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