So, I gave a talk to high schoolers last night, and I focused on Jonah, and related that to my story through high school and my first semester at college. It went something like this:
Jonah chapters 1-4
God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against its wickedness, but Jonah ran away and sailed for Tarshish instead. We don't really know the reason why, but we can assume it was out of fear, or pride, meaning he didn't think the people in Nineveh deserved God's love. God sends a storm over the sea, and Jonah tells the men on the ship to throw him overboard because it is his fault that there is a storm. God sends a great fish to rescue Jonah by swallowing him. Jonah sits in the fish for 3 days, and prays to God. He has no other choice but to rely on God. Finally, the fish vomits Jonah on shore. Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches that God will destroy the city in 40 days because of their corruptness. The people of Nineveh immediately repent and turn from their evil ways, and God saves the city. Jonah becomes very angry at the Lord's compassion, saying that there was no point for him to go to the city if God was going to be that merciful anyway. He leaves the city and camps out near by so he can watch and see what happens to the city. God made a plant grow over Jonah's head to give him shade, and Jonah becomes very glad and grateful. The next morning, God sends a worm to eat the plant and Jonah becomes very upset and starts to feel faint from the scorching sun. The whole point of this is that God finally gets Jonah to express concern for something perishing, but the irony is that it's only about the plant, not the 120,000 people in Nineveh who "don't know their left hand form their right." God says to Jonah, "Should I not pity the people in Nineveh?" He created them, just like he did Jonah, and loves them all the same, yet Jonah has more concern for the plant than the people in Nineveh.
I tell you this story because I want to encourage you all to not be like Jonah.
Looking back to high school, I really wish I had done so much more to live for God. We fall into this trap where we feel like everything we do matters. If it's not what everyone else is doing, then we shouldn't do it either. We feel like we shouldn't talk about God because others will judge us, or we might get in trouble. There are so many people who need to hear the truth, and high school is probably your biggest opportunity to share your faith. Don't be like Jonah and close people off just because they are not Christians. It wasn't until my senior year that I started living out my faith. I wasn't perfect, and I know I closed off my faith to people I knew who didn't want to hear it, but to the people I became better friends with, I vie. wed them as friends and as people who needed to be shown God's love and mercy. I learned to be open to them and I had such a passion for other people's salvation that I could not just sit and watch. I was blessed to be the friend that people came to for encouragement or advice, and that's how it started. My friends would come to me with an issue or problem, and I would find scripture to encourage them. Don't overwhelm them with your own words. It's best to let scripture speak for itself. Next, invite them to church with you. I ended up bringing 5 of my friends to church, and 3 of them got baptized into the church. Now, they are out sharing their faith. It's so neat to see what just one person can do. What if everyone who professed to be Christian witnessed to others? Think about how much of a difference everyone can make together. That amazes me. When I think about that and being in high school, I just think, "What if I had opened up to more people? What if I had put God first in every situation? What if I decided not to date and wait on God's timing? What if I didn't worry about what other people thought? What if I had focused on others more than myself?" High school does go by fast, and now I only see a handful of the people I used to see every day. My heart cries out to those that I decided to not share my faith with because it wasn't the cool thing to do. I blew off some of the biggest opportunities to share my faith, and now I'll probably never see some of those people again.
Let your faith speak.
I have learned so much about myself this past semester at college. I've learned that I am very dependent on others to feed me spiritually. I left my security at home. I went to Greenville not knowing anyone, and I had no accountability partners. It was not what I had expected it to be. I was so looking forward to moving on with my life and meeting some awesome Christians at a Christian college, and I just didn't find that. My expectations were so high that I had a hard time meeting such friends. My first couple of weeks I spent focusing on only God and having having quiet times. I wanted my relationship with God to be in a right place, and I trusted that God would bring the right friends when I was ready. Soon after that, I started hanging out with some new friends. It wasn't that they were bad people at all. We just never had godly discussions, and I eventually replaced having quiet times with hanging out with friends. Yes, I was having fun, but I was not growing spiritually. In fact, I became so far from God, and I knew I was far from God, but I just didn't do anything about it. I relate this to Jonah because he was very judgemental of the people in Neneveh, saying they didn't deserve God's love. It wasn't that I didn't think people in Greenville deserved God's love, but I did become very critical of everyone. I wasn't finding people I could talk to and share my spiritual life with. I got the impression that everyone was acting fake, which was totally wrong. I just couldn't find truth in anything, and I was so bothered and angry at God that I just stopped wanting to spend time with him. I became stubborn, and just wanted to run.
I came home Halloween weekend, and met up with Linnette, my spiritual mentor and one of my best friends, Haley, and told them what I was going through. I missed having accountability partners, and I missed having godly discussions with my friends. They prayed for me, and as I was driving back to Greenville, something inside of me changed. I got back to school and things started getting better. I opened up to one of my good friends on campus, and we had a really amazing talk. I also started talking to the girls on my floor, and got to know them a little better. I started meeting other really awesome people, and it was very encouraging. One night at Vespers, there was a man talking about how he used to be passionate for God, then went down the wrong path and started drinking and partying. When he got hit by that train in Greenville, it was a miracle that he survived. He felt that it was a wake up call from God to repent and get back on track. After hearing that, I knew that God was speaking to me as well. My life was so unbalanced, and I needed to make things right. If you try to spend only time with God, you end up relying on yourself too much. God made us relational so we can have fellowship with others. I can't stress enough how important it is to talk about God and your spiritual life with others, and find friends who will hold you accountable. Find someone you can trust and who can challenge you in your faith.
When Jonah was swallowed by the fish, he had no other choice but to fully rely on God. I had so much security at home, and when I got to Greenville, I too had to learn to depend on God. I went from one extreme to the other, and now it's balancing out. I am working on opening up to others, and finding people who I can trust and be honest with about my spiritual life. My desire is to know God more, and I am looking for people who share that desire. I asked God to fill me with a compassion for others. The last few weeks I was at Greenville were rocky. I was working on balancing my life out, and now I am just ready to go back and start a new semester. I plan to open up, share my faith, be honest, and find accountability. I want to encourage everyone who is reading this to do the same. There is nothing more important than your faith, and speaking from experience, you will be amazed at what God can do through you if you just make yourself available to Him.