Where I live, a beautiful sunny day can change in moments as ferocious storm clouds roll in seemingly out of nowhere. And though it happens every summer, I am often caught unawares and unprepared. I don't have an umbrella and of course I'm wearing shoes I don't want to get wet, much less have to walk through ankle deep water in.
These type of storms are similar to what's been happening in my life lately. I've had unexpected events cut into my otherwise sunny day. These circumstances came out of nowhere and knocked me down, like the fierce winds of a S. Florida afternoon thunderstorm storm. I found myself thinking, "This wasn't supposed to happen" and "Why God?" and "This isn't fair" and "I can't take this."
My response reminded me of Jonah's temper tantrum as he watched Nineveh from afar, waiting to see what God would do. After he finally and with reluctance complied with God's command and told the Ninevites they needed to repent, he left the city and sat on a hill.
"Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind,and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said,“Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” (Jonah 4:5-9)
God graciously provided a vine to shade Jonah from the sun. It was a gift from God that comforted Jonah. Then God sent a worm that ate up the vine. This angered Jonah. God used the worm to save Jonah from what the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible (Black) calls a "vine centered life." "A vine centered person is one who is so taken up with the joy of God's good gifts that he or she ends up loving the gifts more than the Giver." (Kindle location, 187639). In other words, idolatry.
God has removed good gifts from my life over the past few months. These were gifts that had become disordered affections in my heart, idols that I loved and cherished more than God. Any of God's good gifts can become idols to us: friendships, ministries, jobs, children, even our hopes and dreams.
My reaction to losing these gifts, like Jonah's reaction, revealed that I did not love what God loved. I cared more about my own comfort and desires. In fact such emotional responses reveal that an idol is reigning tall on the throne of our heart. Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, suggests looking at these emotional responses as a clue to our heart idols:
“Look at your most uncontrollable emotions. Just as the fisherman looking for fish knows to go where the water is roiling, look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things that you know are wrong. If you are angry, ask, ‘Is there something here too important to me, something I must have at all costs?’ Do the same thing with strong fear or despair and guilt. Ask yourself, ‘Am I so scared, because something in my life is being threatened that I think is a necessity when it is not? Am I so down on myself because I have lost or failed at something that I think is a necessity when it is not?’ … When you ask questions like that, when you ‘pull your emotions up by the roots,’ as it were, you will often find your idols clinging to them”(p. 169-170).
As I've wrestled through my own emotions in recent months, I've learned much about my heart and of my need for grace. My heart is an idol making factory. I come by it naturally. My sinful heart is prone to wander from my one true love. But God has not left me alone. Just as he graciously removes my vines to show me that I've wandered, he also graciously leads me back home to him. His grace for me is just that big and that amazing. And the more I have dwelt on his grace for me, I've found that it comforts me more than the vines ever did.
Do you have vines you cling to?