I was a little bit afraid my preschoolers at church would have bad dreams after our Wednesday class this week.
We’ve been studying Jonah for a couple of weeks, so they know the basics: Jonah was a preacher (prophet), God told him to go to Nineveh, Jonah said “no”, he ran away-or sailed away, and a big storm came. That’s where we stopped on Wednesday. Actually, Jonah had just been thrown into the water and the storm had immediately calmed. But, I wanted to give them a teaser for next week’s lesson.
At the end of our story, when they were listening intently, I said, “And you won’t believe what happens in next week’s story…Something in the water ate him!” I said with dramatic flair. Their eyes were all big and they looked scared to death! After a moment, I blurted out, “But he didn’t die!” and smiled-hoping it would take the edge off. To a three year old-“something in the water that ate him” could keep the whole fam up at night! Why, they might never want to take a bath, swim in a pool, or never, ever want to go in the ocean! What had I done?!
We’ve done Jonah crafts, marched to Jonah songs, and read the Jonah story over and over. They could pass an ACT test on this one! And there so much more for them to find out!
The picture book I’m using is wonderful. One picture shows Jonah sinking down and down in the water. When he lands on the bottom, the book says God told him, “Jonah, open your eyes. I am going to save you.” Right in front of him was the gi-i-normous fish! Instead of eating Jonah and crushing him with its teeth-what any other fish would do, it swallowed him whole. That sounds like an awful thing, but it saved his life!
Jonah needed a big fat time-out to re-think his life and future. (Some of our preschoolers understand about time-outs.) Grown-ups sometimes wonder why he needed to stay in the fish for three days. I totally believe that’s how long it took to break him. He was probably mad the first day. Then, he might have felt stupid on the second. Finally, on the third day… (Big stuff always happens on the third day in the Bible.) On the third day, he finally cried out to the Lord! Then the fish puked him out! That will be their favorite part! The King James Version says it “vomited” him out. I love it! They will find out that God gave Jonah a second chance and he obeyed. When he went to Nineveh, all the people repented and turned from their wicked ways! Yay!
You know, it’s not just a story for kids. God clearly told Jonah to go and tell some people he did not like (the Ninevites) that He loved them. That was in Bible times, but could that happen today? Shoot, yeah! It happens all the time! We pray, hopefully early, every day that God will use us and help us to be a light and encourager to others…to use us to change the world. Shortly after, viola! We have the opportunities right in front of us! (He is so cool like that!) But then, we get scared or feel stupid, and rush away. It happens to me-still. And then I want to kick myself. (There’s a girl in a green shirt that still haunts me. Not as in stalking, Halloween haunting, but just knowing I didn’t use my opportunity.)
My littles will learn when they grow up that God really can use them to spread the gospel, like Jonah, and change the world. If they choose to disobey God, there are consequences. They won’t be swallowed by a big fish like Jonah was, but it’s just as scary. They will find out that God is all about rescuing them, sometimes from themselves and it can take a few days or longer to get their full attention. They will know exactly how Jonah felt when he had been puked by that big ole’ fish. One of the best things they will learn when they are all grown-up is that God is all about giving second, third and many more chances. He loves everyone and doesn’t want anyone to perish…not Jonah, not the sailors, not the Ninevites and not us.
But for now, and next week, we will sing Jonah songs, eat goldfish crackers and throw “Jonah” in a fish made from a garbage bag and box. We will glue “Jonah’s” in the middle of big construction paper fish that they will hang on their refrigerators. And for now, they will know that God can see you anywhere-even inside a big smelly fish. Grown-ups years will come soon enough!
Dawn Reed is a columnist for The Floyd County Times.