In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” –Jonah 2:2
Bible teacher, Priscilla Shirer, observes how we can enhance our prayer lives. Three major prayer themes emerge from Jonah, chapter 2: the pattern of prayer, the passion of prayer, and the posture of prayer. You may read Jonah 2 here: Bible Gateway.
Pattern of Prayer
Jonah must have had an arsenal of Scripture stamped in his memory bank the day he cried to God inside the big fish. If he had a scroll tucked inside his cloak it would have been water stained and ruined. But Jonah managed to thread some strands of Scripture from Psalms, weaving them into a personal prayer tapestry to frame his unique situation. Consider the following pairs of verses that share similar terminology or thoughts:
Jonah 2:2—Psalm 30:3
Jonah 2:3—Psalm 42:7
Jonah 2:5—Psalm 69:1-2
Jonah 2:7—Psalm 18:6
Jonah 2:9—Psalm 66:13-14
Our prayers are most effective when they originate from God’s Word. Like Jonah, have we taken time to allow God to etch His Word on our hearts? If so, then we will also have a framework of verses to piece together for prayer in difficult times.
Jonah wasn’t speaking in a monotone manner when he prayed. Did his cry to God echo inside the fish’s intestinal walls? I wonder. The Hebrew word “cried out” is only used 22 times in the Bible and implies intensity of an act reserved only for the most earnest prayers. While fervent prayer is not a guarantee that God will answer “yes”, it certainly seems to capture His attention, (see Exodus 2:23-25 and 2 Samuel 22:1, 4-7).
Raising our voices, however, is not the goal of prayer. God desires for us to pursue Him with our hearts and minds. He doesn’t want our meaningless repetition of words. Intentional prayer must employ our will, mind, and emotion.
Posture of Prayer
My kids and I have this unspoken understanding. When I pretend to pull a string up from their heads at the dinner table, they know I mean, “Sit up . . . shoulders back . . . stop slumping!”
The posture of prayer is the third major lesson we learn from Jonah. Being in dire straits, one would think Jonah’s prayer would be for deliverance. However, his prayer isn’t for deliverance, but rather a prayer of deliverance. Jonah gives thanks in the midst of his grave condition. Unsure how God will deliver, Jonah determines—God willing—that he will go back to the holy city and participate in the thanksgiving offering. His posture would be “with a voice of thanksgiving.” Jonah intends to not only give in the animal and cereal sacrifices, but also with a verbal sacrifice of praise.
While we are no longer under the Old Covenant with the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Old Testament temple, we can still offer God a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15).
Finally, Jonah’s deliberate prayer ends with “Deliverance is from the Lord” (NRSV). Shirer writes: “The Hebrew word used for deliverance is a derivative of the name Yesuah . . . . The Christian reader who hears this conclusion to Jonah’s prayer in its original language cannot miss this word that sounds so much like the Hebrew name of Jesus which has meant deliverance and salvation for the peoples of the world.”
What a beautiful reminder: Salvation and deliverance come from the One true Lord and Savior, Yesuah.
If you have been following Pastor Cliff Purcell’s podcasts on “The Lord’s Prayer”, here is another great message about praying (and wrestling) for God’s will: A Family Conversation – Week 5 (Feb. 11, 2018).