I’m awake. Thankful as I am for another day, I had every intention of being asleep at this early hour. It’s a cool fifty-four-degree morning here in Calgary, Canada and the sun is in its final moments of rest. Us humans, however, are already up and at it, scrambling toward productivity. I can hear the grumbling acceleration of car engines dragging along the black road just outside my window. Headlights peek through the small opening in the sheer hotel curtains, and some undecipherable fluorescent green sign across the street is pulling my focus away from the task at hand.
I snoozed my alarm at 6 a.m. but couldn’t fall back asleep. I figured a little reading would help ease me back into unconsciousness so I opened the Bible. The Old Testament. I ended up in the first chapter of the book of Jonah. I’ve heard the story of the man who was swallowed by an enormous fish a million times, but I’m embarrassed to say that this morning may have been the first time I read it for myself.
As I read along, my eyes lingered on one word in chapter 1, verse 17:
Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
I reread the verse trying to understand the use of a word meaning provision when Jonah’s situation couldn’t have seemed more hopeless. God made arrangements for Jonah to be swallowed by a sea creature? I needed clarity, so I continued my reading into chapter two.
Our prayers to God generally include pleas for him to keep us away from ill-intentioned people and harmful circumstances, but not often enough do we pray for God to save us from ourselves. I love that I’m about to quote Whitney Houston, but something she said in an interview truly comes to mind. When asked what form of substance abuse was her biggest devil, she responded:
That would be me. It’s my deciding, it’s my heart, it’s what I want. And what I don’t want. Nobody makes me do anything I don’t want to do. It’s my decision. So the biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy. And that’s how I have to deal with it.
Love you Whitney.
She was right, and although there is a very real enemy plotting against us, most of our problems are self-created through stubbornness and disobedience, just as it was with Jonah. God had given him a message to deliver to the people of Nineveh and he refused. He ran away from the will of the Lord and thus found himself tossed overboard a ship in a raging storm.
What I realize is that God’s idea of saving doesn’t always look like what we envision. God saved Jonah by sending a deadly storm and putting him in the belly of a sea creature. Personally, that’s not my idea of a life saver, but hey, I don’t make the rules. I’m sure Jonah would’ve appreciated dry land as a form of rescue.
But the question is would he have responded to the call of God had God simply placed him on dry land? Sadly, I think not.
Jonah 2:1 says that “From inside the fish Jonah prayed…” That storm was Jonah’s opportunity for rescue, his moment to regain sight of his purpose. And in it, he cried out to God.
Out of fear, we sometimes run from God’s plan for our lives. Decisions made in anxiety will always lead to disobedience. That rebellion is the catalyst to many of our storms. But what I love about God, is that he uses even our worst experiences to strengthen our relationship with him. Nothing we endure is wasted. He is a resourceful God, who uses the ugliest and most shameful parts of our lives to teach us and refine our faith in him. Because he is a merciful God, he provides a rescue in our storms. More amazingly, the storm itself is often the rescue.
Many times, it’s not until we hit our lowest point that we begin to heed God’s guidance. Most of my spiritual breakthroughs have come in the form of storms I thought I could weather. Whenever they proved to be too much for me, God has always been there, waiting to embrace me with open arms. And it’s in his presence that I was given the strength and faith to trust and obey his will.
The next time you’re in a storm, consider the possibility that you are also in the midst of your salvation. You must choose not to focus on your circumstance, but the God who has the power to pull you out. Trust that through the bad weather, God is realigning you to his will for your life. Remember that the Lord commanded the sea creature to vomit Jonah up. When it did Jonah had found the strength and courage to deliver God’s message to the city of Nineveh.
Know that when God allows your storm to spit you out, you won’t come out empty hearted. He will have prepared you for whatever challenge lies ahead.