Jonah: A man on the run: What to do when it feels hopeless
God has a purpose for every life: we all have a life mission. We weren’t made to live for ourselves. The Bible story of Jonah teaches how to know our mission and to understand that it is never too late to start on our mission. Have you ever felt surrounded by a hopeless situation? We’re all going to have moments that make us feel hopeless in this life. The Bible story of Jonah that we’ll discuss here explains what to do. When we hit bottom we need to look up to God, pray passionately, identify the cause of our hopelessness, ask God for specific help, get our focus off of our problems and onto God’s goodness, accept His grace, and thank Him in advance with gratitude.
Something To Talk About:
- When you hit bottom, look to God: This whole chapter, chapter 2, is Jonah’s prayer that he prayed as he’s drowning in the ocean, he’s swallowed by some kind of giant fish. He doesn’t know what’s going on. The entire chapter is when I’m sinking, when I’m going down, I’m going to look up to God. When you’re hitting the bottom, you look up. He prays to God. There are some kinds of problems in life that you can try every human solution, and it’s not going to work. There are some problems in your life that are so deep that the only way they’re going to be resolved is by prayer. This is a starting point. Jonah does this thing right. This is the first thing he’s done right. He’s thrown overboard, and what does he do? He looks up and he immediately starts praying. God’s waiting to see how persistent you are in prayer when you’ve hit rock bottom.
- Pray passionately: When you’re feeling hopeless, pray with emotion. God doesn’t want to hear the trite, memorized, mechanical, methodical, memorized prayer. Jonah is swallowed by this fish; He’s not praying “Now I lay me down to sleep, or Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” First of all, Jesus hadn’t given that to us yet. But he’s not praying some memorized prayer. He’s going, “Help! God, I need help right now!” He is crying out, probably shouting out. He’s praying with emotion. This guy is desperate. He’s frantic. This is no polite request. This is a gut-wrenching prayer. The book of Psalms, which are your personal prayers to God, is not all praise. One-third of the Psalms of the Bible, 150 of them, are complaints. Fifty of them are laments. This is no polite request. This is a gut-wrenching prayer.
- Identify the cause of my hopelessness: Hopelessness is a vague feeling, and you can’t deal with a vague feeling. You can’t work with the problem, you can’t solve a problem you can’t even pray about a problem until you identify the problem. If you’ve got this vague feeling of depression or a vague feeling of being down or of discouragement, a vague feeling of hopelessness, you need to stop and say, “What’s really going on here? What’s behind this?” You need to pinpoint the source. This is what Jonah did. If you read Jonah 2:3-6 you will discover it is pretty graphic. I’m in over my head, I’ve hit bottom, feel out of control, feel powerless, feel overwhelmed, feel lonely, feel rejected, feel remorse or regret, feel crushing fear, feel trapped? Only when you identify the problem can you actually pray about it specifically.
- Ask God for specific help: “God, I’m feeling out of control. God, I’m feeling regret. I’m feeling remorse. God, I’m feeling fear. God, I’m feeling trapped. God, I’m… ” Any of these things we just listed, you talk to God specifically about those things. Be specific. Jonah 2:2, says, “I called to you from the land of the dead, and Lord, you heard me!” Psalm 50:15, God says, “Then call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.” Pray specifically.
- Focus on the goodness of God to me: When everything looks dark when I can’t see ahead. There’s a fog. It’s shrouded. I can’t see the future. It’s pitch black. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. I focus on the goodness of God to me. I’m going to have to choose to change the channel of my mind and start thinking about the things that I know for sure that are going to lift my spirit: the goodness of God and the greatness of God and the power of God and the love of God and the fairness and the justice of God and the kindness of God. I think about how He’s been good to me in the past, how He’s promised to be good to me in the future. In verse seven, Jonah says this: “As my life was slipping away, I remembered the Lord….” When you feel hopeless, you need to look at Christ.
- Express gratitude to God in advance: Do what Jonah did, express gratitude to God in advance. Express gratitude to God in advance, before you’re out of the situation, while you’re in the belly of the fish, while you’re at rock bottom, while things are swirling around. Thank God for solving your problem. If I wait until after God has solved the problem, it’s just gratitude. But if I thank God in advance, now I have expressed faith, and God always responds to faith. Show gratitude to God in advance. Verse 9, Jonah says, “But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” Now, notice he says, “I will.” He’s doing it in advance. He’s not waiting until the problem is solved to be grateful.
- Hitting rock bottom is hard. However, those moments of desperation can be the catalyst for great inspiration if we will turn to Christ. Agree or disagree and why?
- When have you, like Jonah, been in a desperate circumstance of your own making? How did you respond? What do you learn from Jonah’s response?
- Why is persistent and repeated passionate prayer to God important for what God already wants to do? Share a time when you prayed persistently and God answered your prayer.
- Have you ever prayed or heard someone else pray, “Lord if you will just get me out of this mess, I will ____”? God hears our desperate cries, no doubt; and he answers those prayers. What keeps us from praying before we hit the bottom? Where in your life are you desperate enough to pray for change?
- God wants us to be specific in our prayer requests. Why is a specific prayer important to God?
- What are examples of “false fixes” and idols that we should reject as we focus on accepting God’s grace in a hopeless situation?
- What is the value of expressing gratitude to God in advance by singing, giving back to God, or recommitting to your mission?
- Do you think that Jonah recognizes the consequences of running? Why or why not? Do you think Jonah recognizes the source of running in chapter 2? Why or why not? Do you think he is ready to recognize the opposite of running and do it? Why or why not?
- How do you hope to grow or change through this sermon series? What was your biggest takeaway from chapter 2 of Jonah’s story?
Take one thing home with you:
We need to learn to accept God’s grace. God’s grace. Jonah 2:8-9 says, “Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies. But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” God’s mercy is a stubborn, relentless kind of love that won’t give up on us. When we run, God does lead us to the point at which we want to come back – but we forfeit something. We forfeit His mercies; we forfeit what we would have had if we had kept a close relationship with Him. There are consequences. There’s a touch of irony in Jonah 2:10: “Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.” I think we’re supposed to read that and think, “If only Jonah was so obedient!” If only we were that obedient as well. We’re all runners. We’ve either come to the point at which the cracks are showing, and there’s nowhere else to turn. Every one God has ever used has first reached the end of themselves. Go through the list of the people God has used – Moses, David, Peter, Paul, Jonah. They’re all people who have something in common with us. They’ve run until there’s been nowhere else to turn.