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
- Have you ever had a particularly dark or difficult time in your life? Did you turn to the Lord then? What happened?
- 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?
- Do you ever find yourself quoting Scripture when you pray? Can you give some examples?
- 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.