Prayer Series: Jonah: God answers our prayers (even “whale belly prayers”!)

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I thought I would wrap up the God’s Promises series, the series between Advent and Lent, focusing on the promises that God shows us through the story of Jonah. We’ll spend the next few days in the belly of the whale and see how God shows every one of those promises to Jonah.

But the LORD said, …And should I not pity Nineveh…in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left?’ Jonah 4:10-11

Jonah is happily going about his life as a prophet of God to Israel, but then God turns Jonah’s call and tells him to go to Nineveh, a city that is filled with every form of abominable evil you can imagine. Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah. He figured he’d be mocked, assaulted, probably even killed if he walked on the scene preaching about a God who these folks didn’t know and telling them to repent. God was telling Jonah to walk into the storm, to put himself and his faith on the line.

Can you relate? You’re just zipping along living your life, reading the Bible, trying to do good with what you have and zap- Ninevah. Wait a minute! Not that! Anything but that! And you begin to barter with God. “Instead of Ninevah, God, how about X,Y,Z?” What, where, or whom is your Ninevah?

Look at your Ninevah- really, square on. Now take a step back and recognize that God loves, celebrates, even adores that Ninevah. Does that change your perspective?

So what to do when God shows the destination and it’s Ninevah? How to handle a crossroads in life when you’ve said you’re consecrated, living for Him, but the task isn’t what you expected, and it isn’t what you wanted? Trust God.

Take a breath, focus on your center which is Him, and trust Him. It isn’t our path or our destination. He is leading the way and we just have to follow behind Him.If it’s too scary we can close our eyes, clutch His robe, and take one step at a time.

Today’s music choice is “In the Belly of a Whale” by the Newsboys. It was featured in the “Jonah- a Veggie Tales Movie”. I watched this movie a zillion times with my kids and since I can’t even think about Jonah without hearing this song, I thought I’d share it with you. If Jonah had a theme song, this would be it.

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But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. (Jonah 1:3)

Jonah starts with an amazing relationship with God. He hears His voice. He walks in His presence. He delivers His word to the people. But then there’s a turn, and a terrible one at that. Jonah turns his heart away from the Lord and heads in the opposite direction from Nineveh. (Bob Botsford, Senior Pastor, Horizon Christian Fellowship)

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.  At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (Jonah 1:15)

Jonah made the wrong turn at the crossroad of faith. He was told to go change the world, but he literally became a man overboard. But God loves the lost and Jonah was every bit as lost as Ninevah was.

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17)

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God turns Jonah around by stopping his rebellious voyage with a storm. Jonah turns himself in and is thrown into the sea. God rescues him from the waves, but his new situation isn’t much better, as he’s now stuck in the belly of a whale. (Adapted from, Bob Botsford, Daily Devotional)

Well this is a fine mess Jonah finds himself in- talk about being between a rock and a hard place. He’s disobeyed God, been thrown off a ship, and is now taking up residence in the belly of a whale.  We probably haven’t found ourselves physically in the belly of a whale, but we’ve all had “Jonah moments”. We’ve all wondered “how the heck did I get here and what do I do now?”. Jonah turns it all around with one simple act: prayer.

Jonah was in distress (to say the least!) and he called to the Lord and the Lord answered Jonah. Jonah’s action step of prayer kept him from discouragement and put him back on track. That is all we ever need to do- stop and pray- prayer changes things We can never get so far from God that He can’t hear us. He even hears our “fish belly” prayers.

You should get into the habit of looking for the silver lining of storm clouds. And once you have found it, continue to focus on it rather than the dark gray of the center. Do not yield to discouragement no matter how severely stressed or surrounded by problems you may be. Discouraged souls are in a helpless state, being neither able to “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11) themselves nor able to prevail in prayer for others. Flee every symptom of the deadly foe of discouragement as you would run from a snake. Never be slow to turn your back on it, unless you desire to eat the dust of bitter defeat. (-Streams in the Desert)

But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
    will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
    I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’ (Jonah 2:9)

Jonah 4

The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me;
    seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
    the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
    brought my life up from the pit. (Jonah 2:5)

Jonah has another turn of heart inside the whale. He decides it’s better to obey God and repents, so God has the whale spit Jonah out and calls him again to deliver the word to Nineveh. Jonah goes, and from the moment he steps foot in the city, people start turning from their sin. -Adapted from Bob Botsford, Daily Devotional

When we are ensnared in the muck, and we call out to Him, He will bring us out of the pit. He will stay close by and bring us His perfect peace. Trust in the Lord and throw out those “fish belly” prayers whenever necessary.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
 Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. (Isaiah 26:3)

Do not be afraid to enter the cloud descending on your life, for God is in it. And the other side is radiant with His glory. “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:12-13). When you feel the most forsaken and lonely, God is near. He is in the darkest cloud. Forge ahead into the darkness without flinching, knowing that under the shelter of the cloud, God is waiting for you. -Streams in the Desert

Ninevah 2

It takes Jonah three days to walk through the city and by the time he leaves, the king himself has decreed that not even animals get to eat or drink until they know God had turned from His judgment. The whole city has turned around completely. (Adapted from Pastor Bob Botsford, Daily Devotional)

Jonah went from being a man overboard, to a fish belly resident, to a game changer. The change came after Jonah stopped, prayed, and followed. God was Jonah’s Strength and Shield. Jonah suited up, showed up, and had strength to spare.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

I am your Strength and Shield. I plan out each day and have it ready for you long before you arise from bed. I also provide the strength you need each step of the way. Instead of assessing your energy level and wondering about what’s on the road ahead, concentrate on staying in touch with Me. My Power flows freely through our open communication. Refuse to waste energy worrying, and you will have strength to spare. -Jesus Calling, Sarah Young

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. (Psalm 28:7)

Jonah 5

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

It takes Jonah three days to walk through the city and by the time he leaves, the king himself has decreed that not even animals get to eat or drink until they know God had turned from His judgment. The whole city has turned around completely. -Adapted from Pastor Bob Botsford’s Daily Devotional

You might think that Jonah would be feeling pretty satisfied by the time he leaves Ninevah. After all,  he is out of the belly of the whale; he successfully delivered God’s message to the folks in Ninevah; and not only did they listen to Jonah but they did a complete 360 and God cancels the destruction order against the people of Ninevah. For Jonah it should have been mission accomplished, story over, on to the next chapter. But it wasn’t. Instead Jonah finds himself angry at God and resenting the mercy that God is showing to Ninevah.

And just like we’ve all had “fish belly” moments, I think if we’re honest we’ve also probably all had “anger management” moments with God. “This isn’t fair! This isn’t what I/he/she/they deserve! Why didn’t you take that person out with a flaming scepter? Mercy?! Seriously!?” And we shake our head, we shake our fist, and we move from “fish belly save me” prayers to “anger management” pretty quickly.

The fourth chapter of Jonah finds Jonah telling God how angry he is.  And God’s response, filled with mercy, and patience, is simply “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). And Jonah, in true temper tantrum format crosses him arms and stomps off to sit in the shade and watch to see what happens to Ninevah.

But God doesn’t turn his back on Jonah any more than He ever turns His back on us. Even after Jonah disobeyed, became angry, said he’d rather be dead than do what God wanted, folded his arms, and stormed off (sort of a pattern with Jonah) God still is working for Jonah and He is still working for us, because with God there’s only grace, love, and mercy- and that’s enough.

Psalm 145

Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. (Jonah 4:6)

Jonah ditches the city and parks himself on a hillside, hoping God will still destroy the city. His heart has now turned completely back to where he started, knowing that God is a God of mercy, yet not wanting God to turn His mercy toward Israel’s enemies. -Adapted from Pastor Bob Botsford’s Daily Devotional

God has put up with an awful lot from Jonah: blatant disobedience, disrespect, running away, and a pretty major ‘it’s-just-not-fair’ laden temper tantrum. Even after all of of Jonah’s rebellious behavior, God is still nurturing, loving, and looking after him.

While Jonah retreats to the hillside to wait to see what happens to Ninevah, God provides a leafy plant to keep him from getting sunburned and chilled at night. Despite His constant provision, Jonah does not thank God. Despite being “very happy about the plant”, Jonah does not give thanks to God or see the illumination of the lesson that God loves him, is merciful to him, and provides for him, in the very same way He does for the people of Ninevah.

Jonah misses the boat completely. He fails to see that his rebellion against God and anger toward God is ever bit the same as the Ninevites to whom God sent him as a prophet. But God has grace for the rebellious.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

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But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:9)

Jonah turns grateful when God makes a plant grow to shade him from the burning sun, and then he turns bitter and angry again when the plant withers the next day. -Daily Devotional by Pastor Bob Botsford

Is it right for you to be angry about the plant? Jonah, in response to God’s question, felt totally justified in his anger about the sheltering plant’s destruction. Jonah replies ““It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” The plant was just a plant, and Jonah had no personal interest or investment in the plant except what it provided for him at the moment. But in Jonah’s anger and focus on self the plant became an idol.

Jonah made three errors that angry people often make. Each of these things put Jonah in a worse place, not a better place. (Adapted from EnduringWord.com)

  • Jonah quit
  • Jonah separated himself from others
  • Jonah became a spectator

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4)

God brings Jonahs’ experience full circle and draws the parallel between Jonah’s concern for the plant and God’s concern for the people of Ninevah. God’s grace saved Jonah time and again in this story.

God used Jonah despite his rebellion, anger, and resentment. God uses us right where we are and Jonah is such a great example of that. God uses our strengths, our weaknesses, even our stature. In Christ we are complete- all He ever wanted was our hearts.

One Response to Prayer Series: Jonah: God answers our prayers (even “whale belly prayers”!)

  1. Pingback: Lent 2015, Led to the Cross: Lost and Found | Krisi Davis

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