Several of my recent posts (click here) have been about the Book of Jonah. The church I attend is doing a series on it and I’ve been sharing some thoughts about it along the way.
If you aren’t familiar with Jonah or if you just need a reminder about the story, here goes:
God sends a message to Jonah that he wants him to go to Nineveh and let the people there know that God is not happy with what they’ve been doing. Nineveh is in the heart of enemy territory and Jonah does not want to go there. So, he runs from God and jumps on a ship bound for Tarshish. It’s close to a 1,000 miles in the opposite direction of Nineveh.
While Jonah is on the ship, a big storm hits. The sailors are scared, Jonah tells them it’s his fault and gets them to throw them in the sea. The storm stops, the sailors praise God, and Jonah is swallowed by a big fish.
Imagine how badly it smells in there and how Jonah will smell when he finally gets out. Scripture tells us that Jonah is inside the fish for three days and three nights. Maybe you’ve heard that number somewhere else in scripture?
While Jonah is inside the fish, he gets a chance to do some thinking. And, in his thinking, Jonah offers up this prayer to God:
1-9 Then Jonah prayed to his God from the belly of the fish. He prayed:
“In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to God.
He answered me.
From the belly of the grave I cried, ‘Help!’
You heard my cry.
You threw me into ocean’s depths, into a watery grave,
With ocean waves, ocean breakers crashing over me.
I said, ‘I’ve been thrown away, thrown out, out of your sight.
I’ll never again lay eyes on your Holy Temple.’
Ocean gripped me by the throat.
The ancient Abyss grabbed me and held tight.
My head was all tangled in seaweed at the bottom of the sea where the mountains take root.
I was as far down as a body can go,
and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever—
Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive,
O God, my God!
When my life was slipping away, I remembered God,
And my prayer got through to you, made it all the way to your Holy Temple.
Those who worship hollow gods, god-frauds, walk away from their only true love.
But I’m worshiping you, God, calling out in thanksgiving!
And I’ll do what I promised I’d do!
Salvation belongs to God!” (The Message)
It’s odd sometimes in scripture to read another person’s prayer. It’s kind of like hearing half of a cell phone conversation.
On one end of the call, we have Jonah, the reluctant prophet. God sends Jonah on an important mission to some people God loves and Jonah decides to go in the opposite direction. God might want to save those in Nineveh, but Jonah would rather that they perish (They aren’t exactly best friends of Jonah’s people). Jonah’s on a boat bound for Tarshish when the storm hits and the sailors throw him overboard. Then Jonah gets a ride in the ancient world’s first submarine. He’s inside the belly of a great fish.
It’s easy to get why Jonah prays the way that he prays. Jonah ran and he realizes that despite the odds, he’s still alive. His prayer hits on a lot of key areas:
• His situation: Jonah’s in trouble and he’s been thrown overboard. He’s been left to die in the water and God has rescued him even in the situation that Jonah created himself.
• His fears: Jonah feels that he’s disconnected from God and that he’ll never have the chance to see the temple again. Jonah compares his predicament to being in a grave. Everything is closing in and Jonah feels as far removed from God as he’s ever been.
• God’s rescue: When it seemed as if there was no way out of the mess that Jonah had created, God stepped in and pulled him back up again.
• Worship: Jonah is thankful for what God has done to save his life. Worship isn’t just about feeling happy, clappy in a feel-good service. Worship is about connecting to God where you are, as you are.
Maybe that’s where Jonah’s prayer speaks to us. Jonah’s safe from the storm, but the journey is just beginning. God can use all kinds of ways to help us move from our storm to taking steps toward what God wants us to do.
How is God moving you right now to take a step in your life?
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