The Prayer of Jonah (Part 3)

Part A: [audio]

Part B: [audio]

Praying Through the Bible #103

TEXT: Jonah 4:1-5

In our last message, we saw in point one that Jonah obeyed God, but His heart was not right about the mission. When Jonah saw that the people of Ninevah had repented, the Bible tells us “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” The Hebrew text tells us that Jonah “got hot.” Imagine a minister today who preaches for people to get rid of the sin in their lives, but when people start coming down to the altar to confess and repent of their sins, he sulks and gets mad. That is what Jonah did. Even though he delivered God’s words to the people of Ninevah, he did not share God’s heart about the matter.

2. Jonah obeyed God, but his heart was not right and he thought he knew better than God. When Jonah realizes that God is not going to destroy the city of Ninevah, this is what he says to God: “I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.”

When we look at Jonah’s unwillingness to share the message that brought salvation to an entire city, we cannot help but think of the church today. We sit in our comfortable pews or our familiar Christian ghettos and look at the outside world with our arms crossed and our noses turned up. We don’t want to share the gospel with people who are different than us, who come from the other side of the tracks, or who don’t have the same political or social views as us. For whatever reason — racism, classism, etc. — we don’t see them as worthy of the Gospel or Heaven.

Jonah didn’t see the heathen Ninevites as worthy of salvation. He thought he knew better than God what should happen to them. And, because he knew that God was merciful and gracious toward sinful people — in fact, he had just experienced that mercy and grace — he did not want to deliver the message that God had given him.

3. Jonah obeyed God, but he still had to learn a hard lesson from God. The Bible tells us that after Jonah delivered the message in Ninevah, he went out of the city and sat on a hillside to wait for three days to see God destroy the city. And while Jonah is sitting there, stewing and fuming, God comes around and asks Jonah a question. God says, “Doest thou well to be angry?” In other words, “Jonah, is it right for you to be angry?”

While Jonah is sitting on that hillside, God allows a little plant to sprout up in order to provide Jonah some shade from the sun’s heat, and Jonah is greatly relieved. However, by the next day, God sends a worm to eat away at the plant causing it to wither away, and Jonah grows angry again. God comes to Jonah with another question: “Is it right for you to be angry about this plant?” And Jonah says to God, “I do well to be angry, even unto death.”

Those are the last words Jonah speaks in the book that bears his name. But those are not the last words we hear from God. God says, “Should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand (120,000) persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” Jonah has no answer for that question. Sometimes, when you realize your own error, all you can do is remain silent.

What was Jonah’s error? What was the lesson that God had to teach him? We can see this lesson in Jonah’s earlier prayer in chapter 2, where He said before being freed from the great fish, “Salvation is of the Lord.” Jonah wanted God to offer salvation on his terms. He wanted to be saved from the fish, but did not want the people of Ninevah to be saved from God’s judgment.

Jonah had to learn the lesson that God is in control. He does not run the world according to our desires. We cannot get angry because God does something in His world that does not happen to line up with what we want. Our prayers ought to be a time for us to draw closer to the will of God and the heart of God. If we are praying selfishly, we are not in God’s will. If we find ourselves angry over something that God has done, our hearts are not close to God’s. As we pray, let us learn to pray in the will of God and to get our hearts in such a place that we share God’s desires.

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