“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17)
If I even start to think about everything Jonah would have seen and smelled as he sat and sulked and prayed “in the belly of the fish three days and three nights”, I could easily lose my lunch. It would not have been pleasant. In fact, it may have been torture – inhaling all kinds of rotten and decaying smells.
But apparently it was exactly what Jonah needed to get himself back on course. Because Jonah had purposely gone off course from where God wanted him to be. And God needed Jonah to start moving in the right direction.
It started when God called Jonah to “… go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it …” (Jonah 1:2). And Jonah was not interested.
Nineveh had a widespread reputation for “evil way[s]” and “violence” (Jonah 3:8). So Jonah had no interest in going there at risk of his life, even by the call of God.
Mistake #1. The wreck begins.
Jonah refused to consider who was calling him – and His ability to keep him safe. All Jonah thought about was himself and his personal safety. He did not trust God to keep him safe.
Mistake #2. The wreck intensifies as fear takes over.
So Jonah’s brilliant solution? He runs “from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3), driven by fear and convincing himself that God will eventually forget about him and send someone else.
Mistake #3. The wreck becomes a whirlwind.
Jonah jumps on a fishing boat headed to Tarshish and checks out. Completely. He is so content in his self-righteous disobedience that “… Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep” (Jonah 1:5). He disengaged from God, distancing himself in as many ways as he could.
But God called Jonah to Nineveh. And God wanted Jonah to fulfill that call.
He knew exactly where Jonah was, where Jonah was trying to go, and where Jonah’s heart was. He knew how checked out and in denial Jonah was. And He knew He had to do something drastic to get Jonah’s attention.
So He sends a storm – “But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up” (Jonah 1:4).
Not just a little shaking of the boat. Not just a few waves to make the crew wonder. But gigantic waves and tumultuous winds – enough to make them think the boat would be torn to pieces in a matter of minutes.
And where was Jonah? Still asleep in the bottom of the boat, unconcerned about things happening around him. He was so deep into the wreck of his decision that he refused to stir. He did not turn over at the loud noises of the storm. He did not move at the extreme rocking of the boat by the winds. He did not get up at hearing the anguished cries of the boat crew. He refused to move until the captain forced him awake, demanding he pray.
Jonah was so deep into denial that it seems he was ready to go down in the storm rather than face God. And he seems to be so disengaged with his heart that he was willing to take the boat crew with him. That is a whole new level of wrecked!
And now his initial disaster of a decision turned into a literal disaster for the boat crew.
And maybe the truth of how low he has sunk starts to dawn on him as he is shaken awake and forced back into reality. Seeing the storm and being face-to-face with the panic of the crew, he realizes he has to deal with his mess – he has to take responsibility for his bad choices.
He also decides to protect the crew, who are innocent victims in the wreck of his mess.
Jonah winds up being thrown overboard (Jonah 1:15), where God’s mercy shows up in the form of the fish (Jonah 1:17).
Now God has Jonah’s undivided attention – and his softened heart. And Jonah can start to unwreck his life.
So how about you?
Is your life currently in the middle of a wreck?
Did your decisions get you there?
Are you dragging others down with you?
You can check yourself and begin to unwreck yourself – without having to hang out in a fish.
I believe if Jonah had confessed his fears to God instead of running, God would have reassured him. God could have comforted him with the truth that he would come out of Nineveh alive – after he helped bring an entire nation to repentance. One man and eight words changed the heart of an entire nation.
But Jonah took the long, hard way – and almost missed out on the blessing of their repentance. Because he chose to hold onto his fears and allowed them to direct him. Following his fear put him in the belly of the fish for three days – coming to terms with the wreck his fear caused. I am sure he reasoned, he bargained, he pleaded, and he complained – before he finally came to the point of true repentance.
Don’t make the same mistake as Jonah. Don’t wait for a great fish to swallow you (aka the point of no return) before you address your mess.
Start today, right where you are. Before the wreck gets any bigger. Start owning it – so it won’t continue to own and control you.
God is ready – and waiting – for you to own the mess, pick up every piece of it, and bring it all to Him. He has a grace-filled plan to help you repair the wreck and get you (back) on course toward His best life.
So choose today to reach out for the loving hand God has waiting and allow Him to help you. And pretty soon your wreck will become your testimony of His goodness.
Marie Fremin. 10/26/18 and 11/24/18