Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jonah: Be Careful What You Wish For

Jonah: Be Careful What You Wish For


Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’” – Jonah 2:4

There’s an old Garth Brooks song that says “Some of the greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”.  Imagine if we always got what we want from God, if everyone, all across the world, could pray and God was the genie in the sky granting every wish.  We’d all be rich, we’d all be beautiful, we’d all be healthy, we’d all be in love, and the world would be a perfect place, right?  No, not right.  With money comes grief, with beauty comes contempt, and love most definitely brings heartbreak.  If we were all healthy there would be no hospitals or doctors or medicine, which we would need when accidents occurred.  God in his infinite wisdom has perfectly balanced our blessings and our problems.  Sometimes we, with our simple minds, cannot see it, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Jonah must have thought he’d finally gotten his wish.  Jonah felt content enough when he got on the boat to Tarshish to fall asleep.  His wish is revealed when we read Jonah 1:3, which says “But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD”.  He wanted to be where God wasn’t.  He wanted to be out of the presence of God.  Only a rebellious heart would want such a thing.

Jonah is on the boat asleep when the waves start crashing and are about to capsize the ship.  The crew, knowing this is an act of God, becomes nervous.  When they cast lots, the find it is Jonah God is after.  After careful consideration of their choices, the crew throws Jonah overboard.  The next time we hear from Jonah it’s in a prayer from the belly of a large fish that God prepared to swallow him, and he’s describing what it’s like to drown.
If you’ve ever nearly drowned, you know the feeling.  Water comes over you like a suffocating dark cloth.  You lose your sense of direction of up, down, left or right.  Panic sets in.  As you sink deeper your mind races to figure out how to climb out of the heavy water.  When you finally hit the bottom you feel the grasses around your ankles, yet are almost relieved to not be falling anymore. 

After having nearly drowned twice, reading Jonah’s description of drowning puts a knot in my throat.  He likens it perfectly to being in the belly of hell, a place created for punishment. We read his description in Jonah 2:2-6:
“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
And You heard my voice.
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.
Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight;
Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;
The deep closed around me;
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
I went down to the moorings of the mountains;
The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;

Can you imagine the fear Jonah felt?  And yet, it was as close to what he had wanted as he could get.  In verse 4 he says “I have been cast out of Your sight”.  Wasn’t that just what he wanted?  He wanted to run away FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD.  But after this encounter, and seeing just how frightening that could be, Jonah was a grateful man.  Verses 6-9 continue with Jonah’s prayer as he recalls the faithfulness of God and says:

“Yet You have brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord, my God.
When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the Lord;
And my prayer went up to You,
Into Your holy temple.
Those who regard worthless idols
Forsake their own Mercy.
But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
Salvation is of the Lord.”

Jonah has come to his senses.  He recognized God’s faithfulness to him and is now ready to be faithful to God.  “I will pay what I have vowed” is in reference to his obedience to his calling, which is to be a prophet.  And all God wanted was his obedience.  Immediately God spoke to the fish, and the fish vomited him out on dry land. 

We all go through periods of rebellion.  Maybe we run from our calling, choose to live in sin rather than being faithful to His word, or just live without regard to Him.  Rebellion seems to always be present in the flesh we live in.  Even Paul struggled with it, saying that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Sometimes it may feel like we have escaped God’s wrath and punishment, but be very sure, we never escape His sight. 

Psalms 139:8-10 says “If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.” You cannot go where God isn’t.  God is ever present, leading when we aren’t following, loving when we aren’t caring, providing when we aren’t grateful, faithful when we are rebelling.  But be sure it is not without cost.  Rebellion, just as in the life of Jonah, comes with a price.  It may come in wrathful punishment or just in years of silent regret, but it does have a price.  Be careful what you wish for, and thank God for unanswered prayers.

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