INTRO MUSIC Like the end of the story, maybe Jonah had finally found a way to hide from God.
Instead, as we'll hear today on Truth for Life Weekend, God used the fish's belly and turned it into a prayer room. Alistair Begg is teaching from the second chapter of the book of Jonah. Father, as we prepare now to hear you speak to us through your word, the Bible, we pray that you will grant to us freedom from every distraction, attentive hearts and minds, that you will take those of us who are wandering and wandering and draw us into your fold, those of us who are rebelling and running and seeking to hide and arrest us, that none of us may be spectators to the event but that all of us, in a way that we do not fully even understand, may hear your voice. And to this end we seek you in Christ's name.
Amen. So far, we've learned that God came to Jonah and said, Go. And Jonah said to God, No.
As a result of his running and seeking to hide, he found himself in the midst of a violent storm. Although it was complete panic up on deck, Jonah himself was asleep below. He had to be wakened by the captain of the ship who inquired of him as to how he could sleep in such circumstances. And in the ensuing conversation, Jonah confessed that he had actually been running away from God, and the reason that the storm was as violent as it proved to be was an account of this fact, and therefore that what the sailors needed to do was throw him overboard, and he was pretty certain that the sea would then become calm and that they would be able to proceed with their voyage.
And so they did just that. They threw him overboard, and we're told that in the midst of that calamity, God provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and that was to be Jonah's dwelling place for the next little while. When he gets himself inside this fish, he, we're told, immediately prays to the Lord his God. And what we have here in this second chapter of Jonah is simply a record of Jonah's prayer.
It falls out in a fairly poetic form. It is the cry of one who is well acquainted with the Bible, with the Old Testament, with the Psalms in particular, and that's why when you're reading it, you may get a flavor of the psalmist. It's simply because, out of the abundance of his heart, he cries, and his mind has been so filled with the Bible that he then speaks the Bible to God when he finds himself in this extremity. Now, given that we're told he prayed to the Lord his God, I want to take just a moment for a brief discursus on prayer. And it is very brief, but I want to acknowledge that prayer is a pressing issue to many in these days—not simply those within the framework of the church who endeavor to pray and learn how better to pray, but also prayer is the focus amongst those whom we may not expect to be exercised concerning this matter. So that in the world of science, and particularly in the world of medicine, one is finding articles popping up all over the place concerning the restorative, the holistic healing power of prayer.
And most of what is being written—at least that I have observed—is indicative of the confusion that is surrounding the subject itself. For example, in the Wall Street Journal, in an article entitled The Healing Power of Prayer is Tested by Science, this is the way it leads off. Kate McPherson stands beside a massage table in Loveland, Colorado, praying for someone dying of AIDS. Now, notice the word is praying. This is the explanation as to what she's doing. What is it that she is then doing? Well, she is praying for somebody dying of AIDS in San Francisco, whom she has never met. With a photograph of the man in view, she moves her hands over an imagined outline of his body.
In her outstretched arms, Ms. McPherson says, she senses warmth, a connection with God. Now, what that actually means, one is hard-pressed to deduce. Nevertheless, it is significant enough to make its way into this article.
It is of enough importance for the individual who is engaging in this activity to report it, as well as for those who are on the receiving end of this activity to report some kind of response to it. Now, as the article proceeds, not everyone is feeling the same way. And a man by the name of Richard J. Goss, the emeritus professor of biology at Brown University, has this to say about prayer and medicine. He says, If my doctor prayed for my recovery, I'd consider a malpractice suit. So clearly he is deeply concerned about prayer and what it might do to him. When I went back through my notes, I found that I had made a copy of something that the gentleman, Robert Fulgham, the bestselling author from Seattle—you will know him most—by the fact that he has shared with us that most of what he learned he learned in kindergarten. And he shares a little with us about what he learned concerning prayer.
And this is what he has to say. I do not pray to an entity. My thoughts are of being at home in the universe. If you don't think of the ultimate meaning of things as being separate from you, then there is no other to address. So at least he's saying, We're not talking to ourselves. And then he says, It's like fish trying to decide whether to relate to the ocean there in it. What do you think? You find that helpful?
Tomorrow morning when you awaken, you say, Now, I feel a bit like a fish in the ocean. I'm not sure whether I should relate to it. It's not particularly helpful.
It's hard to know what in the world are these people talking about. And somehow or another, unless those of us who believe are able to articulate an understanding of what prayer is, means, and does, then we are going to be swept up in this great milieu of confusion whereby prayer means whatever you want it to mean as you engage whoever is out there wherever, and provided you can report some kind of psychosomatic benefit to it, no matter who it is to or what it is about, nevertheless, there is a benefit that needs to be reported. Now, there is a confusion that still exists within the framework of the church. And that's why I take just a moment to remind you of a little concerning prayer before I move on. William Still, who was a Presbyterian minister in Aberdeen for some fifty-plus years in one church, was renowned for his exposition of Scripture and also for the length of his pastoral prayers. It was not unusual for him to pray for some twenty-five minutes. And the children in his church, and they did not go out to Sunday school, would time him and make notes on his prayers and so on, and apparently most of them have lived successfully through it.
This is what he says. Prayer for the Christian is a matter of believing that God is and that he does respond to those who believe in him. That's the start. In other words, there is nothing vague, there is nothing amorphous about the notion with which the Christian begins to approach God. We approach God believing that he is and that although we cannot see him, nevertheless, he hears our prayers, and he also is the God who responds. He says still, now, the real Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is God, and is naturally, therefore, in vital touch with the Father and the Son. On the basis that we know something about this God from the Holy Scriptures, we begin to speak to him internally and should do so as naturally, in a sense, as we speak to ourselves.
Our better selves, born of God in Christ Jesus. That's prayer. But we have to believe that he is there and listening. Not that by believing we make him there, but we have to remind ourselves that this is not an exercise in futility. We're not speaking out into the night.
We're not simply getting things off our chest. We're not simply meditating, you know, and sort of doing an exercise in deep breathing with some words that go along with it. No, we remind ourselves that God listens to prayer, that he is there, and that he does hear us.
He neither slumbers nor sleeps. Now, he says, if you're real about this and believe in what you're doing, prayer, instead of being a matter of times and seasons and special or routine occasions—which, of course, are important and were important in his church. They had a prayer meeting that lasted from seven until nine o'clock every Saturday evening of the year. But he says, if we understand this, we won't think first of all about prayer in terms of special places and special seasons and so on, special occasions, but prayer becomes a life. It becomes such a vital part of life that it refocuses one's whole outlook. This becomes so positive and creative that it lifts our spirits far beyond any doubt or depression or pessimistic attitudes.
One of the things that such an attitude to prayer does is to free our minds from the narrowness of thinking of God as simply the supplier of our needs. That comes into it very much indeed. But there's far more to it than that. Now, listen to this.
I find this tremendously helpful. We become interested in him in the same way that you become interested in someone with whom you establish ongoing conversations. That's my parenthetical statement. We become interested in him—his ways, his doings, his words. And all the time this is going on, we are quite unconsciously building a new character.
We're being affected by our conversations and discussions with him, seeing his point of view better and agreeing with him about perhaps a great many things we were tempted not to agree about before. And the very humility which unselfconsciously comes with such an attitude is one of sheer delight. This, I believe, is what Genesis speaks of about Enoch walking with God. And he walked with God to such an extent that God said in the end, Oh man, come away up!
You'd be better here than there, because all your interests are here. It's hardly likely to go as far as that with you and me, but there were others who walked with God in this way, and their lives shone with the glow of living in such a positive world of grace that, despite all trials, life could be nothing but full of joy. Now, I find this tremendously liberating. I say to you again, it is not that we are dismissing the notion of the importance of time and place and purposeful encounters with God, but that those things emerge from the kind of communion to which William still is referring. That it really means something to say, He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me that I am his own. That when we're driving in the car and we see something—for example, those cows around the corner there on Jogga Lake Road or wherever it is—black on the back, black on the front, and with a white band all around their middle.
Just amazing creatures. We don't simply say, Oh, those are interesting cows. But we say, Father, I praise you for what an amazing Creator you are, just as we're driving in the car. And he says, You know, you're right.
In the beginning, I made all these things. When we're reading a book and it's full of nonsense, we say out loud, Oh, Father, this is so contrary to what your Word says. And we engage in communion with God. Now, do you know God in this way? Do you pray to God in this way? Have you cultivated his presence in this way?
Has he been with you in the car and everywhere you go? I can't even tell you. One day when I'm very old and I've earned the right, I'll tell you some of the places I have these conversations.
But for now, I can't tell you them all. And some of the things I thank God for, I'm not ready just to tell you what they are. You would be amazed at some of the places I have conversations with God and some of the things I commend him for. Now, you see, when we then gather together in prayer and we have nothing to say in prayer, or when you put fifteen people together in a room and you say, We're gonna have a time of prayer, and everyone sits in total silence, you find yourself saying, What is this? The art of meditation? I mean, are we here to have a conversation?
And if you have a conversation, does somebody speak or do you all just sit? You're tempted to wonder whether the very absence of my words is due to the stoniness of my own heart and the fact that I can't initiate a conversation because I haven't been talking with him in the hours and days that have led up to the event. But if we have come out of communion with him, then it makes all the difference. That is why, you see, Jonah has as his reflex action prayer. Now we find him crying out to the very God that he's running away from. And look where he is!
He's in the fish. Now, some of you have come out of a background where you think, You can only pray using certain words. You can only pray using a certain place. You want to turn this into a certain place and so on.
You want to make it all shined up so that it can be the place of prayer. Do you think you can pray anywhere? Is God not everywhere that man should be?
Is God is present there? When I looked at this and I thought of him tumbling around in the belly of the fish and starting a prayer meeting with God, it reminded me of the little thing that I've kept in my file for some time, where people get all concerned in Christian circles about the way you pray and the posture of prayer and so on. Will you allow me to read it again? I like this so much.
Well, you can't stop me, so I'll just go ahead. The proper way for man to pray, said Deacon Lemuel Keyes. The only proper attitude is down upon his knees. No, I should say the way to pray, said Reverend Dr. Wise, is standing straight with outstretched arms with wrapped and upturned eyes.
Oh, no, no, no, said Elder Snow. Such posture is too proud. A man should pray with eyes fast closed and head contritely bowed. It seems to me his hand should be austerely clasped in front, with both thumbs pointing to the ground, said Reverend Dr. Blunt.
Last year I fell in Hodgkin's well headfirst, said Sir O'Brahm. With both my heels a-sticking up, my head a-pointing down. And I done prayed right there and there. Best prayer I ever said. The prayingest prayer I ever prayed.
A-standing on me head. Now, one final thought on prayer before I move on. If there's one question I'm asked, continually it is this. Why would you ever pray if God is a sovereign God and he works all things according to the purpose of his will, is there any point in praying at all? If God has already established what is going to happen, why would we ever pray? Let me commend to you a book called Concise Theology by J. I. Packer.
It's a terrific primer on theology. And in the little section on prayer, which runs for about two and a half pages, you will find that he addresses the matter in this way, and let me read it to you. There is no tension or inconsistency between the teaching of Scripture on God's sovereign foreordination of all things and on the efficacy of prayer. God foreordains the means as well as the end. And our prayer is foreordained as the means whereby he brings his sovereign will to pass.
Now, that can keep you going for a little while, keep you up at night thinking the implications of that out. Now, with that discursive on prayer set aside, let me get back to the subject before us and to this matter of Jonah calling out in his distress to the Lord. The emphasis in these verses is not so much upon the predicament of Jonah as it is upon the provision of God, not so much about what Jonah has done to get himself in this situation as it is upon what God has chosen to do to save his servant in the situation. Jonah ends up on dry land at the end of the chapter, verse 10, and it is clear that he ends up there not because he deserved to but because of God's grace. What we discover is that the extremity facing Jonah was the opportunity for God to show quite clearly what we're told there at the final sentence of verse 9, that salvation comes from the Lord. And there is little doubt that Jonah would have had, in the immediate aftermath of these events, many occasions, to rehearse what had happened to him and to repeat again the summary which is contained in verse 2.
People met him, and he said, Where have you been, Jonah? And then immediately followed up with, And why do you smell so bad? I mean, he must have been really fragrant for a significant length of time coming out of this. I'm not a fisherman, but there's something about fish.
Once it gets on you, it's just almost impossible to get rid of the pong. And so here he must have been quite a—and not exactly the person he wanted to sit next to at the local symphony concert. And his friends would have said to him, What in the world has been happening? And then he would have said, In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me, and from the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. He was in the water, half-drowned, suffocating from the seaweed round his head, and he had cried out to God—he cried out to the very God from whose presence he had sought to run. He was then to discover that the psalmist is true. O LORD, you have searched me, and you know me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up. Where can I go from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you're there.
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. And as he plowed around in the water in this most graphic circumstance, he discovered that God had answered his cry even as he had fallen from the side of the vessel and down into the depths of the water, and he had cried out for help, and God had listened to his cry. He was discovering in the deep what many of us have discovered when we've tried to run away from God, that you can run but you can't hide. And with one foot, as it were, already in the grave, he had called out to the Lord, and the Lord had listened. Now, we ought not to miss the fact that there is a great encouragement in this.
For those of us who today find ourselves in distress, who may find ourselves in the dumps, in the depths, and the reason for it is one word, and the word is disobedience. It may not be known to those who are nearest and dearest to us. We may have managed to hide it from all but God himself, and yet as we sit within the framework of this congregation, we know that the reason we're in the predicament in which we find ourselves is because God has said, Go, and we've said, No, because God said, I want you to do this, and we've said, I'd like to do that, because God said, This is my way, and we said, And I like this way. And the immensity of the wonder of God's dealings is found in the fact that God in his grace and in his kindness is determined to complete the work in our lives which he has begun.
Philippians 1.6. And that is why he comes to the young prodigal in the pigsty, and he meets him there. That is why he comes to Jonah in the stomach of the fish, and he meets him there—both in stinking situations, literally.
One surrounded by pigs and all that they do, the other engulfed in the very gut of this large fish. And both in the pigsty and in the fish's stomach, God was coming to pluck them, to clean them, and to restore them to his purposes. Loved ones, those of us who have walked any time with Christ know that is the case. And we can be a great help to those who are struggling at the moment by acknowledging that we have been in the pigsty, and that God has come to us in all kinds of amazing ways, and he has arrested us. And in our distress we've called out to the Lord, and he has heard us, and he has answered our prayer.
For us, the Christian life has been a series of new beginnings. It has not all been plain sailing. We have not done everything right every day. We have not proceeded in the right direction every time. We know ourselves to have been, at least metaphorically, with the seaweed wrapped around our heads and suffocating as a result of our own disobedience.
Thank God that he has chosen not to say, Fine, if that's the way you want it, go ahead and drown. Now that's the mystery, and the wonder, and the encouragement of what we find. You're listening to Truth for Life Weekend. That is Alistair Begg reminding us of the importance and power of prayer in the life of a believer. Today's message is titled, Salvation Comes From The Lord. We'll hear more from Alistair on this subject next weekend. If you're enjoying this study of God's provision from the Old Testament book of Jonah, you'd like to re-listen to any of these messages or share them with a friend, all of Alistair's teaching can be downloaded or shared or watched for free through our mobile app or on our website at truthforlife.org. The current series is simply titled, A Study in Jonah. Our website also features articles drawn from Alistair's teaching, and every week we post a new article. These articles cover a variety of topics. Just like Alistair's sermons, they're all free to read or to share.
You'll find the most recent articles at truthforlife.org slash articles. This is the last weekend we're offering a book titled, Knowable Word, Helping Ordinary People Learn To Study The Bible. This is a practical guide that will teach you how you can understand the passage of scripture you're studying by following a simple three-step approach.
You'll be able to decipher what the text means and then how to apply it in your life. This is a tried and true approach to Bible study. The author has taught this method successfully for years to students who are brand new to Bible study as well as to accomplished teachers of God's Word. It's a great book to use on your own with your family or your Bible study group. You can learn more about the book, Knowable Word, on the Truth for Life mobile app or visit our website truthforlife.org.
I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for including us in your weekend. Next weekend we'll have more of Jonah's continuing saga. We'll find out why you won't fully understand banishment from God until you've known true communion with God. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-29 04:49:59 / 2023-07-29 04:59:29 / 10