Lessons in distress!
Are you in a dead end situation in your life? Are you going through a season of distress and pain? We serve a God who never lets us down. As long as God is there, you have hope. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” No matter what failure you have gone through, what problem you are in, God is still willing to deliver you and bless you. I have learnt one thing that it is in those dead-end situations and distress that God teaches us valuable lessons.
God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh but he went to Joppa and took a ship for Tarshish. God sent a great storm and Jonah’s disobedience was found out to be the reason for the storm. Finally, the people in the ship cast Jonah into the sea and God provide a huge fish to swallow Jonah. He spent 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of a fish. Many times we make fun of him. He is 3 days in a fish. I would have cried out long before that. We make fun of him without realizing we do the same thing. The simple truth is that many of us have spent years at a college called UPF, the university of prepared fish. We laugh at Jonah for 3 days; many of us are in the same mess for years and have never turned to God.
What can we learn from Jonah’s distress that will help us to get up, to stop being down, and realize that there is mercy available.
1. Lessons in distress: God teaches us to pray.
Jonah 2:1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. Jonah finally prayed. The sailors ask him to pray when the storm was at its heights, he did not. Now he prays. The situation that he is in is what caused him to pray. His prayer room is not the one you want. It is smelling, it is damp, it is dark, it is dingy. But he is praying in his distress.
So let’s ask ourselves a question that we would be asking Jonah, “Why wait so long to pray?” You had an opportunity to pray before but you didn’t but now in your situation of great distress you finally pray.
I know parents who are crying out to God today because their children have forsaken God. They had the opportunity to pray to God and ask God, make me a great example to the children by praying, brining them to church and Sunday school, but they did not pray that then. They missed church then and now they are praying today in the midst of heartache.
There are couples that are struggling. They have already decided, “I am done with this marriage. It does not matter to me anymore. This relationship is bad and I am worn out.” They had an opportunity to pray when things started going bad, they had an opportunity to ask God to help them. They had an opportunity to do things God’s way but they did not do it, but now they pray today because they realize everything is falling completely apart and they wonder can it ever be brought back to where it needs to be. The answer is – “Yes it can.”
I have spent years working with the youths and the teenagers. They are people who had dreams and God honoring ambitions. But I have met many who gave into temptations. They could not wait for things in life. They would sit and cry out bitterly after all the rejection and pain. They had an opportunity to have prayed in the midst of the temptation. There was an opportunity to ask God to keep me where I need to be but the prayer was not uttered then. Now, it is uttered. In the midst of distress, in the midst of the problem, now they pray.
I have spoken to people who look for job. Once they get the job, they are nowhere to be seen. They are busy, working and Sunday is the only day for them to rest. Then they have no money for tithes and no offering. They do not pray and do things to God when they have an opportunity. Then they go through a storm and in the midst of distress pray to God.
Jonah 2:2 He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.” The first step out of the fish’s belly is to try to cry to God. Pray to him. The problem is too many of us are too proud to call upon God even in our affliction.
Look when Jonah prayed: Do you know when Jonah prayed? He did not pray in the storm. He did not pray when he was cast down into the sea. He did not pray when the fish swallowed him. Even in the fish’s belly he did not pray until things were getting real bad. Jonah 2:7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord. He waited until the end, only when he was about to get unconscious, he remembered the Lord.
When we do that we bring upon ourselves such unnecessary sorrow, unnecessary calamity, and prolonged distress. We wait too long to pray or we don’t pray at all.
There is no problem that is too difficult for my God to solve if you call upon him. You cannot keep any man down that will pray. But the good news is even if it is too late my God is willing to rescue me. When everything was bad in his life, then he decided to pray.
Look who he prayed to: Jonah 2:6 But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.
Jonah 2:1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.
Jonah prayed to his God. Jonah had a personal God. He had a personal relationship with his God. When I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior way back in 1987, the Lord offered to me this wonderful relationship with him, a relationship that I did not deserve. I did nothing to earn it. It was a free gift of God to me. “Here is a relationship that I want the two of us to have, come to me. I will be your God, you can be my son.” God is my God. John 1:12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Everyone in here is created by God. We all owe our existence to the created God who breathed into us the breath of life. Because we have been created by God does not mean that we are God’s child. To be God’s child you will have to accept Jesus Christ as your savior: John 1:12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Do you know him? See, Jonah could call upon his God, “Oh! Lord my God.” It was a personal relationship he had. Do you have that relationship? Maybe in the situation you are in you don’t think you have any relationship with God. But God is waiting for your call. Jonah has run from God as far as any man could ever run from God, God is willing to hear him. Even though Jonah refused God’s will, God never refused. Some think that their relationship with God is broken because they have broken fellowship with God.
Jonah 2:4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; (Our fellowship is gone.) yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ I know our fellowship is broken, but God you are waiting for me. I will look again to where you are. Jonah had gone as far as any man could go, but he realized that God was his God.
Look what Jonah prayed: Jonah 2:1-6 1From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ 5The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.
If you study Jonah’s prayer, will find Jonah quotes the Book of Psalms 8 times. Jonah is not just praying and throwing requests to God, Jonah is praying God’s promises back to God. He is telling, “God I know you. I know who you are. I know what you are. I know what you are capable of. I know your word says this and I believe your word.” He simply prayed God’s book back to him. He is standing on God’s promises and praying God’s word.
We ought to pray the promises of God over ourselves. We ought to pray the promises of God over families and loved ones. We ought to pray the promises of God’s word over our difficulties. Let God’s word flow from our lips back to God and claim the promises God has already given us. That is exactly what Jonah did.
John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. What is he saying? Without the word of God our prayers are limited to our own selfish requests. But guided by the Word of God our prayers have biblical direction.
Are you burdened? Pray God’s word back to him. Tell him you told me: Isaiah 53:4 He took up our pain and bore our suffering. Lord carry this from me.
Are you lonely? Deuteronomy 31:6 He will never leave you nor forsake you. “Father, let me feel your presence. I need your presence.” He said he would never leave.
Are you afraid? Psalm 56:3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Pray, “Father you said that what time I am afraid I can call upon you. Deal with my fear and help me.”
Do you have a need? Father you said: Philippians 4:19 My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Meet this need.”
Are you lost? Do you not know Christ as savior? Do you need a savoir? Pray: Romans 10:13 Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
You cannot keep a man down that prays. There is no such thing as a hopeless case with God. Claim his promises and by faith he will do exactly what he said.
2. Lessons in distress: God teaches us of our purpose.
Jonah remembered God had a purpose in his life. Jonah 2:7 When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. He was seeking God. Our purpose in life is to seek God. Matthew 6:33 Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
God reminded Jonah of his purpose. He left God. He disobeyed God. Ran away from God, but now he started praying and remembered about God’s holy temple. The holy temple was where the house of God was, the presence of God was there. He was reminded to seek God first.
It is only in distress many times that we find the purpose of our life. We run after job, we run after business, we run after everything in life which is all vanity. Until we are drawn to a distress, we don’t have the right perspective in life. Truth finally dawned on Jonah’s dull mind. I remembered my Lord.
Jonah 2:8 KJV They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. Vanity is a word that means emptiness, untruth, worthlessness, lying worthlessness.
Many are still running after lying vanities. Jonah observed vanity when he said, “I don’t need God. I can run from the presence of God.” We observe vanity when we say, “I can sin. I don’t need God. I need not come to church. I don’t have to pray.” That was a lying vanity.
Jonah chased lying vanity. Verse 8 is an anthem. You are sitting here listening to my words and the Holy Spirit is talking to you and you remember the times in your life when you ran from God and turned your back on him and decided to do things in your way, in your own strength, and in your own power. Some of you are there right now and you are struggling in your situation right this minute. Today this verse is a warning to us. It says to us it is not worth it to turn and run from God. It is not worth it to throw away his will and purpose in life. It is not worth it. Those of us that will observe in our own lives lying vanities, we forsake our own mercy.
God taught Jonah purpose.
3. Lessons in distress: God teaches us to praise.
Jonah 2:9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. Jonah offered thanksgiving to God in a fish. There is no way out. Don’t think he offered thanksgiving to God, so God let him out. No, he is not praying and shouting out to God to try to get out of that fish. He feels like it is absolutely over for him, there is no hope, yet he praises God.
How could a man knowing it is over praise God? Jonah in that moment of lucid mental connection with God, I remembered the Lord. He remembered how God brought his life up from scratch and even now God is in control. I disobeyed God sent the storm. I was thrown into the sea, God sent the fish. Even when I am getting unconscious God has never changed. I have done everything and anything except what I should be doing, but God has been everything that he said he was. He is praising the Lord for who he is in the midst of his distress because in the mist of his distress he has realized, “I am not what I need to be but God has never been anything but what he said he would be.”
Jonah learnt something now. He wants to thank God for everything. True thanksgiving and praise in distress is very effective. Faith in our life is proven in thanksgiving. Job said: Job 13:15 Thou he slay me, yet I will hope in him. Paul and Silas prayed at midnight in the jail after being beaten. It is God’s will to be giving thanks. God thought Jonah to praise him.
4. Lessons in distress: God teaches us perspective.
Jonah 2:9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
Often times in our distress, we get the right perspective in life. Jonah said, “I will pay that what I have vowed.” He has committed a lot of his life, money, and time to God but ran after the world. Now he got a new perspective – Put God first. I will give priority to God. I will pay what I have vowed. The NT version of this verse says: Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. He is telling if I do anything for me it is a loss, I need to put God first in my life.
Jonah was purposed by God to bring salvation to the gentiles, the Ninevites. He said, “Why should I preach to the gentiles? They are our enemies. They are not worth for God’s salvation.” But in Jonah’s distress he remembered his purpose in life. Jonah 2:9 I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.” “I am no one to stop God’s work. I am ready to go where you want me go. I am no one to stop your salvation to Nineveh. I am ready to do what you want Lord.”
The day we get that perspective, the day we start to pray, the day we start to praise, we find our purpose, everything will change in our life. That day we will finally see life in God’s perspective.
Jonah 2:10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah into dry land. God spoke to the fish. I don’t know what language they speak. He spoke to the fish and it vomited out Jonah out in the dry land. Another example in the Book of Jonah: Fish immediately obeying God when Jonah would not. I love Jonah 3:1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.
Jonah is back where he started. God gave him a second chance. He is back in the place of service, back in the place of usefulness, back where he can serve God, and see God use his life.
Jonah 2:2 He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. Thank God for the valuable lessons we learn in distress. Today if we will cry, he will hear and he will fix the mess that our life is in today. But it starts with us. We have to cry unto him.
Jonah 2:8 KJV They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. If could stand here today he would cry from the heart of a man who had been there, “Do not observe lying vanities in your life, if you do, you will forsake your own mercy that is available to you.” Wherever you happen to be in life call out to God now. If we are doing anything else, we are going to Tarshish through Joppa.
Often we find ourselves down and down and beaten up and losing and failing without realizing that mercy is available with God in our distress. Let’s pray.