We moved our little family to Krakow, Poland in 1991 and immersed ourselves in the language and culture.
There were very few foreigners in the city, and we spent our time with Polish people building a new Polish life. A neighboring Polish family adopted us, and we spent most evenings at their house struggling to grasp the language.
We attended a language school, hired a tutor, and eventually began to make progress. After about two years, the language became familiar to us since we heard it all the time.
Over the ten years of life in Poland we developed a keen ear for ……. English.
When walking in a store and occasionally hearing English it would stand out like someone was yelling in English. Strolling down the streets and hearing English, we would immediately stop everything, including our conversation, to listen.
There was a certain familiarity and comfort that came from hearing our heart language.
After ten years, we relocated back to the States and then we experienced the reverse reaction. From time-to-time we would be in a store and hear someone speaking Polish.
We would stop everything, sometimes introducing ourselves and striking up a conversation. There was something familiar and heart-warming about the language of our second home. Hearing Polish in the US remains a thrill to this day.
Language and communication are the relational currency of a culture. The term “heart language” is used to refer to your first language, to the intimate language of the heart. Communication and language indicate something about a relationship.
Every communication has a digital component, the dictionary meaning, and an analog component, the relational element. We refer to these as the Websters dictionary meaning (digital) and body language (analog).
This is key to understanding the relationship that God had with his servant Jonah, found throughout the book.
The relational ministry elements that are so insightful are three-fold as follows:
Frank and Open Conversation
The prophet Jonah is mentioned before his namesake book in II Kings 14:25, where he is described as a “servant of the LORD.”
The term “servant of the LORD” is commonly applied to a prophet in the Old Testament and was a term of honor.
Prophets were in the business of communicating on God’s behalf, often by calling God’s people to obedience, repentance, and spiritual renewal. As such Jonah had already developed a communication pattern with God.
We see in the book of Jonah that this communication was honest and open. We can see this in several interactions.
- The book begins with God calling Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh with a dire message of ensuing judgment (1:1-2). This would have been a difficult message to deliver to anyone, let alone in the capital city of Israel’s arch enemy. God speaks frankly and openly about sin and judgment. After the storm and subsequent fish “incident” God repeats the calling a second time. (3:1-2)
- After being swallowed by the fish and in dire straits, Jonah calls out to God in what can certainly be described as open and frank communication. He “cries” out to the LORD. The entire prayer parallels the great thanksgiving psalms of deliverance (Psalm 3:4, 8; 22:25; 31:6, 8, 22; 42:7; 50:14; 9:1-2; and 118:5). The prayer is Jonah calling/crying out to God and then recognizing God as the source of salvation. The prayer is raw, open, and straightforward.
- After God extends His grace to the Ninevites (3:10), Jonah communicates openly and honestly his great displeasure and anger. In fact, chapter four, which we will discuss extensively in an upcoming blog, is centered around and open and honest exchange between Jonah and God. Apparently, they had a relationship that allowed Jonah to speak freely to which God responds in kind.
Woven throughout the short four-chapter book is a relationship between God and His prophet that allowed for this kind of open and frank communication.
Within this relationship of frank and open communication Jonah feels that he has what our modern culture would define as a “safe space” for real heart felt expression.
This comes in the form of Jonah expressing suicidal desires. In Jonah 4:3, the prophet expresses his desire for God to take his life. He states in clear terms his desire for death.
This is the result of his anger and frustration with God’s act of grace and mercy towards the Ninevites.
Stated simply, Jonah is so upset with God he wishes to end his life. Bible teachers tend to focus on Jonah’s misplaced anger and wrongful indignation.
However, for our purposes it should be noted that this kind of emotional expression can only occur within the context of a meaningful relationship.
Patience and Guidance
Finally, we note that throughout the book God’s response to Jonah is patience and guidance.
He responds to Jonah’s cry for deliverance (the result of his own disobedience) by “listening to his cry” (2:2). He responds to Jonah’s anger and death wish, with a patient question for Jonah’s consideration (4:4) and when Jonah remains suicidally bent again, he urges Jonah to consider another question (4:9).
In fact, the book ends with God patiently maintaining the relationship with a final question (4:11).
In earlier studies of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, we identified “relationship” as a foundational element in transformational children’s ministry. Here we see God exhibit that very same quality in his dealings with Jonah.
In fact, God’s relationship with Jonah is foundational to the entire book. We will examine the other four qualities in due course (Experience, Truth, Discussion and Response).
As children’s workers we are well served by not only developing relationships with the children in our ministries, but we would also benefit by remembering and applying these three qualities of a relational ministry.
- Children need open and frank conversations. We need to create a relational environment where children can speak freely and openly. There is a place for speaking freely and openly about things like pain, sorrow, and doubts. There is even a place for speaking about sin and judgment. Children are aware of the brokenness of our world and often see through platitudes and Christian jargon.
- Relational ministry means creating a “safe space” where children can express their genuine thoughts and feelings. Too often our relationship with boys and girls never reaches the stage where they can express their real frustrations, fears, and concerns. We should strive to create a relational environment where they feel “safe” to speak what is on their mind regardless of whether they are “right” or “wrong.”
- Our relationship with children should be characterized by patience and guidance. Too often children are concerned about saying the right things and pleasing their leaders. Like Jonah, they should know that our response will always be one of loving patience and a desire to help them grow in Christ.
This Sunday, I pray that your children’s ministry will be rooted in a relational approach that is characterized by these qualities.
A relational ministry of this sort is the foundation for life changing children’s ministry.