Even in his rebellion, Jonah can teach us all quite a lot about good prayer. Chapter 2 is a chapter that deals with his repentance. Though he is still not happy about his calling, it is here that he realizes the goodness and faithfulness of God in his own life. His knowledge of Scripture and God’s character are the deep mine from which he is able to dig out his comfort and confidence in the greatest tribulation he will ever face. As those who also face tribulation, we can learn a lot from his prayer. Jonah’s prayer is pretty extraordinary. As I read, study and pray about it and its application to me, a Christian some 2,700 years after the fact, removed by thousands of miles, and living in a culture unimaginable to that prophet I am utterly amazed at its impact.
The common theme of suffering (whether it is as a result of my own sin or that of someone else) and trusting God when the visible signs of His love are not present, make this a most powerful, time, distance and culture transcending lesson in prayer. Though Jonah was in sin and was suffering for it, it is very evident that he knew the Lord and His Word.
Jonah 2:2-9 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. 3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. 7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.
In his absolute distress, Jonah looked to the symbols of God’s covenant faithfulness for his relief. There was no where else to go. He was at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea inside the belly of a fish. All hope was lost. There is not a more desperate situation that we can be in, especially since this was the result of his own sin. What would you be thinking at that point? “I have blown it for the last time!” Yet 2 Timothy 2:13 tells us, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” Jonah was in a covenant relationship with the Lord though he was seriously struggling in the are of obedience. The visible tokens of God’s love seemed forever gone. But there was one place left to look, the Temple. To the Jewish mind this was the symbol of His covenant faithfulness. The thing that represented the presence of the Lord to him. Jonah went back to God’s faithfulness when his own faithfulness had failed. Likewise as Christians we can go back to the Cross and remember His great love and faithfulness when the visible signs of His love are not apparent. In suffering, when we fall into sin, whenever we are struggling God remains faithful and strong.
The second lesson we learn from Jonah’s prayer is that he relies heavily on the Psalms for the substance of his prayer. His knowledge of God’s character is based on them. Nine times he quotes from them as he offers up his desperate prayer in the time of his distress. An in depth knowledge of Scripture needs to inform our prayers as well. A “good prayer” begins with a knowledge of God’s Word then takes present circumstances and applies to them its precepts and promises.
How would you like to be able to pray more, pray knowing better that you are praying the will of God, and increase your knowledge of God’s Word? I am tempted to say you can have all of this for three easy payments of just $9.95, but that is not how it works. But what if you began to take God’s Word, especially the Psalms, and open it up and begin there when you pray. Start with the Word of God and pray from it as the Lord leads while you read. It won’t happen in three installments, but over time it will inform your prayers, give you more fuel for them and increase your knowledge and ability to remember God’s Word.
Jonah certainly was able to do this, probably as a result of singing those Psalms in corporate and private worship. I encourage you to do the same. The Psalms were not only the hymn book of ancient Israel, but also of the protestant church until the mid 1700’s. The Anglo-Genevan Book of Praise is an English Psalter (Psalm Book) from the 16th century that gives good paraphrases to simple tunes that might help you get them into your heart and mind.
Jonah’s prayer can teach us a lot and improve our prayer lives if we are willing to take the lesson from him. I encourage you to listen to both messages from Jonah 2 by clicking on the links below and see what it does for your prayer life as you apply these timeless principles.
Reality Sinks In – Jonah 1:17-2:10
A Lesson In Prayer – Jonah 2:2-9