In a baby memory book my mom kept, there’s a page of my early favorites. Favorite Bible story as a toddler? Jonah.
The narrative of Jonah and the “whale” makes for colorful books and catchy songs, complete with hand motions. But if your childhood memories are anything like mine, you probably grew up most familiar with the story’s ending, as Jonah at last heads to Nineveh after a fish spits him out.
Matt Henslee’s Jonah Over Coffee isn’t a bedtime story about a reluctant hero who regrets his ways and moves forward with confidence and integrity. The 30-day devotional is an approachable look at the experiences of a man who stumbles through pride and obedience, his unsteady ways guided by the mercy of God.
Henslee, pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, N.M., organizes the book by daily cups of coffee, with each section focusing on a verse or two. By extending the study of a four-chapter, two-page book over 30 days, he gives time to meditate on the details of the prophet’s journey.
But the spotlight stays on God’s role and character over Jonah’s. Halfway through the study, Henslee focuses on Jonah’s statement in chapter 2, verse 9: “I will fulfill what I have vowed.” The section sets the magnifying glass aside to remind readers of an “immutable truth”– “this is not about Jonah’s commitment to God but about God’s commitment to Jonah. Jonah’s life will continue to ebb and flow, but the Lord’s grip on him will be perfectly tight.”
Another chapter prompts readers to summarize the gospel, training them to exercise the habit of looking for the gospel in an Old Testament narrative.
Henslee also nudges readers to practice cross-referencing other parts of scripture with the verses in review, often pointing out the Psalms Jonah recites. He helps readers recognize the value of knowing and praying scripture, of joining in the songs of praise and lament spoken by the faithful before us. The words that were sufficient for a man to cry out from a sea creature’s belly remain sufficient for the 21st-century Christian in pandemic-induced quarantine.
Each chapter is short and flows into a question that draws responses ranging from short answers to deep reflection, and includes illustrations from daily scenes. The brevity of some illustrations occasionally cloud potential insights, but they largely help drive home an application.
Whereas our first interactions with Jonah may have been in a bedtime picture book, Jonah Over Coffee invites a different routine. Trade the evenings for the morning, sippy cup for a coffee mug and an epic tale for a sober dive into a season of a life that may look a lot more like ours. From career missionaries to individuals leveraging their careers and homes to live on mission in their own neighborhoods, faithful believers can find encouragement from Jonah Over Coffee to examine their failures and successes, search their hearts for both resentment and compassion, and ultimately, to reflect on God’s past graces and hope for His future grace.