We are in our third week of our four-week series in the book of Jonah entitled “The Chronicles of Nineveh”. We are taking a modern day practical look at Jonah and how his story can help us be obedient to God. In the first week, I talked about the bubbles we create in our lives. These bubbles represent safety, comfort and disconnect from the outside world. Bubbles are nice places to live because they are safe and comfortable but sometimes/often God calls us from them to do something radical, like he did with Jonah. Our response to this call can be either obedience or disobedience. Jonah, unfortunately chose the latter.
Last week Pastor Mary Beth took a closer look at Jonah’s disobedience. He ran from God. In her message, she talked about how God called Jonah and us people from apathy (not caring). Anxiety (caring too much/not trusting God) and calling us to surrender to God.
Today we move from a potential shipwreck to the belly of the fish. We will look more specifically at the prayer of this surrendered man.
Once Jonah was thrown from the ship into the deep, God sent a large fish to swallow Jonah. God is determined to get Jonah to the place where he called him to deliver the message. It is here, inside the belly of the fish we see Jonah as man who has hit rock bottom. As he is jostled around in the stomach of this fish and has nothing but time on his hands, he starts to reflect and think about what he has done.
Jonah’s response to the way God in handling this situation is a bit surprising as we read his prayer in chapter two. Now, I certainly wouldn’t blame Jonah if he chooses his prayer to be designated as his list of complaints to God. Personally, I expect to read, “God I didn’t want to do what you called me to do in the first place. I think you got the wrong man to do the job, so I ran as far away from you as possible. Yes, my rebellion almost killed me and the crew on the ship. Once they found out this turmoil was my fault, all I wanted to do was die. Why wouldn’t you let me die? I told the crew to throw me over board so I could perish, but you couldn’t leave well enough alone. You sent this great creature and now I sit here in the belly of this stinky, smelly fish with bile and seaweed wrapped around my head. Couldn’t you have just left me alone safe and secure in my comfortable life?”
Strangely, this is not what we read at all. This whole chapter is devoted to a prayer of thanksgiving from Jonah for being saved and delivered. Really, it only took a potential shipwreck, being thrown into the sea, left for dead and a large fish swallowing him to get to this point? Is Jonah finally getting the big picture here? What does it take for God to get your attention? Well, let’s not think Jonah has learned his lesson completely because there is still a bit of defiance in this man’s heart even after this time of praise to a God who has taken him captive.
We find Jonah in an analogous situation that many people find themselves in when they hit rock bottom. For some it can take some extreme events and possibly even the fear of death to acknowledge God in their lives.
It is at this point that some either respond in anger, bitterness, and blame or some respond as Jonah did in thankfulness, gratefulness and praise. However, before you get too far ahead, there is one important ingredient missing in this prayer and that is true repentance. This is where Jonah’s slight defiance comes into play. Sure, Jonah is thankful God spared his life but the problem is, the same Jonah is still in the belly of the fish who ran away from God. He doesn’t have a change in heart. He’s just a man who has reached rock bottom and has nowhere else to go. The beauty in all of Jonah’s slight defiance, is that God hears and accepts his prayer for what it is… Thank you for not letting me die and keeping me safe, I’ll do what you want me to do even though I don’t like it. He is a surrendered man.
An interesting note about this prayer is that Jonah refers to himself over 20 times in 8 verses. This is a very typical prayer that many pray when they get to the point of despair in their lives. Their prayer becomes a matter of condition. “God if you get me out of this mess, then I promise will do this in return.” Or they have the tendency to wallow in self-pity and guilt and remain stagnant, never moving forward. They become enslaved to their guilt. Their prayer can sound like this, “God I have sinned, I am the vilest of sinners, I can’t do anything right to please you. I don’t think I can continue to live my life like this, the guilt is killing me, you can never forgive me.” I find it strange in both situations they acknowledge God, but they still don’t deal with the root of the problem… The heart. So many people make the conditions, God bails them out and once they are happy they go back to life as usually and eventually find themselves in the same situation shortly thereafter.
Rosemary Nixon writes in her commentary of Jonah, “Many of us, when caught in very difficult circumstances, may find we have little thought to give to God; instead, our overriding concern is to find help and a way out of all that is causing our distress.” In other words, we are expecting God to get us out of the mess we created and not deal with the root of our problems. Rarely do people who have hit rock bottom give little thought to the cause of their despair… the heart. If we are unwilling to deal with the heart then we will see little, if any change in our circumstances and lives and we may even eventually find ourselves back where we started and even in a worse way.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Many of us have been in Jonah’s shoes before. We get to a point where our sin catches up to us and God finally gets our full attention. I call these “aha moments.” This is the moment where we, like Jonah, realize we have hit the bottom and there is nowhere else we can go. It is at this moment that we come to terms with why we are where we are. Some of us may respond like Jonah and thank God for the situation, for saving us and trusting he will get us out of the mess we created, but miss the one huge factor… repentance.
There is no indication that Jonah is repentant in this prayer. There is no sign of complete brokenness before God. There really doesn’t seem to be much of a heart change either. These three things go hand in hand… repentance, brokenness and change of heart/transformation. The three are interdependent and I believe one cannot happen without the other.
No heart change, I believe, is a big problem in Christianity today. Sure, there are many who claim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They seemingly walk the walk and talk a great talk, yet they still have never really had a true renewal of the heart. Without a changed heart, the outer being is just a façade. We may fool others, but we will never fool God. I learned and continue to learn the truth in the importance of having a heart that is truly aligned with God’s heart. As you know, the heart is the most important organ in our bodies. Without a healthy heart, we cannot live a healthy life. The same goes for our spiritual hearts. Healthy spiritual hearts are necessary for healthy spiritual living. Jesus spent a great deal of his teaching on the importance of having a healthy spiritual heart. He said that the conditions of our hearts are more important than keeping the rules of the law. He says that sin is not only something we commit on the outside, but the root of sin is committed in our hearts. Jesus is concerned about our hearts. He says, you can’t say you love God with your mouth and hate your brother in your heart. It just isn’t possible. You cannot have a proper relationship with God if your heart isn’t right. The heart is the command center of our spiritual lives. Jesus says out of the abundance of our hearts the mouth speaks. Right hearts produce right speech, actions and relationships. When our hearts are right with God then and only then can we really know what it means to be broken before Him and truly repentant of our rebellion.
We don’t see any evidence in Jonah’s prayer of a changed heart and that is why the book concludes on a very sour note (Mary Beth with talk about this next week). Sure, as you will see he ushered in a great revival in Nineveh and hundreds of thousands of lives were spared because of his eventual obedience, but in the end Jonah doesn’t rejoice as God does.
In conclusion, the question we should always is, “So, what is my response to all of this?” I believe it is first in determining how I get my heart right with God. How do you and I do this? Unfortunately, that is a question I cannot fully answer for you. I can tell you for sure that it is only God who can truly change your heart. I could give you a list of do’s and don’ts, prayers to pray and scripture verses to meditate on, but that is not for me to do. God needs to deal with YOUR heart specifically. He can and will help you in the changing process but you need to be willing to submit your heart to him and be willing to go through some major, if not painstaking heart work. Fortunately for us God is in the heart repair business, we just need to be willing to surrender our hearts to the great Physician.
How is your heart? Take some time today and through the week and let God search you and allow him to transform and renovate your heart to a one that can be aligned with His.