Are Your Prayers Really Repentant?

“Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish:

Jonah 2:1

Jonah, one of the most beloved children’s stories. As a kid I remember reading books on Jonah. Seeing the pictures of him fleeing away from God’s command to go preach to Nineveh. He’s sitting in wooden boat’s bottom deck with a wicked look on his face as if he really fled from an omnipresent God, with God’s brilliant light shining at the bottom of the deck to show Jonah, “I can’t believe you as a prophet think you can actually outrun me!” God has to laugh right? All of a sudden the sailors are freaking out that there is a storm that is about to rip apart their precious boat and cargo while Jonah is snoozing. “What are you doing? Wake up! Call to your god!” Jonah has a conversation with these pagan sailors about his ethnicity and boldly declaring his faith in the God he worships, “The God of the heavens who made the sea and the dry land.” Reading the rest of Jonah 1 you will see that Jonah has the sailors throw him off the boat (as if he could not do it himself) to stop the madness and a great fish swallows him. Growing up we look at Chapter 2 of Jonah and think it is so incredible that Jonah is in prayer. Once again, the books portray Jonah being in a dome like structure, not a fishes belly I guess for being to graphic. This dude is in muck and gross-ness! He is in the digestive system of a fish, not a dome! But where we get really pumped up, is when Jonah is praying! We shout “Woo! Jonah is about to repent, he is about to get it in with God!” We get inspired and without actually dissecting his prayer we move on. From studying this passage there are 3 things I see in this text that show a very unrepentant prayer. A prayer that kind of looks like some of ours.

First of all, the beauty of this text starts in verse 1, “Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish:” Jonah has rebelled yet this text still says the Lord is his God. Check this: Your salvation and access to God is not determined by how much you obey him, it is only determined by His love for you. This is grace. The gospel is God coming after us. And God has not abandoned Jonah, Jonah has abandoned God. God loves him, and he loves you too. However, look at Jonah’s prayer and compare it to sometimes how we pray. We will see it is not really a prayer of repentance.

Jonah 2:2-9.

2 I called to the Lord in my distress,† and he answered me. I cried out for help from deep inside† Sheol;† you heard my voice.† 3 You threw me into the depths,† into the heart of the seas,† and the current† overcame me. All your breakers and your billows swept over me.† 4 But I said, “I have been banished† from your sight,† yet I will look once more† toward your holy temple.† 5 The water engulfed me up to the neck;†† the watery depths overcame me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.† 6 I sank to the foundations of the mountains,† the earth’s gates shut behind me forever!† Then you raised my life† from the Pit, Lord my God!† 7 As my life was fading away,† I remembered the Lord,† and my prayer came to you,† to your holy temple.† 8 Those who cherish worthless idols† abandon their faithful love,† 9 but as for me, I will sacrifice† to you with a voice of thanksgiving.† I will fulfill† what I have vowed. Salvation† belongs to the Lord.”†

The Essence of Jonah’s Prayer:

  1. Crying out IN Affliction rather than FROM Affection. Vs. 2-3

Sometimes we run to God only in our emergency more than we just want to run to him. Jonah should have already been praying. It took being swallowed up for him to hit his knees. Don’t get me wrong, praying from emergency is better than not praying at all. However, true disciples of The Way will want to go to God always in prayer.

  1. Attributing God as the Cause of Danger rather than our own Rebellion. Vs. 3-7

We need to realize that some of us are in trouble because of our constant disobedience. Our disobedience can drive us to dark places. Jonah kept saying that God threw him in the depths and all his creation overcame him. We can’t always say “Satan is just attacking me right now” when Satan is actually winning! God is sovereign but what gets us into pits of despair isn’t always a trial, it’s  because of our own faults. Yes, God still hears you, and you are never far from God, but God is wanting you to look to Him not to talk about all that you’re In. God wants to uproot your rebellion but he wants a repentant heart.

  1. Superficial Spirituality. Vs. 9.

Superficial spirituality looks and sounds holy and good but it’s not authentic. It focuses on Self . It Prays only in tough circumstances and it excuses ones sins but is quick to talk about others’ sins. Jonah says “Those who cherish worthless idols abandon their faithful love.” Does that describe you? Praying a prayer just to get by? Yelling to God about everything you are in and what’s going on around you rather than saying “God  I have failed because of my utterly sinful heart!” I cannot with good conviction say Jonah is repentant when the only sin he points out is others.

Christian, there is hope for you still like there was still hope for Jonah. Once again, the Lord is still your God! You might be in a pit but you are not dead!  J.D. Greear says, “The real pit is separation from God, not a particular circumstance.” Sometimes we need to evaluate our prayer lives and the hearts behind them. God desires a heart after him! Don’t act Jonah, walk in obedience delighting in the Lord your God.

The Indescribable

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.  (2 Corinthians 9:15)

There is no gift greater than God’s grace.

In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul is exhorting and encouraging the people of God to be generous because God is generous.  He teaches them to give cheerfully and not begrudgingly nor because of requirement or expectation.  The teaching is that God is a good and gracious God and generosity honors him and brings him praise.

I believe one of the greatest dangers for a Christ-follower is to lose one’s appreciation for the grace of God.  It is easy to take grace for granted.  If we are not careful in how we consider the love and work of Christ, we fail to consider fully and truthfully the grace of God.  The value of our forgiveness becomes common place.  The cost for our souls is not purposefully belittled, we simply fail to stop and consider the gift we have received.  We begin – if we are not careful – to treat that which is indescribable as something much less than it is because we have learned the words that are accurate theologically and we know the truths that are right doctrinally.  Those are so important but never allow what you understand theologically and doctrinally to lose its value personally.

This Easter Season I want to encourage you to do a few things to help you celebrate the inexpressible, unfathomable, and immeasurable grace of God given to you in Jesus Christ.

  1. Meditate on the events and happenings of the Passion of Christ. (Matthew 21-28, Mark 11-16, Luke 19-24, and/or John 12-21) Read it and consider that it happened.  Try to put yourself there.  Watch The Passion of the Christ to help you consider fully what grace cost.  Your salvation is a free gift to you because a high price was paid for you.
  2. Share your story of grace with someone who does not know the grace of God. Tell someone else the story of when and how you came to know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Tell them about how you learned about grace and forgiveness.  Tell them there is no greater gift than the grace of God and I want to share the greatest gift I have ever received with you.  FCers, use your chess piece and have a conversation about how you met the King.
  3. Bring someone (or many some ones) to church with you this weekend.
    80% of people who do not attend church regularly say they would go to church if someone invited them – especially for a holiday.  Go to church with them.  If your church has multiple services work it out where you will be in worship service with the people you bring.  If you have people coming to multiple services (because you are truly BEING A BRINGER) then go to service with the person you think will feel most awkward without you – or attend worship multiple times.  This will give you the opportunity to discuss what is taught with them later.
  4. Spend some time with your family focusing on Jesus and not candy or eggs. I am not bashing eggs or killing bunnies here, but let’s be honest, they have nothing to do with Jesus or his death and resurrection.  They can, though.  Eggs can be used to tell the story of salvation.  (https://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Eggs-12-Piece-Religious-Figurines/dp/1602003920)  Honestly, I am not sure how to redeem the bunny myth, but make sure that you are focused on truth with your kids.  Specifically ask these questions and have these conversations.  –  Do you know why Jesus needed to die for us?  Because we are sinners. –   Do you know why Jesus would die for us?  He loves us. –   Where is Jesus now?  Reigning on His throne in Heaven at the right hand of God.

The gift of God’s grace is indescribable.
His love is immeasurable.
His glory is unfathomable.

So share it, shine it, and spread the great hope that our Savior lives!

Who’s Your Hero?

Lego Batman

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”- 1 Corinthians 1:31 (ESV)

I recently took my two boys to see the new Lego Batman Movie.  It was a fantastic way to spend a night out with my “dudes” (their words).

The film was a great mix of kid-friendly features (I mean, what genius marketing to combine Legos and superheroes, two foolproof attractions for boys, into one overpriced film!) and snarky, adult-friendly humor.  As the name suggests, Batman sits at the center of movie’s storyline, soundly defeating every would-be evildoer that comes his way and saving the good people of Gotham City, over and over and over again.

He does a lot of good, and everyone in turn thinks he is great- most of all, Batman himself.  From an opening sequence where he saves Gotham while singing and rapping an anthem (to himself) called “Who’s The (Bat)Man,” it is clear throughout the movie that the Dark Knight’s “drug of choice” is the undying adulation to which (in his mind) his heroics have entitled him.  It is, in short, the fuel that keeps him going day after day, year after year, in the superhero life.

Now aside from a providing a couple hours of laughs, this obviously over-the-top character got me thinking- How often do we live our lives, especially in relationship to God, in much the same way?  To be more specific, how often do we do the “godly things” we do as a means to inflate our own egos, make an impression on others, and most dangerously and deceptively of all, entitle God to love and accept us?  How often do we set ourselves up as the hero of our own life and faith?  Perhaps we’ve learned how to dress it up a bit more subtly than Batman, but I’m concerned that for too many of us (including myself!), the heart is far too much the same.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul warns us of this universal temptation to “make much of ourselves”- and often to use God to do it!  He exhorts the Corinthians in 2:1-5…

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

So against the backdrop of Batman’s self-glorifying antics and Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired warning, here’s a question for all of us to consider carefully today- Who is the “hero” of your faith?  That is, when others interact with you, hearing your speech and observing your actions, whose “glory” do they see and hear most on display?  Is it you, or is it “Jesus Christ and Him crucified”?  Here are a few questions to help you “keep it real” on this…

  • When you speak of your salvation, is your focus on God’s gracious provision or on your work in “getting your life right”?
  • When you speak of your growth in Christian maturity, is your focus on God’s power to transform or your efforts to “become a better person”?
  • When you do something good or godly, are you immediately tempted to tell someone about it (or to make it more timely, to post something about on social media for everyone to see)? If so, why?  What are you seeking to gain?
  • When you read the Bible, do you read primarily with yourself in mind, or with God in mind? In other words, who is at the “center of the story”?
  • When you share your faith with others, is your focus on everything they need to do, or on everything that God has done on their behalf?

I want to take care here not to be misunderstood in what I am saying.  I am not contending that we have no personal responsibility in following Jesus, or that it is always wrong to share of our successes and victories on that journey.  After all, the Bible does tell us in Matthew 5:16 to “let our light shine before men,” but let’s take care to read the reason we are to do so- “so that others might see our good works and praise our Father who is in heaven.”  In other words, it should always come back to Him- His grace, His power, His glory.  Jesus alone is worthy to be the “hero” of our lives!