Summary: Jonah’s prayer teaches to pray the Psalms in times of trouble. It also teaches us about God’s deliveramce.
Praying in the Belly of a Fish
Three ministers were talking about prayer in general and the appropriate and effective positions for prayer. As they were talking, a telephone repairman was working on the phone system in the background. One minister shared that he felt the key was in the hands. He always held his hands together and pointed them upward as a form of symbolic worship. The second suggested that real prayer was conducted on your knees. The third suggested that they both had it wrong--the only position worth its salt was to pray while stretched out flat on your face.
By this time the phone man couldn’t stay out of the conversation any longer. He interjected, "I found that the most powerful prayer I ever made was while I was dangling upside down by my heels from a power pole, suspended forty feet above the ground."
I think that the most powerful prayer that Jonah ever prayed was in the belly of a fish.
How did he get there?
Jonah was a prophet of God, and God came to him one day and said “go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” Jonah saw the command as a death sentence because Nineveh was so evil and powerful, so he ran as far as he could away from Nineveh. He hoped a boat to Tarshish which was probably in Spain. He himself said that he was running from God. But God ran after him and sent a huge storm that threatened to rip the boat apart. When the Sailors discover that the storm has come because of Jonah, they ask him what they should do, and he says, “Throw me overboard.” They don’t weant to, but the storm is so great that they throw Jonah overboard into the raging sea. And the storm stops and the sea becomes calm. The sailors are safe. But Jonah is not! He is sinking to the depths of the sea, about to expire. But God sends a fish that swallows him and saves him from death.
Jonah is in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. And while he is there he prays.
He prays the Psalms.
Everything that Jonah prays has reference in the psalms
Look at verse 2 and listen to Psalm 18:4-6
4 The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
5 The cords of the grave  coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called to the Lord ;
I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears
Look at verse 3 and listen to Psalm 42:7
7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
Look at verse 4 and listen to Psalm 31:22
22 In my alarm I said,
"I am cut off from your sight!"
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.
You could do the same thing with each of these verses in Chapter 2. The reason that Jonah prays the Psalms is that he knew them. The psalms were the prayer book of the Jewish people – and they continue to be. Jonah would have prayed and sang the psalms from an early age. When you are in the belly of the fish, you don’t have much mental energy to make up your own prayers, so you go with what you know. Jonah knew the psalms.
Some of you might feel as if you are in the same situation as Jonah. Whether you were running from God or not, you have been taken through a storm, and maybe even thrown overboard into the raging sea. You may feel like you’ve been saved from the storm only to be swallowed by a fish – “out of the frying pan into the fire,” so to say. It is hard to pray in any of these stormy situations. That is why it is good to have the psalms. When we can’t find the words, they give us the words
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.