I was on the third floor, and my window is not designed to open, so coming to his rescue was impossible. He was a poor little stink bug who had gotten caught in a spider’s web, right outside my office window. Coincidentally, I had been sitting in my office chair writing this article, searching for an illustration from my past that might fit the topic of frustration – and there he was, a perfect example of frustration and struggle. The poor little stink bug struggled as hard as he could, attempting to break free. Up against the outside ceiling was a dead spider and I had the ironic thought that even the web of a dead spider could end the life of an unsuspecting bug (that feels like it should be a saying). It suddenly hit me how relevant the stink bugs circumstances were to my article, so I turned to my computer and started typing, feeling that the bug was my God-sent illustration. As I finished a sentence, I looked back out of the window and the stink bug had apparently broken free, because he was gone. At that same moment, a living spider that I hadn’t seen before came crawling down from the top of the web. The stink bug had escaped just in time.
I was a little stunned at the fitting show of nature that occurred right beside me at the exact moment I had been pondering frustration in life, and the great lengths it sometimes takes for us to turn to God and cry out for help from our Creator. That’s what I want to ask you today: What gets you to the point of prayer? Is it fear? Distress? Longing? Daily devotion? What about when you’ve been disobedient to God? What brings you back?
For Jonah it took nothing short of complete and utter defeat inside the belly of a great fish. Like a stink bug in a web, Jonah was stuck. Consider, for a moment, how Jonah had gotten there. In Jonah 1:1-2, God calls him to minister to the Ninevites, a people he hated. Jonah disobeys and flees from God in the complete opposite direction to a place called Tarshish. He pays money to board a boat (a monetary investment in sin, now that’s dedication!). He then goes down to the bottom of the ship in an apparent attempt to hide from God like an ostrich with his head in the sand, “you can’t see me if I can’t see you, God.” His efforts were vain because God halts Jonah’s journey by sending a great wind and storm onto the sea. After some back and forth with the sailors of the ship, Jonah confesses his guilt and rebellious ways to them, and in response they ask him, “What should we do to you so that the sea will calm down for us?” (Jonah 1:11).
I don’t know what your answer would have been, but I like to think that I would have said, “Turn the ship around, I need to go to Nineveh.” But Jonah wasn’t done running. “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he said (1:12). And so, eventually, they did. Jonah was so determined to run from God, to disobey God, that when his attempts to flee with his life failed, he was willing to abandon even his life. Death by drowning had become more palatable to Jonah than obeying God. However, Jonah was about to find out that he didn’t even have power over his own life. For God had appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah and supernaturally keep the frustrated prophet alive (cf. 1:9, 17). In the midst of this seemingly fantastical story, we have a man who can’t run from God, can’t hide from God, and can’t even escape God in death. He was like a frustrated stink bug. All his efforts failed. He was stuck. Inside a great fish, God would allow Jonah to sit for three days, while he worked out his issues.
And so, in chapter two, finally, “Jonah prayed.” These words mark a key transition in the great story of Jonah the son of Amittai. There inside the fish, at last, he surrenders to the will and authority of God. Let’s get the story straight, though: Jonah still doesn’t love the Ninevites – in fact, he’ll be angry and bitter at their repentance and the grace God shows them (see 4:1-3). But what Jonah had learned is that God is sovereign over all. As Jonah had said himself in chapter one, our God is “the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land” (1:9). God is sovereign over everything – including me, you, and Jonah. God’s sovereignty over everything includes His absolute rule over His great salvation. In His sovereignty, God has chosen to offer salvation to anyone who will believe (John 3:16). Because of this, it’s not up to me, you, or Jonah to decide who we tell about our God. He has told us to tell everyone (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). This means we must tell people like the Ninevites.
Once Jonah realizes that he has no choice but to bend to the sovereignty of God, he prays a vivid prayer, full of imagery. Chapter two is a Psalm of Thanksgiving where Jonah depicts his feelings of being trapped, overwhelmed, and his feelings of struggle and drowning. In his distress, he looks back to God, and finds that God is right there, where He’s always been, waiting for Jonah to surrender (v. 4). Even in the most fatal, hopeless, overwhelming, and discouraging situations, God is still sovereign (v. 3). God is always in control! And so, finally, in chapter two, verse nine, Jonah surrenders.
This frustrated prophet still had more lessons to learn. Certainly, obedience out of love would have been better than simply being forced into submission. But if he couldn’t get to a place where he loved the people he was sent to (as we all need to), at least he was at the point of recognizing that no matter our preferences or desires, it’s God’s will that matters. For Jonah, going to Nineveh would still require sacrifice to God because he viewed the Ninevites as an enemy, but his rebellion was at an end. We might sometimes think we know better than God. We might have desires that would point us in an entirely different direction than He would have us go. God’s plans might even frustrate us or make us afraid, but no matter the situation, God still requires and deserves our surrender to Him.
We frequently talk about the love of God, the grace, the patience, and so on – and rightly so – but we shouldn’t get so carried away with the characteristics of God that we like, that we forget the majesty, power, holiness, and preeminence of God. One day, God will bend the knee of all men everywhere and compel the recognition of His sovereignty from saints and sinners alike.
Today, let us learn from the story of Jonah, and instead of running from the will of God, gladly bow our knee before our Savior, Lord, and King.
…at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
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