There’s a lot we can learn about prayer from Jonah:
It’s ok to cry out to the Lord in distress (2).
If you’re like me, you’ve heard a million times that our praying shouldn’t be relegated only to crying out to the Lord in distress. You’ve probably also heard verses like James 1:2, which might make you think that when tough times come our way, God wants us to just grin and bear it.
It’s true that we need to maintain a healthy, balanced prayer life by spending time with God every day. One of the benefits of doing so is that we won’t find ourselves in Jonah’s shoes nearly as often, because we’ll be more in tune with the Spirit’s leading, and more apt to be obedient.
But when those tough times come, whether of our own making, or not, God wants us to cry out to Him. The joy that James 1:2 talks about is joy in the result of the trial (James 1:3-4), not in enjoying the pain and suffering itself. Even Jesus, when He was in Gethsemane before His crucifixion, cried out to the Father in anguish (Luke 22:41-44). Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him.
It’s ok to tell God you hurt. It’s ok to ask for His help.
In this passage, we don’t see Jonah on his knees in his “prayer closet” (Matthew 6:6) speaking softly to the Lord with hands neatly folded. In verse 7, he’s at the bottom of the sea, nearly unconscious, thinking a prayer. In verses 1-9, he’s inside the fish, talking out loud.
While it’s best to have a quiet place and uninterrupted time for our main time of daily prayer, I Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing”, which means that we should maintain an ongoing inner dialogue with God regardless of where we are or what we’re doing.
Pray Scripture back to the Lord (2-4, 6).
Does anything in Jonah’s prayer sound familiar to you? If so, it could be because he was praying Scripture to the Lord:
2- From my distress I called upon the LORD; The LORD answered me (Psalm 118:5a—I find it humorous that the rest of this verse says, “and set me in a large place,” but I guess maybe Jonah wasn’t in the mood to see the irony.)
You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol. (Psalm 86:13)
3- All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. (Psalm 42:7)
4- As for me, I said in my alarm,
“I am cut off from before Your eyes”;
Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications
When I cried to You. (Psalm 31:22)
6- To bring back his soul from the pit, (Job 33:30)
Be thankful (9).
To an outsider, it might not have been apparent, but Jonah had a lot to be thankful for. God loved him enough to chase him down, stop him from sinning, turn Jonah back to Himself, save his life, and still be willing to use him for Kingdom work.
Did you eat today? Wake up this morning with a roof over your head? Can you walk, talk, see, hear, think clearly? Were you arrested the last time you tried to go to church? We have a lot to be thankful for, too, but we take so much for granted.
Get up off your knees, changed (8-9).
Jonah got up off his knees recognizing who he was and who God was. He purposed in his heart at that moment not to forsake his faithfulness to the Lord. He intended to walk in the way of grateful worship, fulfill the calling God had placed on his life, and be obedient.
Cooperating with God as He works to develop your prayer life will not leave you unchanged. When you commit to become a praying person, be prepared to: fall in love with the things of God, know Him better, walk with Him more closely, see Him move in your life, and become more obedient, thankful, humble, kind, and fruitful. Every day, you’ll come away from your prayer time a little more changed into His likeness.
Preach the Gospel to yourself (2-9).
That’s basically what Jonah was doing in his prayer. He recounted that he was dying in his sin, terrors on every side, no way to help himself. But, God, in His mercy, reached down and saved him. Now, he had a new start.
Remember where you came from—the sin that once bound you—and how God brought you out. Meditate on God’s grace and mercy in saving you. Think about the terrible price Christ paid on the cross to save your life. Consider the victory that is yours through the resurrection. Praise Him for His compassion and His love.
Consider your prayer life. Which of the above are strong areas in your prayer life? Which are weak areas?
Make a “prayer plan”. Are there some practical things you could do to strengthen your weak areas or your prayer life in general? Can you think of any Scriptures about prayer to guide you?
Repent: of any time you’ve prayed with wrong motives (James 4:3) or outside God’s will.
Request: God’s help in being more faithful to Him in prayer.
Seek God: for ways in which you can cooperate with Him as He works to develop your prayer life.