It’s Never Too Late To Pray – Jonah 2
The third message in our Jonah Study.
(Find the other messages from this series here)
Haven brought A Little House on the Prairie book home from school a couple of weeks ago and it reminded me of one of the episodes of the TV series with Michael Landon. Laura was praying for something and wanted God to hear her prayer, so she asked the reverend for advice on getting an answer to her prayer. The reverend told her that the best way to receive answers to your prayers was to get closer and closer to God. Laura took this literally and she decided to climb a nearby mountain so that she would be closer to God. She was trying to raise her elevation so that God would hear her more clearly. That’s not what the minister meant, he meant that Laura needed to be closer to God in her relationship with him. The passage that we are going to read this morning in a prayer that Jonah prayed when he was in the belly of the great big fish God had sent to save Jonah’s life.
When Jonah prays this prayer, he is literally and figuratively lower than he ever had been in his life. Maybe you can relate. Maybe there’s been a time that you were lower than you’ve even been before and it drove you to prayer…
Read Chapter 1:17 and chapter 2
A few years ago I was sitting in an AA meeting, there to see a friend pick up their chip signifying so many years of sobriety, and I heard someone say I thought I had hit rock bottom but then I just kept going further and further down.
Remember, I pointed out to you that throughout chapter 1 we see Jonah going down. When he rose up to flee, he fled down to Joppa to catch a boat going in the opposite direction. When he got into the boat he went down into the hull of the ship.
The ships captain brings him up to the deck, the ships crew throws him overboard and he goes down into the water.
When Jonah fled from the Lord he just kept going down.
But then, when it seemed he was as low as he could go, God plucked him out of the deep. Actually, God scooped him up with the mouth of a fish.
This is grace.
In fact, just as the Bible makes it clear that the storm was sent by the Lord, it is clear that God sent the fish.
God is often blamed for storms but gets no credit for the fish.
The word here in v 17 “provided” literally means appointed.
God had appointed this fish for this task. This was some incredible fish, but God had prepared it for this very moment.
This was a miracle. If God can create the galaxies, he can make a big fish. But the idea here is that God had prepared this fish. It may be that this fish had been spared from being prey of predators up the food chain, kept out of fishermen’s nets, and allowed to grow into the grandaddy giant fish that would be needed for this moment. Or it may have been that in this moment God said, I need a big fish and caused one to be just as he had done millennia before when he caused this fish’s ancestors to suddenly be.
The fact that Jonah had opportunity to pray from the fish’s belly is grace, but sometimes God’s grace is messy.
God’s grace can be messy and often His answers to our prayers “stink.”
God saves Jonah’s life, but this is not how Jonah would have drawn it up. This is not the plan that Jonah would have come up with. It’s not the path he would have taken. However, God chooses this path.
I don’t really know why, but I do think it had something to do with the fact that Jonah had painted himself into a corner.
Jonah didn’t have a whole lot of options when he hit the water in the middle of a stormy sea, so God used what was available.
So, when Jonah calls out to God, he is thankful.
I often say at the jail, I know this stinks, but take it as a sign that God is chasing you down, because He’s kept you alive, got you sober, and sent a preacher to stand in front of this weight equipment and talked to you about Jesus.
It may be that you have painted yourself into a corner, you’ve made a mess of your marriage, you’ve put yourself into debt up to your eyeballs, and you’ve wrecked your physical and emotional health and God is going to show you grace, but the way he does it may be a little messy, and it may stink for a while, but he’s got a plan.
It’s remarkable that Jonah realizes that this fish is grace. I think at first, by reaction would be, oh great. Drowning wasn’t bad enough? Now I’m going to be digested by a fish?!
Somehow Jonah realized that this fish was sent of the Lord.
Somehow he saw that this mess and stink wasn’t just a good thing, it was a God thing.
What mess and stink in your life has turned out to not only to be a good thing, but actually to a God thing?
Verse 2-5 seem to refer to a prayer Jonah prayed as he sunk into the water… As he took his last breaths he prayed. He called out to God. He called to God and God listened to His prayer.
God hears our prayer no matter our situation and in spite of our sin.
This is remarkable. Jonah had done nothing right, but still God hears his prayer.
Jonah recognizes this, which is what prompts this poetic prayer that is half confession and half thanksgiving.
I want you to see in Jonah’s prayer his admissions that the reason he called out to God was because of the situation he found himself in, that he called out to God because of the tragedy:
2 I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord
all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord:
Our sin leads us to dire situations, but it’s in the dire situations that we wake up and call upon God. God uses the depths and the seaweed to get our attention…
If it wasn’t for the storm, Jonah would have just kept on going in the wrong direction, getting farther and farther from God.
Going down further and further toward hell.
Jonah says here in this prayer, I called out to God from the pit, from hell, from the belly of the fish.
It may have been figuratively hell, but it was far better than continuing on toward literal hell.
There’s is no day or place where it is too late to pray, but
there is coming a day and there awaits a place where it is too late to get an answer to our prayers.
God answers our prayers in unexpected ways, in messy ways, in gracious ways, but it’s always in His ways.
The fish that saved Jonah’s life carried Him the direction he was supposed to God.
God will pluck you from the deep and put your feet on dry ground, but He’ll set you down facing the direction He expects you to go.
He not only lifts you up, He points you in the way you should go.
Jonah is vomited up onto dry ground and God immediately calls to Jonah again telling Him to go to Nineveh.
God saved Jonah’s life, but God didn’t help Jonah disobey.
God loved Jonah, but God did not enable Jonah’s sin.
This is not easy. I love my kids and I want to show them grace, but I also don’t want to enable their bad behavior. I don’t want to set them off on a path toward the wrong things…
What God has done here is send Jonah back onto the right path.
Jonah says, you have saved me from corruption.
Jonah is saying you have saved me from ruin…
That’s what God does!
God doesn’t just save you from your mess,
He wants to save you from yourself.
Do you remember the story from summer of 2016 about the father and son who were in Yellowstone National Park and saw a Baby Bison that looked cold?
They scooped up the baby bison and put it in their car so that it could warm up…
They didn’t help the Bison, they put it on a path toward death. The mother would not reunite with the Bison despite several attempts by the Rangers to reintroduce it to the herd…
These people are like many in our world that want to help, but just make things worse because by removing what is difficult or hard, they’ve made it harder to get on the right path…
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions…
I think in our culture and world today, we’ve paved it for convenience sake. We’ve made the path to hell as easy to take as possible.
We’re working hard to make sure that no one on the path to hell feels uncomfortable or judged…
If you can hear me, it’s not too late to pray. It’s not too late to call out to the Lord and follow his lead, it’s not too late to take the path he’s laid out so that we can follow him….