They are prayers for people who want to be less like Jonah and more like Jesus, and who do not want to live vine-centered lives, but God-centered lives.

“Lord, help me to receive Your gifts gratefully.” Every good gifts comes from the Lord, so if you have friends, if you have a job, if you have money, if you have family, whatever gift brings you comfort, joy and blessing from the hand of God, receive it with thanksgiving and let it be to you a source of praise: “Lord, make me more thankful for the vine in my life. Make me more thankful for your good gifts. Help me to identify them in my life.”

“Lord, help me to hold Your gifts lightly.” God’s gifts are gifts, they are not rights. When we confuse them, we get into all kinds of difficulty. They come from His hand. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Nothing in this life or in this world lasts forever.

“Lord, help me to love You more than Your gifts.” That is the only right way to live. “I do not want to spend my life as an idolater.”

I’d like to end with a story about Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who, along with John Stott, is one of the great Christian leaders of the 20th century. God blessed his life and ministry in remarkable ways.

At the end of his life he was confined to home. One of his friends went to see him, and asked him “How is it with you, Doctor? You have traveled the world preaching to vast crowds of people. Now you are confined to this room. How are you?”

Lloyd-Jones said: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in the book of life” (Luke 10:20). Don’t rejoice in the power of your ministry or the success of your life. Rejoice that you belong to Christ. The vine will pass away. God’s love for you in Christ will never pass away.



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