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The Prayer of Jonah (Part 2) (Praying Through the Bible #102)

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TEXT: Jonah 4:1-5

Today, we return to the familiar story of Jonah. Last time we saw Jonah, he was quite literally at rock bottom. God had told him to go and preach in Ninevah, but instead, he had tried to run from God by escaping on a ship to Tarshish. But God sent a storm after the ship and Jonah got thrown out into the sea where a great fish was waiting for him. In the belly of that great fish, Jonah thought God had forsaken him, but after a while, he made up his mind to pray to God and to repent of his rebellion against God, and God spoke to the fish and the fish vomited Jonah out on dry land.

True to his word, Jonah traveled to the city of Ninevah and delivered the message that God had given him to deliver. That message was simply, “three days and Ninevah shall be destroyed.” However, a strange thing happened in Ninevah. Instead of rebelling against God and ignoring his prophet, the people of Ninevah humbled themselves and repented. They mourned in sackcloth and ashes. And, God decided to show mercy to them and spare them.

And, then, we see a very strange thing happened in Jonah — Jonah was not pleased at all.

1. Jonah obeyed God, but His heart was not right about the mission. When Jonah saw that the people of Ninevah had repented, the Bible tells us “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” The Hebrew text tells us that Jonah “got hot.” Imagine a minister today who preaches for people to get rid of the sin in their lives, but when people start coming down to the altar to confess and repent of their sins, he sulks and gets mad. That is what Jonah did. Even though he delivered God’s words to the people of Ninevah, he did not share God’s heart about the matter.

God’s ultimate desire for all people who have sinned is for them to repent and turn back to Him. Even though Jonah delivered a message of judgment, God really wished to show mercy to the people of Ninevah if they repented. Jonah, however, did not share that desire. He wouldn’t have minded seeing the Ninevites destroyed. Although he was God’s man delivering God’s message, Jonah did not have a heart that shared God’s will.

How often have we desired something or prayed about something, yet our hearts were not aligned with God’s will about it? We simply wanted what we wanted regardless of what God’s will was, and when we see that we may not get it, instead of accepting God’s will, we sulk and get mad. Our reaction at such times is a clear sign that something is wrong in our hearts and in our relationship with God.

Jonah’s displeasure with God’s leniency toward the Ninevites is a reminder that God does not always play by our rules. Jonah prayed for his own deliverance from his judgment in the fish’s belly, but he was not willing to see another nation delivered from their judgment. He was simply selfish in his prayer. He wanted what was good for him and did not give a second thought as to what God wanted or what was good for others. When we pray, we must examine ourselves to see if our hearts are truly open to what God wants or if we are praying selfish prayers.