Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.” – Jonah 2:1-3 ESV
If nothing else, this prayer of Jonah proves that you can pray from just about anywhere at any time. You don’t have to have a “prayer closet” or a special place in which you pray. Prayer is available to us 24 hours a day and 365 days of the year. We can call out to God whenever and wherever we want and the best part is, He hears us. Jonah prayed from the belly of a fish. Not exactly a worshipful environment, but it was those less-than-perfect conditions that led Jonah to pray. His circumstances provided an ideal opportunity to talk to God. Finding himself in the digestive track of a large sea creature didn’t dampen Jonah’s prayer life, it enhanced it. And if you doubt that Jonah’s story holds any credibility, you have Jesus to contend with, because He seems to have considered Jonah’s three days in the fish’s stomach as true. He used it when referring to His upcoming death. “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40 ESV).
It was in the midst of his distress that Jonah called out to God. Prior to that point in time, Jonah had been busy running from God. He had decided to disobey God’s will and follow his own. And he was going to learn that you can’t outrun God. You can’t hide from God. Not only that, you can’t find yourself in a predicament that puts you out of touch with God. David seemed to have learned that same lesson. “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me” (Psalm 139:7-10 ESV). God is always nearby. He sees. He hears. He answers. It’s interesting to note that Jonah says, “I called out.” This prayer was prayed while he was still in the belly of the fish. It was while he was right in the middle of his worst-case scenario. And yet, Jonah says, “he answered me” and “you heard my voice”. This isn’t a post-salvation prayer, but a smack-dab-right-in-the-middle-of-it prayer. But Jonah knew that God heard him and was going to answer him. He was confident that God was there and that He cared.
What a wonderful reminder for those of us who might find ourselves swallowed up by our circumstances, with the floods surrounding us, the waves and billows passing over us. We can call out to God and not only will He hear us, He will answer us. Jonah had to wait three days for his deliverance, but it came. He probably showed the wear and tear of his ordeal. He would never forget the experience. And he would never fail to remember God graciously rescuing him from the consequences of his own stubborn rebellion. Trials and troubles tend to make prayer warriors out of all of us. When we find ourselves in serious trouble, we suddenly get serious about prayer. It’s amazing how the person who claims, “I don’t know how to pray” can discover the secret to prayer when the need arises. And that seems to be the key – need. Jonah needed God. He was at a loss to do anything about his condition. He was helpless and hopeless and in desperate need of rescue, so he turned to God. Prayer is always powered by dependency, not pride. Prideful people don’t need God. The powerless are those that pray most powerfully. Desperation has a way of eliminating all pretense and pride. When we come to a place where we truly need God we seem to have no problem talking to Him. And that should be a lesson for us. Need is a primary factor for praying effectively. An awareness of our dependency on God will greatly improve our communication with God.
This reminds of the great old hymn, I Need Thee Every Hour. One of the less-known verses says, “I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain; Come quickly and abide, or life is in vain.” Need is a missing ingredient in many of our prayer lives. And there is a huge difference between needs and wants. We tend to bring God all our wants and desires, but fail to recognize our need. We need HIM, not what He can give us. We need His deliverance, His presence, His power, His peace, His guidance, His joy, His forgiveness, His grace, His mercy, His love. We need Him every hour of every day. The chorus of that old hymn should be the daily prayer of every believer. “I need Thee, O I need Thee; Every hour I need Thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee.”