Summary: Jonah’s in the tough place where he learns to pray.
"What makes you pray?" Jonah 2
Last week we left Jonah sitting in the belly of the fish at the bottom of the sea. So here he is in a crisis situation and he does what most of us would do. He prays. There’s something funny about this situation from the standpoint that he’s turning to the God he ran away from and God doesn’t seem to mind. I mean how would you feel if someone treated you like dirt and then when they got themselves into a jam you were the first one they turned asked for help? Most of us would feel used and we would want to say, "You didn’t want anything to do with me before so what would make you think I would want anything to do with you now?" And that would be a normal fleshly reaction but keep in mind two things. One, Jonah’s not dealing with a man he’s dealing with God. And second, God was the One who arranged the circumstances that have made him turn around. In other words, he’s doing the very thing God wanted him to do.
I Jonah’s prayer of desperation.
a) Keep in mind that he’s in a real fish. This is not some kind of an allegory of a person’s troubles. This is a real man who is trapped by real circumstances. And at this point in his life he only has two choices. Prayer or despair. He can either give up or he can look up.
Despair is the attitude where there is no hope or where a person doesn’t want the hope that’s offered. You may have heard the story about the man who fell over a cliff and grabbed a branch on his way down. He knew he couldn’t climb back up and as he looked down he saw that there was a drop of two hundred feet to solid rock. He started yelling hoping there would be someone walking along the cliff. "Is anyone up there." A voice from heaven says, "Yes, I’m here. All you have to do is let go and I’ll catch you." The man hesitates and then he yells, "Is there anyone else up there?" Not everyone wants the help that God has to offer even though that’s the only help there is.
Despair takes over when we decide to give up hope. When for one reason or another we come to the conclusion that life as we know it has no purpose and there’s no chance of improvement. Is it possible for this to happen to a Christian? Well known Christian psychologist Henry Brandt defines his job as, "Working with miserable Christians." Unfortunately, he has never had to worry about job security. There seems to be no shortage of those seeking help for their emotional discomfort. Many reasons exist for this discomfort, but one significant source of this low-grade despair is a twisted understanding of guilt and despair. There are believers who for one reason or another have no hope.
There’s nothing wrong with having problems but there is a problem when you start to think your problems are outside of the purpose and beyond the power of God. According to a study in Psychology Today the reason people commit suicide is they come to the conclusion that there’s no way out of their problems and death is the only answer. That’s what I mean by despair.
Jonah had to decide. Would he give up or give in. Would he pray or just lay down and die. And I don’t think it was an easy decision for him. After all, he was in the fish for three days. I wonder if it didn’t take him three days to decide that it was better to serve God and live then hang unto his pride and die. Pride is a powerful force in the life of each of us. There are a lot of things that we do or won’t do because of our pride. Our pride finds its best expression in our will in the sense that we determine that we will do only the things that we want to do and nothing else.
Jonah’s allowed his pride to determine how he would serve God. He was willing to serve God but it would have to be on his terms. He decided where he would serve and who he would preach to. And when you look at it in this light you have to ask yourself whether he was serving God at all or simply doing his own thing and appeasing his conscience by calling it service for God.
Regardless of what he was doing or why God had brought him to the point where he realized he had two choices. He could turn from his hard-hearted and sinful ways and live or he could harden his heart even further and die. It’s like the verse in Deuteronomy 30:19 where God spoke through Moses to the Israelites and said, "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live." And by the grace of God Jonah chose life. We know this by his prayer.