He said: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”
One of the most famous Bible stories for children is Jonah and the Whale. To refresh your memory, God had called upon Jonah to preach to the sinners in the wicked city of Nineveh. But Jonah was opposed and fled by boat to Tarshish. His journey was interrupted by a great storm. The sailors onboard blamed Jonah for their peril, threw him overboard, and he was swallowed by a great fish.
Over the years, I’ve encountered people who doubt the voracity of this story. They say there’s no way a man could survive such an ordeal. But to dismiss the story as fantasy is to miss an important spiritual lesson.
Jonah ran away from his God-given responsibility. He disobeyed God’s command, which is how and why he ended up in a life threatening predicament. He brought it on himself.
When we allow our relationship to God to become distant and embrace sinful behavior, like Jonah, we are running from God. Since God loves us, He may allow circumstances into our lives to get our attention, a divine reminder of our responsibilities as born again believers.
If you’re a parent of a teen or adult, how do you feel when they engage in harmful or destructive behavior? Despite your efforts at teaching and warning them about negative consequences for making bad choices, they reject your concern and angrily accuse you of meddling in their business. It grieves your heart, right?
When Christians sin, we grieve the Holy Spirit. “… do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)
Besides grieving the Spirit, we quench the Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:19) Put another way, engaging in prolonged ungodly behavior thwarts God’s work in us. No flame. No fire. Our prayers fall on deaf ears. We lose access to divine guidance and help.
Today, it’s an increasingly common occurrence for family and friends to stage an intervention to help a loved one seek help for an addiction. Likewise, God intervenes, as he did with Jonah, to set his children back on the path of righteousness. His chastening is an act of love. “… the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrew 12:6)
When God disciplines those he loves, He stands ready to receive and restore us from our rebellious ways.
Jonah did exactly what God wanted. He called out in “distress” to the Lord. Put another way, Jonah prayed fervently. We get the gist of his plea in chapter 2 at verse 7, “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you…”
Here we get a perfect picture of what it means to repent. Jonah confessed his sin and changed directions. He stopped running away from God, changed course, and turned back toward God.
And the most beautiful words anyone could ever hear came in response. “He answered me.”
Pardon the unintentional pun, but Jonah had hit bottom. “From deep in the realm of the dead, I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”
So, what happened when Jonah got his act together and obeyed God? Well, he carried God’s message of judgement to Nineveh, that city of 120,000 people would be destroyed in forty days. Here’s the good part. The people repented and God relented.
Then Jonah pouted because he was angry with God for sparing their lives. Talk about a prophet with a bad attitude. God had an answer for that too. But that’s a story for another time.
Where are you in your walk with God? Are you living for Him, seeking to learn his expectations and endeavoring to follow His master plan? If not, why put it off? Why risk grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit? I think you’ll agree, we need all the help we can get to live in this cruel world. Is it time to send up your Distress Signal to God?
For more on this topic, check out this article: When Your Spirit is Willing but Your Flesh is Weak
Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 2 (April – June) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.