(In this three part message, I’ll be looking at the next stage of Jonah’s story from Jonah 1:17-3:3.)
Have you ever gotten a really good deal? Maybe you are a coupon queen or king with the accordion file system, always ready to walk out with a lot for a little. It can make you feel pretty smart exchanging paper coupons for products. What an exchange when your pantry looks like a macaroni and cheese factory or roll after roll of toilet paper threaten to topple over. Author Shel Silverstein wrote a young boy who goes through a series of exchanges, trying each time to find the best deal: Sometimes before bed I’ll read it to Samuel, in hopes that he won’t be quite this smart:
Title: Smart My dad gave me one dollar bill./ ‘Cause I’m his smartest son. And I swapped for two shiny quarters ‘Cause two is more than one! / And then I took the quarters And traded them to Lou/ For three dimes—I guess he don’t know/ That three is more than two!/ Just then, along came old blind Bates/ And just ‘cause he can’t see/ He gave me four nickels for three dimes./ And four is more than three!/ And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs/ Down at the seed-feed store,/ And the fool gave me five pennies for them/ And five is more than four!/ And then I went and showed my dad/ And he got red in the cheeks/ And closed his eyes and shook his head—/ Too proud of me to speak!
What an exchange! Last week Jonah tried the Great Escape, and yet quickly he found himself thrown into the sea. For a lot of people they think that is where they feel like their story ends. They are hopeless underneath the waves of the world—and yet we find that God’s pursuit didn’t end with Jonah being thrown over, it was just beginning. We see one of the most talked about verses in all of Scripture: 17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. As we continue in our sermon series called PURSUED, that we find the process by which Jonah makes a great exchange from disobedient to mission minded. When people preach about Jonah’s most famous episode, Jonah and the giant fish, some argue that it must be a parable. Others wrestle violently to make it an apologetic sermon, searching the depths of the sea for a fish capable of swallowing a grown man. Here is what we have to remember: If God is God, moment by moment performing the miracle of holding together 2 hydrogen atoms with one oxygen, or holding the earth at exactly 23 degree angle, weighing an estimates six sextillion tons on an invisible axis, then the fish could have been a gold fish cracker and it could have still worked.
And so as we pick up with the prayer of Jonah after his 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of a giant fish we get his account of the great exchange which he admits to us started with great…
Distress (Jonah 2:1) He said, “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”
Keep in mind Jonah wrote down his prayer almost 2,800 years ago and yet within his prayer is the human condition. When things are going well—we have a tendency to give ourselves credit-to pat ourselves on the back, to marvel at our own genius, and yet when things start to fall apart we are more apt to start searching for answers.
Sometimes we resist calling out because we think “I got myself into this mess, I’ve got to get myself out. If you ever follow what is happening in the world of sports more and more people are talking about a seemingly unlikely phenomenon in the world of multi-million dollar contracts—ending up broke! Many of the athletes in the late teens and 20’s made more money than most of us will ever see, but some of the greats like boxers Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, basketball player Antonio Walker and Allen Iverson to football legend William “The Fridge” Perry all went broke according to ex-NBA player Adonal Foyle, author of the new book, “Winning the Money Game: Lessons Learned From the Financial Fouls of Pro Athletes”. The article was telling with the extravagant lifestyles, lavish spending but the line which stood out as relevant in our look at Jonah today is the following: “Lots of players are having financial trouble, but they won’t talk about it,”…Maybe you don’t have millions, but maybe you’ve felt that same pressure to keep your mouth shut, to keep up the act, to fake it until you make it.
Yet, Jonah found that he could be real with God, and God still wanted to be real for him! Distress can go one of two ways: depression or new direction. In Deuteronomy, God talks about the place of distress and why he allows us to endure those seasons of life, “When you are in distress …you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice” Sometimes it is only in distress that we finally see our own brokenness staring back in the mirror, when our tired excuses start to fall flat in the face of our failure— and it was where Jonah cried out and God “answered me”/ God “listened to my cry!”
Most often in life it is the seasons of distress that deepens our dependence, if we let it, when our façade of self-reliance melts away and we have to cry out to someone. We don’t cry out to the business deal we were chasing, we don’t cry out to the government, we don’t cry out to the other woman or other guy to save us, we cry out to the God who hears us! In the song “Better Than A Hallelujah”—Amy Grant captures this reality playing out in distress, “God loves a lullaby in a mother’s tears in the dead of night/ Better than a hallelujah sometimes/ God loves a drunkard’s cry, the soldier’s plea not to let him die /Better than a hallelujah sometimes./ A woman holding on for life, a dying man giving up the fight/ are better than a halleljuah sometimes / Tears of shame for what’s been done/ The silence when the words won’t come/ are better than a halleljuah sometimes./ Why is it better? Because the pretense is gone, the mask has fallen away. Only God grace remains!