When we left Jonah last week he had been cast overboard by the sailors on the ship bound for Tarshish. God had prepared a large fish to swallow him and to save his life. He had learned the futility of running from God – it simply can’t be done. One of the reasons Jonah is so appealing to us is that we’ve all been there. We’ve all tried to run from God in one way or another, and we’ve all learned it simply doesn’t work. As chapter 2 begins, Jonah has reached the point at which he’s tired of running. Just as we’ve all run from God, so we’ve all gotten tired of running. If you’re running from God for the first time and you haven’t tired of running yet, you will. You can’t run forever. When we get tired of running from God, we’re ready to do things differently – we’re ready for a second chance. It’s interesting that just as Jonah runs from the life he was supposed to live in the Old Testament, so the Prodigal Son runs from the life he was meant to live in the New Testament. He too, became tired of running and turned toward home. When you run from the plan God has for you, just like the prodigal son, the result is pigs as friends, slop as your food, and a pigpen as a home. We’ve all heard the saying, “Everybody deserves a second chance.” With God, none of us deserves a second chance, but as we tire of running from him and turn back to him, he offers it as a gift. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone, how distant you seem to be from God, there are three things you can do when you’re ready for God’s second chance. Jonah followed the same pattern that you can follow today.
First of all, when you’re ready for a second chance, look up. Jonah 2:1-4 says, “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’” Verse 1 here is important – “then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God…” Up to this point he hadn’t been on speaking terms with God. God had been speaking to him, but he had shut down on God. Now he is opening up again. Jonah has hit rock bottom. There isn’t much lower a person can go than in the depth of the sea, inside the belly of a great fish. He is in total darkness, feeling the burn of gastric juices on his skin and the slimy seaweed wrapped around him, and smelling all the nasty odors that were there. When he had gone as far down as he could go, he looked up. What did he see when he looked up? He saw God. He didn’t see him physically, but he saw him with the eyes of his heart. There was no one else with him, no one else who could reach him, but God was there. One of the things that Jeannie and I have tried to impress upon our son Josh, and now upon our daughter-in-law Amy, is that you can always come to us when you’re in a mess. There will be no judgments, no saying “I told you so,” just a listening ear, a loving, unconditional hug, and guidance if you ask for it. If you have reached a point today at which you don’t know where to turn, you can always turn to God. If you are at a stage in life where you don’t know where to look for help, you can always look up. When you look up, you will see that God has been there all the time. In the midst of the most painful trial you can imagine, God is still there. If there was ever a time the disciples of Jesus thought that God had left them, it was when their Lord was crucified on the cross. They were devastated – they had believed that Jesus was God in the flesh, the Messiah, and now he is dying the death of a common criminal. Later they understood that even then, God was very much with them, working to accomplish his plans and to bless them in ways they could not begin to imagine. When you’re ready for a second chance, look up.
Then, when you’re ready for a second chance, speak up. Verses 1-2 again say, “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol. I cried, and you heard my voice.” Jonah could have prayed on the deck of the ship, but he didn’t. He wasn’t ready to turn back to God yet. Even when he was asked to pray by the captain of the ship, he didn’t. He was a pouting prophet, who had stubbornly shut his mouth. When we are determined to shut down on God, he has his ways of getting us to open up to him. Finally in the belly of the fish he prays. Why is it that we wait until things are really rough before we finally turn to God? I remember well the year 2001. For the first eight months of the year, church attendance stayed pretty much the same, with a handful of people coming to church and the majority of the people in the community doing other things that were more important to them. Then 9/11 occurred. Two planes had flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon, and fourth went down in a Pennsylvania countryside. The following Sunday church attendance surged. The nation came together and the partisan lines between Democrat and Republican seemed to evaporate. Church attendance remained high for a few weeks, until things calmed down a bit in the nation, then it returned to its previous levels. The partisan bickering returned. It’s just human nature for us to increase our prayers and our time with God when we are in trouble. If only we were consistent with our praying and our time with God, then we’d find our lives would be much more stable and steady. Instead we wait until the wife or the husband walks out, then get serious about praying. We wait until a family member is near death, then get serious about spending time with God. When the mortgage goes into foreclosure, or the boyfriend or girlfriend breaks our heart, only then do we really want to pray. We are just like Jonah when he says, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,” When we call to the Lord in our distress, after having snubbed him and given him a place in our lives far less than he deserves, he is under no obligation to listen to us. Jonah here in chapter two has no leverage with God – absolutely none. He is the belly of a fish – he can’t even say, “God from this point forward, for the rest of my life I will obey you.” He didn’t know if there would any more life for him. For all he knew he could have been digested as fish food. Still, when he called to the Lord, from his distress, God heard him. When you call to the Lord, in the midst of your distress, even though you don’t deserve for him to answer you, he will. When you look up you will see that God is there. When you speak up you will learn that God is listening. If you will acknowledge where you are, if you will acknowledge that how you got there was your fault and then throw yourself on God’s mercy, he will hear you. Jonah couldn’t take the role of a victim here and tell God about he had been mistreated by someone else. He couldn’t play the blame-game – no one else was responsible for his predicament. He owned up to his own situation, he took responsibility, and when he did God responded with love and mercy. Listen to Jonah 2:4-7, “Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.” There is no blame here of anyone else. There is no innocent victim mindset. He simply states his situation as it is. He mentions the temple here twice. The temple represented the place of God’s forgiveness of sin, it was a place of grace. Sacrifices for sin were made there, pardon was received there. It was a center of God’s mercy. Within the Holy of Holies there was even place called “the mercy seat” on the top of the Ark of the Covenant. When you’re tired of running, when you’re ready for a second chance with God, speak up to him.
Then, when you’re ready for a second chance, give up. By the end of this chapter Jonah is done with running. Listen to how he closes his prayer in verses 8-9, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” Jonah is now giving thanks to the Lord. Think about it – why is he giving thanks? He is the dark, stinky belly of a fish, and he may die there. He isn’t giving thanks for God delivering him from the fish, for he hasn’t. He isn’t giving thanks because he knows what is going to happen next, for he doesn’t. He was thankful that he was back in the grace of God, that things between him and God were right again. Whether he lived or whether he died, if God asked him to do something, now he would do it. Nothing was more important to him than walking with his God. Jonah had given up – he had surrendered to God. That’s all God wanted the entire time, for Jonah to surrender to him. God makes sure that when you run from him as his son or his daughter, eventually you will give up. We don’t know how long it took Jonah to surrender to God after he was inside the fish. We know he was there for three days, but we don’t know when during that three days he prayed this prayer. We also don’t know how long he was in the fish after he prayed. The point is that Jonah prayed, and that God accepted him. The truth that God accepted him and forgave him is far more important than the fact that he was delivered on to dry land. When you’re ready for a second chance, give up — surrender to God.
Every day that you have run from God has been a wasted day. Every place you run from God is a wasted opportunity. God is God however, of the second chance. Look up, and he will be there. Speak up, and he will listen. Give up, and he will restore you. He does these things not because you deserve them, but because that is his character. Will you surrender all your own hopes and dreams this morning to Jesus? Are you ready for a second chance?