New Life: Jonah

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Sometimes the way that God gets our attention is by sending us a storm, an ocean, and a really big fish.

Sometimes you hear about somebody gaining new life. The expression is used a lot in sport. Say in baseball, your team is losing seven to one in the seventh inning. After a walk, a bloop single and an error the bases are loaded. Your pitcher gets up and cranks a grand slam; the score is now seven to five.  The announcers are screaming that the team has gained new life when in reality their remaining life is exactly what it was before those four runs scored: nine more outs. The ‘new life’ came from the internal belief of the players and their fans that they could win, that what had previously been dead was now alive, changed from the inside out.

There are some great examples of people who are changed by God in the Bible so let’s take a look at a few.

First, let’s look at Jonah...you know, the guy that was swallowed by the big fish. God calls Jonah to deliver a message for Him to the Ninevites. Jonah hated the Ninevites and knows that God is a God of mercy and that He will forgive them if they change their ways. God said go and deliver this message so that they might change their ways. Jonah did go, but in the opposite direction of where God told him to. After a few twists and turns, Jonah ends up in the belly of a big fish and delivers one of the great all-time prayers, one that each of us may use at some point in our lives:

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. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, 'I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.' The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. "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. (Jonah 2:1-9)

I love this prayer. I can put myself right down there with Jonah, feeling so deep into a problem that all I can do is to cry out to God. I can use this image of Jonah thrown into a fierce and powerful sea of forces taking me over, pulling and pushing me, drowning me. Even the next step where God saves Jonah from the sea by providing a big fish to swallow him is something I can relate to. There have been many times in my life where God has rescued me, saved my life, but still didn’t have me in the place He wanted me to be, a place I wasn’t comfortable being but at least I could breathe. So I sat there, like Pinocchio in the belly of the whale--stinky, wet, cold, seaweed wrapped around my head, defeated--and I cry to the only One in the universe who can help me, my God.

But this is where God wants us to be. He wants us to be cleared of all the things in this world that distract us, all the things that bog us down, all the things that make it hard for us to breathe. He wants us to be freed from these things to that we can focus on Him. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:5-8) Sometimes the way God gets our attention so that we can become single-minded is by providing a storm, and an ocean, and a big fish.

So now God has Jonah’s attention, He’s removed the distractions from Jonah’s life so that all he is focused on is God. Jonah is ready to be changed, he is ready to be used, he is ready to come out of the depths.

And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (verse 10) What an analogy for rebirth. Jonah went into the sea angry with God, annoyed, wanting to die and arrived on dry land wet, wrinkled, and willing to serve.

 

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