Learning from Jonah and the Giant Fish – Peace is Possible When the Present isn’t Perfect
Jonah is one of those epic tales from Scripture that carries me back to my childhood Sunday school classroom and the spectacular Old Testament Bible stories told there. Often animated in a colorful children’s book or reenacted in the classic felt-board fashion, the stories of Noah aboard the Ark, David slaying Goliath, and Daniel surviving the lions became bigger than life. The main characters loomed large in my memory. Jonah was another of those imagination-sparking characters, less because of heroic actions and more because he endured a three-day stay in the digestive tract of a giant fish and lived to tell the story.
If you don’t remember that story, or if you are new to faith and the paragraph above seems like crazy talk, grab your Bible or click here and read the story. It won’t take you long. Here’s a quick (very quick!) recap: Jonah, a prophet, was told by God warn the citizens of Nineveh of his impending judgment. Instead, Jonah disobeyed, jumped on a boat and fled the scene. In the middle of the Mediterranean, God caught Jonah’s attention with a giant storm, and to save their own skins, Jonah’s shipmates tossed him overboard. As Jonah started to drown, he prayed for mercy and is saved by God in an unusual way. Jonah is swallowed whole by a giant fish. Inside the fish, Jonah prayed again.
It is not remarkable that Jonah prayed while in the belly of the fish (wouldn’t you?), what is remarkable is the nature of Jonah’s prayer.
“I with a voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!”Jonah 2:9, ESV
Does it strike you as odd that Jonah offers a prayer of thanks while being covered by the stomach bile and unprocessed food parts in the belly of a giant creature?
I don’t know about you, but the moments in life when I am most depressed, most uncomfortable, and most disgusted are not the moments when I begin humming a worship tune in gratitude to God.
Jonah is not worshiping God because of where he was right then, but because of where he had come from. He vowed loyalty to God, not because of what he wanted God to do, but because of what God has already done. Jonah did not thank God because he was in the belly of a fish, but because he was saved from drowning.
Jonah was far from perfect, but I admire, and hope to emulate, this about him: his prayer of thanksgiving, vow of obedience, and declaration of God’s deliverance were offered while he was still in the belly of the fish.
Jonah realized something few people do, that thanking God for what he’s done in the past provides peace in the present.
But you and I will be tempted to dismiss Jonah as a tall tale meant for children, and then wonder why it’s so difficult to have peace in the midst of our uncomfortable circumstances.
You and I become so fixated on the imperfections of our current circumstances that we forget how God has already delivered us. Because we don’t love our current career and salary, we forget God has delivered you from joblessness, poverty and hunger. Because we don’t always get along with our friends and family, we forget God has delivered us from loneliness. Because we are obsessed with being perfection and success, we forget that God has already delivered us from condemnation and purposelessness.
I fear that if we were in Jonah’s shoes, we would be so fixated on the fish’s belly that we would forget God had delivered us from drowning.
In the end, no matter the kind of fish belly we find ourselves in, our imperfect circumstances should never outweigh the gratitude we have for the eternal salvation God has offered to us in Jesus Christ.
When we live in thankfulness for God’s salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection, we experience his overwhelming peace, no matter our circumstances. Think of a few things to thank God for, and do it today, whether you are in a time of peace or pain, fish’s belly or dry land. You might be surprised by the results.
Check out an earlier post by Chris here.