Have you noticed how people tend to leave the front pews empty in church? People have different reasons for running away from God. Perhaps they fear that it is dangerous to get too close to Him, as He might ask them questions they cannot or do not want to answer, or He may ask them to do things that they are unwilling or afraid to do. He might even ask them to give up precious possessions, habits, or relationships that are not right in His sight.
They also run away from God in different ways: by keeping their distance, by freezing in disobedience, or by indulging in false piety.
Some people try to follow Christ at a distance. After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter “followed him at a distance” (Matthew 26:58). Perhaps he truly wanted to follow Jesus, but was afraid of what might happen to him if he stayed too close. Self-preservation seems to be the overriding motive when people try to keep a safe distance from God. But this is foolish. The safest place is not far away from God, but near Him, in the shadow of His wings. As Psalm 91:1–2 says: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High / will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. / I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, / my God, in whom I trust.’”
It is also foolish to think that we can preserve ourselves by running away from God, because Jesus taught that in trying to save our lives, we end up losing them. Clinging on to life takes us away from the God who gave it to us, and this ironically means we will lose it. Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23-25).
Some people run away from God by freezing in disobedience. They live with what they consider “small” or “respectable” sins, believing that they don’t need to be rescued from them, or that these sins are not as bad as the “big” ones like murder and adultery. But Jesus did warn us about such sins—they hinder us from growing in our relationship with God.
Then there are those who, like the Pharisees, indulge in false piety and construct religious scaffolding to avoid facing the full implications of trusting and loving God. The Pharisees devoted themselves to technical issues of the law, such as detailed rules of Sabbath, while neglecting the real demands of the law. Jesus exposed their spiritual bankruptcy and hypocrisy. He knew that while they acted as if they were drawing closer to God, they were actually running away from Him and avoiding a real relationship with the living God. They feigned obedience, but were in fact being disobedient.
Is there hope for such people who run away from God? Can they be rescued from their disobedience? The short answer is yes. There is no depth of sinfulness beyond God’s reach. We are always on His radar screen, and He is ever ready to rescue us if we acknowledge Him and His ways.
God has compassion for those who have strayed away, even when they think they are better off without Him. He called shepherds in Israel to look for the sheep who strayed from His flock. And when the shepherds themselves strayed, He took it upon himself to be the divine shepherd looking for them (Ezekiel 34:1-16). In the parable of the lost sheep, we read about the shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to look for the one that was lost (Luke 15:3-7). Whether on a ship being tossed about by angry seas or deep underwater in a fish’s stomach, one can always receive God’s love and grace.
Like the prodigal son, we can always turn back to the Father—He is only a prayer away.
Would a Christian who has been blessed with more resources face a greater temptation to flee from God and His will? Why? How is it possible to run away from God by procrastinating? How can we avoid fleeing from God?
Excerpted and adapted from God in Pursuit: Lessons from the Book of Jonah by Robert M. Solomon. ©2017 by Robert M. Solomon. Used by permission of Discovery House Publishers. All rights reserved.
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