There is old saying about quality over quantity. The old testament book of Jonah is only 4 chapters long, but it has much to teach us.
Lesson #1: Listen to God
Many people spend a lifetime “searching” for God. Even those who know God still spend much time seeking his will. God plainly speaks to Jonah, telling him exactly what he wants done. God has ordained the events of history. Paul says we see through a glass darkly, so it makes sense to listen to the one who sees all things clearly. Consider Genesis 50 and Acts 2 when pondering free will. Man does what he wants, God always gets what he wants. God had plans for Nineveh, and Jonah was to be the instrument God used. We could save ourselves a lot of pain (and wasted time, energy and effort) if we would just listen to God in the first place, especially when he makes it that clear.
Lesson #2: God will show mercy to those he shows mercy
Jonah knew that Nineveh was evil place. He didn’t refuse to preach there because he was afraid, he refused to preach there because he wanted God to judge harshly. He knew that God is merciful and long suffering, and he did want to risk the people of Nineveh calling out to God in repentance and avoiding judgement. Paul explains in great detail in Romans 9 that we cannot fault God for showing mercy to whomever he chooses. This is a lesson Jonah does not learn by the way. The story closes with Jonah wishing that we was dead after his weed dies.
Lesson #3: We do not know all God is doing
I’ve already mentioned seeing through a glass darkly. The converse of God seeing and knowing everything is that we do not see and know everything. We follow God trusting that he knows best even though sometimes we don’t get it. Some things we don’t see. Maybe that 30 extra seconds you spent looking for your keys saved you a collision at a 4-way stop. We’ve all heard such stories. Perhaps a conversation you had at work or over lunch regarding attending church was overheard by someone who needed encouragement. Only God really knows what was done for his kingdom with that 20 you dropped in the offering plate. I could go on, but think about Jonah’s time on the ship to Tarshish. As a result of God dealing with Jonah, the men on board that ship feared the Lord. They had already tossed their cargo, so there was no profit in worshiping God. After Jonah was thrown overboard the wind and waves calmed down. Rather than continue as they had been, we are told the men feared God and even made sacrifices. I do not presume to preach them into heaven, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). As Jonah sinks into the sea, he is unaware of the events on the surface. He is so wrapped up in his own issues, he is oblivious to what God is doing. Even if we are trying to do God’s work, we are likely unaware of all the effects of our labor. In the words of the old hymn, we will understand it better by and by.