I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2: 1

 

Everyone experiences difficult times and bad days, but no one that I know has ever had one quite like Jonah’s. He had been literally voted off of the boat and tossed into the ocean. Then what might have seemed like a relatively quick end to his misery by way of drowning had turned into a prolonged time of suffering while a giant fish digested him. The depths of Jonah’s despair had a strangely factual element to it, and there were certainly no people around who were going to hear him or who could possibly come to his help. Not only was he at the end of his proverbial rope, but also that tool would have been useless even if he had one with him. This left him with one place to go for resolution and relief or even for the certitude of an end to his misery. He turned to God with a plea for either a merciful end to it all or for the miracle of being saved out of the situation that was surrounding him.

 

Now for Jonah to call out to God took more than a little humility and some real turn about in his heart and mind. The boat trip that Jonah was taking was a journey away from God and from the path that the Lord had clearly determined for him to take. Our lost mariner was fearful and concerned about doing what God had set out for him as his calling and mission; so, it must have seemed to him that there was no way that God would come to his aid. Jonah was the rebellious one, the disobedient child, and the lost soul who had turned away from God in the course of losing his way. Yet, where was he to turn if not to the only ears that could possibly hear him at that moment? Jonah’s faith had been insufficient to trust God enough to take him through the task at hand to conclusion, and he just really didn’t want to do what the Lord told him to do; however, God was faithful to His mission of saving this difficult man and of using him to bring saving knowledge of God’s loving truth to others.

 

The Lord had a plan and a purpose for Jonah. He has the same for everyone on this earth. Almost no one is sent across an ocean to bring the message of the Gospel of Christ to a far off nation; yet, we are all given the opportunity to share our faith with someone who we encounter in our journey through the day. Most of us do not turn away from God in the dramatic manner that Jonah did, but everyone has been rebellious and almost all of us continue to struggle with God and with engaging in His will for us after we come to know Christ. Still, the Lord stays committed to us and to saving us from the deep and the dark places where we have gone. Whether this place of seeming burial that we are experiencing is caused by our own actions or is the result of the way that evil attacks our bodies, minds, and spirits, it is a real and an oppressive place to dwell. Christ desires to save each of us from these times and these places. He will bring relief and restoration to us. He asks us to do as Jonah did by recognizing the need that we have for our Savior. Generally, this recognition of need and of the absence of internal resources to meet it leads to speaking up and sharing the pain that is present with God and with someone else. This leads to vulnerability that is answered in trust of God and of His working through His body, and it may place us on a journey that will be hard and taxing. However, on that journey Christ joins us, and we are taken in faith into the peace that only His presence can provide in this life.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the LORD!

Jonah 2: 9

 

This is the final statement from Jonah’s fish-bound cry to the Lord for mercy and for saving. These are the words of his foxhole prayer or his deathbed confession of faith as the rhythmic beating of the grim angel’s wings is filling his ears with the reality of eternity. We also know that Jonah did not really do very well in following through with the commitment that he is expressing at this moment. Yet, even with his weaknesses, his conditional performance of God’s will, and the fact that God already knew who Jonah was and how he would respond to God’s calling for his life, the Lord was faithful to save our fishy friend and to continue to send him out to do God’s work in their world. Jonah has always been a very personal biblical character to me, and his words of repentance and commitment ring as true in ways that speak to my heart.

 

When I look at the life that I have and consider the many steps of that journey, I can readily see God’s hand at work in so many of them. In days of blessing and in those where trials were the theme He has been present. I have not always been willing to listen to His voice, and my heart has certainly not been consistently true. Yet, from the perspective of this place in my life, the most consistent and tangible influence, guiding force, and protective covering that I observe is what the Lord has provided. So, God does ask for me to sacrifice to Him. He continues to make these demands upon me to this day. The Lord wants me to give all that I have and all that I am to Him without reservation, holdback, or conditions. Christ gave beyond the measure of human comprehension to save me, and He desires for me to trust Him with control over the rest of my days.

 

This life of surrender and submission to Christ is the one that stays true to the calling of His cross upon me. There is pain in this journey, and there will be losses to accept that will be hard to endure, However, there is also peace to be found in the process of traveling in close proximity to Christ’s will, and real joy is encountered when my Lord works through my hands to bring others into the knowledge of His saving grace. For Jonah the Lord’s salvation was tangible and real, but the important work of saving was still to come by virtue of what Jonah did with his knowledge and experience of God’s grace, mercy, and love. I can look back over my life and appreciate the Lord’s presence and gracious work with words of thanksgiving, but my Lord desires for me to express myself by my actions and in my open declaration of His love, grace, mercy, and peace. Christ has saved me and set me free to serve Him, and my life belongs to the Lord!