Have you ever caught your dinner? When I was ten, my father took me charter fishing on Lake Michigan. If you have been to Lake Michigan you know it’s a GREAT BIG lake. Thousand miles around. Waves can get over twenty feet. That afternoon I caught my first Coho salmon. A solid 8 pounder. We took it home and ate it for dinner. And it was delicious! No offense to my vegetarian friends, there is something about catching your supper that brings satisfaction.
Have you ever been caught for dinner? It’s a silly question considering you are still here watching this. But my favorite book in the Old Testament is Jonah. There is so much in just a few pages that even though I have been studying it for years, and I am still discovering hidden gems in it. You know the story. Jonah is a prophet who has been called by God to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. Jonah doesn’t want to go. So, he boards a ship and heads in the opposite direction. Cue the large storm. Jonah being thrown over the side. And a GREAT FISH sent by God. Now the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17
Sometimes preachers will jump through all kinds of hoops to explain this part of the story. They discuss fish size. They point to various examples of folks being swallowed by a fish. And explain different ways someone might possibly survive. But here is the thing. The Book of Jonah is not a history textbook. It’s a theological allegory. It’s a story that makes a point about God. The question isn’t if someone can live inside of a fish. The real question is this: what do you do when a GREAT FISH has swallowed you?
The truth is, at some point or another, we all encounter our whale. A challenge, a threat, an overwhelming problem that swallows us up. It might be health. It might be grief. It might be financial crisis. It might be loneliness. It might even be this difficult season of isolation during the pandemic.
The Good News is that God is greater than the Great FISH that swallowed Jonah! The Bible says that the Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. And God is greater than any GREAT FISH that we will encounter! God is not confined by our isolation. God is not limited by a lack of resources. God can overcome the darkest of places. Even the belly of a whale at the bottom of the ocean. As resurrection people, we know that God is not even stopped by death. Thanks be to God!
Again, the question is, what will you do when a GREAT FISH swallows you up? Jonah prayed. Specifically, he prayed the Scriptures. Eight times in ten verses he quotes the Psalms. What threatens to swallow you today? What is causing your life to stink? Where do you feel out of options? Talk to God about it. And as you do, draw on phrases from the Psalms. Phrases like – In my distress I called to the Lord and He answered me (Psalm 120:1).
Some scholars argue that Jonah didn’t start praying until after three days and three nights. But I think Jonah had barely cleared the tonsils before he began to talk to God. There is something about being in the belly of a whale that brings perspective. And there is something about prayer that opens us up to the power of God. The apostle Paul says that the very power that raised Christ from the dead is available to us as followers of Jesus!
It is my prayer that as we continue in this season of isolation, God will fill you with His resurrection power and deliver you! In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.