Friday, May 15, 2009

Lessons from Jonah!

The storm raged, the ship pitched, and then voices intruded on Jonah's troubled dreams. "Sir! Sir! Wake up--we are all going to die!! How can you sleep?" Sleep fled as Jonah sat up and looked into the rough, unshaven faces above him. Dark rings encircled bloodshot eyes, and instantly he knew these men had been hard at work for sometime to save this wildly dipping ship that he was traveling on. How had he slept through this? He knew it had to be sheer emotional exhaustion. "What- what is it that I can do to help?" He asked hesitantly. " Pray to your God that He will save us. This storm has come out of nowhere!! There were no warning signs in the sky, and we have fought several hours to save this ship, man", they shouted above the noise of the tumult of the sky overhead, " We have all been praying, and our gods have not seen fit to save us. We must try your god too, for now the ship is creaking dangerously. If your god does not answer either, we must cast lots to see who it is that has sinned against his god, and why this evil has come against us!" Jonah ran a hand through his tousled hair, and then rubbed his long, Jewish nose as worry lines creased his forehead. He did indeed know why this evil had caused these men to be in danger. God had asked him to go to Nineveh and preach repentance of sin to the Assyrians there, and he, Jonah, known prophet of God, was fleeing from God. What a joke! A glimmer of a smile just barely tipped the corners of his lips--as if he could run from God!! Yet nearly as soon as the smile appeared, anger replaced it. Why would God ask him to go help these cruel enemies of his people! In the past there had been people God had just destroyed--why couldn't he do this now? Instead, He wanted Jonah to be untrue to his people, and go and preach repentance to these ungodly people who could very well put Jonah to death for preaching against their sins. At the very least, they would laugh at him-a well-respected man in his own nation. Then also, if by chance they repented under his preaching, he knew Jehovah God would show mercy on them. Jonah could not be an accessory to helping the Assyrians. Yet now God was punishing those around him for his disobedience. In that moment, Jonah knew in his heart of hearts he could not let these sailors be punished for his sins, and he knew at this point death was certain, so he made a decision. "Alas, my fellows, I must tell you a truth," he began, " I am the cause of this storm. I serve the one true and living God, Jehovah. He has called me to go on a mission that I do not want to go and do, so I have tried to flee. Yet He has found me here." Jonah swallowed a lump in his throat, and went on bravely. " You must get me off your ship and the storm will stop. Throw me overboard that you might not suffer because of my sin." Good men they were, and though they believed him, they could not bring themselves at first to throw this honest man over into the rampage of the storm's fury. However, when all else failed, there was naught one thing to do--toss Jonah, prophet of God, into the waves.

Jonah had thought when he was telling the men his story, he would rather die than go to Nineveh, but as the salty water splashed into his nostrils, and filled his throat, he was filled with fear. He wanted to live, yet was helpless. Yes, indeed the storm stopped immediately, but Jonah had not the slightest idea of how to swim, and he began to sink. In what he thought to be his last moments on this earth, as he was choking and feeling his life ebbing away, he felt a tremendous suction, as if he was being drawn into something. He could not get his eyes open in the water, so thought indeed it must be death! He felt himself swished unto a rough surface, very warm, and then felt the water ebbing away under his feet. The surface under him flexed, and suddenly he was another slippery journey, sliding down, down to a place that was unknown to Jonah. When the flexing motion stopped, and Jonah came to the end of his journey, he found himself in a hot, slimy place. The smell was atrocious. It smelled of perhaps decaying fish, and other unidentifiable substances. It took awhile for Jonah to come to his senses, and realize he was not dead. He was not even in hell. He opened his eyes and strained to see, but all he could see was pitch-black darkness . There was not a glimmer of light in sight. Noises were plentiful in this place--sort of like gurgling, swishing noises. He finally realized he must have been swallowed by a fish of some sort. Jonah felt death was even yet certain.

Three days he sat in the belly of that fish. The fish was alive and swam into the depths of the sea, yet Jonah, also alive, sat in utter darkness knowing death was eminent. There was no one to talk to, and it was horribly uncomfortable. The heat was almost unbearable, and the stench permeated every pore of his body. Bits broken down seaweed and fish clung to him, and every so often stomach acid would spray through the stomach chamber. It burnt Jonah's skin. Jonah felt, oh so alone. There was no-one that knew Jonah was even alive in the depths of the earth, so noone would try to help him. There was no chance noone could see him or even hear him. How could he have been reduced to such a sorry state?

Yet in his very aloneness, and the very depths of his despair, he realized he could be heard. He began to cry out to God. He began to repent and ask forgiveness. He began to worship God in that rank and desolate place. I quote Jonah's words, "When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple." The same God that he could not run from, also found him here!! He was not alone!
The Bible says, "And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land."
Jonah had to have been quite a sight--his skin probably discolored, clothing in tatters(if indeed any were left), and his odor had to have been quite atrocious. I am sure it would have probably taken time for the smell to wear off, and his skin probably never recovered. But his soul was rejuvenated! He had been heard! He had come out of the most dire circumstances alive, and he was ready to make some changes in his life--he was ready to be obedient!
Of course, we do see in the life of Jonah that in the midst of his triumphants, he still had things to learn. Yet, we also a patient God who saw worth in Jonah, and kept working with him. Does this remind you of anyone?
We can learn so much from Jonah. We also get things set in our head, and get bull-headed. God continues to call us and work with us. And when we are in the lowest, darkest areas of our life, he still finds us, and he HEARS us. We each time might come out with some battle-scars, but we can also be more effective for God. Remember, He knows where you are, and he HEARS you!