My guess is that you'll never experience a time of personal devotion like Jonah experienced - 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of a great fish!
Given the space I have, it's impossible for me to comment in detail on Jonah's prayer; if you want a deeper analysis, you can listen to my sermon "Responding to the God of Grace." For today, I just want to share four thoughts from this point of the story.
First: God is powerful. It gets lost in the traditional retelling, but we should be in awe of the absolute power God expresses. He commands the weather, controls the outcome of the lots, and directs an animal as large as a whale. Nothing is impossible for the Lord. Perhaps our faith can be strengthened again simply by observing God's power in the life of Jonah.
Second: We are delusional. Jonah thinks he can actually flee from the presence of an omnipresent God - how absurd! Well, let's not be too hard on Jonah; you and I regularly think we can live outside God's boundaries without consequence. Perhaps our faith can be strengthened again simply by reminding ourselves that running from God never leads to freedom.
Third: God is patient. If I was the Lord, I would have given up on Jonah from the beginning - "If you want to run to Tarshish, have at it; I'm not going to stop you." But God possesses an inexplicable amount of patience towards his rebellious children. Perhaps our faith can be strengthened again simply by remembering that God won't kick us out of his family, no matter how many times we stumble.
Fourth: We are fickle. At the end of Jonah's prayer, the prophet seems to understand what life is about - "But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!" (2:9) And yet, in chapter 4, Jonah is back to his old ways! Perhaps our faith can be strengthened again simply by being aware that our hearts have the capacity to revert to their old sinful habits.
I'm going to take a break from this Jonah series for the next two weeks to focus on Good Friday and Easter. It's fitting that we pause with this verse: "For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:40)
The story of Jonah reveals that we all need a greater Jonah, a man who would not run from his call, but willingly submit his life to God's plan. This greater Jonah - the Lord Jesus Christ - spent three days and nights in the heart of the earth so that our delusional, Jonah-like rebellion would be forgiven for eternity, and so that we could experience an abundant life within God's wise boundaries, right here, right now.
Paul David Tripp
- How has God expressed power in your life?
- When have you run from God? How did that produce less freedom and more bondage?
- How has God been patient with you in your stumbling?
- In what ways do you keep falling back into the same sinful habits? Where can you seek help from the body of Christ?
- Compare and contrast Jonah and Jesus Christ. How were their calls similar, and how did their behavior contrast?