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The Prophet Who Sank

Sometimes, in the course of our lives, we finding ourselves sinking into despair. It could be that we are facing problems greater than we can handle on our own, and there doesn’t appear to be a solution. Jonah literally found himself plunging to the depths of the sea, but in that time of need he cried out in prayer, from the belly of the great fish. His situation seemed impossible, but he praised God for His salvation. There is much we can learn from Jonah’s prayer.

Text: Jonah 2:1-10

“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.  Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.  But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.”

     In the summer of 2013, a tugboat encountered rough waters off the coast of Nigeria.  The captain barely had time to radio for help, before violent waves overturned the small vessel, pulling it under water.  The ship sank nearly 100 feet, to the ocean floor. Not a single member of the twelve person crew escaped.

A team of divers arrived on the scene several days later.  They were sent to explore the wreckage and recover the bodies.  I can’t imagine it was a pleasant job, swimming through dark corridors and sifting through debris.  They managed to find the deceased crew members without any trouble.  But the divers found something else they had not expected.  While shining the flashlight into one of the rooms, they saw a hand reached out to them from the darkness.

It was the ship’s cook.  Somehow he managed to survive, trapped in an air pocket, inside the sunken ship.  Needless to say, it had been the most difficult three days of his entire life.  He was cold, and wet.  The saltwater had bleached his skin.  There was nothing to eat or drink.  He couldn’t see anything, but felt the eerie presence of sea life all around him.  Afraid that sharks or barracudas would eventually discover his presence, he did his best to stay afloat on top of a mattress and armed himself with a wooden plank.  He was exhausted and overwhelmed.  Realizing the oxygen would soon run out, he wondered how long it would be before he would take his final breath.  The man tried his best to remain positive, but given the circumstances, it wasn’t easy. He would later tell reporters that he prayed a hundred times, calling on the name of God, to save him.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he heard the sound of rescue workers.  Trying to get their attention, he began banging on the walls, making as much noise as he possible, but sound travels differently underwater, and no one heard him.  Then he saw a beam of light shining through the water, and he reached out to the diver for help. They were able to place an oxygen mask over his face, and lifted him from the wreckage to safety.

      (http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/06/12/nigerian-cook-trapped-for-3-days-in-sunken-ship-tells-incredible-story-survival.html)

That’s an incredible story.  You can actually watch the video of his rescue on the internet.  I’m sure it was a terrifying experience, and sinking to the bottom of the ocean, wondering if you would ever see the light of day again.

In our passage, the prophet Jonah found himself facing a similar ordeal.  He had been running from God, and set sail in the opposite direction from where he was supposed to go.  But when a terrible storm threatened the ship, he told the crew to save themselves by throwing him overboard.  Reluctantly, they did.  The crew was saved, but Jonah found himself sinking into the depths of sea.  As the current pulled him deeper and deeper, it felt like this was the end. The prophet was almost ready to give up, resigning himself to his fate, until the Lord sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah – sparing his life.  It was a miracle.  He should have been dead, but he wasn’t.  There, in the belly of the whale, Jonah remembered the Lord.

Maybe there have been times when you have found yourself struggling to stay afloat in the rough waters of life.  We all face struggles that can seem overwhelming, and it is easy to find ourselves sinking into the depths of despair.  But rather than drowning in our sorrows, we reach out to the Lord, allowing Him to lift us out of the darkness and to set our feet on solid ground.

One of the lessons of the book of Jonah is that even in the most desperate circumstances, God’s people should never give up because the Lord is with us.  If He was with Jonah in the belly of the fish, he is with you and me through all of the adversities that we might face in our lives today.

We should never give up, because God always hears our prayers. (v.1-2)

In verses 1 and 2 we read, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: ‘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.”

I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like for Jonah to find himself in the belly of the whale.  It was probably wet, cold, and smelly.  It’s not like he had a flashlight, and so it would have been completely dark in that place.  He may have felt confined.  Even though the passage tells us it was a great fish, I can’t imagine there was a lot of room for the prophet to walk around or stretch his legs.  The walls around him must have been squishy, and slimy.  Perhaps the stomach juices stung Jonah’s skin.  As one author puts it, “The belly of the fish is not a happy place to live, but it is a good place to learn.” (R. T. Kendall, Jonah: An Exposition, 1978, p. 101 quoted in NAC)

Jonah needed to learn about prayer.  At first, he may have wondered if God would still hear him.  After all, he found was inside a fish, at the bottom of the sea. I doubt we would get much of a signal on our cell phone from there.  How would his voice reach all the way to heaven?  Actually, God is closer than you might think.  No matter where we are, on this earth, He is present to hear us when we call out to Him.  You don’t have to stand in a special place to draw near to God, or speak with a loud voice for him to hear your prayer.  You don’t even need to say a word.  He knows our thoughts.  But would the Lord answer Jonah?  That was a different question.  Jonah was a long ways away from where he should have been.  He had run away, and turned his back on God.  Now that the prophet had a change of heart, would the Lord still respond to his cry for help?  Yes, even when we have gone astray, the Lord doesn’t turn His back on us.  He still cares for us, and waits for His wayward child to call out to Him.

It’s important that we remember that God hears our prayers.  Life will seem overwhelming if you think you’re all alone in our struggles, or if you imagine that no one cares.  When you have been crying out to the Lord over a period of time, and haven’t seen any visible results, you may start to imagine that no one is listening.  But that isn’t true.  The Lord is always with us.  There is not a single prayer that goes unheard.

Philippians 4:6–7 tells us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Be anxious for nothing… That may sound easier said than done.  There are a lot of situations where it is difficult to calm our anxious heart.

This past week, I had to go to the doctor for a routine test.  It wasn’t a big deal, but since I had cancer ten years ago, they watch me a little closer.  As I was lying on the gurney, the nurses put an IV in my arm, and stuck the little circles to my chest to monitor my heart.  Then they wheeled me back towards the room where they would do the procedure.  That trip down the hallway is always intimating, even when it is just a routine test, and I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous. I could see the screen monitoring my heart beat, and it seemed like it was beating kind of fast, so I did the only thing I could do… I prayed. I took a couple of deep breaths, and asked that the Lord would guide the doctor and that there wouldn’t be any issues, and that all would go well.  Almost immediately it seemed like my heart rate started slowing down to normal. I realized that no matter what happened in that room, and no matter what they found, I wasn’t going through it alone.  About that time the anesthesiologist came into the room and said, “you’re going feel sleepy in a minute,” and sure enough, “zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz,” I was out.  The next thing I knew I was waking up, and everything was over.  It was fine.

Wherever you are, the Lord is there listening to our prayers.  Whether it’s a hospital getting ready to go in for a test…  Or at the factory during a bad day of work…  Or in your car, broken down by the side of the highway… You’re never alone.  God cares, and He is listening.

Prayer does more than calm us down, or help us feel better about our problems.  Scripture says that “…the fervent prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).  God works through the prayers of His people.  He often uses our prayers to remove obstacles, or to sustain us in the midst of our trials.

Psalm 34:4–6 tells us, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.”

The Lord may be waiting for us to cry out to Him, so that He might reveal His power in the midst of our difficulties.

Jonah learned about prayer in the belly of the fish.  He also learned…

We should never give up, because there is always hope (v.3-6)

In verses 3-6 Jonah prays,

    “For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, Weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.”

Jonah’s situation was as about as bleak and hopeless as it could be.  He had been thrown overboard, and was unable to swim to shore. Mighty waves were crashing in around him, and the current pulled him under.  He found himself sinking deeper into the sea until he could no longer see the light of day.  While his limbs flailed about in vain, trying to make his way back to the surface, seaweed wrapped around his body.  It felt like he had fallen to the lowest possible depths.  And that the gates of death were closing in around him.  And just when it appeared that things couldn’t get any worse, he became fish food.

Where do you find hope in a situation like this?  He found hope in the Lord.  He expresses confidence several places in the passage.  In verse 4 he prays, “I have been expelled from Your sight, nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.”  Yes, things were bad, but it was going to be okay.  He was going to make it through somehow.  He believed that God would bring him back from the depths, and one day he would even be able to return to home, to the land of Israel, and stand in the temple courts again.

As long as he still had breath in his lungs, as long as his heart was still beating, he wasn’t going to give up hope.  Yes, it is true, he was miles from shore, and had fallen about as far as a person could sink, but at the end of verse six he says,“…But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord…”  He knew that God spared his life for a reason, and was convinced that the Lord wasn’t finished with him just yet.

We may find ourselves in situations that seem pretty hopeless where even the most upbeat, optimistic person in the world would feel defeated.  How are we going to get through this?  How are we going to find a way through?  The situation is just impossible, or so it seems.  But nothing is impossible for God.  We are weak, but He is mighty.  Even in the darkest, most desperate circumstances, all is not lost.  Somehow, someway, the Lord will carry us through.

When I was a kid, my uncle took my brothers and I to the Lima Civic Center to see David Copperfield.  We loved it.  He did all kinds of amazing, impossible things, and we went away wondering “how did he do that?”  Of course, the best magic tricks is when a magician escapes from some death-defying situation.  His assistant straps him into a straightjacket, and wraps chains around his arms, and then hangs him upside down and lowers him into a cylinder filled with water.  The lower the curtain, and you sit on the edge of your seat holding your breath.”  And then after a minute or so the curtain falls and he is standing there free.  “How did he do that?” You know it was just an illusion, but it’s still amazing.  But the power of God is more than an illusion, it is real and there is nothing problem too big for Him to solve, or no enemy too great for Him to defeat.  If He could lift Jonah out of the pit, He can lift us out of our dark and hopeless struggles.  There is always hope, no matter what problems you might be facing.

In the NT, the apostle Paul faced some pretty discouraging things.  In 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 he writes,

    “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope…”

Whatever he was going through, it must have been intense for the apostle to say that he despaired even of life.  But he didn’t give up, and didn’t lose hope, because he knew that the Lord was working in his situation and would deliver him.  No matter how great our problems might be, God is always greater.

I picture a man who has been laid off from work.  The factory where he has spent the last 15 years of his life, working, closes down one day and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.  He fills a couple of dozen job applications, and puts in his resume all over town, trying desperately to find another job, but no one returns his phone calls.  What is he going to do?  The bills keep piling up.  The rent is due.  The electric company is threatening to turn off the lights.  He is able to pray, “Lord I know you’re working even though at the moment I can’t see it.  Things are desperate, but I will put my hope in you.”  There is no situation that is hopeless when the Almighty God is holding you in His powerful arms.

Jonah’s prayer also shows us that…

We should never give up, because there is always a reason to sing God’s praise.  (v.8-9)

In verse 8 Jonah prays, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.  But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.”

Jonah was probably thinking about the pagan sailors that he had spent time with on the ship.  Or he may have been thinking about how his own countrymen, back in the land of Israel, who had turned away from the Lord to worship idols.  How sad.  Those who worshipped  the gods and goddesses of the nations were only wasting their breath.  Those idols had no power to save.

Jonah had come to realize that salvation comes from the Lord.  Because of this, he could worship the Lord, no matter his circumstances.  Even the belly of a whale could become a sanctuary for praise.  His prayer might sound strange to us.  Jonah’s life still hung in the balance.  He was miles from shore.  We would expect a very different sort of prayer to come from the prophet’s mouth.  But this is a psalm of praise.  Why?  What reason could he possibly have, in these circumstances, to give thanks?  For one thing, he was still breathing.  The Lord rescued him from drowning at the bottom of the sea.  He had been swallowed by a huge fish, and lived to tell the story.  And God still had a purpose for his life

We can’t always choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we are going to respond.  We can dwell on the negative, and grumble about all of the things that are going wrong.  Or we can look for the silver lining.  No matter what, God is still good.  He still loves us.  If you know Christ as your Savior you have a glorious future, and no one can ever take that away from you. If there is nothing else, this alone is reason to sing God’s praise.

It’s amazing how much you appreciate the sunshine, after it has been raining all week.  I was taking the dog out for a walk, yesterday morning, and passed someone on the sidewalk.  I stopped to talk to several people, and all of them said the same thing: “What a beautiful day!  Isn’t it a gorgeous morning?”  It was.  We enjoy so many beautiful mornings, but often take them for granted.

Even in the darkest circumstances, we have reason to rejoice. We worship the God of salvation, and He is worthy of our praise.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Psalm 34:1–2 I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the Lord; The humble will hear it and rejoice.”

When you live a life of praise, people are probably going to think you’re a little odd.  “Why are you so positive?  With all of the problems you’re going through, I would expect you to be a miserable mess.  How do you do it?”  And we can answer, “It’s a struggle sometimes to stay positive, but I just try to remember all of the ways that God has blessed me, and the fact that He is constantly a part of my life makes all the difference.  Without Him, I probably would be a mess, but because He is the God of salvation I always have a reason to rejoice.”

Conclusion

Jonah’s prayer, in chapter 2, is an encouraging passage in the moments when we’re going through the storms of life and feel ourselves being pulled under into the depths of despair.  Don’t give up.  God is with you.

When you’re having the worst day imaginable, and you feel like no one in the world cares about the problems you are facing, God cares and He is listening as you cry out to Him in prayer.  Do not hesitate to lift your voice to Him.  He will answer.

And no matter how dark or desperate things might seem, at the moment, remember this… there’s always hope.  ALWAYS!  You may not be able to see the way through, to other side of your struggles, but if the Almighty God is your friend there is always a way through.  If you’re having trouble hanging on, open God’s Word and be reminded of how the Lord brought His people through impossible situations.  He can do the same for you.

And when you are tempted to dwell on the negative, choose to give thanks instead.  Praise the Lord for being there, in the mist of your struggles.  Praise Him for bringing another new day.  Praise Him for the blessings of salvation.  Before you know it, He will put a new song in your heart.

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