Distress And Revival

SCRIPTURE: Jonah 2:1-10, NLT

1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from inside the fish. 
He said, “I cried out to the LORD in my great trouble [tsarah], and he answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, and LORD, You heard me! 
3 You threw me into the ocean depths, and I sank down to the heart of the sea. The mighty waters engulfed me; I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves. 
4 Then I said, ‘O LORD, you have driven me from your presence. Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’ 
5 “I sank beneath the waves, and the waters closed over me. Seaweed wrapped itself around my head.
6 I sank down to the very roots of the mountains. I was imprisoned in the earth, whose gates lock shut forever. But you, O LORD my God, snatched me from the jaws of death! 
7 As my life was slipping away, I remembered the LORD . And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple. 
8 Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies [checed]. 
9 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.” 
10 Then the LORD ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.

INTRODUCTION

Four Act Play

If the book of Jonah was a play, it would have four acts:

  • On board the ship [in the storm]
  • In the belly of the fish [in deep distress]
  • In the city of Nineveh [shouting judgment]
  • Outside the city [waiting to see God destroy Nineveh]

 

This morning– we are in act 2, inside the fish.

I realize that the last thing any of us wants today is ‘stress’

...that is the emotional strain or tension that results from adverse or very demanding circumstances…

…and we certainly do not want any ‘distress’ which is extreme stress or extreme anxiety, sorrow, pain which can lead to anguish, suffering, agony, torment and heartbreak.  

Jonah is disobedient to his call…

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn them of judgment but Jonah had other ideas. He was not in agreement with God. He wanted the Nivevites judged but he did not want them to get a warning. So Jonah did not obey. He went in the opposite direction. Thus, God send a storm which lead to the conversion of the entire ship’s crew but had little effect on Jonah. It may have caused him some stress but certainly no distress.

Jonah knows Yahweh sent the storm and why: he calmly tells the crew to throw him overboard. I don’t think Jonah had any hopes of swimming to shore; I think he thought at that moment, that he would rather die than repent or even pray and he certainly had not changed his mind about going to Nineveh. Sometimes, we think we want to die and then when the opportunity presents itself, we change our mind.

Jonah’s confinement inside the fish causes his distress…

Jonah hit the water like a rock and began to sink into the depths of the sea but before he could drown, God sent a fish and the fish swallowed Jonah whole. It had to be a large fish. God sent a great storm so He had no problem sending a great fish. Personally, I think it was a whale but that is not important. The important thing is that Jonah is incarcerated inside the stomach of the fish. This is the cause of his distress. The Hebrew word translated trouble in the NLT is translated ‘distress’ in the NASB, NIV, ESV and NRSV is ‘tsarah’ and the t is silent. The word pronounced almost sounds like ‘sorrow’. It means to be in a strait or a tight place. As the old adage, “between a rock and a hard place.” It means to be confined, restricted, caught in a bind.

Jonah cannot save himself. The US Navy with their most sophisticated equipment could not have rescued Jonah. He was hidden from the view of mankind, only God could see him. It is in the helpless position that Jonah feels the distress.

Today, I want to show you from scripture how God used DISTRESS to nudge Jonah in the right direction…I want you to see how God used DISTRESS to turn Jonah’s life around.

I. FIRST OF ALL: THE DISTRESS LEAD JONAH TO PRAY

1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from inside the fish. 

He said, “I cried out to the LORD in my great trouble [tsarah], and He answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, and LORD, You heard me! 


Jonah is in deep trouble and he knows it. Only one person can save him now and that is the LORD to whom he prays.

Remember, the Ship’s Captain could not get Jonah to pray. The crew could not get him to pray. He was not speaking to the LORD. His decision to be thrown overboard was a decision not to pray. They all wanted him to pray and repent but he refused. So notice the first word of the text…“Then”….after all that is happened in chapter one, Jonah prays.


How many of you think the distress helped him to pray? When are we most fervent in prayer? When we are sailing under blue skies or when we are in deep, deep trouble?


We all know that Jonah’s relationship with God is not going to be fixed until he prays and prays earnestly. The distress moved him to pray.

Are there some things in your life that can only be fixed by you talking to the LORD.

II. THE DISTRESS REMINDED HIM OF WHO WAS IN CONTROL

You threw me into the ocean depths, and I sank down to the heart of the sea. The mighty waters engulfed me; I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves. 

Note what Jonah said,YOU [Lord] threw me into the ocean depths.” I thought the sailor threw him into the ocean. They did but they did so as God’s instruments. Jonah knew that God was behind the storm and that he was exactly where his own sin had put him and where God providentially had placed him. Jonah knew, that from His heaven, God was pushing all the buttons to make these things happen. The storm was no accident nor was the fish: God sent them both.

God in control not us…

It was inside the fish that Jonah realized that God was in complete control and that he was at God’s mercy.

Some of you tonight may think you are calling the shots but I can assure you: “You are not.” God is at the control center and the sooner we realize this the better our lives will be. Jonah created this storm by his own pig-headed rebellion. He took great pride in how he handled the storm but when God sent the fish to swallow him alive, it opened his eyes and he realized, I am not in control: The LORD is in control and I am at His mercy. We are all at His mercy tonight.

III. THE DISTRESS GIVES HIM TIME TO THINK ABOUT THE DIRECTION OF HIS LIFE

4 Then I said, ‘O LORD, you have driven me from your presence. Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’ 
5 “I sank beneath the waves, and the waters closed over me. Seaweed wrapped itself around my head.
6 I sank down to the very roots of the mountains. I was imprisoned in the earth, whose gates lock shut forever.

Jonah probably acknowledged that he was a sinner but inside that fish he realized he was a death and hell deserving sinner. He felt the distance he had put between himself and the LORD and he knew he was sinking lower and lower. 


I was in my late 20’s when the LORD began revealing my depravity. That when the process began, it continues to the present. There was a time I thought highly of myself and then God began revealing me to me.


I visited an old friend a few weeks ago and I knew that I needed to witness to him because he seldom attends church. I chickened out but as I was leaving his office he followed me to my truck and he said, “Jack, I know you are concerned about me and I appreciate it. I want you to know that I was saved when I was 14 and I remember being baptized.” I was both shocked and ashamed. I thanked him for his testimony but cautioned him about relying on any righteousness other than that of Jesus. As I shared with him a part of my depravity, he took issue. He said, “Jack, you are a good man. I have watched you for years. You are devoted to helping others.” I said, “That’s what you see but it is not what God sees.”

Without giving you details that would prove my depravity, how about you take my word word, I am depraved. There is nothing good in me.

 

Trust me, I have been searching for the good for years and it isn’t there but I’m OK with that because I am going to heaven on Jesus righteousness not mine.


Do you know what opened my eyes to my depravity: a horrific storm. It was out of my distress that I cried out to the LORD.

IV. DISTRESS CAN BRING US TO REPENTANCE

But you, O LORD my God, snatched me from the jaws of death! 
7 As my life was slipping away, I remembered the LORD. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple. 
8 Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies [checed]. 
9 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.” 
It was inside the fish that Jonah repented. He turned to the LORD and away from his selfish pride. To prove his sincerity, Jonah vowed to sacrifice, to sing and to keep his commitment as a man of God. Inside the belly of the fish is where Jonah changed his mind and decided to go to Nineveh. 


Right out of Seminary, in my first pastorate, I encountered a man who claimed to be an atheist. I knew after meeting him only once, that all he wanted to do was argue and I did not want to argue with him. He was not open to the truth and I did not want to cast pearls to swine. He began having some physical problems, went to the doctor and they diagnosed him with cancer. His brother in law asks me to go see him but his attitude had not changed. He was going to lick the __________ stuff. They sent him straight to Birmingham and again, his brother in law insisted that I go. I did not want to go. We visited him right after the Birmingham doctors had told him he had 6 months to live. For the first time, he listened but he was not ready to make any changes. We stayed in his room until almost midnight. To be honest with you, I thought he was hopeless. We went down to the lobby to spend the rest of the night and about 3-4 am his wife came and got us. She said Kenneth has something to tell you. We walked in and you could sense the change, Kenneth had repented of his evil ways and had given his heart to Jesus. He took chemo and that extended his life a few months but Kenneth never stopped praising Jesus and witnessing to others.

CONCLUSION

The book of Jonah is about repentance. Both the prophet, the one who announced judgment, the pagan sailors aboard the ship and the wicked folks of Nineveh needed to repent. Jonah was not cruel like the Assyrians but he was full of pride and indifference and he needed to repent.

  1. We all need to repent.

  2. We need to repent to the LORD. {False gods are incapable of showing mercy, saving us}

  3. It is not too late to repent.

  4. You can repent anywhere. Don’t have to be in a church at an altar. Jonah was in the belly of a fish.

 

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