Written by Lauren McDermott


Live to Christ, and you will find that being captured by saving grace is freedom

Julian of Norwich, a 14th century anchorite, wrote about a vision she had in the midst of suffering: “What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same.”

In the darkest moment of his life, Jonah is changed by this steadfast love. Even as he entered into the death his rebellion deserved, the LORD pursued him to raise him up again.

But is this 180-turn of redemption reserved only for ne’er-do-well prophets and Biblical heroes? What happens when we experience God’s mercy—even if only over a coffee at Starbucks or our dorm desks?

I first met RJ on a cold January day, where I was about half as concerned about wind and rain as I was any given conversation. I had met at least 50 other students before him, and the faces were beginning to become a blur.

“What’s this?” he asked, pointing to our chalkboard stands. ‘What gives you hope?’ was clearly written across them, so I assumed he was asking the larger question of why?

I briefly explained our outreach—and before I knew it we were deep in a conversation about the Prodigal Son.

“Oh man!” he exclaimed from across our club table. “It just—it just gets me you know!”

“It says so much about God,” I went on. “When he comes back, and the Father is just waiting there for him. How he runs to his son before he can even get home, and brings him back into his house.”

“It’s so good,” RJ kept saying, rubbing his heart. I wouldn’t hear much about RJ’s life until some weeks later.

In Jonah’s life story, his prayer from the pit is a moment of literal direction change. The prophet who once ran to Tarshish turns back to Ninevah. But it’s not only his outward life that is different. He has given over his will and heart to God as well. Jonah 2:8-9 show the change in his previously hardened heart:

“Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

To be saved is not merely an abstract, post-death reality. An experience of God’s saving grace is a concrete change of heart, mind, and soul; and it comes with real consequences in our lives. For Jonah, this meant giving up his attempt at playing God for both the Ninevites and himself. In this moment of renewal, he takes on a new posture of humility, devotion, and thankfulness. Where before his will was his own, he has now handed it over to God.

As Dallas Willard writes: “The revolution of Jesus is in the first place and continuously a revolution of the human heart or spirit. …his is a revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another. It is one that changes their ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits of choice, as well as their bodily tendencies and social relations. It penetrates to the deepest layers of their soul.”

“Lauren, we should talk,” he said, smacking his hand down on the student center table genially.

“Well okay,” I replied, leaning back in my chair and laughing. RJ has a way of bursting out with his words.

“Tell me your story.” He took a seat across the table and adjusted his cap.

“Like, the whole thing? How much time do you have?”

He had three hours. But I mostly did the listening. I returned his question, after answering. As he told me about his life—the drugs in high school, his father leaving, dropping out of college the first time, working a job he loved with people he hated, feeling trapped in his own choices—I felt an echo of sameness. Not in the events, but in what I knew was coming.

“But man, bud, God just got ahold of me,” he said. “I just wanted out, and he did it for me. I want other people to experience that too. Man, the world just needs it.”

The resonance I felt talking to RJ was evidence of the deeper miracle we had both experienced. He had been captured, and so had I. I hope, so have you! We had both been saved from ourselves and the death we were running into—just like our wayward prophet Jonah. That’s not a story unique to fathers of the faith. That’s the experience offered to all who cry out for God’s mercy and help.

You don’t have to be buried in deep water and heading for the underworld to need it. Look at Las Vegas, at Houston, at the last vicious word you said. As we face the reality of not only our broken world, but the brokenness of humanity itself, we long for God’s restoration and rescue. Left to ourselves, we find—like Solzhenitsyn—that we can’t outrun the evil in our own hearts. We need the help of a power far beyond ourselves.

What exact words did Jonah pray as he repented? We don’t know for sure. For my part, I hope that we can embrace the prayer of Charles de Foucauld, a 20th century martyr: “Father, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I will thank you. I am ready for all; I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, as in all your creatures.”

He is freely offering you new life. Don’t run from it. Be raised with Christ. Live to Christ, and you will find that being captured by saving grace is freedom.

Lord God, thank you that we are unable to save ourselves and that each time we try, we fail. Have mercy on us. Steer our hearts to utter dependence on you. Teach us to recognize the ways of your kingdom, that we might participate as faithful and devout residents in the space between a broken world and the coming Kingdom of God. Amen.

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Lauren is a campus missionary on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. As a part of Reality Church Stockton for the past six years, she has served as one of our Deacons, with the Music Ministry and in connecting college students to the local church. In her spare time, she enjoys challenging theological conversation, cats, and psychologically intense movies.