I think the story of Jonah is pretty well-known. God calls Jonah to take His message to Nineveh. Jonah agrees to do this, but then promptly boards a ship heading in the opposite direction. To get his attention, God sends a storm that rocks this boat so violently that the sailors can do nothing to make any headway. Ultimately, Jonah asks the sailors to throw him overboard. As soon as Jonah hits the water, the storm stopped and Jonah is swallowed alive by a great fish that God had provided.
The story continues with this narrative: “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God” (Jonah 2:1). In the next verse, Jonah repeats, “In my distress, I called to the Lord, and He answered me.”
It appears that Jonah’s first prayer may have been on the deck of the storm-tossed ship. Perhaps he prayed something like, “God, I know I have sinned against You. Please have mercy and get me out of this! I promise I’ll obey You this time.”
How did God answer that prayer? Jonah says God answered like this: “You hurled me into the deep.”
That probably is not the answer to prayer that Jonah was expecting!
I remember when my friend was in a similar place. He had sinned against both God and his employer, and found himself in a whole lot of hot water. As a result, he lost his job.
That probably is not the answer to prayer that my friend was expecting! And yet it was the best answer. He shared with me several months later that getting fired not only got his attention, it helped him put his focus back on God, and put him on a path where God could use him again.
My friend learned what Jonah also learned: Even in our sinful state, God hears our prayers and He answers our prayers. The answer may not immediately be what we would have selected! But our sovereign God knows the best answer, and we must always trust Him.
Jonah declared, “Salvation comes from the Lord,” and he also promised God, “What I have vowed I will make good” (Jonah 2:9). And he did. This time Jonah did go to Nineveh, he delivered the message God had given, and he called those people to repentance. They responded by humbly turning to God, and God showed them mercy.
My friend, the next time you find yourself in hot water, or in an inescapable storm at sea, or a dire situation at work, remember that you can always call to God. He will answer you. His answer may not be exactly what you expected, but it will be the best answer!
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