From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God Jonah 2:1. This is the first time we see Jonah pray. Let’s review the things that his emergency-motivated prayer teaches us.
- GOD HEARS US when we pray.
In verse 2 he said, In my distress I called to the Lord and He ANSWERED me…from the depths of the grave I called for help and [GOD], You LISTENED to my cry.” Jonah 2:2 In a previous post we see that God SPEAKS but now we see that He also HEARS! When Jonah was sinking deep into the sea; when his life was about to ebb away, he squeezed off a quick SAVE ME! God heard even that supplication, which is in line with His promise to us. In Isaiah 65:24 God says, BEFORE they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will HEAR!
God wants to hear from us. He is very much like a father whose daughter or son goes away to college or the military and then waits for that phone call home. This is why it is so true that no matter how far we run from God…even to the bottom of the sea, it is always only one step back to Him.
I have learned that people in crises need two things: our presence and someone to listen. God does both for us! He is there and always hears when we call out to Him.
The second thing Jonah’s prayer show us is….
- There is no place where God is not.
Back in chapter 1 verse 9, Jonah had admitted to the sailors that God was Lord of all the earth and in the belly of this fish at the bottom of the ocean he found out just how true a statement that was. He crys “In my distress.. This is the Hebrew word that’s used when a woman is giving birth. The distress of labor, the pain of childbirth. He’s inside the belly of this fish and he’s using a pregnancy word. “In my distress, in the agony, as if I’m being born, I called on God and He answered me.”
He goes on, “From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” The Hebrew word is Sheol, and the King James translates it “from the depths of hell.” In other words, “from the point in which I was furthest from God, from the place where I was miserable and had no way to contribute, from the place where I was helpless and desperate and afraid and hurting from hell I called on God and he heard me!” This is going to speak to some of you because you are in the middle of what you would call Sheol or hell. Some of you would say, “From the depths of my marriage in Hell, I called on God and He answered me. From the depths of Sheol in my heart, everything on the outside seems fine, but inwardly I’m depressed and I’m hurting and I’m afraid and I’ve got this anxiety, and something’s just not right. And everything seems right, but inside, it’s not. From the depths of an inward Hell, I called on God and He answered me. When I had no place to turn, I called on God and He answered me from the deepest, darkest place, Sheol. When I needed Him most, and I deserved it the least, He was there for me.”
Perhaps this experience reminded him of the words of Psalm 139 where King David prayed, Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.” God IS always with us, around, before, above, and beneath. In this Psalm David is proclaiming God’s hear-ness AND nearness. The problem is not that God is distant and needs to be wooed or badgered into coming to us. No, the problem is that God is ever present, ever near, but that some of us like Jonah, seek ways of escape from Him.
Jonah learned He is present…near…even in the midst of the dark trials of life. In Joshua 1:9, God promises, I will be WITH YOU wherever you go! In Psalm 46 it says, God is my refuge and strength, a VERY PRESENT help in time of trouble.
God is near, as Jonah and anyone who has ever called out to Him has discovered…
- Prayer Helps Us Remember God’s Faithfulness
At any point in this story, God could have just gone “poof, it’s over!” God could have sent, instead of a fish, a turtle. Not a little turtle like in my back yard, but the largest sea turtle over 8 feet long, a leather back! Jonah gets on the back, gets a suntan as a turtle takes him to shore. God still did a miracle, but I want us to notice, God was actively working, even though Jonah was still in pain. Watch the different phases of God’s work: “Jonah, go.” Jonah says, “No.” Jonah gets on a ship. Phase 1, God sends a storm. It doesn’t work. Phase 2, God sends the captain. “You need to pray.” Phase 3, the sailors have mercy on him and don’t throw him overboard. Phase 4, when they do throw him overboard, God sends a fish. Phase 5, the fish gets a tummy ache and throws him up onshore.
All through we can see different places where God was working. A lot of times, we will say, “God, I want You to do this,” whatever it is. Fill in the blank. When God doesn’t do what we hope we freak out. Don’t overlook all of the little things that God may be doing on the way. Watch as God works. God may have you on a 10 phased healing process, because if you don’t go through the first nine, you’re not going to learn the things that God wants you to learn. You may be on phase 4 going, “God, what are you doing?” Don’t forget to look back and count, “1, 2, 3 … Oh, I can see how You’re working and how You’re moving.”
Jonah prayed, “To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But You brought my life up from the pit O Lord my God Jonah 2:6
In Jonah 1 and the first part of chapter 2 we see over and over again the phrase, “DOWN.” He went down to Joppa, He went down to the bottom of the ship, down to the bottom of the ocean and then all of a sudden in Jonah 2, because of the interaction of God, things shift and we see him starting to go back UP! “But you, O God, brought me UP from the pit.”
Maybe today you feel like your life is spiraling out of control, going downward, never forget the “BUT God,” moments. My life was out of control, BUT God intervened. My marriage was in trouble and we thought it was over, but God changed my heart and healed our marriage. The doctor said there’s no chance, but God has the final say.” Don’t forget the “but, God” moments. Remember, all things are possible with God.
Jonah prayed, 7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Jonah 2:7 (NIV)
Like Jonah have you forgotten God? When things are going well, I can put God on shelf. I’m doing my thing,” and then one day, I recognize, “I’ve been doing life without the power of God. I remember my God.
- Prayer Shows Us Who We REALLY Are and What We Need to Do
Jonah’s experience opened his eyes to his shortcomings. He saw his idolatry. In verse 8 when Jonah said,
Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
He was talking about himself. Jonah had put himself in God’s place. God had told him he had a job for him to perform and Jonah had told God He had the wrong man. God had told him he wanted him to go east to Nineveh. Jonah decided to go west to Tarshish. God told him to go by land. Jonah went by boat. Everything God said to do, Jonah did the opposite. Jonah made himself his own god. He tried to superimpose his will on the will of God. He was determined to direct his life, to govern it himself. And we do the same thing today. We superimpose our will on His. We put ourselves, a loved one, our possessions, or whatever in the place of God. But our counterfeits will always fail and will leave us frustrated and defeated.
When we put ourselves in God’s place we run headlong into our insufficiency and inadequacy. If we are wise, when that happens we turn back to God. We cry out to Him in prayer and see the error of our ways. We see ourselves from God’s perspective and like Jonah we return to making Him Lord.
Well, after this three day combination underwater cruise/prayer retreat Jonah was ready to listen to God and next week, we’ll learn that God Gives 2nd Chances!