A Desperate Plea for Help
Bible Reading: Jonah 1-2
I had a “Jonah-like” experience once. I was hundreds of feet underwater, in a very smelly place, praying about a need I had. The difference was that I was praying from the belly of a submarine, not a whale, and the smelly place was the berthing area, not the inners of a fish, and my prayer need was not nearly as desperate as Jonah’s. But then again, it was while serving on board the submarine that I came to the realization that Jesus could work to save someone like me—so maybe it wasn’t so different after all.
The trouble was of Jonah’s own making. God commanded Jonah to go and preach to Nineveh, a fearsome empire that would in a future day conquer the northern Kingdom of Israel. But instead of obeying, Jonah went the opposite way, and headed south to Joppa. Obviously, he wasn’t happy with his God-given task, so he attempted to flee his omnipresent God (Psalm 139:7-12).
“The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea” (Jonah 1:4). The mariners on board were afraid and each cried out to his god. They cast lots to determine whose fault it was that such evil had come upon them and, of course, the lot fell on Jonah. Under interrogation Jonah admitted that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord. After trying their best to row the boat to dry land, it was decided that there was no other choice but to toss Jonah into the sea, at which point the sea ceased from its raging.
Just as the Lord caused the wind, and stopped the sea from raging, He appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. “And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and nights” (Jonah 1:17). And for those who assume that the story about Jonah is nothing but a big fish story, it should be noted that Jesus Himself referred to Jonah’s experience as a factual event (Matthew 12:40).
It should be noted at this point that the fish was for Jonah both a source of trouble and a temporary means of salvation. For it’d have been even more hopeless (at least from a human standpoint) if Jonah had been thrown into the sea without any vessel to carry him. But in his whale of a predicament, God had gotten Jonah’s attention. That fleeing from the presence of God wasn’t such a great idea after all! It never is.
Jonah didn’t have a lot of options at this point. Even if he’d have had a cell phone, there’d have been no service. And no Coast Guard to rely upon. He knew enough to realize that there was no hope to be had in idols (Jonah 2:8). So, Jonah prayed. From the belly of a whale, he prayed. Perhaps you’ve prayed in desperation before. In recent months I’ve witnessed more than a few death bed prayers. God hears such prayers.
Two main themes are interwoven throughout Jonah’s prayer, Jonah’s distress and God’s deliverance. Eleven different Old Testament scriptures are alluded to in Jonah’s prayer. Jonah’s situation was beyond hopeless, yet God heard Jonah’s prayer and answered him (Jonah 2:1). It was when Jonah said, “Salvation belongs to the Lord” that “the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:9-10). God answered Jonah’s prayer. After that disastrous detour, the Lord again commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh. Guess what? The second time he listened. I suppose the main lesson we can take from Jonah’s example is that there is no pit so deep or belly so smelly in which you can’t cry out to God in prayer!
The One who Rules the Winds (and the Whales) is Well Able to Deliver No Matter How Desperate the Situation
LOVE LIFTED ME
I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more,
But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.
Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!
All my heart to Him I give, ever to Him I’ll cling
In His blessed presence live, ever His praises sing,
Love so mighty and so true, merits my soul’s best songs,
Faithful, loving service too, to Him belongs. [Refrain]
Souls in danger look above, Jesus completely saves,
He will lift you by His love, out of the angry waves.
He’s the Master of the sea, billows His will obey,
He your Savior wants to be, be saved today. [Refrain]