In chapter 2 of the book of Jonah, Jonah is completely broken. He tried to flee from God, and to him, it felt like he had succeeded! In the stomach of the great fish and in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Jonah felt forsaken by God. Jonah had sinned greatly by rejecting God’s mercy to the Ninevites. Racked with guilt, Jonah felt like God was too far away to hear him. In desperation, Jonah cried out to God for help anyway. He acknowledged that only God could save him and he determined to obey Him with thankfulness.
God was much nearer than he thought. When Jonah cried out to God, He answered by having the great fish vomit him up onto the dry land. Jonah was tested like fire in the burning stomach acid of a great fish, and he came out a changed man in the process. Although Jonah was still sinful, he finally recognized his need for repentance and restoration. Jonah was restored by God’s grace and commanded once again to preach to the Ninevites. God saved Jonah’s life and gave him renewed purpose.
The main point of this chapter is that God hears our prayers. This is seen most clearly in the second verse:
“And he said, ‘I called out of my distress to the LORD, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice’” (Jonah 2:2).
Just like Jonah, there are three things that cause us to believe God will not hear our prayers: guilt over sin, sin’s consequences, and spiritual numbness.
Praying through Guilt
In verse 4, Jonah says “I have been expelled from your sight. Nevertheless, I will look again toward Your holy temple.” He believed that God had turned His face away from him because of his sin. Jonah’s deep shame led him to believe that God had completely abandoned him. However, Jonah prayed anyway.
Our tendency is to avoid God when we sin because we feel too dirty to approach Him—we wait until we are “pure” again before asking God for forgiveness. If Jonah had done that, he would have dissolved in the stomach acid of the great fish!
Brace yourself to hear something surprising—it’s true. You are too dirty to approach God. No matter how long you wait, you will never be pure enough on your own. You deserve to be punished for what you have done. There is absolutely nothing you can do on your own to save yourself. We all deserve eternal separation from God in hell. Sounds pretty hopeless, doesn’t it?
But, if Jonah went through the same thing, how was there hope for him? Jonah was saved because he desperately reached out to God and repented. It’s the same for us. There is hope for you through Jesus Christ, who was punished for your sins on a cross. You are too dirty to approach God, but Christ purifies you. Jesus is your bridge to God, so run to Him! If you put your faith in Christ and repent of your sin, then your guilt is gone!
Do not let guilt over sin get between you and God. Christ conquers all guilt.
Praying through Sin’s Consequences
In verse two, Jonah says, “I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.”
Because of his sin, Jonah was literally floating in the burning stomach acid of a sea monster. He was in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. He had no idea how far away he was from land. He had just escaped a violent storm that nearly killed him and every passenger on the ship he was on. It goes without saying that Jonah was a little distressed. Jonah deserved this punishment. In fact, Jonah deserved much worse, and he knew it.
When we sin, there are always consequences, and they are never good. Our tendency is to draw away from God during such times. When we feel like God is punishing us, we try take the role of the punisher by punishing ourselves. We deserve to be punished, so we dwell on our punishment and delay restoration with God until we feel like we have been punished enough. Our sin makes us hate ourselves so much that we begin to actually believe that God could never love us either.
We act like we are in control of our own punishment, but only God is sovereign. That’s what Jonah did in the last chapter by asking to be thrown into the sea. He took his punishment into his own hands instead of turning to God then and there.
That’s dangerous! Here is the fact of the matter. God used Jonah’s punishment to show him His grace. God punished Jonah so he would repent and be restored to Him. Take the consequences of your sin right now as a sign that God wants you to flee from your sin. He is punishing you so that you can see the weight of your sin, repent, and be freed from it. Cling to God and He will give you the strength to do so. Christ’s punishment is enough. Instead of punishing yourself, put your faith in Christ. If God can restore Jonah from the depth of Sheol, then he can restore you.
Christ’s punishment is enough. Instead of punishing yourself, put your faith in Christ.
Neither guilt nor the consequences of sin are able to keep us from God because Christ purifies us and because God gives us the strength to repent. Experiencing bad consequences because of sin are never a sign that God has left you. Do not be tricked into thinking that God is far away when he is actually drawing near to you like He did with Jonah. Never think for a second that God has abandoned you. God cares about your problems more than you do. Jonah prayed to God while he was still in the belly of the great fish. Like Jonah, pray to God while you are being punished!
Praying through Spiritual Numbness
In verse seven, Jonah says, “while I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple.”
Jonah was on the verge of death, both physical and spiritual. Jonah was about to die without being restored to God. Jonah had fled from God, and he was about to die without ever returning. Surely during his three-day trial in the stomach of the sea monster, Jonah despaired over having no hope of restoration with God. Jonah felt like a lost cause. He knew he was dying, but there was nothing he could do about it.
Maybe you, like Jonah, are on the verge of spiritual death because of your sin. Perhaps your sin has numbed your heart so much that you feel like you can never truly be saved. Perhaps you have sinned so much that your conscience no longer works properly. Like cauterized flesh, the nerves of your conscience have been desensitized to the severity of your own sin, and you are only left with the lingering thought of having done something wrong. You cannot bring yourself to shed any tears over your sin, but you know that you ought to.
That is understandable. The end result of sin is death, after all. If you are a Christian, it is no surprise that sin has brought decay to your once-sensitive heart. If you have never known Christ, the unfortunate news is that you have been dead all along. The good news for you is that you can have life through Christ’s death. Christ died so that sinners could experience full restoration with God. God is not too far away to hear you. Beg God for forgiveness. Beg God to help you see your sin like He does. Take a deep breath and shout it with all the strength in your lungs if you must, but rest in the fact that God will hear you well enough even if you whisper.
Because of what Christ has done for us, we must seek restoration with God without delay. We must run swiftly to the Lord’s light in our darkest hours. We must remember His great faithfulness and power to save even the worst of sinners. We must flee to Christ when we feel like there is no coming back from sin. Christ came to save sinners like you and I. If Christ came for people who were sinless, He would never have had to die on a cross. Your sin is horrible—that is why Christ had to die a horrible death. Take a moment right now to reflect on this. God’s love for you is unfathomable. God loves you enough to have sent His very own Son to die in your place. We do not know when we will die and face destruction. You could die at any moment. If you have not done so already, drop on your knees and pray to God right now!
You could die at any moment. If you have not done so already, drop on your knees and pray to God right now!
If you are like Jonah and you are overcome with guilt, then rest in the fact that your guilt is taken away from you by Christ. You can cry out to God because you are made pure before Him through Jesus. If you, like Jonah, are suffering the consequences of your sin, then rest in the fact that God is sovereign, and is allowing these consequences to lead you to repentance. Repent of your sins! If you, like Jonah, feel like your spiritual life is slipping away from you, then find new life in the death and resurrection of Christ!
Yes, you are too dirty to approach God, but you can be washed by the blood of Christ. Do not wait until you are “pure” to cry out to God. Do not think for a second that He does not listen to your prayers. Trust in Jesus Christ and repent of your sin! Come to God with humility and thankfulness. Cry out to the God who is near, and He will shower you with His grace and mercy. Take great comfort in Jonah’s final words in verse 9:
“Salvation is from the LORD.”