Jonah 2: The Role of a Waiter
Jonah begins to pray. He admits why he has now chosen to pray- he is in distress. This is a prayer many of us have prayed- HELP! His prayer is not a theologically structured prayer of praise and adoration based on scripture, Jonah skips right to his request, his petition in capital letters: HELP!
He was in danger and fear for his life. Why did I call out to the Lord on September 16, 1977? I was in fear for my life. I called on the one I had run from for 14 years. I know what Jonah was going through. We must realize Jonah is looking back and recalling these events. Just as I have gone back and revisited the day on which I was saved and like any memorable day- we recall event with clarity. I remember the November day in 1963 sitting in a cafeteria at lunch at Murray State in Murray, Kentucky with my friends, Jimmy Milligan and Max Lewis when Mac Anderson came up and said they have shot President Kennedy. It is with this same type of clarity I recall the date on which the Lord saved me.
Jonah prayed because he feared for his life. So did I. Jonah did not want to do what God commanded him to do in chapter 1. He not only hated the Assyrians living in Nineveh, he most surely feared them.
Do we awake each day with our priority to do the will of God? Probably not. Oh, I do not mean we do not have our quiet time. We pray- but usually it is about God helping us to do what we had planned for the day.
Some of us are now experiencing trials in our life, it may be an illness you are facing or going through the illness with loved ones. One of the first things you notice is how much waiting is involved when you living in a state of anxiety waiting for test results, etc. Yet waiting on the Lord is mentioned so many times in scripture, why are we surprised when we are required to wait. I heard Adrian Rogers refer to our role as waiters. A waiter in a restaurant is one who serves you. Some even refer to themselves when they come to your table and introduce themselves by name and tell you I am your server tonight.
This is what a waiter does- he/she serves the one they are waiting on. The Bible tells us to wait on the Lord and do good. Jonah had forgotten who and what he was- he was a waiter. I wonder how our prayer life would change if we came into the presence of our Heavenly Father, Almighty God each day and said to Him: I will be your server today. What would you like for me to do for You?
God allowed Jonah to experience what those lost sailors were experiencing in this violent storm. Jonah felt he was perishing. Jonah experienced what it was like to be lost and without hope. Do you see what God was doing? God was breaking a heart which had hardened toward sinners. A heart with no compassion for the lost. God dropped Jonah into the depths of the sea to let him experience what the people of Nineveh were about to experience if they did not repent. To know the fear of perishing these sailors were experiencing.
The KJV states: “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction.” (Jonah 2:2) There are many verses in the Bible where prayers of desperation are described as ‘crying out’. I assume these are with loud voices. In Psalm 107- this verse appears time and time again as a record of God’s unfailing goodness whose love endures forever. We read: “They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.”
Now Jonah has cried out to God because of his afflictions, because of his dire circumstances. But better to pray compelled by fear for your life, than not pray at all.
Why did I cry out to the Lord from that hotel balcony? I was scared to death and scared of death. Let us all be honest we do not always pray with the purest of motives for sometimes like Jonah our desires and God’s direction have been in opposition. I found myself like Jonah did when he remembers what it was like sinking deep into the sea, seaweed about his head. Jonah says, “My life was ebbing away. I remembered you Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.”
What do soldiers say in combat- ‘there is no atheist in a foxhole.’ There is something in all of us- when crisis strikes, when we believe our life is ebbing away- we cry out to God to help us.
Now in chapter 1, we read the sailors threw Jonah overboard into the raging sea which immediately grew calm. Notice what Jonah acknowledges in his prayer: “You (God) hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas and the currents swirled about me; all Your waves and breakers swept over me.” Jonah is acknowledging God is disciplining him for his disobedience. He was also acknowledging he deserved it.
How do you respond to God’s discipline determines how much benefit you will receive from it. Hebrews 12 is about discipline and how we respond. Do not miss the reason for the discipline. The reason for discipline is to throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us and let us run the race with perseverance (endurance) the race marked out before us. The author is telling us discipline trains us as athletes to run the race with endurance.
Hebrews 12 notes the various ways one might respond to discipline: despise the chastening ( KJV) which means you will fight against it; lose heart/be discouraged and faint; or we can resist it and invite stronger discipline as God moves from chastening, to rebuking to scourging and sometimes even death. Or we can submit to the discipline knowing Father knows best and whom He loves He disciplines. God only disciplines His children.
Jonah was going the only way we can go when we choose not to go the way of the Lord. Jonah was going down. Notice what directions Jonah was taking when he first decided not to obey God and go his own way. He went down to Joppa. He paid his fare and went down into lowest part of the ship and had laid down- and was fast asleep. Man has being going down since the Garden of Eden- when Adam and Eve fell. Then when Jonah hit bottom, he remembered the Lord and his prayer rose up to the temple. He looked up.
What a strange place for prayer- in the belly of a great fish at the bottom of the sea. But he was still alive and as long as you are alive you can pray. Death is never more than a heartbeat away. In the light of eternity our life span is but a vapor.
I ran away from trouble and my parent’s control on more than one occasion. I know what it is to be a runaway. To run from the presence of your parent’s control, yet my parents were still my parents, weren’t they? Jonah ran away from his God, but God was still his God wasn’t he? The prodigal’s father was still his prodigal son’s father.
What will it take to make you cry out? “Lift up your voice with strength, lift it up and be not afraid.” (Isaiah 40:9)
Is there a distinction between crying out to the Lord prayer besides the volume?
Do you notice what has happened to Jonah? God has arranged circumstances that seem to have no solution- and then does nothing to relieve them, or so it seemed for 3 long days and nights. We have all experienced situations like that- seems God does not care we are perishing. This is why the disciples cried out to him on the stormy Sea of Galilee: “Don’t you care we are perishing!”
So in desperation we cry out. Like the man in Mark 9, desperate to have his son healed. Jesus said ‘everything is possible for him who believes.’ I can feel this man’s desperation for his son who is sick. The scripture tells us: “Immediately the boy’s father cried out: I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” And Jesus healed the boy. This man knew he did not have a perfect faith, none of us do. But by crying out for it- Jesus supplied what he needed.
It is true throughout the circumstances recorded in Psalm 107. Each situation seemed hopeless. The need to cry out is a humbling experience and a reminder of just how total our inability is to control our lives.
Do you know where this urge to cry out loud comes from? It comes not only from desperation or the fiery trial you find yourself in. It comes from the Holy Spirit. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, Abba, Father.” The Holy Spirit has placed within our hearts a child to Father impulse to cry out to Him, as surely as we would cry out to our parents when as a child we were hurt or afraid.
What does it take to get you to cry out to the Lord? Here is the beginning of one of the most remarkable stories in the Bible. “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and bring them up out of the land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 3)
Again we see this familiar cycle repeated even when it is their own disobedience which has caused God to allow them to be taken into slavery as we read in Judges. Then the people will cry out to the Lord and He sends them a deliverer.
Now here is what is interesting about this reluctant missionary, Jonah. Jesus compared himself to Jonah in Matthew 12. Jonah is also a symbol and symbolical of the nation of Israel. Jesus said in response to the Pharisees who wanted to see a miraculous sign – use this event in Jonah’s life as a sign. “For as Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.”
As symbol of Israel, Jonah was called to a world mission- so was Israel.
Jonah refused to fulfill his mission by obeying God- so did Israel. Jonah was punished by being cast into the sea. (The seas are a symbol for the nations.) Israel was scattered among the nations of the world. Jonah was preserved and so was the nation of Israel, miraculously becoming a nation in one day in 1948. We will see Jonah obey God and go on his mission to Nineveh as will the nation of Israel during the Great Tribulation.
“Call upon me in the day of trouble.” (Psalm 50:15) You have had them before and you will have them again- or you may be experiencing them now- days of trouble, hours of crisis. They come to all of us. I spoke with a man the other day. A Christian, well-to-do and a professional who makes an above average income. I asked him to pray for Gina and myself during her illness and treatment. When I asked him to pray for her, my voice broke and tears came to my eyes. I know he immediately felt my pain. And we stopped and he prayed a sweet prayer for us right then. Men do not like to show weakness. God wants us to recognize our weakness in order to experience His strength. Jesus told Paul His strength was made perfect in weakness. When we are weak we are strong. Guess what else it does? It allows other men to admit to their weakness.
I knew this man was touched by my concerns. He then asks me to pray for him and his wife. They had not talked to their son in 15 months. They had talked with his wife, their daughter in law, but their son will not talk to them and he said they do not know why. They have also not seen their two grandchildren in 15 months. I prayed for him. It takes humility to cry out to God. And humility before God is exactly what we need. God gives grace to the humble.
Jonah says as his life was ebbing away, he remembered the Lord and his prayers rose up to the Lord in His Holy Temple. The only way Jonah could look was up.
Do you see what else has happened? Jonah knows what his problem is- he has idols in his life. Jonah describes them as worthless. An idol in one’s life robs one of the blessings of God. An idol is anything which takes away from God the affection and adoration and obedience which rightfully belong to God. Jonah’s idol was his love for his country, Israel. He refused to be God’s messenger to Israel’s enemies, the Assyrians.
Jonah made a vow to the Lord. We are not given the specifics of his vow but evidently one of the vows was to go the people of Nineveh and obey God.
Then Jonah makes a statement which is the central declaration of the Bible: “Salvation is of the Lord.”
When Jonah realized anything which kept him from God, even if it was patriotism to one’s country it was a worthless idol and kept him from God’s grace. Jonah realized there was no one on earth who could save him and he could not save himself. Salvation comes from the Lord. “For by grace through faith are you saved and that not of yourself, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2; 8, 9)
Jonah wanted what we often want- vengeance on our enemies. Vengeance on those who have wronged us and/or our loved ones and country. But God says ‘vengeance is mine.’ When we try to do what only God can do- we will surely make a bigger mess than already is. Too often vengeance is political. Consider the plight of Israel today threatened by the enemies who surround their country. What are the views we have: one view is to attack those enemies and wipe them out. The other view is let them alone, its’ not our war, let Israel deal with her enemies. But God says vengeance is mine. This is the answer. The battle is the Lord’s. Salvation comes from the Lord.
“But do not forget this one thing dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patients with you not wanting any to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3)
Another reminder that God loves everyone.
So we come full circle and realize we are waiters, servers. Jonah turned from his idols to serve the true and living God. Do you remember what Jesus did on the night of the Last Supper? Jesus took on the role of the house servant who washed the feet of the guests. He waited on the disciples ‘hand and foot.’ He served them. He then told them, a new commandment I give unto you- ‘love one another as I have loved you. **
Paul writes in I Thessalonians 1: 9- “ They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the true and living God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead- Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
History, according the Word of God, reveals how foolish are those who believe they can fight God and win. From the battle in heaven when Lucifer and his rebel forces were thrown out of heaven, to the Egyptian nation who thought they could defeat Him, only to be drowned in the Red Sea, even though God had given them opportunities to surrender to Him. From a rebel nation who said we will make a name for ourselves and build a tower which reaches to heaven in Babel, to all the enemies down through the centuries who have attempted to wipe the nation of Israel from the face of the earth- they are no match for God.
All they have to do is run up the white flag of surrender.
God always has the final word.
“So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”
“I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He also brought me out of a horrible pit. Out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth- Praise to our God: Many will see it and fear and will trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40)
“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord.” (Psalm 27)
Waiting is not a time of idleness. Waiting is serving. A waiter serves the one upon whom he is waiting for.
Good morning Lord. My name is Tim. I will be your server today. What can I do for you?
**For previous lesson notes visit our website: www.timfortner.com