Many times a Christian finds himself in the dungeon of giant despair. And you feel like you cannot continue in faith because the silly spiritual mistakes you have made. The book of Jonah is a good book to turn to as the experiences of Jonah can be very similar to such a Christian.
I believe that even the great Apostle Paul was once a resident there. How else can he write 2 Cor. 1:8. & Rom. 7:15-24.,
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
It is not interesting being in such a state. Yet from this book we see how wise our God is. He turns even the worst of the coconut shells into the best utensils. When you find yourself in this state, may you be advised that your medicine is prayer. Pray as you have never done before. This is what Jonah did in Chapter 2. Now, we all have lessons to learn from this book whether we have been imprisoned by the giant despair or we haven’t. Because we need to be forewarned and so forearmed when our paths cross the vast wasteland of Mr. Despair’s land.
A few lessons for us to consider from the book of Jonah:
1. You defy God at your own peril
Jonah defied God, and fled from His presence (Jonah 1)
1) Do not forget that God is omnipresent:
Here is a man of God, a prophet, someone that God spoke directly to. God came to him with a message and matching orders to go to Nineveh that he may call out against it because of their terrible evil that had come up before God. However, Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish, from the presence of the Lord. he went down to Joppa, got himself a ticket and boarded the ship that goes away from the presence of God! But he forgot that God is everywhere. He should have gone to the 139th Psalm, 7-12:
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, "even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
You cannot run away from God. The simple catechism for boys and girls, 10th question is – where is God? and the simple but profound answer is, God is everywhere. There are many here living their lives with the knowledge that God is omnipresent, but living in blatant disregard of that reality. Run and wherever you will go, you will see the face of God in the wonder of His creation. The very ship that Jonah boarded was being driven by God, its course was determined by God, the wind that carried it along was the wind of God and it blew in the direction and intensity that God determined. Poor Jonah!
2) Remember the power of God - He is omnipotent!
God is not just omnipresent doing nothing, He is omnipresent powerfully outworking His divine and eternally determined purposes. God is governing and ruling all His creation according to the counsel of His own will. This is because God is omnipotent! He consults no one and does all things very good. Consider His sovereignty in this book:
- He hurled a great wind upon the sea (1:4)
- The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah (1:17). He who made a mute beast talk He also made the fish provide good voyage for Jonah!
- The Lord spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah to Nineveh where He wanted him! (2:10)
- The Lord appointed a plant to save Jonah from the scorching heat
- God appointed a scorching east wind and the hottest of the sun to beat upon Jonah’s forehead until he almost fainted
3) God spoke through unbelievers (1:6-16)
“…Arise you sleeper, call out your God”. He used unbelievers to speak sense to Jonah. There is no monopolizing God. After all He created all. In this episode, the heathens make Jonah look like a pagan. How many times have you been ashamed by the seemingly righteousness of unbelievers? Thank God for the common grace. When unbelievers fear God more than believers – interesting enough Jonah parades his credentials as one who ‘…feared God of heaven, the Creator.’ They knew Jonah was fleeing from the presence of God, they did not want to shed innocent blood, they called out to Yahweh, they offered sacrifice to the Lord and made vows (been converted?)
Consider yourself - non Christian. Everyday your own conscience testifies that you are constantly defying God who graciously created you. And you are living in sin of heart, sins of thought, sins of ambition, sins of actions, sins against God and against your neighbour. You know that you are constantly standing up against God just like Jonah. Remember, the God that we are referring to is God that Jonah described this way:
"...the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." (1:9)
This is what the seafarers did - they repented to God this way:
"O LORD, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you." (1:14)
They also offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. What this means is that they realized that they could not atone for their sins and showed their faith by obeying the law that said that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. In the sacrifice they were saying that their faith was anchored in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
You need to deal with this swiftly before God's patience runs out. Because when this will happen, and like Jonah you are cast from your comfort, you will regret bitterly. The tragedy is that you will not be languishing in the belly of a huge fish, but you will be in the eternal and irreversible torments of hell. However, the message of Jonah is that you should not throw yourself into despair frenzy - this will be of no value to you. Rather plead to Christ for forgiveness. Beseech Him to be merciful to you, for indeed as Jonah confessed, God is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster (4:2)
The point is that God has not punished you for your sins as you deserve because He wants you to repent. Please don't count His patience as slowness. Repent now and be saved.
If you are a Christian and reading this, then there is hope for you. Do not abandon yourself to despair and hopelessness. Hope in God and praise Him for He is your help and hope. Those suicidal thoughts are not necessary and they should be abandoned. Consider the great salvation that has been given to you. Remember the cost paid for your redemption - the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, the begotten Son of God. Remember the great hope and inheritance laid up in heaven for those who endure to the end and hold on patiently. May this give courage on the way to keep on trusting and depending on Christ and His purchased merit on the cross.
The Lord has called you to His service. Serve Him diligently and do not question His wisdom. His counsel is the only one that will last forever. Those who serve Him will soon find full recompense. Do not flee from the God given services, even though at the brink of danger. Surely you cannot defy God, can you? Jonah's case shows that God's plans and purpose will prevail over those of men. Serve the Lord for your service to Him are not in vain.