[…when the people of Nineveh believed God;
they proclaimed a fast
and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.] (Jonah 3:5)
Instead of simply relaying to his readers that the Ninevites proclaimed a fast, the author of the book of Jonah prefaces it with when the people of Nineveh believed God. Apparently only when the people of Nineveh believed God did they fast. It was not on their own initiative or a whimsical ideal that Nineveh repented by fasting, but by the prompting of God.
Undoubtedly the actions of the people of Nineveh provoke an uncomfortable question. Do we believe God’s words? OR Do we simply forego His urgings to repentance in favor of our own “enlightened” ideas?
It’s so easy to make God out to be Barney the Dinosaur—“I love you, you love me…you don’t have to change”. We can domesticate God because that “god” is much more palatable and comfortable. That type of “god” requires nothing of us,. We don’t have to take that type of “god” seriously. It’s uncomfortable for us (myself included) to admit that we sometimes turn God into a purple dinosaur because we’d rather do our own “thing”.
However we must not go to the other extreme, making God out to be a ferocious tyrant. It’s precisely because He loves us that He wants us to change and to become the best version of ourselves. Over and over again Scripture tells us God is a jealous God (cf. Exodus 20:5). He wants nothing to become an obstacle to our relationship with Him, NOTHING— sports, food, money, popularity, luxury, etc. God desires us to love Him above all things. His jealous love is why He asks us to fast and repent.
Do you believe God’s words? Do you believe God loves you and wants what’s best for you? If so, then you must follow the Ninevites’ lead in returning to God with your whole heart through prayer, fasting, and alms giving.