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You Can't Keep a Good Man Down

You Can't Keep a Good Man Down

Friday, May 7, 2021 3:11 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 3:11 PM


Jonah 2:1-10

The pages of history are filled with the heartwarming stories of men and women who have been down and have come back. In the field of politics we immediately think of Abraham Lincoln. No one has ever descended deeper into a fish’s belly politically than did Lincoln. He was defeated for the state legislature in Illinois in 1832. He was defeated for Congress in 1843. He was defeated for Congress again in 1848. In 1855 he ran for the Senate and was defeated. He was on the vice presidential ticket in 1856 and was defeated again. He ran for the Senate in 1858 and was once more defeated. He became president in 1860 and lives on in history as one of the greatest presidents of the United States. Abraham Lincoln is proof that you can’t keep a good man down.

In the field of literature, I think of John Bunyan. He was thrown into prison where it would have been easy to give up and say, “What’s the use?” But down in that dungeon he penned the words of Pilgrim’s Progress, which have blessed millions through the generations. The truth is, you cannot keep a good man down.

We have seen it in our own generation with a man like Chuck Colson. He was humiliated before the world during the Watergate scandal. He too was placed in prison, but God used those experiences to make him one of the most effective proponents of the Christian faith in the world today. You cannot keep a good man down.

A similar mystique surrounds the success of some motion pictures. Something in all of us seems to rally around those who are down and out and who come back. Take the Rocky movies. Everybody loves to cheer for the poor street kid who was a loser and who comes back in glory. We love to see someone who, when it appears there is no way out, comes through.

Jonah lives on in history and in heaven to show us the truth that you cannot keep a good man down. Having been thrown overboard during the storm, he was swallowed by a great fish. For three days and nights, he tossed in the belly of that monster as it journeyed into the depths of the sea, but finally the Bible records, “The Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” He wiped the seaweed off his face, and then the Bible says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”

So many of us are in need of an escape today. So many women and men are longing to be out of the fish’s belly of life where they feel so trapped. We often remain there until we learn some valuable lessons. It took Jonah three days and three nights to learn those lessons. How long will it take us to learn the lessons of getting out of the fish’s belly? And what are those lessons.

1. A man of prayer

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me. From the depths of my grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You 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. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God” (Jonah 2:1-6).

There are some important questions for any inquirer to ask at this particular point in Jonah’s pilgrimage. When did he pray? To whom did he pray? What did he pray? How did he pray? First we note when he prayed.

At our church in Fort Lauderdale, we built a new prayer chapel that was beautifully furnished, luxuriously carpeted and air-conditioned. It was created as a spot where any of our people could come to meet God in intercessory prayer. Jonah’s prayer chapel was different. It was smelly, damp, dark and dingy. It was the belly of a fish in constant motion. Jonah was in distress and he called out to the Lord from his prayer chapel. Some people do not pray in our prayer chapel. It is amazing that some of us wait until we are in a fish’s belly, in distress, to call out to the Lord. But aren’t we thankful to God we can pray then? Such was the case with Jonah. “He prayed in his distress.”

In my days of pastoring churches, I have known a lot of Jonahs who have cried out to God in their distress and God heard them and delivered them. As a pastor I knew what it was to see a father who never had time for his son. He was always too busy, working 14 hours a day to be super-successful. His weekends were taken up with his friends at ballgames or on the fishing boat. The boy grew older and one day stood on a ball diamond at the Little League part patting his glove as he looked in the stands. But dad was not there. He was too busy for that. In fact, he was so busy trying to make a living he forgot to make a life. I have seen fathers like that who now sit and weep. “If only I had it all to do over again.” His son is in trouble and is ruining his life. The father finds himself in a fish’s belly. But listen: “In my distress I called on the Lord and He answered me.” Just because we may be in distress, we should not let our pride keep us from calling on the Lord.

As a pastor, I knew what it was to see a woman who had fallen victim to the flirtatious lies of her boss. She found a ship of seduction and sailed to Tarshish. She left a loving husband and precious children to follow the lust of the flesh only to find that now her lover has left her for a younger woman, and all is gone. Gone is her self-worth. Gone is her self-respect. She finds herself in the fish’s belly of shame and humiliation. But listen: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me.” No matter who we are or where we are, we can call on God in our distress.

As a pastor, I knew what it was to see a young girl with tear-stained cheeks. Her goals had been so high. Her future had been so bright. She had a Christian boyfriend, but they could not wait. To some teenagers four years of college seems a long, long time. They planned on being married some day. It seemed all right. And there she is, half girl, half adult, with big tears rolling out of big, blue eyes. And the boy? He’s gone and doesn’t want to see her any more. He is off to college and other more important things. There she sits with her faithful parents. “What will I do? My life is ruined.” But listen: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me.” The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, still cleanses us from all sin, and when He does cleanse us, we should never call unclean what He has cleansed.

We can always call out for help. Jonah’s experience is a proclamation of hope. Jonah cried out in his distress and found deliverance — and so can we. The first step in getting out of the fish’s belly is to call out to God, to pray. Some have tried everything: pills, books, counselors. But listen: “In my distress I called to the Lord and He answered me.”

The problem with many of us is that we are too proud to pray in our distress. We think we are doing God a favor by saying, “I didn’t call on Him before, so I don’t want to trouble Him now.” Those who say that do not know the heart of this loving God. If you are in distress, it is all the more reason to call on the name of the Lord.

How low some of us come before we surrender to His will. What sorrow and calamity some of us bring on ourselves through disobedience. Jonah prayed from the fish’s belly. It is never too late to pray. It is never too late to get God into our circumstances.

Jonah had little of hope of ever getting out of the fish’s belly. But in his distress, he did what he could do, and that was to pray.

I often wonder what it is going to take to get some of us to pray. Could I be writing to a Jonah today? Could I be writing to some individuals who know God’s will for their lives and are waiting until affliction comes their way to call them to repentance? The lesson here is that if we continue to go our own way in rebellion against God’s will, the result is nothing but despair. Are you in a fish’s belly? Then call on the Lord! No situation is too difficult for prayer. You cannot keep a good man down. Why? Because he is a man of prayer. And when does he pray? In his distress.

A second important aspect of Jonah’s prayer is found in to whom he prayed. Even though he rebelled, he was in covenant relationship with God. I am thankful that on January 3, 1965, as a 17-year-old in Fort Worth, Texas, I entered into covenant relationship with my God through the Lord Jesus Christ. I did not earn that relationship nor deserve it. I simply accepted the free gift of eternal life, and the Lord Jesus Christ came to live in my life. Today, He is my God.

Do you see it? It is impossible to come to God and say, “Our Father,” if we have never been born into His family. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God.” In the Galatian epistle, Paul said, “We are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” It is true that we are all God’s creation, but only those who trust in Christ are His children. Jonah could pray to his God. Can you?

Jonah had gone a long way from God but he never got away from the fact that God was his portion, his possession. Even though Jonah forsook the Lord, the Lord never forsook Jonah. He was still God.[1]

When we pray to our God, we can come clean in confession. So many people want to keep on their masks and never open up. Some are obsessed with wanting to be liked and accepted by their peers; they are afraid that if their peers really knew them, they would not like them or accept them. Consequently, there are a lot of people, especially young people, who project on others an image they want them to see so they will be like them. For example, some teenagers wear designer jeans thinking those jeans will cause other people to like them. Many young adults drive automobiles they cannot afford, hoping others will accept them. Happy is the man or woman who has been freed from that bondage.

It is one thing to behave in such a manner with others, but the tragedy comes when we attempt to do the same thing with God. Some pray as if they are trying to impress Him. We need to remember that He knows us. Jonah prayed and was open and honest. It is a fallacy to think we can impress God by trying to act as if we are all right.

Some think that because they are saved they should never have any distress or affliction. My friend, Dr. Curtis Benton, a serious theologian and a successful eye surgeon, would be the first to tell you that if you have cataracts before your conversion, you will probably have them after your conversion. If you have gallstones before you come to Christ, chances are you will have them after invite Christ into your heart. Some think that regeneration immediately solves all of our problems, especially emotional distress. Like the physical, often our emotional traumas are still there. God can and will deliver and set us free, but like Jonah we must be open with Him.

Some believers today have broken fellowship with God and think they have broken relationship. However, as disobedient as Jonah was in his rebellion, as much as he had gone in the opposite direction of God’s will for his life, he still realized that God was his God. Some of us have gone our own way, leaving the will of God, and have been battered by the storm and swallowed up in into the fish’s belly. Listen, there is good news. If we are really God’s children, He is still our Father. Jonah prayed to the Lord his God, and so can we.

It is also important to note what Jonah prayed. In studying his prayer we make a remarkable discovery. Jonah did not use one original thought or request in this petition. What did he do? Jonah simply prayed the Word of God. He prayed the Scriptures. Eight times in these few verses he quoted from the book of Psalms. Jonah said, “In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry” (Jonah 2:2). Where did he get that? Listen carefully to Psalm 18:6: “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” Listen to Psalm 120:1: “I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answered me.” And Psalm 86:13: “For great is your love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave.”

Jonah knew the word of God. Do you see what is happening in the prayer? Jonah is standing on the promises of God and praying the Scriptures.

Jonah went on in his prayer to say, “You 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 2:3). Now where did he get that. Listen to Psalm 88:6: “You have put me in the lowest pit; in the darkest depths.” Psalm 42:7: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” Do you see it? Jonah knew the word of God and was simply praying Scriptures. He was reminding God of the many promises of prayer.

Jonah kept praying. “I said, I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple” (Jonah 2:4). Where di d he get that? Listen to Psalm 31:22: “In my alarm I said, ‘I am cut off from your sight! Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called out to you for help.’”

Jonah knew the Old Testament promises. He remembered them and he stood on them. He knew the promise of 2 Chronicles 6:36-39:

When they sin against you — for there is no one who does not sin — and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly’; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land to their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people who have sinned against you.

Therefore, knowing these promises, Jonah said, “I have been banished from your sight yet I will look again toward your holy temple” (Jonah 2:4).
Jonah continued his prayer by saying: “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head” (Jonah 2:56). Again he was quoting the psalmist who said in Psalm 69:1-2:

Save me O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is not foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.

Jonah concluded his prayer by saying, “To the roots of the mountains I sank down: the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God” (Jonah 2:6). Where did Jonah get that? He got it from Psalm 30:3, which says, “O Lord, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit.”

Jonah had hid the word in his heart and remembering it he stood on it by faith and prayed the scriptures. This is a marvelous way to make petitions to our God.

Parents should be praying Scripture over their children. For example, we should be praying that “God might give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ.” We should be praying scriptures for our friends that “God might grant unto them to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” We should be praying the scriptures over our missionaries that “he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” It is no wonder so many people stay in the fish’s belly. They never call out to the Lord in prayer.

Praying the Scriptures does not begin with us. It begins in the heart of God. We receive God’s promise from above through his word, quickened by the Holy Spirit, and that is where we stand. Jonah began appealing to God on the basis of His personal promises.

Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you” (John 15:7). Are you abiding in the Lord Jesus? Is His word abiding in you? If so, you will never ask Him for anything that is contrary to His will. Therefore, He can promise you, “Ask what you will, and it will be done unto you.” Without the Bible, prayer has no direction; and without prayer, the Bible has no dynamic. God speaks to us through His written word, and we speak to Him through prayer. Can you see this taking place in Jonah’s prayer? Jonah’s prayers were answered. Why are some of our prayers unanswered? Could it be that too few of us have been alone with God long enough to get a word from Him on which to stand? The Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:7).[2]

So many say they cannot pray more than two or three minutes because they do not know what to pray. We need to pray the word of God. If we are lost, the Bible says, “Those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” So we come to God and say, “Lord, you have said that whoever calls on your name will be saved, so save me for Christ’s sake.” Are you burdened? Then come to the Lord with His promise and say, “Lord, you have said that you have borne my griefs and carried my sorrows, so I put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

Are you lonely? Then come to the Lord on the basis of His word and say, “Lord, you have said you will never leave me nor forsake me. You have said, ‘Do not fear, for I am with you: Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Are you afraid? Come to God on the basis of his word and say, “Lord, you have said in what time I am afraid I can call upon you.”

Are you in need? Then come to God on the basis of his word and say, “Lord, you have said you would meet all my needs according to your glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Do you need forgiveness? Then come to the Lord and say, “Lord, you have said that if I confess my sin you would be faithful and just to forgive me and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. So I claim that promise and accept your forgiveness.”

Blessing comes from obedience. Jonah had the word in his heart all along but he was not willing to heed it. Blessing comes in obedience to God’s will. As soon as Jonah got back into God’s will, he was released, set free from the bonds that had enslaved him. You cannot keep a good man down. Why? Because he is a man of prayer. When does he pray? In his distress. To whom does he pray? He prays to the Lord his God. What does he pray? He prays the word of God.

It is also important to observe how Jonah prayed. Jonah was down, depressed, in distress. But look what happened when he started praying the Scriptures. “You brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.” Where did he get the faith to pray that kind of prayer? He remembered Psalm 30:3, “O Lord, you brought me up from the grave, you spared me from going down into the pit.” God quickened this verse in his heart and he stood on it by faith.

I am encouraged when I read these verses. Jonah’s attitude of faith shows us that from God’s perspective, there is no such thing as a hopeless case. No matter how far one may have gone down, he or she can still call on the Lord in faith and be delivered.

2. A man of purpose.

When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:7-8).

Jonah came to realize that there had been a purpose in his pilgrimage. Paul said it like this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Dr. R.T. Kendall in his book Jonah made an astute observation here. He pointed out that Romans 8:28 means that just because something has been made right does not mean it was right.[3] Although it is true that God can make “all things work together for good,” this does not justify disobedience. As we have noted, Jonah’s chastening foreshadowed our Lord’s death, burial and resurrection. But nonetheless we should not try to justify Jonah’s rebellion. There are people who try to justify their sins simply because things turned out all right. The fact that Jesus used Jonah’s experience with the fish as a picture of his own death, burial and resurrection does not meant hat Jonah’s rebellion was justified.

Some of us have become accomplished at trying to justify our sin. As an example, we are reminded of David. He had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had Uriah her husband murdered to cover his sin. For some it seems amazing that in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, we read, “… And Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” One might say it worked out for Good, so that made it right. No! Thank God it can be made right, but that does not mean it was right. Lest we forget, remember that David reaped what he sowed. His heart was broken when his son Absalom rebelled against him and lost his life. His daughter was abused — and on and on we could go.

Jonah said, “I remembered the Lord.” He was saying, “I came to myself. The truth dawned on me.” Then he confessed, “I forgot God and listened to the lies of the devil. I’ve been clinging to the worthless idols of self, and have forfeited the grace that could have been mine all the while.” It is interesting that Jonah said this when he got to the end of his rope. The way he termed it was “when my life was ebbing away.” It seemed that things could get no worse. That phrase is literally translated “when I had lost all hope.” Jonah had come to absolute helplessness.

Some of us simply have to get to the place where we have nowhere else to turn but to God, to the place where we have lost all hope unless He comes through.

I thank God He is always there. But how much easier it would have been on Jonah if he had remembered the Lord when he stepped up to the ticket booth at Joppa to buy his ticket to sail for Tarshish. To those of us who think we have found a ship to Tarshish and are about to purchase our ticket, “Remember the Lord!” Jonah put it this way, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit grace that could be theirs.”

The Lord allowed this stress to come into Jonah’s life so that he might come to himself and remember the Lord. It was the same with the prodigal son. His father knew better. His father knew what was best for him, but out of love he let him go. Now, like the prodigal boy, the prodigal Jonah is coming home. He too has found out that clinging to worthless idols was not worth it.

In Jonah’s dark and damp dungeon there did not seem to be a ray of hope, but suddenly the light of God’s glory started coming in. What do you suppose he remembered? I think he remembered God’s mercy. I think he must have remembered Lamentations 3:32: “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”

Jonah knew well the emptiness of these idols. He had watched the sailors pray to their idols to no avail. Did he now realize that he was worshiping one of the worse of all idols: Self?

Jesus died on the cross not only to set us free from sin, but also from self. The Bible says, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Victory over self is claimed in the same way as victory over sin. We do not have victory over sin by trying to earn or deserve it. We are saved by faith. Victory over self is achieved in the same way: by faith.

Paul urged us not to be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). A lot of us are trying to put away the idols of self by conforming, or by nonconforming. Nonconforming never produces victory. It is good that believers do not drink or smoke dope or wear suggestive clothing or watch X-rated movies or gamble or be involved in illicit sex or talk in a filthy manner. But where is the victory? It is not in conformity or nonconformity. The victory comes from God. The victory is transformation within by faith. It is good that we throw our cargo overboard, but it will not bring our victory. We don’t get victory; we have victory if we are truly converted. The problem is that some of us are not appropriating it. While some of us are so busy trying to get it, we forget we already have it — in Christ.

Jonah looked back, remembered the Lord, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “It wasn’t worth it!” It is no sign of God’s mercy if you are getting away with your sin. If you keep clinging to worthless idols, you keep forfeiting the grace that could be yours.

3. A man of praise

But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). If Jonah could offer a sacrifice of praise from the belly of a fish, surely we can offer one from our distress.

Note that Jonah did not ask to be delivered. He simply started praising God in a difficult situation and giving thanks. All most of us know about giving thanks is associated with good times. We give thanks at family times — for the turkey, the harvest, the business, the baby. Jonah learned something liberating. He learned that giving thanks in everything would set him free.

When midnight comes, when we find ourselves in distress, many of us feel like giving up and wallowing in self-pity. We lapse into a martyr complex. But Jonah sang a song in the night and God delivered him.

Job did the same thing when he was stripped of his health, wealth and family. He responded by saying, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). And the Bible says that God restored unto Job twice what he had before.

It was the same with Paul and Silas in a Philippian jail. Although they were chained to prison guards, at midnight those two men sang a song that opened prison doors. It would have been easy for them to have cried out about the unfairness of their punishment. After all, they had done nothing to warrant it. They had left their homes for the sake of the gospel. They had sacrificed much. They could easily have slipped into resentment. But the Bible says, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly, there was a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose’ (Acts 16:25-26).

Here are the keys that unlock the door: praise and thanksgiving. They will set us free. You say, “But I don’t have anything to praise God about.” Well, we don’t praise God for what He gives us; we praise Him for who He is.

Had Paul and Silas been like a lot of modern-day disciples, Scripture would have read, “At midnight, Paul and Silas whined and whimpered and questioned God.” But instead, like Jonah, they praised the Lord in the midst of adversity, and God set them free.

Could this be the very point at which our own deliverance is waiting? Praise is the garment we must put on as believers when we have a spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:3). Is it dark in your life? Do you feel as though you are in prison at midnight? Are you in the belly of a fish? Do not allow yourself to wallow in self-pity. Begin to praise the Lord. When we sing a song in the night, when we praise the Lord in adversity, God hears and acts.

There is no beautiful illustration of this than is found in 2 Chronicles 20:15-22:

Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. They will surely come up by the Ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the brook before the Wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.” And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high. So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.” And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: “Praise the Lord, For His mercy endures forever.” Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated.

During the reign of King Jehoshaphat, the Ammonites and the Moabites came up against the Israelites. Jehoshaphat knew he was out-matched. What could he do? He marched and  sang praises to God. In the hour of trial instead of cowering in fear he sang praises, and the outcome was glorious.

Are you in the fish’s belly? Are you in the dark, confused, in despair and distress? Never give up. You cannot keep a good man, a man of praise, down.

Here is a good place to begin finding the will of God. The Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Did you hear that? This is God’s will. Our giving thanks is God’s will. This does not necessarily say that we are to thank God for the fish’s belly, but thank God in the fish’s belly.

Our faith is proven by our thanksgiving. There is quite a difference between those who walk by sight and those who walk by faith. Those who walk by sight can sing songs of praise and thanksgiving only when deliverance has come. Anyone can do that. We get a new job and we give thanks. We get a good report from the doctor and we give praise and thanks. But those who walk by faith choose to live in thanksgiving even in the midst of adversity. God says, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23).

4. A man of perception

“But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land (Jonah 2:9-10).

A casual reading of the text might cause us to pass over what Jonah said in the last part of 2:9: “Salvation comes from the Lord.” It is God who delivers. As long as there are still a few strings for us to pull, deliverance can be traced to our own efforts. We are not saved because we deserve to be, or because we are good, or because we are moral, or because we are intelligent, or because we are talented, or because we are American. Salvation and deliverance are “Of the Lord.” Jonah finally perceived this. He was not only a man of prayer and purpose and praise; now he was a man of perception.

Jonah was saying, “It is out of my hands. There is nothing I can do.” Jonah knew that only a loving God would take him back after the rebellion he had pursued. He knew that his deliverance had to be of the Lord.

God has a special way of bringing us to this point, doesn’t He? When we are rebellious, He has a way of getting us to the place where finally have to say, “Lord, it is out of my hands; there is nothing more I can do. Deliverance must come from You.”

It will be a happy day when we stop trying to deliver ourselves and become men and women of prayer, purpose, praise and perception, knowing that deliverance comes only from the Lord. Some of us are still in the fish’s belly because we have never gotten to that place of understanding. Some of us have become men and women of prayer, calling to God in our distress. Some of us have become men and women of purpose, realizing our disobedience wasn’t worth it. Some of us have even thanked God for the hard experience, and have become men and women of praise. But all of that is not enough. We need to take the final step of acknowledging that deliverance is totally of the Lord and unless He comes through we are sunk. Jonah came to that place when finally he said, “I can’t, but He can. Salvation is of the Lord.”

The apostle Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Until now in Jonah’s pilgrimage, he had said, “For to me, to live is self.”[4] How would you complete that sentence? For to me to live — is what? For to me to live is selfishness? For to me to live is business? For to me to live is pleasure? For to me to live is my boat? For to me to live is money? For to me to live is my boat? For to me to live is pleasure? For to me to live is my boat? For to me to live is money? For to me to live is the kids? God did not keep Jonah down there one second longer than it took to get Jonah to repent and acknowledge his dependency on a loving God.

I really appreciate the final verse of this chapter. God spoke to the fish, and out came Jonah. The way of out of a fish’s belly is to be a person of prayer, purpose, praise and perception. And the word of the Lord will come to you a second time. Thank God He is the God of the second chance.

Thank God that you cannot keep a good man down.

[1] Blair, J. Allen. 1963. Jonah. Neptune NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., p. 65.

[2] Hawkins, O.S., 1982. Clues to a Successful Life. Nashville TN: Broadman Press, p. 94.

[3] Kendall, R.T. 1978. Jonah. London: Hodder & Stoughton, p. 129.

[4] Blair, Jonah, P. 72

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