Look to Jesus, Jonah (Jonah 2:3-7)

Life is hard. Everybody has problems. Even people who seem like they have it all together really don’t – at least not through their own power. In middle and high school, it can be tempting to look around and see other students and think, “Man, if only I could have their circumstances or abilities or height (guys) or looks (girls) – life would be so much easier.” But the truth is that those students are facing their own daily battles, too. Just like you, they wrestle with anxieties about school, sports and extracurriculars, their friends, their families, and especially themselves. Everyone at your age is trying to figure out who they are, whether or not they are good enough to “do life,” and what their purpose is. And like you, they are struggling with their faith. The issue is not whether or not life will be hard. The real issue is: What will you do about it? When you face your problems today, how will you deal? And when things get really bad, where will you turn for help? How will you handle life when it seems like you are sinking down into the depths of distress?

Jonah found himself having to answer these faith questions in today’s passage. There he was, trapped in the stomach of a giant fish. After three days and three nights of stewing (both literally and figuratively), the reluctant prophet finally did the right thing – he turned to his God. Jonah lifted up a broken prayer, reciting Old Testament Scripture to help him express his deep sorrow and need for God’s comfort. In Jonah’s case, his suffering was God’s discipline in response to Jonah’s disobedience and sin. However, for Christians, not all suffering in our lives is the result of our sin. Sometimes we suffer because of the sins of others. Sadly, some of our students are experiencing the painful biblical truth that the sins of the fathers (and mothers) can hurt their children (Exodus 20:5-6). We are all ultimately responsible for our actions and will each one day stand before the Lord to give account for our lives; our students are no exception. Yet when parents forsake the Lord and His commands, their children also feel the harshness of living life outside of God’s good plan for families. Other times, we suffer simply because we live in a fallen world that God is still redeeming in His own sovereign way and time. We do not always understand what God is doing in our trials, especially while we are going through them; His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Sometimes all we can do is cry or cry out. Until we look to Jesus.

Jonah did exactly what we must do every day – look to Jesus and live. He was poetically and literally honest about the pain of his situation. But Jonah took his burden to his God. He did not stay in despair forever. He knew that all he could do was appeal to God’s mercy and grace, so that’s what he did. And that’s what we need to do, too. Jesus came to save broken and sinful people like us. He came to make the sick get well and bring the dead to life. That’s not just the certain hope of heaven that we have through our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. No, we can experience hope today and every day, even in the midst of our sorrows and trials. Read today’s passage yourself and let Jonah’s prayer be your prayer. Ask God to help you pray the verses and really believe them it. Look to Jesus and live today!

The Text (Jonah 2:3-7)

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.

Questions to Think About

  1. Have you ever had a particularly dark or difficult time in your life? Did you turn to the Lord then? What happened?
  2. What trials and battles are you facing in life right now? Over what part of your life do you most need to pray today’s passage?
  3. Do you ever find yourself quoting Scripture when you pray? Can you give some examples?

Notes

  • The phrase, “All Your waves and Your billows passed over me” is a quotation of Psalm 42:7. The idea of sinking into the deep and being covered with floods of waters can be found Psalm 69:2. In fact, some commentators see at least eight different quotations or paraphrases from older parts of the Old Testament in Jonah’s prayer, especially from the Psalms. If a prophet like Jonah turned to the Scriptures to help him pray, how much more should we do the same today? One of the reasons we study our Bibles and memorize verses is so that we can pray God’s Word back to Him. Sometimes we cannot express our hearts to God on our own, but His Word can help us pray when we are spiritually speechless.
  • Jonah’s prayer shows what was going on in his heart and mind at this point in the book. How and what we pray can say a lot about where we are spiritually. If you find that it has been many days since you prayed, God will seem distant and strange. But when He draws you back to Himself (hopefully the gentle and not the hard way!), then you will find yourself praying honestly and frequently again.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Pray, Jonah – Your God is Listening (Jonah 1:17 – 2:2)

Have you ever wondered what Jonah was doing for three days and nights in the belly of the fish before he finally spoke to God? Today we have many distractions to take our minds off God when we want to avoid Him. We can occupy our thoughts and time with endless hours of video games, texting or FaceTiming with friends, playing or watching ball games, streaming television shows, monitoring social media, or even just staring pointlessly at the home screens of our phones (with an iPhone, you can your see your app usage for the past week by going to “Settings,” then “Battery,” and then “Last 7 Days;” if you’ve never done this, it can be quite convicting!). None of these activities are necessarily bad in moderation (though the home screen staring thing is weird), but when we drown ourselves in busyness to the point that we can’t hear God’s voice, that’s a serious spiritual problem.

Jonah didn’t that have that option in today’s passage – God took ignoring Him off the menu. Instead, Jonah sat trapped in a fish’s gut, with stomach acid permanently bleaching his skin and hair. Imagine someone finishing an epic Color Run, then not being able to be blown off, then not being able to take a shower ever again – this is your new look for the rest of your natural life! God miraculously preserved His prophet’s life, but the process changed Jonah’s life forever. Jonah sat inside the fish for three days, nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. He was thinking about his disobedience and the horrible consequences it had brought. He was wondering why God had saved him from drowning, only to then stick him in some giant shark’s tummy (probably wasn’t a whale) to simmer. And then Jonah resolved to listen to God again. He decided that if ever God delivered him from this aquatic prison, Jonah would do what God said. Finally at the end of himself, Jonah found the grace of God again. And then Jonah was ready to pray, not to a strange Judge or Enemy, but to his good and kind Heavenly Father. He knew His God was ready to listen to him.

How about you? Are you ready to pray to the Lord Your God today? God is waiting for you in the quiet places. What will you do?

The Text (Jonah 1:17 – 2:2)

1:17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

2:1 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.

Questions to Think About

  1. Do you struggle to maintain a quality prayer life? Do you need to reduce the distractions in your life to better hear God’s voice?
  2. Have you ever reached the end of yourself like Jonah did in today’s passage? What happened?
  3. Have you ever had great experiences with God at weekend retreats or week-long camps? Have you ever wanted to continue to enjoy that level of sweet fellowship with the Lord and other Christians in your everyday life? That could happen at NRCA if we all start to make more time for God in our lives!

Notes

  • Most commentators today believe that it was a giant fish of some kind that swallowed Jonah, not a whale. The Hebrew word used here as well as the Greek word used by Jesus in Matthew 12 when He talks about Jonah’s experience both refer to a fish. The reason some scholars in the past wanted to see this creature as a whale was to make the event seem more scientifically possible. Whales are mammals and would have air inside them that Jonah might have been able to breathe. However, we must take God’s Word at what it says. This was a miracle. The Bible contains accounts of miracles, and we should believe them. If we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, then we can believe that God supernaturally kept Jonah alive inside a giant fish’s stomach.
  • Jonah felt like he was a total goner, dead and done. But he wasn’t. So he finally did what the faith inside him led him to do – he turned back to God. Jonah knew that he knew the Lord. He knew who God was, and he trusted that God would hear his prayer. If you are a Christian, pray and believe today that God hears your prayers. “Cast all your cares upon the Lord, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7)!

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

It’s Called Repentance, Jonah (Jonah 1:11-16)

Repentance is about change. It begins with a change of mind, a change of heart, a turning of your will away from sin and selfishness and towards God and His will. This inner change then leads to an outward change in your words and actions. Repentance is tough because you must first admit that you are wrong, and that your wrongness has hurt your relationship with God and other people. You know you are repenting when you find yourself willing to accept whatever consequences God sees fit to give you for the sin that you are giving up. You don’t care anymore. You just want to change, to stop living in disobedience and be right with your Creator.

Jonah came to that point in today’s passage, and so did the pagan sailors who threw him into the sea. Jonah was a child of God coming home (Chair 2 for those who remember the sermon illustration), while the sailors were totally lost people finding the grace of God for the first time (Chair 4). Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between rededication and salvation, especially with students. Both acts involve turning away from sin and self and turning to God in faith, and they both lead to peace, joy, and worship. Jonah believed he was sacrificing his own life for the sailors, turning back to God in his final breaths like Samson did when he destroyed the Philistine temple (Judges 16:23-30). He was ready and expecting to die for disobeying God, which we know can happen to real believers (consider Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 and old Eli in 1 Samuel 3-4). The sailors also thought they might die and desperately begged Jonah’s God to have mercy on them. They did not want to throw Jonah overboard, which showed a genuine reverence for God and human life. And after they tossed Jonah off the ship and the storm calmed, they worshiped God with sacrifices and vows. They bore fruits of repentance – sorrow over sin and a desire to change and live for the God who had saved them.

Ultimately, there is a huge, eternal spiritual difference between a wandering child of God in need of rededication and a lost sinner in need of salvation. The problem is that to the outside observer, they can look the same. Both live in the world, act selfishly, and walk in the darkness of sin. The children of God, however, like Lot, are never happy in the streets of Sodom. They live in misery because they have tasted the joy of fellowship with Jesus and lost it to the chains of sin. The relationship is still there. Their identity in Christ has not changed, but the backslidden believers have lost a sense of who they really are. If that describes you today, if you are a Jonah, please return to your first love – Jesus. Do it now – don’t let your righteous soul continue to be tormented by sinful friends, media influences, and behaviors. Make a clean break and find the joy of the Lord again. Determine to become a consistent disciple of Jesus Christ, whatever it costs you. At NRCA, you are in a place where we can help you to become mature in Christ – but only if you really want it.

But you may indeed be lost like the sailors. It may be that you never known the joy and peace of salvation. It may be that you have always served other gods – money and stuff, sports, lust, popularity, self-pity, or just your own selfish plan for your life. You have never truly worshiped Jesus Christ in spirit and truth. God has never given you a new heart through a saving faith in His Son. The application of today’s passage to you is plain and urgent: Run to the cross while you can still hear the Savior’s call! Don’t be like Lot’s wife, a person of the world who rejected salvation, looked back to Sodom, and died on the spot. You have teachers who are always willing to make time to counsel you about your relationship with Jesus Christ. Such an opportunity may never exist for you again after you leave NRCA, especially if you already don’t go to church and plan to attend a secular university. Turn to Jesus now, be saved, and then testify like the sailors to God’s mercy and grace in your life!

The Text (Jonah 1:11-16)

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”—for the sea was growing more tempestuous.

12 And he [Jonah] said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”

13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they cried out to the Lord and said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.

Questions to Think About

  1. Have you ever had a rededication experience? How was it both similar to and different from your salvation experience?
  2. Can you think of a recent time where you experienced the harsh consequences of your sin even after you confessed it to God? Can remembering those consequences help you to avoid those sins in the future?
  3. If your parents are Christians, have you ever asked them about their salvation experiences? How about if they ever had rededication experiences later in their lives? This might be a great topic for a family devotion in the car or at dinner!

Notes

  • Some commentators doubt whether these sailors truly got saved and became believers. I think they did based on what the text tells us. They felt sorrow over the sin of basically murdering Jonah (or so they thought), showed fear of God, did what God obviously wanted (by throwing Jonah overboard), and then spontaneously broke out in worship after the storm stopped. Honestly, I don’t know what else the Bible could have told us to show us that these men really got saved!
  • Jonah did not know that God was going to send a fish to rescue him. Jonah expected to die and resigned himself to his fate. This should be a strong warning to backsliding believers who are ignoring God. You cannot lose your salvation if you are truly saved, but God can make your life miserable with His hand of discipline until you repent. Believers should actually take our sin more seriously than lost people because we KNOW what it cost our God and Savior – the blood of His own Son. And we know what hardships sin might cause us in this life if we refuse to resist and kill it.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

It’s Not Them, Jonah – It’s You (Jonah 1:7-10)

We live in a culture that prefers to blame others for our own mistakes. As students, when you bomb a test or quiz (which at NRCA, could mean a “B” or lower to some of you), it’s easy to say that it was the teacher’s fault (it was too hard, too long, about stuff that wasn’t taught, etc. – you get the point). If your team loses, it was because of the referees, the other team cheated somehow, your coach didn’t know what he/she was doing, or the rest of your teammates didn’t do their jobs. Even when you might admit that something like not doing homework or studying was “sort of” your fault, you want to blame it on your extreme busyness (because you hate “having to play” on two sports teams in the same season, right?) and just not having enough time in the week (because other students get 8 or 9 days, right?). Finally, you might even blame your struggles with following or not following Christ on others – church and chapel speakers are just too boring for you, reading the Bible and praying take too much time and effort (because you need at least 2 hours a day for Fortnite and/or Snapchat, right?), and obeying your parents and teachers is only cool when you think they are right. The peer pressure to blame others is strong even at Christian schools like NRCA.

But today’s passage shows us a radically different, biblical response to our mistakes and sins – taking responsibility and accepting the consequences. Wow! You see, even before the sailors cast lots (kind of like drawing straws or rolling dice) to figure out who had angered the God who sent the storm, Jonah knew that the lot would fall on him. He makes no attempt to hide his guilt here. Jonah simply admits that it is HIS God who sent the storm because of HIS sin and disobedience. Surely this was painful for Jonah to admit. But with his confession came freedom from guilt. When we stop ignoring our sin and honestly admit it to God and ourselves, then we are ready for God to take away our shame and help us repent and get back to walking with Him in obedient faith. My prayer is that whatever sins might be hurting your relationship with God right now, you would find the joy of God’s forgiveness and renewal by taking responsibility for your words and actions. Stop looking at others, look to Jesus, and listen for His voice. Hear and believe His promises in Jeremiah 29:12-13 – “Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”

The Text (Jonah 1:7-10)

7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”

9 So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

Questions to Think About

  1. When was the last time that you got alone with your Bible for a good hour or half hour and just asked God to speak to you about your life and what He wants to do in it? What might happen if you tried that today?
  2. Have you ever had a time when you were running from God but finally got tired, gave up, and honestly came back to Him like Jonah did in today’s passage? What happened?
  3. Are you experiencing God’s joy and peace right now? If not, could it be that you’ve been looking too much at others and instead need to look to Jesus and listen for His words about your own life?

Notes

  • Our culture’s tendency to blame others for our sins goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Remember what happened after Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit? God called on Adam to admit his fault, but Adam blamed God and Eve by saying that it was the fault of the “woman that you [God] gave me.” Eve then blamed Satan for tricking her. But the blame game did not save them from the harsh consequences that came with sin entering the world. The longer we continue to blame others for our own mistakes, the harder it becomes to finally admit where we’ve gone wrong and get back on track with God. It’s better to stay close to Jesus and keep short accounts with Him of our sin.
  • Jesus addressed the blame game problem in the Sermon on the Mount when He warned us to first get the logs out of our own eyes before we try to get the sawdust out of our neighbors’ eyes (Matthew 7:3-5). It is easy to see other people’s sins but harder to see our own. That’s why we need to read the Bible every day. When we read the Bible carefully and humbly, God uses it like a sharp sword and a light to stab our hearts and show us the sins that we have hidden even from our own selves. This hurts when we first start learning how to read the Word on our own and let God do His spiritual surgery. But then we realize that God is doing this work because He loves us. When we understand that God wants to set us free from the burden and guilt and bad consequences that sin brings, we discover the truth that God does indeed do all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Time to Wake Up, Jonah (Jonah 1:4-6)

There’s an old saying: “There are no atheists in foxholes (places where soldiers hide during battle).” When people’s lives are on the line, they often cry out to God in prayer even if nothing about them before that time has ever shown that they believe in Him. We see that truth played out today as we continue the story of Jonah. The Lord sends a great storm after the fleeing prophet, and the crew of the passenger ship he boarded in verse 3 panics. Apparently, there was something particularly fierce and strange about this storm. Its winds were violent enough to bring hardened, pagan sailors to desperately call out to the false gods that they had probably learned about as children. They hoped that one of these “gods” would hear and be willing and able to stop the waves from destroying their ship and drowning them in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. The situation was so bad that they began to dump their precious cargo to lighten the ship, a great loss of money that they hoped would at least keep them from losing their lives.

Contrast their reaction with Jonah, God’s prophet, who lay asleep below decks. I (Mr. Reel) have slept through a hurricane before – two of them to be exact. But when those hurricanes hit South Florida in 2004, I was safe inside a modern apartment buiilt like a bunker. Jonah was on board a strong ship, but it was still just a ship of ancient times, and it was in clear danger of capsizing. Jonah definitely felt this storm. He seemed to being putting forth conscious effort to hide from God. As we will see in the next passage, Jonah knew why the storm had come – it was from his God, and it had been sent for Him. What a sinking feeling it is to run from God and feel Him chase after you, even toward the ends of the your known world. Perhaps Jonah, a man skilled in the Old Testament Scriptures, thought of King David’s words from Psalm 139:7-10 as he lay in his bed and the storm raged outside: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 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.”

So when the captain called down to Jonah to wake up and call to his God, it must have felt like the voice of the Lord Himself. “You can’t run anymore Jonah – it’s time to come back to Me. It’s time to repent and do what I told you to do in the first place. Wake up, Jonah. Wake up.” Have you ever been there? Are you there right now? Can any believer really run and hide from God forever? Jonah couldn’t, and I praise God that we can’t either!

The Text (Jonah 1:4-6)

4 But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.

6 So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”

Questions to Think About

  1. Have you ever seen unbelievers act more righteously than Christians? Have you ever been humbled yourself when lost people acted better than you? What happened? What did you learn from the experience?
  2. Have you ever been spiritually (or even physically…ahem….chapel…ahem) asleep when you knew that God was trying to get through to you? What happened?
  3. Are you trying to run and hide from God right now? Why or why not?

Notes

  • The sharp contrast between the behavior of the lost sailors and Jonah is a key point in Chapter 1 of Jonah. These sailors did not know the One True God and were probably pretty rough and sinful men. Yet they humbled themselves when the storm came and sought help from God the best way that they knew how. Jonah, however, knew everything that had been revealed at the time about the God who sent the storm (he knew the Old Testament), yet he did not turn to God in repentance and faith. It is a sad and painful experience when unbelievers act better than Christians, but Jonah was a real believer, so this book of the Bible proves that it can happen. Be careful about judging other Christians when they are not yet perfect. People are not saved by being better than others, but by their faith in Jesus Christ who lived the perfect life for us and died and rose again on our behalf.
  • God is just and merciful. We will see in the upcoming devotions that He intended to save not only His prophet Jonah, but the poor sailors who called out for His help. God is fair, and He delights to show grace toward humble, repentant sinners.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel