Deliverance Through Praise - Zac Poonen
In Jonah 1:3 The Lord told Jonah, "Go to Nineveh and cry against the city, because their wickedness has come up before Me." But Jonah, instead of going east, went west. He went to Joppa, found a ship, paid the fare, and went down to Tarshish, fleeing from the presence of the Lord .
Because Jonah had money to travel, he missed the will of God. How blessed it would have been for him if he did not have any money to buy a ticket to Tarshish. When God tells us to go somewhere and we want to go somewhere else, it will be good if we don't have the money to travel to the place of our choice.
Many Christian workers feel that if they have the money to travel somewhere, that indicates that it is God's will. If that argument were a valid one, then Jonah was in the will of God when he left for Tarshish!! Just because you have the money to buy something or to go somewhere, does not mean that that is God's will for you. God may not want you to buy that thing and He may want you to go to some other place. Money is a great deceiver. Never allow the availability of money to be the deciding factor in deciding where to go or what to buy.
When Jonah went away from the will of God, the Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and a great storm, and the ship was about to break up. The sailors were afraid and each cried out to his god but the storm did not subside. While the others were praying to their idols, the only one on that ship who knew the true God was sleeping. They woke him up and asked him to pray too. Then they cast lots to find out whose fault it was that their prayers were not being answered. God sovereignly controlled that lot so that it fell on Jonah. The others in the ship were far greater sinners than Jonah. Yet the storm came because of Jonah! Disobedience in a child of God is more serious in God's eyes than multitudes of sins in an unbeliever. "Of all the peoples of the earth, I have chosen you alone. That is why I must punish you the more for all your sins" (Amos 3:2).
Jonah then admitted his sin. He told them that he was running away from God. They tried their best to row to the shore but couldn't succeed, since the sea was very stormy. Then Jonah said, "Please pick me up and throw me outside into the sea and it will stop because I know this storm has come upon you because of me" (v.12). Then those seaman were afraid that God would punish them is they threw Jonah into the sea. Those heathen men seem to have more of the fear of God here than God's prophet. Finally, since there was no other way, they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea - and immediately the storm subsided. And the men feared the Lord.
Meanwhile, the Lord had appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish for three days and three nights. God's word is inspired and I believe it just as it is written. Jesus Himself endorsed this true story when He said, "As Jonah was in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth" (Matt.12:40). Paradise was located in the heart of the earth before the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and Jesus was there, in paradise, in the heart of the earth, for three days and three nights from Thursday evening (yes, He WAS crucified on a Thursday) until Sunday morning when He was raised from the dead.
After three days, Jonah prayed. Notice the word "THEN" in 2:1. That verse makes clear therefore that Jonah did not pray during the first three days and nights. So what was he doing during those three days and nights? He was most probably trying to crawl out of the stomach of the great fish. He must have tried again and again and always slipped back into the fish's slimy belly. After three days of futile effort, he finally decided to pray.
That is how it is with us too, when we find ourselves trapped in a difficult situation. The first thing we usually do is to try and get out of it by some human effort. When all our efforts fail, then we pray! And so Jonah prayed after 3 days. Still nothing happened. He says, "I was locked out of life and imprisoned in the land of death. When I had lost all hope, I turned my thoughts once more to the Lord. And my earnest prayer went to you in your holy Temple" (2:5). Nothing happened still. Finally, he stopped praying and started praising the Lord. He said, "I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. Salvation is from the Lord (Deliverance can come only from You)" (2:9). In other words, he was saying, "Lord, I am going to praise You with all of my heart. You can deliver me if and when You like"
As soon as he started praising God, the Lord commanded the fish to vomit Jonah out on to the land. Notice the word "THEN" in 2:10. That makes it clear that it was only when he started praising the Lord, that the Lord commanded the fish to vomit him out. There is a principle here. In Psalm 50:23 "Whoever offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving (the same phrase Jonah uses here) makes a way thereby for Me to show him My deliverance." In other words, the Lord says, "If you start praising Me instead of just complaining, you will make a way for Me to deliver you." We see how Jehoshaphat followed that principle too. Surrounded by great armies he began to praise the Lord and thus God delivered him from his enemies (2 Chron.20).
Prayer is not necessarily an expression of faith, but sincere praise to God is always the expression of faith (See Psa.106:12). You may pray without faith. But if you praise God, when the situation is not yet resolved, then you are expressing your faith. When you say, "I praise You, Lord, for I know that deliverance comes only from You", you have expressed Your faith in God and made a way for Him to deliver you.