Praying in the Belly of a Fish
Sermon shared by Mike Wilkins
Summary: Jonah’s prayer teaches to pray the Psalms in times of trouble. It also teaches us about God’s deliveramce.
Audience: General adults
Pray the Psalms.
Athanasius – “Most of scripture speaks to us, but the Psalms speak for us”
William Stringfellow was a Christian lawyer and lay theologian who had a disease that gave him debilitating pain. He refused to take pain killers because they dulled his mind, but he did look for things to distract himself from the pain. TV was useless and music didn’t help, but reading provided some comfort. This is what he writes:
Reading proved more effective in providing diverting intervals from the pain. My span of concentration became too brief to read a book, though more than adequate for the Providence Journal. The New York Times, on Sunday, was just too formidable. The two things to which I most often turned to read, for my purpose, were the Psalter and the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog. I had not previously had occasion to do more than scan either, though I had frequently been in circumstances where each would be cited as authority. Now 1 found comfort in both. They are remarkably similar volumes. With their marvelous diversity, a man with a little diligence can shop through their pages virtually certain of locating something to suit a desire or need or other disposition of the moment.
It is amazing the things that you can find in the psalms – we most often read praise psalms in church, but there are complaint psalms, despair psalms, indignant psalms, and even “Lord, get my enemy” psalms.
But don’t wait until you are in these situations to read the psalms – you might end up some place like the belly of the fish where you can’t read your Bible, and you’ll have to go from memory. Read a psalm a day – if you break up the long ones, there are enough to get through the psalms in a year. Memorize the ones that strike your heart, so you have them at the ready when you need them most.
Pam loves to pray the Psalms – I’m going to ask her to come now and present a way to do that, and then we are going to try it.
Why Pray the Psalms? Because they teach us about God.
What Does Jonah’s Prayer teach us about God?
When you read this prayer, keep in mind that when Jonah refers to the distress of the past he means the time he spent in the water, not the time he spent in the fish. The water is the threat of death. The fish is the refuge of salvation. The cry of distress is past tense (in the water!); the voice of confidence and thanks is present (in the fish). Let’s look at the prayer.
First, God answers us in spite of our guilt. (2)
God didn’t rescue Jonah because he was good – Jonah was running from God. When the sailors ask him what they should do, he doesn’t say “turn around and drop me off so I can go to Nineveh.” No he says “Throw me overboard.”
Jonah recounts in his prayer:
"In my distress I called to the Lord ,
and he answered me.
From the depths of the grave  I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
10 Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God
and despised the counsel
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