We learned last time that Jonah would rather have died than see thousands saved by the grace, mercy, and compassion of the Lord. He hated the people of Nineveh that much.
Jonah instructed the sailors to throw him into the sea in order to calm the storm. But was God seeking to take Jonah's life? When our relationship with God is broken, does He seek to end us? Does He seek sacrifice, even self-sacrifice?
First Samuel 15:22 says, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice. And to heed than the fat of rams."
If we're sinning, the Lord wants us to repent. Jonah knew that, but if he repented, if God forgave him—which Jonah knew He would—then he would have to go to Nineveh.
Despite their best efforts, the sailors couldn't make it back to shore. Jonah finally convinced them to throw him overboard. And when they did, amazingly, the storm subsided and they began to worship the One True God.
Meanwhile, "the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:17).
The Lord miraculously kept Jonah alive in that great fish for three days. It was three days before Jonah called out to God. That's hard to imagine.
But Jonah finally acknowledged his broken relationship with the Lord, was thankful that God spared his life, and was hopeful that he would "again look upon your holy temple" (Jonah 2:4).
Jonah learned that there was no place too deep and dark, physically or emotionally, that he couldn't call out to God. The same is true for us.
While God does not listen to the prayers of those who are deliberately holding onto their sin, we can experience what Jonah did, "I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me" (Jonah 2:2).
Still, we must ask, "Was Jonah repentant?"
Verse 8 of chapter 2 says, "Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love."
While there is truth in both verses 2 and 8, where was Jonah's focus? He seemed to be focused on himself. Although the sailors sought to honor the One True God, it seems Jonah felt superior to them—even though he was running away from God and His call on his life?
Maybe he was referring to the Ninevites. In essence, was he saying, "God, the Ninevites are worthless! They're worthless pagans who will never truly turn away from their sins. And even if they did, they'd just turn back to them. God, I can't go there. You just don't understand them like I do. They're hopeless"?
In verse 9, Jonah says, "But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!"
Again, this may sound like a good thing, but to offer a sacrifice, Jonah would have to go to Jerusalem, but that was not what God required of him.
We read in 1 Samuel 15:22, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams."
What God really wanted was for Jonah to repent of his pride and self-righteousness and obey the call on his life.
Have we written off a group of people—or even an individual? Do we think we'd be wasting our breath to share the gospel with them? Do we believe they'll never come to saving faith? Or worse yet, do we somehow feel we were worthy to be saved but they're not?
Maybe we don't consciously believe these things, but we must be honest with ourselves. How do we treat people in our day-to-day life? Even if we don't have the opportunity to speak to them about Jesus, do we exemplify His character? Is the fruit of the spirit evident in us? The love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)?
We must be on guard against feelings of superiority and self-righteousness. Like Jonah, the Pharisees thought very highly of themselves.
In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells the story of two men who went before God in prayer.
The Pharisee began by saying, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get."
And what about the tax collector?
"But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven."
Jonah's prayer reminds me of the Pharisee, not the tax collector the Lord went on to commend.
Are our prayers focused on God or are they focused on us? God does invite us to share our cares and concerns with Him, but He also calls us to repent of our sin and submit to His call on our life. And He calls us to have compassion on others.
And what was God's response to Jonah's prayer? In Jonah 2:10, we read that the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land. This doesn't seem like a ringing endorsement to his prayers.
Jonah Teaches (Unknowingly)
There are at least three things we can learn from Jonah's prayer.
First, God doesn't always answer our prayers as we think they should be answered. I'm 100 percent certain, being swallowed by a huge fish and later vomited onto shore never entered into Jonah's plans. And while God often answers in a way we don't expect, He always answers in the right way, in the way that best meets our needs—and the needs of others.
Second, God teaches us that he requires genuine repentance.
Isaiah 59:1-2 says, "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear."
Even as believers in Jesus, it's important to acknowledge and turn from our sin. From God's perspective, we have already been forgiven, but we won't live sinlessly until we are in His presence. Although we can never lose our salvation, we must never forget the cost of our disobedience. We must revel in the Lord's ongoing mercy and grace.
Third, we must guard against surface-level faith.
We must ask ourselves some tough questions:
How is our prayer life? Do we only pray in dire circumstances? Do we only pray when we need something? Are our prayers full of selfishness? Do we lack genuine repentance?
How is our daily walk? Do we seek to obey God's call on our life or are we self-centered? Are we more concerned with our own needs than the needs of others?
How do we respond to sin? Do we overlook our own sinfulness yet point out the sins of others?
How is our view of God's Word? Do we stand for all that it says or do you disregard what we disagree with?
How is our view of the gospel? Do we desire to share the good news with others or do we make excuses for not doing so?
Learning to pray, like any other spiritual discipline, requires practice. We won't get it right all the time, but we must press on. We must ask God to have His way in our life—and in the lives of those we encounter each day. And we must remember that we have done nothing to deserve His mercy and grace. We are no better than "those wicked Ninevites," whoever they may be in our situation.