Jonah is the story of a caterpillar who God wraps in a transforming cocoon. The caterpillar wriggles uncomfortably through the whole process and complains constantly. Then, the cocoon tears open and out wriggles an irritated caterpillar, who never had any desire at all to be a butterfly. Why didn’t Jonah transform? What does it take to transform? Why doesn’t everybody transform?
At CAM, we subscribe to the mighty triumvirate of change, transition, and transformation. Change is a constant force in our lives that we can choose to face proactively or reactively. Change is characterized by struggle.
Transition is a strategy to move from one place to a preferred place. It is the passing from one side to another with disorientation when you’re in the middle of the process. Transition is characterized by striving.
Transformation is the change from one way of being to another way of being. They become new people. They are often given a new name. Transformation is accomplished by resting in the uncomfortable presence of God. Transformation is characterized by dying.
In this post, let’s look at the three essential elements for transformation. As a coach, perhaps you can help a client who desires to transform by bringing these elements to their attention and developing a plan for each.
An Uncomfortable Presence
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. – Jonah 1:17 (NIV)
This uncomfortable presence is God. Jonah felt God’s foreboding presence in the belly of a great fish. Peter felt that presence at the sound of a rooster crowing. Paul felt that presence as scales covered his eyes. It was very physical. The discomfort leads to a serious conversation with God.
For me, this discomfort has come both externally and internally. At times, I’ve felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. Other times, I felt like I had a terrible itch I just couldn’t scratch. Most often, it is a dissatisfaction with the status quo that makes me borderline angry. For transformation to occur, God needs you uncomfortable.
I’m struck when I read the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus speaks of three practices – “when you give to the needy” (Matthew 6:2), “when you pray” (Matthew 6:5), and “when you fast” (Matthew 6:16). We’re not given a choice about these practices. We’re given a mandate. And I would argue that all three of these practices make us less comfortable, the most obvious of the three being fasting.
We don’t have to wait for discomfort to come upon us. As people who long to transform, we can make these three practices of giving, praying, and fasting foundational habits in our lives. Either way, God is going to make all of us uncomfortable. We don’t get much choice about it.
An Abandonment of Loves
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. – Jonah 4:2-3 (NIV)
Jonah loved hating people. Unlike God, Jonah was stingy and judgmental, quick to anger and abounding in hate, one who enjoyed calamity in the lives of those he felt deserved it. Peter loved being anonymous. He denied knowing Jesus three times. Paul loved the rituals of the Jewish life. Transformation requires the death of what we love. It is death that frees us to love what God loves. Jonah spits out, “I’m so angry I wish I were dead” (Jonah 4:9). He wants to die with his anger rather than live and let his anger die.
For me, I love being right. I love that moment when people recognize that I’m right. The ultimate for me is when someone says, “You are absolutely right.” God has shown me in the last few years that rather than being right, it is more fruitful for me to partner. Having to be right is a major barrier to partnership. This desire to be right must die.
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). And Jesus goes on to say that I can’t hold people’s insults against them. I must forgive and love and continue to offer partnership. My rights to anger, lust, separation, and revenge are sacrificed when Jesus gives me the ultimate command, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This becomes a choice. This is where Jonah fails to transform. His first love isn’t God.
An Embrace of New Perspectives
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? – Jonah 4:11 (NIV)
By almost any standard, the great city of Nineveh deserved to be scraped off the earth and deposited in a dung heap and then set on fire. It wasn’t a city that was misunderstood. It was a city that had set its heart on ruling the world by performing the worst atrocities against human beings that history has ever recorded. And yet God had a different perspective. Jonah couldn’t see it. Peter and Paul, however embraced God’s new perspective, opening God’s invitation up to the world.
For me, the new perspective is the Body of Christ. God has now poured the Holy Spirit out upon all believers and has called all believers to join together in unity, bringing their diverse gifts and unique personalities together to do the work of Jesus — restoration and healing. This requires us to give up our idols of pastors and facilities, and instead partner with one another in a way that allows us to be more together than apart and to be more of a force in the community than in our facility.
It is no accident that the actions of Jesus immediately following his words in the Sermon on the Mount are to heal a leper, aid a Roman centurion, and heal Peter’s sick mother-in-law. He then calms a storm that threatens their ship, and in a glorious finale, casts demons out of two men, restoring them to humanity (Matthew 8). Jesus encourages us to visit the sick, poor, and prisoners, and says if we don’t, we don’t really know him, and he certainly does not know us (Matthew 25). Transformation becomes complete when we see the value in human beings that can only be seen from the perspective of our creator.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Jonah refused to renew his mind. He lived wanting to die. As leaders, we have to embrace discomfort for ourselves and provide discomfort for those who follow. We must find the appropriate balance between providing comfort and challenge. We must abandon what we love if it in any way becomes an obstacle to the new perspective God is providing for us. We can’t let culture or politics or tradition stop us from having a transformed love for every human being who lives on our planet. Finally, we must learn to see through God’s eyes, and become overwhelmed with a love that is willing to transform every lowly caterpillar into a magnificent butterfly who can leave the bonds of this earth and soar to a glorious height.