Learning to Pray

This month, we are studying the Art of Praying. We are learning how to pray. Last week we saw the Lord’s prayer and pastor highlighted to us, the way we should pray. The Lord’s prayer is aspirational for many of us human beings. It is the highest and most ideal form of prayer that we can imitate. While we all try our best to reach there, let us not get discouraged if we really cannot conform to that model of praying. Today, we are going to see a prayer that is probably at the other end of the continuum, as far as prayer goes. This week we are going to focus on a very human prayer. The prayer of Jonah.

Now let us look at Jonah briefly before we look at the prayer and try to understand God’s message for us today.

All of us remember Jonah’s story. This is often taught in the Sunday schools. This is often preached on, when we want to focus on obedience. And it is a good story. God asks Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach, and Jonah, disobeys, runs away and heads in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh. He catches a ship and hides, away from everyone, and hoping that no one will notice him and he can safely run away from others and from God. But then God had other plans. He sends out a great storm. The ship is about the sink and the people start asking whose fault is it. The lot falls on Jonah and Jonah confesses, and is thrown out into the sea. Again the Lord sends a great Fish to swallow Jonah and Jonah is in the fish belly for three days and three nights.

We know the story upto this much, isn’t it? Now let us turn our attention to Chapter 2 of the book of Jonah. Chapter 2 is a short chapter. 10 verses. It is about Jonah’s prayer and god answering his prayer. Let us read it carefully. Jonah 2:1-10 (NKJV) 1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. 2 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. 8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. 9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” 10 So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

First let us look at when Jonah decides to pray. By his own admission, he decides to pray only when things get to its worst. V2 says, he cried out to the Lord because of his affliction. V7 says when his soul fainted within him, he remembered the Lord. V3 -4 explains the difficulties that he was going through when he decided to pray. In short, Jonah decided to pray when everything was going wrong. Of course all his afflictions came firstly because he disobeyed the Lord in the first place. But the fact is that he decided to pray due to his afflictions, due to his troubles. Don’t we find ourselves in this situation very often? We say to the Lord, Lord, we don’t want to go to the place that you asking us to go. We don’ want to do the things that you are asking us to do. We will go to the place which we think is right. We will do things that we believe is the right thing to do. And then we get into trouble. Some times we get into small troubles, but at times we get into BIG troubles. And then we pray. We some times feel guilty that we pray when we are in trouble. One of the lessons from Jonah’s prayer this morning is that it OK for us to pray when we are in trouble, even if the trouble was caused entirely by our own stubbornness, our disobedience, our self will etc. Actually the Bible says that God expects us to pray when we are in trouble, when we are afflicted. Job 36:13 (NKJV) tells us “But the hypocrites in heart store up wrath; They do not cry for help when He binds them. So that is the first lesson that we can learn from Jonah’s prayer. We pray when we are afflicted, when we are troubled. 

Next, let us look at the comfort and encouragement that Jonah knew he will receive because of this prayer. Let us remember what we saw earlier. Jonah was in the worst position possible. He was in the belly of a fish. V3 explains his situation. He was cast down into the depths. Waters passed over his head. He is surrounded by the floods. His life is under threat. He is in the situation that the psalmist David described in Psalm 69:1 (NKJV) ; Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck.”. He is actually repeating the words of David from Psalm 42:7 (NKJV), Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me. Yet, even in this condition, he finds comfort in the God, in whom he believed and knew that no harm can come to him as long as he had God on his side. He finds encouragement in the fact that his God is a prayer answering God. He knew that if he went up to the temple of God, he would be saved. He knew that the Lord will hear his prayer, and will let him live. Let him live to fulfill God’s purposes. Let him live so that he can praise God. How about ourselves? How do we feel when we are down under, when we feel all is lost? What do we do when we feel hedged in? Do we complain as in Lamentations 3:7 (NKJV) ; He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; He has made my chain heavy. Or do we grow stronger in faith and know that the Lord will deliver us and the Lord will let us live to glorify him and to praise him? The psalmist tells us in Psalm 27:13 (NKJV) ; I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Are we encouraged to pray to the Lord Jesus, who told us in Luke 22:32 (NKJV) ; But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” The Lord is himself is praying that our faith should not fail, and once we return to Him, we should strengthen each other. That is one of the purposes of the church isn’t it? Grow our faiths and strengthen each other in the process. How often do we do this? How often can we emulate Jonah and say, Lord, I know that immaterial of where I am, immaterial of what troubles face me, when I cry out to you, I know that you will listen to my prayer and bring deliverance to me. So that is the second lesson from Jonah’s prayer this morning. We are encouraged to pray immaterial of how bad our situation may seem to be, and we are encouraged to pray in faith that our Lord listens to our prayers.

The other thing that we notice in this is where Jonah prayed from. He was in the belly of a fish. Those of you who eat or clean fish know what is in its belly. It is not the cleanest of places. It is not a clean and fragrant place. It is not a well lit place. It is not, what one would call as the most conducive place for mediation. Yet Jonah prayed from that place. In the new testament we see Paul and Silas praying from the prison among stocks. No place is bad for praying. The heavens are equally accessible from every part of the earth. So let us not look for a perfect place to pray, let us not wait for a quite moment for us to pray, let us not wait for a suitable time to pray. Some people of course take it to the extreme and pray only when they lie down, so that they can go to sleep without any further efforts. So that is the third lesson from Jonah’s prayer for us. Pray from anywhere. Wherever we go, is the right place for prayer. In other words, we carry the church with us, so that we can pray anywhere.

The fourth area is actually a warning for all of us. V8 tells us that those who go after worthless idols forsake their own mercy. Jonah is speaking from experience of course. He himself went away from God and pursued his own “idols”. This is warning for all of us to keep close to God and not to let any other “idols” take His place. Let us remember that idols do not refer to physical idols. In the modern world, idols could mean anything that we give priority over God. Money, Job, fame, pleasures, any of these could easily turn into an idol and take our focus away from God. So let us examine ourselves in the wake of Jonah’s prayer and warnings. Do we give God the priority that is due? What are the idols that we have succumbed to?

The last thing that I want to highlight is the fact that all glory and honour belongs to God, and God alone. We see Jonah ending his prayer with a solemn covenant in v9. He covenants that the God of mercies shall be the God of his praises, if He delivers him. He covenants that he will bring a sacrifice, a sacrifice of thanksgiving. It is not a physical sacrifice that Jonah offers, it is a sacrifice of heart, a sacrifice offered through the lips, as Hosea 14:2 (NKJV) , put it; Take words with you, And return to the LORD. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; Receive us graciously, For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips. Or as Hebrews 13:15 (NKJV) , puts it, Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. Jonah was confirming that he is now ready to praise God in the presence of people. He was quoting the Psalmist who said in Psalm 116:17-19 (NKJV) ; I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, And will call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD Now in the presence of all His people, In the courts of the LORD’S house, In the midst of you, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD! Remember that this whole episode started due to his reluctance to do just that. He did not want to go to Nineveh and bring God’s word to them. He now realises his folly and agrees to spread God’s word in the place. Jonah also ends with the confirmation that Salvation belongs to the Lord and the Lord alone. This is in line with the affirmations found elsewhere in the Bible. Psalm 3:8 (NKJV) tell us that Salvation belongs to the LORD. Your blessing is upon Your people. Psalm 68:19-20 (NKJV) says Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits, The God of our salvation! Our God is the God of salvation; And to GOD the Lord belong escapes from death. So that is the last lesson I want to leave us with this morning from Jonah’s prayer. Our God is the God of salvation and we can be saved only by him, through Jesus Christ.

So let us summarise. Jonah’s prayer gives us six lessons

  1. We pray when we are afflicted

  2. We pray with hope and encouragement

  3. We pray wherever we are, there is no specific place on earth for prayer.

  4. We pray only to our God and not to idols. Idols will bring us misery

  5. We pray knowing that Salvation belongs to our God and only our God can save us through Jesus Christ.

Let us pray

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