The greatest FISH story ever told.
By Patrick G Howard
If you’re like me, you have had plenty of those moments. You know the kind. God tells you to do one thing, but you really want to do something else. Maybe you want to buy that fancy pickup truck, but God wants you to repair the one you have. Or perhaps you want to read that book you purchased a couple of weeks ago, but God would rather you read from that copy of His book that has been gathering dust for two months. Of course, there are those times that it’s a beautiful sunny day and you want to play golf … and it’s Sunday morning.
We all have those moments when we decide that we want to follow our own desires at the expense of disobeying God’s command. But don’t beat yourself up. It happens to the best of us. Consider the greatest fish story in the history of mankind.
Our Focus of the Month comes from the second chapter of the book of Jonah at the first verse.
Jonah 2:1 ~ Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish. He said, “I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and he answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, and Lord, you heard me!”
How did Jonah get here?
Many times, it feels like we have hit rock bottom, but I have never known a person that spent three days in the belly of a whale.
As a side note, we don’t want to split hairs here. Most of us probably remember the “fish” from the story as a whale. The original Hebrew text refers merely to a “great fish.” It could have been a whale, or a great white shark, or some fish that God created just for this purpose. What the fish was isn’t particularly important to the meaning of the story, though.
You will recall that Jonah was one of God’s prophets. His purpose was to travel to foreign lands and warn them to change their sinful ways or suffer God’s punishment. In this story, God instructs Jonah to travel to Nineveh to warn the Assyrians that they must repent or face their destruction.
That sounds simple enough. Doesn’t it?
Well, as it turns out, Jonah didn’t like the Assyrians. And who could blame him? After all, they were Israel’s worst enemy. The idea that they would have the opportunity to receive God’s forgiveness didn’t fit Jonah’s idea of justice. He just couldn’t warm up to the idea that God’s grace is available to everybody – even your worst enemy. So, when God told Jonah to travel to Nineveh, he went the other way to Joppa and boarded a vessel destined for Tarshish.
We all know that we should do what God tells us, but apparently Jonah needed a reminder. While Jonah was sleeping soundly in his cabin, the ship sailed into a great storm. Despite the crew’s efforts, it appeared that the ship would surely sink. Sensing that all was lost, the crew decided to draw lots to determine which person had offended their god.
When he revealed himself and what he had done to offend God, he did something remarkable. He told the crew that if they threw him in the water, the storm would stop. They (reluctantly) did, and the waters immediately calmed. Now, I would imagine that Jonah thought he would surely die there in that sea, but God had other plans.
Don’t you love how God shows His power when he wants to make a point? He could have sent another swarm of locust or turned the water into blood. No, God sent a fish to swallow Jonah.
When you think about it, that was the perfect thing to do. God knew that Jonah was a great servant, but he needed a few days of solitude and prayer to get his mind straight. (Come to think of it, that might work for me, too. After all, I don’t think the Wi-Fi works too well in there.) That said, when God ordered that fish to spit Jonah out on the beach, he was ready to follow God’s future commands.
It may sound ridiculous, but we have all spent time in the belly of the whale. I’m not talking about an actual whale, but rather a figurative one. Maybe you’re drowning in financial difficulties. Perhaps you have experienced waves of misfortune in your business. Sometimes we have so many obligations that it feels like we’re just trying to keep our heads above water.
When life’s flood waters engulf us, we can usually point some bad decision. We can point to our disobedience to God. And when we ask him to come back into our lives, the waters usually calm very quickly. It begs the question, why don’t we just do what God tells us in the first place? Because, if we did, we might not have to experience difficulties at all.
But that’s not the way we are. And like Jonah, we still need to be reminded occasionally to do what we know we should do. Just consider this. Sometimes God reminds us with a tap on the shoulder; sometimes it’s a little more. But the next time God is trying to get your attention, don’t go to Joppa. Just focus on Jonah and be thankful you’re not praying from the belly of that whale.
Paul’s lesson on perspective.
by Patrick G Howard
Philippians 3:13-14 – But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Our focus this month comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Wouldn’t you love to get one of Paul’s letters in the mail? They are always addressed to real people who are dealing with real problems. They are a great balance of practical instruction and motivational speech. And even though he wrote these letters almost 2,000 years ago, they are just as relevant today as they were then.
When you read Paul’s letters, you will always find the practical things, such as love one another … don’t be selfish … be humble. But when we read our focus for this month (verses 13-14), Paul shares his humility with the Philippians. Paul tells them that he is not perfect, but then he goes on to say something a little unexpected. Paul tells the Philippians that, instead of re-living the mistakes of their past, they should change their perspective and look forward toward the goal.
Now granted, the prize that Paul is speaking of is our eternal reward in Heaven. However, I think this lesson can also be applied to our everyday lives. I am reminded of a famous Michael Jordan quote:
I missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost over 300 games. I’ve failed over and over in my life, and that is why I succeed.
I think Paul would have enjoyed Michael Jordan. To be sure, Michael could have used the experience of being cut from his high school varsity basketball team to give up and try something else. (Or give up altogether.) Instead, he used that failure as motivation to become (arguably) the best player to ever lace up in the NBA. Michael was able to put his high school failure into perspective and use it to propel himself, not to just success, but to greatness.
How many times have you failed at something?
If you’re like me, you have failed so many times that you feel like Humpty Dumpty after he fell off the wall. But unlike Mr. Dumpty, who only had all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to put him back together again, we have the power of perspective to move forward to success. There are many times in history when, with a little perspective, a person has turned failure into something great. Consider these quotes:
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. ~ Thomas A Edison
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. ~ Henry Ford
It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure. ~ Bill Gates
I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right. ~ Albert Einstein
The point is this; we can and should view our failures through the lens of perspective. You see, a successful person and an unsuccessful person are looking at the same world and events, but they see it through their own lens. A person with a negative attitude will see a difficulty and expect defeat and failure, where a person with a positive attitude will see the same challenge as an opportunity for success. It really is all a matter of perspective.
The next time something doesn’t go as planned … when you lose that big sale to a competitor … when that big purchase you made turns out to be a really bad decision … when you miss the next CBFA meeting because life got in the way … focus on Paul’s letter to the Philippians and look forward toward the goal by putting your failures into perspective.