MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: Three days - three nights
“And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:17
A lot can happen in three days time. A man’s heart can be changed. Trials, storms, near death experiences, and suffering all have a way of getting to the heart of the matter. The discipline of God shapes us and changes us. But the truth is that Jonah could have died down there. We don’t know what kind of fish swallowed him; only that it was big. But the reason he was in that sea in the first place was because he had been running from God. Now Jonah gets a bad rap as the only prophet who I can think of that when God told him to do something, he took off in the other direction, trying to flee from God’s presence. Haven’t we all done that though at sometime in our lives? How many of you, if God asked you to go to a foreign nation, to a certain city that was violent, pagan, and was the enemy of your home country - would go? Jonah was more like you and I than we care to admit.
But he did one thing right. When it was finally discovered that the storm was because of him, he told those sailors to throw him overboard. He stopped running from God, and was thrown into the sea in complete surrender. The only way to stop the judgment of God in our lives is to surrender to him. In Jonah’s complete surrender he found himself sinking in the depths of the sea. Now one might think that this is the end of the story, but in reality, it is just the beginning. Jonah needed some time alone with just him and God. He needed three days and three nights alone with the Lord, and so the belly of a great fish became the dwelling place of God, and a holy sacred temple. For where the presence of the Lord is - that place is holy ground. A fish’s belly became a holy place for 3 days and 3 nights as Jonah prayed.
Chapter 2 of Jonah records that prayer. It is a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s rescue. It is prayer of faith as Jonah states that he believes he will once again see God’s holy temple. It is a prayer of surrender as Jonah casts himself upon the mercy of the Lord. It is a prayer of remembering who God is, what he’s done, and what he called Jonah to do. And because Jonah remembers, it is also a prayer where Jonah promises to fulfill his vows unto the Lord.
In that belly of the great fish, nothing else became important, but to reach out and find the Lord in prayer. Tarshish was forgotten, running from God was only something he was sorry for, and his rebellion was forgiven in relational prayer. I’m not sure what your relationship with God looks like, but trials, storms, and God’s discipline changes everything. At least it can, if we surrender. Some people live their whole lives without truly figuring out how to have a great relationship with God in prayer. But the wonderful thing about the Lord is - he can change everything that needs to be changed in us in 3 days and 3 nights.
When Jesus was on this earth he was dead in the belly of the earth for 3 days, and on the 3rd day he was risen from the dead. His resurrection changes everything. He gave us new life, the ability to be born again, and made us a new creation. His cross is supremely important, but so were those three days, and that Resurrection Sunday. Never underestimate what happens in the waiting. A lot of times in church we expect people to come down front, walk the aisle, and be completely different. But saying a prayer is not enough, and getting baptized is not enough. We need to be born again. Every pregnancy has a gestational period which is a time of waiting. We may think that nothing is going on beneath the surface, but doctors know different. A lot is happening that we cannot see. A life is being formed. Sometimes we need that time alone with the Lord, the waiting in the belly of the fish, and the prayer of surrender, of promise, of faith, and that prayer changes us. God changes us when he finally gets us into the place where it is just you and him.
Brian Taylor began his ministry as a young man on the foreign mission field of Togo, West Africa serving with the International Mission Board of the SBC. He spent almost a decade serving as a music and youth minister in the Panhandle of Texas. He loves preaching and pastoring on the south side of Sherman. He has been married to his wife Sarah for 17 years, and they have five children. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.