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

The Journey Continues

Click here to read Acts 28.

Paul makes it to Rome.

His journey to Rome was full of turmoil, danger, unrest, and more. Yet through all of this, Paul kept his faith. That’s remarkable!

Paul believed God when He said Paul would make it to Rome. I wonder how many times Paul had to remind himself of that? After all, the shipwreck would have been enough for many to give up and lose hope. But Paul does not lose his faith. He keeps encouraging the soldiers to keep going. He keeps sharing about God every chance he gets. Paul is the one person who seems to be holding it all together.

Think about your life journey. How many hardships have you lived through? How many times did you consider giving up? It would be easy when things just got too hard for us; but we should keep pressing forward, especially if God has truly called us to do what we’re doing.

It would be so nice to be able to say that our life is going to be easy. But that would not be accurate. Our life will be filled with more hope, more peace, more joy, more love all because of Jesus Christ. Oh, we will falter at times; but He is always with us. Jesus guides us and we get to bring people to Him in every circumstance.

What I love about the book of Acts is the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of ordinary people. Ordinary people who have answered the call of God on their lives and went out to do incredible things because of the power of the Holy Spirit within them.

Paul’s life is remarkable, to me, because he seems to keep his faith (most of the time) in all situations. His is a story that inspires me, not to be just like Paul but to be able to continue proclaiming Jesus Christ wherever I am and through whatever I’m doing.

This may be the end of the book of Acts, but the story is not complete. We get to carry on what the Holy Spirit began in us and continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world. How will you live out the calling God has placed on your life?

Acts 1:8

Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Matthew 28:19-20

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

Word of Grace

JesusFeet

Colossians 1:1-2 “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother. To the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae. Grace and peace to you from God our Father.”

This is the beginning of April and Easter is just a few days away. Each month, I have been reading one of Paul’s letters in their entirety each day and then journaling about a few verses. This has been an awesome tool for spiritual growth. Not only do I have the opportunity to see the whole letter, but I also have been looking at shorter passages within the letter and seeing how it fits in with the whole context. I have learned, even more, how easy it is to take verses and ideas out of context and fit into what we want them to say instead of viewing them in the light of the entire work and historical context.

Before we jump into Colossians this month, I wanted to follow Paul’s example and offer you a word of grace. We have been on this 40 day journey through the season of Lent. This journey can bring up many feelings or attitudes and we can begin to feel like we are in the desert. When we begin to feel this way, we notice we become more distant from others, our temper has a shorter fuse, our frustration level and pet peeves begin to rise more. We simply forget that we are not alone. Yes, we may feel like we are in the spiritual desert, but Christ is with us as well.

We are not just taking a journey through the desert; we are taking a journey that will lead us to the cross. Most importantly, we are taking a journey that shows us the resurrection. The resurrection shows us the power Jesus has. This is the same power he gives to us. We may feel as though we cannot come back to life after being in the desert and parched for water; but Jesus can and does bring us back to life.

This is the great message in Colossians. Jesus Christ is central. Everything we do we should do for the glory of God. God is granting us the grace and peace to go through this life. We do not journey alone. We journey with The Creator of the universe, The Creator of you and I. This means we can experience peace beyond understanding in the midst of trials and scorching heat from enemies and challenges. God is freely giving grace to us so we are equipped to go through life and reflect the light of Jesus Christ in all we do, all we say, even all we think.

You are the “holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” This is your calling. I pray God’s grace and peace will be reflected in you and through you in all you do.

Let’s take this journey to explore Paul’s letter to the people of Colossae.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Destroying Bridges to Build New Ones

Watching this bridge being destroyed so a stronger one would be build in place of it made me think about the bridges we have built in our lives that need to be destroyed. Think about that for a minute. What bridges have you or I built that we need gone, or to be redirected? Is there a bridge of lust? of greed? of pride? of despair? of insecurities?

When we can recognize these bridges only lead us toward the darkness of life, we are ready to search for the Light. Where is it we need to destroy these bridges? The crews to help us rebuild a stronger bridge toward the Light are those around us: our family, our friends, our pastors, our youth directors, etc.

We do not live this life on our own; we live life in community. Community strengthens and reminds us we are not alone. Our community is there to strengthen and to carry burdens and to help rebuild the right bridges in our life.

The call today is to recognize and see the paths we are on may not lead us to complete peace and complete joy. The Light, Jesus Christ, is calling us to work with him to rebuild the bridge on the right path toward life with freedom, life with hope, life with peace, joy and real love.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed, by the faithfulness of God’s Son, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~Galatians 2:20

Open your ears, my God, and listen! Open your eyes and look at our devastation. Look at the city called by your name! We pray our prayers for help to you, not because of any righteous acts of ours but because of your great compassion. ~Daniel 9:18

For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. ~James 5:16

Full armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20

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