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Affluent Christian Investor | October 21, 2017

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The Jonah Complex


The well-known psychologist, Dr. Abraham Maslov, described a life condition and identified it by using a name from the Bible. What name do you think he used? Moses? Joseph? Jesus? Paul? If you answered any of those, you are wrong. He used the name Jonah and the entire term is called “The Jonah Complex.” What did Maslov mean when he referred to “The Jonah Complex?” I’m glad you asked. You will have to read on to find out.


We know that Jonah was an Old Testament prophet and has a short book that relates part of his life story. Jonah was given an assignment by God to go and deliver a harsh message to a city and people he didn’t like. He didn’t want to do it, so he ran. He got on a ship and went in the opposite direction from which he was told to go.

A storm arose during the trip and it soon became clear to the sailors that Jonah was the cause of the storm. When they threw him overboard, the storm ceased and a whale swallowed Jonah. Jonah then spent three days and nights in the whale’s stomach. After Jonah relented and agreed to go on God’s mission, the whale spit him out and Jonah went on his way.

Maslov used “The Jonah Complex” to describe anyone who was running from his or her true life calling. He went on to say, “If you deliberately set out to be less than you are capable of, you will never truly be happy.” This complex accurately describes the condition of many people with whom I have come in contact. If someone you know suffers from the Jonah Complex, they are avoiding or running from the greatness and creativity that is in them. They are afraid not of failure, but of success.

What is it like to be caught in “The Jonah Complex?” According to my experience, these people spend a lot of time trying to weather the storm. They try to stay on the ship where they are instead of jumping into the waves of life. They tell me they are “praying about it,” whatever the “it” is for them. Yet day after day and sometimes year after year goes by and they do nothing.

Their prayer can actually be a delay tactic as they wait for God to do something that only they can do. They may not know what to do, but they don’t seek advice from or listen to someone who could help them get started. They just hold on and hope that somehow things will change even if they don’t do anything to help the change along. Or they are waiting for the “it” to happen all at once, instead of taking faith steps today that will lead them to their destiny.


Are you suffering from “the Jonah Complex?” Are you running from your purpose or from some significant thing that God has for you to do? Is your ship being tossed by the waves of financial lack, unhappiness, and lack of productivity, yet you stubbornly cling to the ship’s mast hoping that things will get better? I’ve found that many know their purpose but are afraid for whatever reason to speak it out. Perhaps it’s time for you to face who you are and what God wants you to do. In addition, maybe it’s time for you to take steps to get off your sinking ship and into the purpose of God.

It may look more dangerous “out there,” but the only danger lies in you avoiding the great things that God has for you to do. The Chinese say that the longest journey begins with the first step. Maybe it’s time for you to take the first steps this week on an exciting journey—your PurposeQuest. I hope you have a great week.


Originally posted on The Monday Memo.

John Stanko was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and attended Duquesne University where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics in 1972 and 1974 respectively.

Since then, John has served as an administrator, teacher, consultant, author, and pastor in his professional career. He holds a second master’s degree in pastoral ministries, and earned his Doctor of Ministry from Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh in 2011.

John founded a personal and leadership development company, called PurposeQuest, in 2001 and today travels the world to speak, consult and inspire leaders and people everywhere. From 2001-2008, he spent six months a year in Africa and still enjoys visiting and working on that continent, while teaching for Geneva College’s Masters of Organizational Leadership and the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Most recently, John founded Urban Press, a publishing service designed to tell stories of the city, from the city and to the city.


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