Read Jonah 2:1-10 There was no way to prepare for the news John would soon receive. While recording a song in Jacksonville, FL, he got the call. Several of his friends had been in a car accident and his best friend, Steve, didn’t make it out alive. John was confused and hurt. The next morning he had a conversation with God fueled by his own anger and desperation. Out of that conversation, John Mark McMillan wrote a song called “How He Loves”. It went on to top the charts of Christian radio. When he describes the love he wrote about he says, “It’s not pretty, it’s not clean, it’s not a Hollywood hot pink love.” It’s a love that sinks into things that are messy and gross. This song is a celebration of a God that wants to hang with us through our anger, resentment, and frustration. Despite who we are He wants to be a part of our lives and communities. Because of John’s painful conversation with God, we now have words to sing when we need to be reminded of God’s unending love for us. When we sing worship songs like this one, we are borrowing words from the writer and praying them for ourselves.
Jonah is desperate and cries out to God, but the words echoing off the rib cage of the fish aren’t his own. He borrows every prayer from the Psalms. In fact, since the Psalms were written, people have been borrowing prayers from them. And we all know and understand why. We all experience times in life when we are too hurt, angry, or frustrated to formulate even the simplest prayer. The Psalms breathe life into those experiences, so we use them.
“When you can’t find your own words, borrow someone else’s.
When you can’t find your own hope, borrow someone else’s.” (Mars Hill Bible Church, 2010)
We can break the Psalms into two categories. Psalms of lament and Psalms of thanksgiving. When someone is crying out to God in the midst of a desperate and painful situation they would use a Psalm of lament. When someone is recognizing the blessings God has given them they would use a Psalm of thanksgiving. Which does Jonah use? Lament right? No. His eyes aren’t adjusting to the light because there is none. His nose burns from the smell. His arms are tired from swimming in fish bile. But he chooses to borrow words from Psalms of thanksgiving. He is thanking God rather than crying for help. Weird right? Jonah, in a hopeless situation, chooses to pray words of hope and trust.
The narrator is using Jonah to show us something. There is temporary truth and eternal truth. The difference between them is vast. It is true – Jonah was in a dark and seemingly hopeless situation. But this is the truth – God never left him and He always had a plan. It is true – John Mark McMillan’s best friend passed away in a car accident. But here is the truth – His spirit is eternal and therefore lives on, and John’s honest conversation with God inspired a song that is now sung across the world, inviting others to engage in those honest conversations with God. Temporary truths have the power to blind us from the eternal truth that God loves us, and is for us. His ways are higher than ours. His plans are bigger than ours. We can get trapped in that blindness, but praying a prayer of thanksgiving opens possibilities we didn’t know were there. It can show us the way out.
Something else is strange about Jonah’s prayer. He never repents. He never apologizes. He never even says he will go to Nineveh. So the question is – Is his prayer sincere, or is he just looking for a way out?
Or is it both? How many times in our own lives have we said a half-hearted prayer wanting to be rescued? We really mean what we say, but we plan our words carefully, looking for loopholes before they come out of our mouths. The beauty of Jonah’s story is that God still chooses him. He rescues Jonah knowing the depths of depravity and selfishness that are still lurking around inside him. And that gives hope to us all. If God can use Jonah, God can use us.