When aboard a ship or any vessel, the phrase "man overboard!" is one of the last things anyone wants to hear. The term indicates a member of the crew or any other passenger has fallen off the ship and is in immediate danger. In other words, the person is somewhere they were never supposed to be. Spiritually speaking, I think we see a lot of overboard passengers today, particularly men. Instead of being where God has asked us to be we find ourselves in the deep waters of disobedience and rebellion.
I think the story of Jonah in the Bible is a perfect picture for men to see the disaster which awaits for those who choose disobedience over faithfulness. Jonah was commanded by God to go into the city of Ninevah and preach repentance to a wicked and sinful group of people. Ninevah would go on to be the future capital of the Assyrian Empire and were certainly a pagan society far from God. Much like Israel, Jonah struggled with the reality that God's love and mercy was also extended to non-Hebrew people as well. We may not like God's assignment for our lives, but we have to understand that His ways are always higher than ours and His will is perfect. Running from the Lord's will only causes harm and costs us a high price.
Sadly, Jonah refuses to obey the Lord and takes off in rebellion aboard a ship trying to escape His divine calling. He wanted as far away from Ninevah as possible, but Jonah forgot one major detail: you can't hide from God. It's important to know that sin has consequences and the longer we try to run from God's clear command the more we endanger ourselves and others. Jonah may not have seen himself as a pagan like the people of Ninevah or the sailors on his ship, but the Bible teaches that "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft" (1 Samuel 15:23). Sin had rocked Jonah to sleep as it does so many men and by the time he comes to his senses he awakens to a nightmare.
It's impossible to seek God's will and run from Him at the same time. Disobedience is disobedience regardless of how you dress it up. After a massive storm begins to hit the ship, the sailors soon realize Jonah is probably the cause of this calamity and if he's thrown off they may find mercy from the very God they've spend much of their life avoiding. Then comes the turning point in Jonah's life as they pick him up and throw him off the ship. Man overboard! And so it is true of anyone who refuses to go to "Ninevah." The city of Ninevah which God had called Jonah to go to is an illustration to us of the places in life we should be. However, Jonah chooses rebellion like most men do and he winds up in judgment.
I can't help but think of the multitudes of men worldwide who are currently running away from their "Ninevah" and are already overboard or soon to be. Rather than surrender in obedience to the perfect will of God they find themselves in places they have no business being. God has called men to be good husbands and dads. He's called them to Gospel ministry and disciple making. The Lord has called us to stand for truth, defend the helpless, provide for the poor, and lead with humility. We are called to pray, worship, and cling to the Word of God without reservation. These are our "Ninevahs" which God has commanded us to serve in, but in our prideful rebellion we have gotten on the ship of our own will and traveled directly into the deep waters of sin. We find so many men overboard in the waters of pornography and lust. We find them in waters of alcohol and drugs. We find them in waters of laziness and abuse. We find them in waters of neglectful fatherhood and marital abandonment. We find them in waters of sports worship and childish hobbies.
These acts of rebellion against the clear word from the Lord always lead to an overboard scenario. The astonishing thing, however, is that the depths of these sinful waters are nothing in comparison to the depth of God's grace and mercy. Thankfully, Jonah was given the gift of a giant fish which came along and snatched him up for three days! We may not always understand God's methods, but the least we can do is be grateful for them because we are undeserving of any grace He chooses to extend to us. I want you to know that we may have untold numbers of men overboard in the terrible waters of sin, but God's hand of deliverance is not too short. He is a prayer away and praise His holy name for hearing us in our worst state! Jonah's prayer in the belly of the great fish was heard and what a wonderful reminder that we are never too far, never too deep, and never too dark to be heard by the Lord. The same is true of men today. They may be in waters over their head, but they are not gone for good.
Thank God for His gracious second chances and not replacing us after disobedient acts. As Christians we know this to be a humbling trait of our Lord, but it should also remind us to never give up on these overboard men. They are all around us and need our help and prayers. They need us to reach out to them in grace to help bring them to an understanding that the Lord is their only source of salvation. God help us all to realize we are only one or two decisions away from trading places with the most rebellious people we know and how quickly we could find ourselves in waters over our head. This should keep us humble, repentant, and always obedient to our Father.
Jonah's story begins as a tragedy, but ultimately ends as a story of God's grace towards a generation of undeserving people. We cannot overlook the love of God in these matters and how much He desires for us to walk in obedience and trust His commandments. This story could've resulted in ruin for Jonah, but God's mercies proved faithful once again and we can now rejoice that one more rebellious man was rescued from the waters of sin and given a second chance. Men, may we all grow in the wisdom of this lesson and never find ourselves selfishly fleeing our "Ninevah." Let's avoid being the man overboard by conforming our hearts and minds to the Lord's will and never failing to give Jesus our full allegiance.