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Summary: Jonah's prayer from the belly of a fish serves to encourage Christians to pray, especially when under water.

“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying

“‘I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

For you cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me;

all your waves and your billows

passed over me.

Then I said, “I am driven away

from your sight;

yet I shall again look

upon your holy temple.”

The waters closed in over me to take my life;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped about my head

at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land

whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the pit,

O LORD my God.

When my life was fainting away,

I remembered the LORD,

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

Those who pay regard to vain idols

forsake their hope of steadfast love.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the LORD!’” [1]

You’re driving down the highway when a front tire blows out just as you are rounding into a curve. At that precise moment, you hit black ice, losing control of your vehicle. Barreling toward you, you see a semi moving at high speed that has drifted into your lane. There is little time to think, but you do offer one of the most effective prayers ever presented. You cry out, “Help!” How effective is that! You’re still here.

It is commonly said that there are no atheists in a foxhole. Perhaps the corollary to this old saw is that all Christians become pray-ers when threatened. Threats abound in this world, and threats to peace because we are children of God are manifold. Times of extreme pressure impel us to pray. In a former congregation was an aged man who had been a sergeant in the Dutch Army when the Nazis invaded Holland. The German occupation of his homeland, he served in the Dutch underground, resisting the Nazis. Gerry spoke several times of transitions that he observed after the Germans invaded Holland. He said the churches had been empty prior to the occupation by enemy troops. The Sunday following the invasion, all the churches were full and people suddenly found time to weep and pray, asking God for relief.

Each follower of the Christ has received a divine charge to serve His cause. Because He is Master, He has the right to expect our obedience. Certainly, because we are Christians, we have received the Great Commission to carry the message of life to all people throughout the entire world. However, I would argue that at one time or another, the Spirit of God has spoken to each of us, directing us to fulfil some specific responsibility. Perhaps it was to tell some unlovable individual of God’s love, and we failed to speak as we knew we should. Perhaps it was to comfort some individual whom we felt undeserving of mercy. Time passed, and the opportunity to comfort passed with the passage of days. Perhaps it was to stand firm against some particular evil, and we were silent, though we knew we should speak up. I believe that each of us can recall a time when the Spirit of God commanded us to act and we resisted Him. What is worse, there will be other times in the future when God speaks, and we will fail to obey.

It is the knowledge that we do fail and that we will fail our responsibility to fulfil specific commands given by our Master that drives me to prepare and present the message. For any who refuse to obey, persisting in their refusal and growing ever more recalcitrant, nothing remains but God’s severe mercy. Discipline is reserved for His own child when that child refuses to obey. God does discipline His own child. We are encouraged in the Letter to Hebrew Christians, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.’

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” [HEBREWS 12:3-11]. However, should we turn from our own wicked refusal and seek to again fulfil the will of the Master, how shall we return? That is the essence of the study before us this day. When we are deserted to our own devices and we are sinking beneath the waves, what shall we do to allow us to again serve the Master?

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