How Can I Enhance My Prayer Life? (Jonah 2)

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.

Passionate Prayer

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).

God Interruptions

Oh, I’m sorry . . . Did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?” – (A funny interruption quote found on imgfave.com)

I thought I’d share what God has been teaching me lately. But first, how is January going for you? Are you tackling some of your New Year resolutions? I have always been goal/task oriented, which often lends to frustration when my plans don’t pan out. Do you relate to this? I think God is probably smiling as I begin a new Bible study venture by Priscilla Shirer. He knows I have some growing up to do in this area. Although I’ve never been swallowed by a fish—nor wish to!—I hope to learn from Jonah’s mistakes. (Any local women want to join me in this study? You are welcome as we’re just beginning. Let me know.)

We all experience daily interruptions. Most are unwelcomed, right? Unless we’ve just won the lottery or something similar. But what about when God interrupts your life? As in Jonah’s case. Jonah—a successful prophet who served God in a comfortable manner—received the inconvenient instructions from God to go to the wicked city of Nineveh and tell them to repent.

But Jonah wasn’t the only Bible character who experienced God’s interruption. Consider Moses, who lived the royal lifestyle; David, a young shepherd boy called to be Israel’s king, but first had to dodge King Saul’s spears; and what about Sarah (Abraham’s wife)? Can you imagine birthing a baby at the age of 90? No thanks!

And the list goes on.

In fact, all believers have God interruptions. Why? Because His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways (Isa. 55:8). But our ultimate example of One who experienced an interrupted life is none other than Jesus Christ. Unconstrained to the limits of time and space—sharing His Father’s glory in heaven—He followed His Father’s will by coming to earth as a vulnerable baby. Talk about major life disruption! “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”  (Phil. 2:6-8, NIV)

Love compelled Jesus to follow His Father’s directives. Love strong enough to endure the unfathomable agony of carrying the world’s sins on His shoulders as He lay down His life. Through shedding His blood, He pardons us from the wages due us—eternal separation from Him—for those who believe on His name and follow His will. He not only made possible our freedom from sins’ bondage, but also identifies in our weakness, offering victory in our temptations.

I’ll admit, I’ve ran from God before. Maybe not physically, but inwardly through my attitudes and/or just not following through with His directive. Can you relate? So how is a believer to view a life interrupted by God? When we get a new view of who God is—the One true God—who desires to speak to us and use us for His kingdom purpose(s), we gain a new perspective on God interruptions. Priscilla Shirer writes: “The first two miracles in the Book of Jonah are found in the very first verse: The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Aittai saying (Jonah 1:1) . . . . 1) God spoke; 2) God allowed a mere human to hear His voice.” What a privilege!

Would Jonah have ran from God if he could have seen the end picture? Often the greatest revivals are a result of one person obeying God after having his/her schedule interrupted.

Just as Jesus’ interrupted life ushered in something new—as His ways didn’t fit into the old rigid legalistic mold of religion—God also challenges us to follow His lead. Am I prepared to look at people in new ways and serve them in new ways? God often sends us into dark places to shine His light and spread His hope.

It is both significant and a privilege to be interrupted by God, to be called and used for His purpose(s). How many of us hunger for a life of significance? A life couldn’t be more significant than a life that yields to God, which includes interruptions from our plans.

So now that I’ve shared this, I’m sure God has a divine interruption around the corner. Hopefully I’ll have a new perspective. 🙂 How has God interrupted your life lately?