Discovering God through the book of Jonah (Part 2)

HEAR OUR PRAYER

“From inside the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.” (Jonah 2:1 NIV

Many of us attend worship each week with hidden concerns, hidden feelings, harboring resentment, coming with doubts about your faith. The challenging thing is how do we allow the message of God to shape us into who God is making us to be?

One of the biggest doubts we seem to face is whether or not we believe God is done with us. Now, this can take on a variety of characteristics. One can become controlling to try and make sure things get done in the order and manner you want. One may stop trying to do anything new. One may begin to pray only at meal times, because this is when we are supposed to pray.

If we fall into these, or any other similar categories, it becomes harder to go to scripture. Why is this? I have learned that when we go to scripture, we tend to focus on what we know (or think we know) and disregard the rest. It is easy to go to verses that give us the good feels like Philippians 4:13, John 3:16, Psalm 23, Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8, etc. I bet you even know what these (or most) verses are.

The point is, we like to have the Bible tell us what we want. We’ll even read our own ideas, our own culture into the scriptures. As we said last chapter, remember the point of the scripture is to teach us who God is and who we are now, and who we will become.

I can hear it now, I learn most of what I know about God through nature. That is true. The Apostle Paul writes to the people in Rome, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what was made.”[1] The issue with this thinking is that we believe we learn about God just through nature (or other people) and the Bible is our manual for how to get into heaven.

As we dive into the scriptures we can see the main point is not for us to go to heaven. The main point is to love God and love people which brings heaven to us. This means, as we read, study, and pray the scriptures, we learn God is telling us so much about who he is so we can learn more and more about our own character.

One of the fascinating things about scripture that I love is how we can see something new each and every time we read and meditate on the passages. The same thing is true for the book of Jonah. 

Maybe viewing the purpose of the book of Jonah is to tell us about the nature of God is a new or different concept than you have been taught before. That is good. The more we study scripture, the more layers we find. This reminds me of the movie Shrek. The donkey and the ogre are on their to rescue Princess Fiona from the dragon. Donkey is upset Shrek did not do more damage to Lord Farquaad’s castle and knights.

Shrek is telling Donkey how there is more to ogres than people realize. He gives the illustration that ogres are like onions. There are many layers to peel back before you can understand what an ogre is about. We also have to remember that scripture is the same way. 

Scripture has many layers, the more we read, the more we study, the more we hear God’s voice speaking, the more we begin to understand about what the text is teaching us about humanity, what we should learn, but also what we should learn and know about God.

The book of Jonah is no different. Take some time, right now, to write down anything you have learned about God so far in this short book of the Bible.

In the last chapter, we left Jonah in the belly of the fish. He has been in the fish for three days and three nights. Remember we said this was actually grace because God did provide a way for Jonah to live. 

You are probably going through something right now that makes it seem as if you are in the belly of a fish. The circumstances and situation you are in are not what you expected them to be. You are living with a diagnosis. Maybe you have gotten away from an abusive situation. Maybe you are running to find out who you are. Maybe, just maybe, you are in a situation you believe you don’t deserve to be in and are angry about it. It is in moments like this we find people may not be as open as they say they are, or we find it difficult to know where to turn.

One thing I can promise is this: God has not forgotten you. God still is with you and is doing a great work in, and hopefully, through you. It may seem as if you are all alone, but God has not left you. 

Jonah was in the fish for three days and three nights before the fish ejected him onto the dry land. I’m sure there were times he felt as if his prayers did not get past the scales. There are many times I pray I feel as if the words, or thoughts, do not get past the shingles. But, as we read Jonah chapter two, we learn something about God.

GOD ANSWERS PRAYERS

This is huge. God will give an answer to our prayers. Sometimes the answer is “yes”. Sometimes “no”. Sometimes “not yet”. Sometimes it’s a combination of “not yet because you haven’t done what I’ve already told you to do.” God will answer prayers. The question now is, are we ready to pay attention for the answer.

Back to Jonah. He has been in the fish for three days and three nights. The scripture does not say when this prayer was prayed, just that he prayed. What is interesting is what it was Jonah prayed: 

“In my distress, I called to the Lord…” (v 2)   Did he really?

“yet I will look again to your holy temple.” (v 4b)   Has he done this already?

“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord,” (v 7a)   Interesting…

“But I, with shouts of grateful praise…” (v 9a)    Has he done this before?

“What I have vowed, I will make good.” (v 9b)   What did he vow?

“I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” (v 9c)  Has he said this before?

The reason we should look closely at the prayer Jonah “prayed” is that it doesn’t seem consistent with what we have read so far about this prophet of God. It almost seems as if he is praying the prayer from memory because he has not lived the life the prayer suggests.

Besides looking at the life of Jonah to get the clues as to whether or not he believed this prayer, we can look at verse 10: “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” 

Notice the word vomit. “The verb vomit, which returns him to dry land…evokes negative connotations. Rather than using a delicate word for ejection, the narrator uses a distasteful image. The fish does not stomach Jonah.”[2] Based upon this, and of course Jonah’s past actions, according to the text, even the fish cannot handle Jonah’s behavior and sarcastic prayer.

As we have seen, Jonah was not having his attitude adjusted. He was most likely mulling around in the fish’s stomach upset because he did not get his way. What does he do? He “prays” this prayer, maybe trying to get God to do what Jonah wants to do—run away from doing what God wants.

The interesting thing is that, maybe Jonah though his life was over in the fish and his prayers did not go past the scales, but God delivered Jonah by having the fish dump him on the dry land.

Yes, Jonah’s prayer may not have been sincere for him; but this teaches us God cares enough for his people that God will answer our prayers, even when our heart is not tuned toward God. Look at what Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him![3]

As we learn about the nature of God, we also learn more about the condition of humanity. Jonah is trying to make himself look good by “praying” to God and saying the “right” things in the prayer. This is something we all try to do. 

We know that we cannot make God do anything by saying the right words in the prayers we pray, but we also try to keep ourselves looking good in the presence of God. Jonah is still trying to hide who he really is by praying this Prayer of Thanksgiving. It is possible that he is recalling the only prayer he could think of in that moment.

From Jonah we learn that humanity tries to cover sin up by attempting to make ourselves look good in the presence of God. It is difficult to reveal our true nature because we do not like it when people look down on us, especially God. But remember the words in the book of James:

“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” [4]

And also hear the Apostle Peter’s words: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”[5]

What we have to understand is God knows who we really are on the inside (see chapter 1). God knows the condition and state of our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7, John 2:25) So we should be completely open and honest with God. This vulnerability reminds us of God’s unconditional love for you and I. We also remember that God never expects us to be perfect, humanity is not perfect; therefore, we come to God as we are.

There are times we will try to hide who were really are because we do not want to face the reality of God humbling us. But we also try to hide who we are by pretending everything is okay with our lives, even though we do not believe everything is right.

Through all of this, no matter what situation or life circumstance we find ourselves in, part of the nature of God we see in Jonah is: providing an answer to prayer.

When a mother has a sick child, it is marvelous how quick her ears become while attending it. Good woman, we wonder she does not fall asleep. If you hired a nurse, it is ten to one she would. But the dear child in the middle of the night does not need to cry for water, or even speak; there is a little quick breathing—who will hear it? No one would except the mother; but her ears are quick, for they are in her child’s heart. Even so, if there is a heart in the world that longs for the things of God, God’s ear is already in that poor sinner’s heart. He will hear it. There is not a good desire on earth but the Lord has heard it.[6]

Jonah’s prayer was trying to get him out of that situation, whether he meant the words he was praying or not, God still heard the prayer.

God has not forgotten you. God will answer your prayer. The answer may not be what we are expecting, or coming from where we want, but God answers every prayer offered to him. 

No where, in the text, has Jonah proved he has done or said anything he has prayed. He was running away from God. The sailors had to ask Jonah to call on his God to help them (Jonah 1:6) but Jonah still sent to sleep instead of being concerned about the safety of the other sailors.

Now, let’s look at our own prayer lives.

I find it interesting the only thing Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them was how to pray (Matthew 6:5-14, Luke 11:1-13). When was the last time you or I asked another person, or Jesus for that matter, how we should pray.

Yes, there are many formulations on the best type of prayer. We can pray spontaneously, read prayers from the past, pray the Psalms, and more. But God is more interested in what is the state of our heart.

There are times we do not know what we should pray, and God has this covered as well. The Apostle Paul writes, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself interceded for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our own hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” [7]

It is because of God’s grace the Spirit he has given us prays to him. Too often we can neglect our prayer life and try to do things our own way. We try to do things on our own because, as I have heard many people say through the years, “I don’t want to bother God with this small situation.”

See, it is in the midst of difficulty that we learn how deep our prayers can be. We learn if we’re just focusing on ourselves and our own situation, or if we are truly trying to seek out and accept the will of God for our own lives. 

Jonah stays inside the belly of the fish for three days. You and I may in the situation we’re in longer than we want, but there will come a time when we will be set free.

Every request we make to God is heard and answered. God had the fish spew Jonah onto the dry land. This signifies Jonah given the chance to begin anew.

Maybe you and I are given a chance to renew our commitment to Jesus, or even begin our calling, our mission, our life with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit anew this day.

Think about that, we are given a new opportunity to do what God has called us to do. Live with that grace, accept this incredible gift from God, called life (here and now and in the life to come). 

You have been given this incredible gift of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit within you. God has not forgotten nor abandoned you just like God never abandoned Jonah.

Let our cry to God, each day, simply be “Lord, hear our prayer.” Then, look earnestly for the answers that will come.


[1] Romans 1:20a NIV

[2] Tribble, Phyllis. New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes Volume 7. (1994). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. Page 504

[3] Matthew 7:7-11 NIV

[4] James 5:16 NIV

[5] 1 Peter 4:8 NIV

[6] Flashes of Thought: 1000 Choice Extracts from the Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Charles Spurgeon

[7] Romans 8:26-27 NIV

Victory Over Goliath

We all have “giants” in our life that attempt to hold us back from the life God has designed for us. Some of our giants include fear, anger, rejection, comfort, addiction. Join us for this 7-week sermon series as we understand some of the “giants” in our lives and how they can be overcome because of Jesus Christ.

This series takes us through an in-depth study of 1 Samuel 17: the story of David and Goliath.

“Goliath Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

“Giant of Fear Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:1-11)

“Giant of Rejection Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:26-33)

“Giant of Comfort Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:16,25)

“Giant of Anger Will Fall” (1 Samuel 16:7, 17:28)

“Giant of Addiction Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:33-40)

“Living in Freedom” (Galatians 5:1)

SERMONS ON THE GO! Click here to listen to and subscribe to the weekly sermon on iTunes!

More To Your Story

There is an interesting line in Genesis 37 that says, “This is the account of Jacob’s family line.” (Genesis 37:2 NIV)

This is actually a pretty significant line. Have we paid attention to it before? We can think it is talking about the people that descended from Jacob, and it does; but there is more to consider.

For one thing, we have to remember who Jacob was. He was the grandson of Abraham. Jacob’s name means “deceiver or heel.” When he was born, he was grabbing the heel of his twin brother Esau.

His name fits him. After all, Abraham set the example when he would lie to keep himself safe in other countries. Abraham was the person God had called out to be the father of the Hebrew people, God’s set apart people.

Along comes Jacob, and he seems to only want to play by his own rules and only get what he wants, even if it means to run people over. He would get upset when others would cheat him. Many people could have thought that Jacob’s life path was set, that he would be a swindler and cheater all of his life, only concerned about himself.

But, when we realize God is with us and we are part of His story, we realize that it is not our past, or even our present, that defines us. It is God who defines us. Jacob’s story was not over, and neither is yours or mine.

Genesis 37:2 says, “This is the account of Jacob’s family line.” Jacob’s story gets to live on, because of God’s grace, through his family!

Yes, there are many examples of how the people of Jacob (people of Israel) left God’s path, and God guided them back. Yes, there are times we will stray from God’s path; but there God is guiding us back as well.

God somehow uses our past and redeems it. God works through our past to bring healing, transformation, and ultimately redemption.

Your story is not over yet. There is so much more that God can do and will do with your life, your family line. Look no further than Jesus Christ.

When Jesus was on the cross, his arms were outstretched. We can think of this as him having his arms stretched out to embrace the world. He not only came for the world; Jesus also came for you.

Just think about all Jesus Christ can do in and through your life. When you feel discouraged or down. Or your past seems to get in the way on visioning for a bright future, remember this:

“This is the account of Jacob’s family line.” Jesus was part of this family line. Because of Jesus, your life, my life, and the world will never be the same. There is always hope and a chance to experience an incredible future and life because of Jesus.

Convincing Arguments

Click here to read Acts 26.

When was the last time you tried to convince another person (not family or friend) about coming around to your way of thinking? How did it go?

I love talking with sales people. They really know their stuff, and you can tell the ones who are passionate about their product/service. People in sales are always fun to talk with because you know their goal is to try and sell you on what they’re offering; but at the same time, it is the customer who really is in control of the situation.

People are going to hear what they choose to hear. If a person is convinced they need ______ product, it is because the value of the product/service for their life was heard. On the other hand, if a sales person offended the potential buyer, all the potential buyer will hear is how they don’t like what the sales person is saying. There is always a line to walk when trying to sell any product or service. The two things that must be demonstrated are: 1) passion about the product/service and 2) knowledge about the product/service.

Look at today’s passage in Acts 26. Paul gives his testimony many times and is in positions to defend himself a lot. But, is he really trying to prove himself right? No. Even though he is in custody, he is still doing his best at sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with all he encounters. Paul is even placed in in front of powerful rulers that willingly listen to him.

All this time, we can see that Paul has had many hardships and difficulties throughout his ministry and missionary journeys; but he did not waste any opportunity. Paul was still, first and foremost, a slave (servant) of Jesus Christ and was compelled to share Christ wherever he was and with whomever would listen.

How does this go for us today? I hear many people say something like, “all my friends are Christian.” To that response I say, “well, you don’t know enough people.” Another thing I hear a lot is “everyone around here goes to church.” Then I say, “nope.”

One of the things that gets in our way is our own perception of reality. All we have to do is look around and see that not everyone knows Christ. Even Jesus’ own followers miss the boat at times. But it is all because of God’s incredible grace that we are given chances to talk with people about Jesus Christ.

Have you noticed what happens within you when you seize the opportunity to talk about Jesus? I hope you feel like I do and sense an overwhelming feeling of joy and peace. Sharing Christ to others is not just good for them to hear and be ushered to the throne of grace; but it is also important for us to share because it is a great reminder for us about who Jesus Christ is.

So, do we have to be the best or most convincing sales people when we talk about Jesus? Not at all; but we should allow our passion for Him to come out in such a way that people are willing to listen. When we do not quench our passion, the Holy Spirit uses that to draw people to God through Jesus Christ.

We will not always get our words correct; but we can continue to share the hope, joy, peace, love, grace the God through Jesus Christ offers the entire world.

Keeping Calm in Turmoil

Click here to read Acts 24.

After reading the scripture for today, do you relate to Paul in any way? After all, he had people rise up, spreading gossip, and telling the truth in a twisted way. My guess is we all would like opportunities for the complete truth to be told. We all may want for us to come out looking good in the situation.

The truth is Paul is still made to look like a trouble maker in the eyes of the accusers and the people they talk with the most. How does Paul react? We do not see him getting angry, or upset. Instead we see a person who is allowing the accusers to make their case and keep silent in the process. If he has a chance to speak, he will speak truth; but he stays quiet and still while they declare all of these “bad” things about him.

So, how do you think you would be in that situation? I believe most of us, at some point in our lives, go through something like this. The first thing we have to remember is not everyone is going to like us. This can be for all kinds of reasons: being hurt unintentionally or even intentionally, jealousy, and even more reasons. The point is for us to be able to remain calm and share grace whenever we can.

Do we allow people to walk all over us and say whatever they want to? No. You will get a chance to speak the truth. We find ways to talk with the right people who will actually listen and be able to discern what’s really going on. Finding peace in the situations is not always easy. It is better for an outsider to come in to carefully examine the facts.

Paul has been facing trouble similar to this his entire ministry. Jesus, our Lord and Savior faced trouble. We should not ever think that just because we follow Jesus Christ that our lives are going to be easy and perfect. What we can expect is because we follow Jesus Christ, we will face opposition because the gospel challenges the world.

Through whatever you are facing, have faced, or will face, it is important to rely on the movement and working of the Holy Spirit in your heart and life. The Holy Spirit will guide you and give you greater comfort and peace than you could ever have imagined. Trust that this is a great blessing and reminder of God’s presence in your life in the midst of strife. You just never know how God will use the situation, the people, or the people in power.

Keep these verses in mind:

Philippians 4:6-7 CEB

Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

Proverbs 25:21-22 CEB

If your enemies are starving, feed them some bread; if they are thirsty, give them water to drink. By doing this, you will heap burning coals on their heads, and the Lord will reward you.

Colossians 3:15 CEB

 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people.

Galatians 5:22-23 CEB

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.

It’s About Kingdom Building

Click here to read Acts 23.

Paul is in a heap of trouble here. It seems the message of the gospel has touched a raw nerve with everyone he comes in contact with. Everyone, that is, except the Roman centurions watching set to watch over the apostle in chains.

In one of his letters to the Corinthian people, Paul tells them he has become all things to all people so that some may be saved. Paul is one who can learn the area, learn the people, and know what to say and how to say it to strike nerves. That is why he was able to give more defense of his work and insult the high priest (presumably not knowing who the high priest was).

The apostle is respectful of those in positions of authority and he shows it by apologizing and showing he knows, through scripture, how he is supposed to behave. He is masterful at gaining the rulers ears and attention and, at the same time, he is phenomenal at banding people together because of their hatred for him and the message of Christ he proclaims.

Several years ago, I bought the CD audio version of Dale Carnegie’s famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” This is a book I would like to re-read again someday in the future. This is a book I would recommend to you, if you haven’t read it yet.

One of the concepts I derived from listening was making sure people know why you do business with them (i.e. remind them what their good at) and then ask for what you are needing. I have learned that when people know you truly respect, not just use flattery, you can easily “win” people over. No, this is not manipulation. This is using Ephesians 4:29 into practice and applying it to everyday people’s lives.

It really is about finding the right people to talk with, to do business with, and to basically hang around that will help you get what you are needing. I know this can make it sound like this is all one sided; but it’s not because the other person has a chance to build a new relationship, gain business, and live with the joy of knowing they are doing what God has called them to do (as long as what they do helps to build society up and move it towards redemption and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ).

Influencing people is where is gets more challenging. This would mean people have to have some sort of respect for you or what you stand for. Paul was masterful at influencing people to band together against him. Did they respect Paul? I think their respect for the power of God was greater and they were terrified to listen to how their lives were not meshing with the real God. The people were influenced by the fear of repentance that Paul was proclaiming.

Now it’s your turn. Think about who you’re influencing and how. Does your life, and your actions, work towards building people up to be who God created them to be? Remember, it’s not about getting what you want; it is all about allowing the Holy Spirit into our lives to mold us into the image and likeness of God through Jesus Christ.

It’s about building the Kingdom of God with God.

Ephesians 2:8-10 CEB

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith.  This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

God Working Through Our Lives

Click here to read Acts 22.

Have you ever been in a place where you have to defend what you’re doing? Of course you have. We all have. My kids love to give me the reasons why they’re playing the way they are or why the other person is upset. We all love to find ways to defend ourselves.

The question comes into play as to why we are defending ourselves. Do we defend ourselves simply to make ourselves look good? Or do we defend ourselves to show how God has called us and give him the glory for all he has done through us?

Paul has now left Ephesus and was captured by the authorities. He had to give testimony as to who he is; but really he talked about how Jesus called him and has used him. Everything he said was pointing people to the Christ, the One who is, who was, and is to come. Notice how he also shows the people to trained him and his background. He is showing how God has worked in and through his life to bring him to the place he is now.

Now, I want you to look back in your life. Think about everything you have done. How has your past helped you to be where you are today? How has your past helped you become who you are today?

Many times, I hear people talk about how their past was not what they wanted. We can look to the past and see what we have done, or we can look back to see how God was working in and through our lives. It is here, I think of the quote, “We can complain because roses have thorns; or we can rejoice because thorns have roses.”

If you have the time, think through the toughest and best parts of your life. Do you think of those times as something that could have been better? Can you think of them as something you went through to help you get to be who God has created you to be?

Paul could have been discouraged as to how his life was now going. Prison, beatings, humiliations, etc. But he was able to rejoice because he has discovered that he actually has everything he needs, and more. He has the real presence of Jesus Christ with him each and everyday.

Take time to praise God for your past. Praise him for how he has brought you to this particular moment in your life. Praise him he is with you right now.

Now if you are doubting God is with you, I am inviting you to sit down and say something like, “Jesus I want to know you.” Say that over and over. You never know how he will appear and make himself known to you and you can see how he has never left you. God is always working in your life, especially when we don’t know it.