Prayers of a man facing death


“I called out to the LORD in my distress, and he answered me.
From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice. You had cast me into the depths in the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounds me.
All your strong waves and rushing water passed over me.
So I said, ‘I have been driven away from your sight. Will I ever again look on your holy temple?
Waters have grasped me to the point of death; the deep surrounds me.
Seaweed is wrapped around my head at the base of the undersea mountains.
I have sunk down to the underworld; its bars held me with no end in sight.
But you brought me out of the pit.’ When my endurance was weakening, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple. Those deceived by worthless things lose their chance for mercy.
But me, I will offer a sacrifice to you with a voice of thanks.
That which I have promised, I will pay.
Deliverance belongs to the LORD!”
-Jonah 2:2-9 (CEB)


Jonah's prayer is present focused. He is honest about where he is at. In that terrible place, he is thankful. He should be dead, but he is alive. He should have been obedient, but he still has God. He is God's child and a worshiper of God. Jonah is talking to God about what just happened. He recalls how that as he was about to die, he called out to God, and God saved his life.

Jonah quotes 8 psalms (1) in his prayer. Maybe this is a good idea for us too, as Bill Johnson says to, "read the Psalms until you hear your own voice". Jonah probably had memorized a lot of scripture, which is not a bad idea. If you have the Word stored up in your heart and mind, it can be useful when you are in a crisis or when you are lending help to another who needs God's Word.

From the deep and from the grave, as it were, Jonah prayed and God heard his prayer. God can hear our prayers no matter where we are. Jonah describes his hopeless situation, yet he was still alive and could still pray. Jonah recounts how he is a worshiper of the one true God and thanks God. In the dire straights, Jonah thanks God. What was there to be thankful for? That he was alive and could offer one honest prayer before dying, that he is a child of God, and he is thankful to God for all of who God is and what God does in his goodness. At death's door, Jonah is thankful. Jonah is getting right with God.

Jonah had been disobedient and he caused a bunch of people to get into trouble with the storm. Only after he was found out did he admit it was his fault. He requested that the men cast him off, into the sea. Reluctantly and after trying to get him to shore, the men sent Jonah to a likely death in the sea. Then, the unexpected happened when the great fish came along and swallowed Jonah. Jonah lived. With whatever life he had left, Jonah prayed. He didn't curse God, but praised him for deliverance from death. He didn't know if death was only delayed, but having the ability to pray, that is what Jonah did. After his ordeal in the sea and being in the fish for 3 days, Jonah prayed.

When we are trapped by life's circumstances, will we see the goodness of God and pray with thankfulness? That trap or cave or desert might be God's life-preserver for you. Can we thank God in all circumstances? Can we come into God's presence with thanksgiving? If we are facing death, can we be thankful and re-commit to be obedient, even if we only have minutes, hours, or days left? That is what Jonah did. He had a change of heart.

He also renews his promise to God. He does not strike a bargain, nor does he negotiate. He does not say, "if you", but just, "I will". I will keep my promise. He had not obeyed God earlier, but ran from God. Now, he says he will keep his promise. Jonah's heart has changed. Jonah's will has changed. His second to last words were going to be, "I'll be obedient now!"

Perhaps Jonah mused that God was going to give him a second chance? Jonah might have thought that God saved him from drowning for a reason and that God wanted a response from Jonah and what would it be? Jonah dug down deep within himself and prayed the scriptures he knew and sewed them together into a personal prayer.

Jonah's last words were not, "woe is me"; but, "deliverance belongs to the Lord". That was going to be his heart's final resting place. When we pray, how do we park it with God at the end? It is wise to surrender all and be worshipful at death. It is always good to have a thankful posture towards God and end up standing on words of God's faithfulness and goodness and powerfulness.

1. Psalm 3, 120, 118, 88, 42, 31, 69, and 50

Prayer time

Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish.
-Jonah 2:1

Jonah finally comes to the place of prayer. Jonah finally comes to the place when he will turn to God. Jonah finally comes to the place where he turns to God. Jonah comes to the place where his faith is quickened. He may be in pitch dark, but he gets clarity about God.

Sometimes it takes confinement by life's circumstances to get us to pray and for our faith to rise up into clarity about God. God may let us get boxed in so that we will cry out to Him and express faith that says, "you are my only hope and I am your child who puts his or her faith entirely in you".

There is no better time to start praying than now. It's never too late to start talking to God. Jonah waited until his circumstances went from bad to worse to terminal. God kept him alive, God saved him with the giant fish; so that he could pray, so that Jonah could reach out to God.

Jonah was headed towards death and God delayed and forestalled and kept death for Jonah at bay, so that Jonah could express himself and pray to God. Have you ever considered that people might have conversations, prayers, with God right before they die or think they are going to die?

Jonah was in the fish for some time before he prayed. He had time to reflect that he was not dead and that God had saved him. What was next, he did not know, but what he did know is that he was alive at that moment. From that place, he prayed.

We can pray to God from anywhere and at any time.

God saves Jonah

Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
-Jonah 1:17b

Jonah's story looked like it was coming to an end with his drowning at sea and then something unusual and unexpected happened. A great fish swallowed him and he was kept alive. He was saved by an USV, an unidentified swimming vehicle. Why three days and three nights? Three is one of the Bible's most often used numbers.
Scholars have surmised that three means divine completion. Jewish sages, in their Talmud and Midrash literature, concluded that this scriptural phenomenon (of the third day motif) reveals a divine principle: God will rescue Israel, or a righteous person, on the third day of some great crisis. Also, Jonah's experience points to Christ and Jesus points back to Jonah.

Jesus talked about "the sign of Jonah" in Matthew 12:39-40 and in Luke 11:29-30:
But he replied, “An evil and unfaithful generation searches for a sign, but it won’t receive any sign except Jonah’s sign. Just as Jonah was in the whale’s belly for three days and three nights, so the Human One (Son of Man) will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. ”
When the crowds grew, Jesus said, “This generation is an evil generation. It looks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except Jonah’s sign. Just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Human One (Son of Man) will be a sign to this generation.”

Jesus authenticates Jonah's story. Jonah's assignment was to preach to Nineveh. Jonah's peculiar experience of being cast into the sea and swallowed by a great fish and kept alive or brought back to life after drowning was a sign, says Jesus. It was a miraculous sign, as Jesus’ resurrection from death would be.

It is ironic that a person's disobedience resulted in a sign from God that Jesus would later cite as an illustration of the sign to be given through his own life. Jonah may have had a prophetic ministry before the events in the book of Jonah, but in the events of the book he gains a testimony.

Jonah thought he was through, but God wasn't done with him. Jonah gave up, but God had a plan. Jonah "signed off." but God was prepared to make him a sign. A sign of God's mercy. a sign of God's sovereign grace. The man called dove would become a sign of God's mercy, of God rescuing, of God's care. When we see God's acts of mercy displayed, what will we do? After God shows us mercy, will we be merciful to others?

Going through a trial or through a dark night is an opportunity for growth. How much we grow in God is up to us. We have to process our experience in a way that we say yes to God for it to be transformative. Two people can go through the same trial or dark night and come out differently because of how they responded to God.

Jonah had the opportunity for growth and transformation in God. How much growth was up to Jonah. The experience in the dark, in the giant fish, is a big one. But Jonah's walk with God and his personal growth was not over. God walks with us and is fathering us for our maturing throughout our whole lives. Authentic maturity fosters humility in us that causes us to see that we need even more maturing from God.

Why all the sad songs (psalms)?

"My whole being is filled with distress; my life is at the very brink of hell. I am considered as one of those plummeting into the pit. I am like those who are beyond help, drifting among the dead lying in the grave, like dead bodies— those you don’t remember anymore, those who are cut off from your power. You placed me down in the deepest pit, in places dark and deep. Your anger smothers me; you subdue me with it, wave after wave.
Selah
You’ve made my friends distant. You’ve made me disgusting to them. I can’t escape. I’m trapped! "
Psalm 88:3-8 (CEB)

This is one of the most depressing portions of scripture. It's hopeless. There's no faith in it. But why are scriptures like this in The Book? Because the experience told by the writer is real and it's endorsed by God. What? Words like Psalm 88 are deeply comforting to the person on whom calamity has struck. If you hear your own voice in the words of Psalm 88, you are comforted to know that it is okay with God to feel hopeless and in despair, to feel like you are in a bottomless pit of pain.

The third chapters of Job and Lamentations are similar to this. If the "lights have gone out" in your life, these passages can be comforting in that you come to realize that God affirms and endorses your processing of your losses.

The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge is my reference and inspiration for this post