Jonah had stubbornly refused to obey the call of God to preach to the Ninevites, trying to run away. But God didn't give up on him: he relentlessly pursued him until eventually he went to the Ninevites, preached the gospel and the whole city was saved - 120,000 people!
Imagine if you'd been used in that way by God. How would you feel? If you're like me, you'd be incredibly excited.
Not so with Jonah. The Ninevites were the enemies of God's people. It's probable that Jonah had friends and family who had been killed by them. So he wasn't too happy with God. "Typical! That's why I ran away! I know your that kind of God - I knew you're the kind of God who abounds in love. I knew that there was a high chance you'd forgive them, and you've proved me right!" Jonah left in a huff - how could God forgive a people like this?
What Jonah had forgotten was that it was only because God would forgive a people like this that he was alive today, and that he was under the blessing of God. Fundamentally he cared more about himself and his comfort than the glory of God, and the plight of the lost. So he spat out his dummy.
But God showed his grace and compassion again to Jonah.
God could have easily have said "that's enough - this is one rebellion too many. I've been patient and gracious but he's rejected me one too many times". But the Lord is gracious and compassionate, so instead he gently corrects Jonah again.
Jonah at this stage is throwing the king of all strops, sulking out in the wilderness in the blazing sun. God sends a plant to give Jonah shade... and then a worm to destroy the plant. In doing so he exposes Jonah's heart.
Watch carefully Jonah's emotions. Jonah had been extremely angry at God for being consistent with his character and forgiving the Ninevites. His anger is abated - in fact it is turned to exceeding gladness at the arrival of a plant to give him shade - only to turn back to anger when the plant is gone.
Jonah's heart is exposed. He cares more about himself and his own comfort than the destiny and standing before God of a whole city of people! But God wasn't only out to prove a point. His goal was to take Jonah into his redeeming school of mercy.
God is in the business of declaring sinners forgiven and righteous. But that's not the end of his mission. His redeeming mission is to move us on. The God who while we were still sinners sought us out will continue his redeeming mission. He wants to redeem our lives, sanctifying us, making us more like Jesus. And that redeeming mission may well involve hardship, it may well involve times when we go through something painful and testing.
God appointed a worm to expose the heart of Jonah. What has he appointed for me?
I asked the Lord that I might grow,
In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
It was He who taught me thus to pray,
And He I trust has answered prayer.
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He'd answer my request.
And by His love's constraining power,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel,
The hidden evils of my heart.
And let the angry powers of hell,
Assault my soul in every part.
Yes, more with His own hand, He seemed,
Intent to aggravate my woe.
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
"Lord, why is this?" I trembling cried.
Will You pursue Your worm to death?"
"This is the way" the Lord replied,
"I answer prayer for grace and strength."
"These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set you free;
And break your schemes of earthly joy,
That you may find thy all in Me."