In a crisis many people turn to God, although for years they have not prayed or been to Church or read the Bible. There are many true Christians who also become spiritual lax, yet in very difficult times they know where to go … to God in heart pleading prayer. When believers have rebelled and go their own way, often God brings them into despair, hardship, struggles, pain and suffering. Often God brings them to their lowest point to teach them that their sin is not acceptable … yet at the same time God teaches them that His grace is always available to those who are His through Jesus Christ. Jonah was one such as this.
1) Jonah prayed.
Jnh 2:1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.
Without exception, this is where it starts … prayer … reaching out to God. He was within the fish. He was alive. He was saved from drowning. He experiencing a miracle … being swallowed by this “great or huge” fish. This is God’s grace, mercy and kindness. He would not allow Jonah to appear before the Judgment Seat without having repented from his rejection of God’s call and mandate to reach the pagans at Nineveh. Is that not our fear? To appear before the Judge of all the earth without having repented, sought cleansing and being forgiven!
2) Observe to whom he prayed. Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He prayed to the one who is LORD. He sought the God of Creation … but more … the LORD is his God. Even being overly repetitive, all praying must be directed to the True God of Creation and Salvation. This is a momentous moment because he ran from God … he refused to obey God … and now, the crisis he is in shocks him into spiritual reality … and he prays to God. Surely this ought to be a great help to us … as well as a great warning. Why try to run from God? Why attempt to block God out? He will get His way … so let us learn from Jonah and prevent all the chaos and mayhem and rather respond in immediate obedience to our Heavenly Father. Recognize that God has the right to use you where He wills. That is His prerogative. Having Jonah’s experience at hand, it is foolish for any child of God to repeat his performance.
3) Praying from the heart. Verses 2-8 might be seen as poetry … it is … but it is also heart wrenching pleading. In these verses we find a summary of the prayer in verse 2 with three stanzas spread through the rest of the passage.
4) True prayer is expectant prayer.
Jnh 2:2 “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”
We must not forget where Jonah is … in the belly of this huge fish. How he is able to breath and what condition he is in is unknown and not mentioned. We need to believe that God does the miraculous when it involved the salvation needs of people … such as the Ninevites. He did not drown. He is alive … alive in the depth of the grave. This depicts darkness, coldness and seemingly no escape. If ever he was aware of his environment and potential of being digested coupled to the stark reminder that he rebelled against God, it was at this very point. See how he acknowledges he is in “distress” … “in my distress”. The dictionary I feel explains distress perfectly for Jonah … extreme anxiety, sorrow and pain. The anxiety refers to him being unaware of his future … would it be life or death … and if death what sort of death would it be? The sorrow would be the experience of guilt before a holy God … and the pain … his body must have been suffering seriously … tossed around in the underwater currents and especially being swallowed by this huge fish. In the first line we find God answers him … I called to the LORD, and he answered me. In the second we find God hears his prayer … you listened to my cry. He prayed expectantly. He prayed believing God would hear and answer. He knew God would respond … that is how confident he was in prayer. Why would he be so expectant and confident in prayer when he rebelled so greatly, causing so much trauma to the captain, sailors and loss of cargo, seriously affecting the shipping company’s livelihood? Remember …
(a) He was a child of God. Like ours, his salvation was not dependent upon works. He knew God personally through faith in the coming Messiah who would deal with his sin. Today salvation is through faith looking back to Messiah who has come to deal with our sin.
(b) He was a prophet of God. He had personal encounters with God. Experientially the intimacy was one on one.
(c) He had ministered for God. God had given him Words to speak to the nation on His behalf.
(d) He had experienced God’s grace and mercy poured out upon His people through his ministry. Putting these four things together helps us understand that Jonah’s understanding of God’s character, authority … and His loving Fatherly heart that secured confidence in prayer!
It is vital that we have a good understanding of God’s character and His attributes. He is not some “god” or “idol” the sailors venerated as their localized god in their village. Remember how Jonah acknowledged who his God was?
Jnh 1:9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
His God is the LORD, the God of eternity (heaven) who is the Creator. This is the Christian God, the God of the Bible who created all things out of nothing by the Word of His mouth. He is loving, caring, merciful, forgiving, kind, gracious … He is All Powerful, Omniscient, Omnipresent … He is authoritative, holy, righteous, jealous … His heart is tender, His ear is open and He is able to do more that we could ever imagine … and then, apart from being loving He is Love. Your understanding and knowledge of God will influence and affect the confidence you will have when you pray. Take Jonah as your example!
5) Jonah did not die and was not resurrected. Always read the full sentence or verse … From the depths of the grave I called for help. Just as with Psalm 23 where the Psalmist says …
Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
In both cases, they were in crisis with the potential of death but did not die. With both the Psalmist and Jonah we see the miraculous hand of God working to save. This reminds me again that only once our work for God on earth is done will He usher us, His people into His heavenly home. What a comfort to know that we serve our LORD temporally here on earth after which we serve our LORD in Heaven for all eternity.
Glorious God our Father, You alone are our God and the delight of our soul. Teach us to be expectant as we pray to You. Amen.