Over the past several weeks, I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’s “Letters to Malcolm,” which is framed as a correspondence between Lewis and his fictional friend Malcolm, and the main topic of their letters is on prayer.
It’s not so much as a “how to” guide, as much as it is “close friends comparing notes on prayer.”
One of my favorite parts of the book comes towards the middle of the book, where Lewis writes:
“But in order to find God it is perhaps not always necessary to leave the creatures behind. We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.” -C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, p. 101
Our story continues after Jonah, whom God had called to preach against Nineveh, ran away from God, got on a boat, and headed for Tarshish, but got stuck in a storm.
Jonah was thrown overboard by the sailors after they discover that he was the reason why the storm came.
So the large fish comes, and swallows Jonah, where he’s inside the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
And this is where we pick up our text from Jonah 2 this morning, from the belly of the fish.
Jonah’s had a few days to be alone, and to think and contemplate on his calling, and his action (or inaction) as it pertained to God’s calling on his life.
So Jonah prays, and it’s a prayer of thanksgiving.
Right away from v.1-2, we can see Jonah’s faith, as he recalls the storm he faced, and God’s faithfulness in the midst of that, and so, Jonah clearly recognizes that God has saved his life.
But after being inside of a fish for three days and three nights, it probably doesn’t smell very good.
Think about it:
Certain kinds of whales eat krill, plankton, and other microscopic sized stuff living in the ocean.
And they do it by swimming around with their mouths open, letting the microscopic things they eat (called “krill”) stick in their teeth (called “baleen”- similar to bristles on a toothbrush), while allowing the water to flow freely out.
So you have the lovely aroma of old sea water, seafood, and some kind of whale digestive juices all mixing together in the belly of this whale, with Jonah stuck inside for three days and three nights.
Needless to say, Jonah’s nose was probably going crazy on him, and I’m sure he himself smelled awful, too.
Which would all certainly be a reason to complain to God, it’s not exactly like staying at a four or five star hotel.
But Jonah keeps things in perspective, and keeps the big “picture in mind.”
And rather than complaining about his conditions, Jonah is thankful to God for saving his life.
And in v. 3-6, Jonah recognized that it was God who sent the storm.
But, from reading the text, you don’t get the sense that Jonah is angry with God for doing it. It almost seems to be more of a “stating of fact” kind of thing.
Jonah knows that God sent the storm, he accepts it, and again, realizes that God saved his life in v. 6: “…I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever: yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God.”
It’s one thing, Church, to say that we trust God with our lives, it’s another thing entirely to live our lives that way.
To recognize that God is ultimately in control of the universe, the world, and our circumstances is a humbling thing.
Especially when it seems like we have so much control with free will.
We can do what we want when we want to, but God responds to our actions.
Remember- God is relational!
And yet, the very fact that Jonah is praying while still inside of the whale bears witness to one simple fact.
To pray is to change.
Think about it.
Jonah didn’t know what was coming next.
His story wasn’t written out for him like it is for us.
For all he knew, he was going to die inside the whale.
He had already been in there for three days and three nights.
He probably hadn’t eaten anything, and definitely hadn’t had anything to drink.
He couldn’t drink sea water, because it was too salty.
I can’t imagine it would be very comfortable to try sleeping in a whale’s stomach either.
So, he prays to God.
v. 1-2 were the “thanksgiving” part of the prayer, and v. 3-6 were the “situational” part of the prayer- Jonah was recalling what God had done three days before when he saved him from the storm.
But, as we turn to v. 7, Jonah seems to be pleading for his life.
v. 7 says this: “As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.”
Jonah’s description here in v. 7 really seems to be about his current situation.
Remember- no food or water or sleep for three days, and he’s probably isn’t feeling the greatest at this point.
And, again, he doesn’t know what’s coming next.
But what Jonah does know, as a Hebrew, is that prayer changes things.
Jonah believes that he can change God’s mind, it happens many times in the OT.
Especially in the prophets- God promises wraith to the nation of Israel for her sins, the prophet pleads with God to forgive instead, and God changes His mind.
So he is probably hoping that God would have mercy on him and save his life again- this time from the fish.
And as we see in v. 9 Jonah says- “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”
Jonah is truly thankful for God saving him from the storm.
But the very last statement of Jonah’s prayer is a bit strange: “Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”
It’s as if Jonah is saying: “Okay, God, I trust you, deliverance is yours, and my life is in your hands.
So finally, God responds to Jonah’s prayer- and commands the whale to “spew,” (Hebrew- vomited) Jonah onto the dry land.
Which is exactly the place that Jonah started, back in Chapter 1.
God is giving Jonah a second chance.
So how can we make sense of Jonah 2 today?
How does this relate to us?
Well, for one thing, our passage reminds us that prayer is a central aspect of a life of discipleship, especially in our moments of need.
We’re not alone in this life, since God didn’t create us and then walk away.
He is carefully and intimately involved in our lives.
Our prayers should never simply be a laundry list of stuff we want from God, or think we need from God.
Prayer is union with God, a “conversational relationship,” a “going back and forth” with God, as it were.
Giving him praise and adoration for who He is, confessing our sins and shortcomings to him & asking for forgiveness, thanking Him for what He has done for us, and asking him for the things that we need, and also praying for the needs of others.
Sometimes, it can be easy for our prayer time to become “all about us,” and what we need, or even be easy to focus on others, and not pray for our own needs.
But as disciples, one of the ways that we love and serve others is by praying for them.Being aware of what is going on in the lives of those around us, and taking them before God.
After all, we have the power to change God’s mind.
Anything can happen.