Jonah – Returning to God

By January 15, 2017Church

Alarm bells are rarely welcome but often needed. You set an alarm because you don’t want to oversleep or you need extra time to get ready. But they don’t ease you into the morning. They don’t reach over and gently rub your head — even that might cause you to jump!

I don’t normally set an alarm; my body knows when I need coffee and I just wake up. When I do set an alarm, it’s because the time I need to get up is really unusual – like a 3 am trip to the airport.

Maybe you’ve had an alarm go off recently but it wasn’t on your phone or next to your bed.

Maybe it was a high school friend who died unexpectedly. Or a husband who says, “We can’t keep living like this.” When my mother had breast cancer, the doctor told her “If you keep smoking you’re going to kill yourself.”

We may not be prepared to have the alarms go off. We may not want the alarm to go off. But it’s our response to the alarm bells that matters most.

Often when a child acts up, it’s not because they want to be bad but they may just want attention. It’s an immature way of setting off an alarm.

Last weekend we started our journey through the story of Jonah. You might describe Jonah chapter one as a divine alarm bell. Jonah tries to flee from God only to find himself thrown overboard by a group of pagan sailors.

The chapter ends this way: 17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. – Jonah 1:17

I’m not sure what God would have to do to get your attention, but getting swallowed by a big fish would do it for me! The question is, what would you do for three days inside a fish?

Maybe an even better question: why would God put Jonah in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights?

If chapter one is about running from God, chapter two is about Jonah’s return to God. Returning to God begins with turning to God …

1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. – Jonah 2:1

We don’t know if this was at the beginning of the three day period or at the end. At any rate, it’s not unusual for people to turn to God at the end of rope. Here’s something equally important: there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s better to turn to God at the end of your rope than not at all.

For Jonah, the belly of a fish became a sanctuary – a place to encounter God. And it’s safe to say that God had Jonah’s undivided attention.

What kind of prayer does Jonah pray? You might recognize it. The language might different from what you would use but the thoughts are the same …

2 He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. 7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. 8 “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from Godʼs love for them. – Jonah 2:2-8

After a rough start to the story – rebellion, a storm at sea, being thrown overboard, and getting swallowed by a big fish … this chapter is easily the happiest chapter in the entire book!

After his whale of an experience, Jonah has a change of heart. Let’s take a look at a few things that characterize this change of heart …

Repentance

  • “In my distress I called to the Lord”
  • “I called for help”
  • “I had been banished from your sight, yet I will look again”

Jonah was in a place of hopelessness. Some of you feel like you’ve been forgotten by God. It feels like you are in the heart of the sea and the flood has surrounded you. You may have forgotten God but he hasn’t forgotten you. A change of heart begins with repentance.

Gratefulness

  • “He answered me”
  • “You listened to my cry”
  • “You brought my life up from the pit”

There are three kinds of people: irreligious, religious, Christians. Irreligious people don’t believe they need salvation. Religious people believe salvation is up to them. Christians are people know they can’t save themselves and are grateful that God will save them.

Christians realize they are not here by chance but by choice, God’s choice.

A new determination to do what is right.

9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” 10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. – Jonah 2:9-10

What is the best response to the graciousness of God?

It’s to have a new determination to do what’s right … not to earn God’s favor, but because you have God’s favor.

Jonah had been determined to set a different course for his life from the one God had called him to.

Maybe you’ve done the same thing. You’ve pursued something or someone other than God. What Jonah didn’t realize was that following his own course would leave him unfulfilled, in danger, and miserable.

I’m not sure where you are in your spiritual journey with God. Maybe your immediate need is:

  • Repentance … to change the way you’re thinking and living.
  • Gratefulness … to recognize and acknowledge what God has been doing in your life.
  • A new determination to do what’s right.

May we each learn from Jonah’s example and return to God.