We all love coming home. You love seeing your children’s faces after a business trip or coming home to your own bed after a long vacation. Homecomings make us feel good. Some of the most popular movies of all time are homecoming stories—The Wizard of Oz, E.T., Toy Story, Finding Nemo and countless others. There’s nothing quite like a homecoming.
God offers us all a different kind of homecoming. When we find ourselves far from God—experiencing pain and feeling emptiness—He is ready to welcome us home. The life of Jonah is a testament to this. It’s a study in God’s grace.
Jonah was a good man—a prophet of God, but when God gave him a difficult assignment Jonah ran. Life began to unravel quickly for Jonah. The ship that would carry him away was on the verge of capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea when the sailors tossed Jonah overboard to save their own lives. Now Jonah has found himself in the belly of a fish, deep underwater, at the edge of the known world.
Running from God will always take you down. Jonah has been going down the whole time. Down to Joppa. Down in the ship. Down in the sea. Down in the bottom of the fish. Running from God will always take you down. But here is the message of hope for you today—when you hit bottom, God is always ready to bring you up.
What do you do when you are tired of running and you want a new start with God? Jonah’s three-day stay in the belly of the fish gives us a glimpse of how we can run home to God.
1. Call Out to God
Jonah 2:1–10 records Jonah’s prayer to God from the stomach of the fish. These verses, recorded after the great fish gave up Jonah onto the shore, show us that Jonah was in a bad place emotionally, physically and spiritually. He had hit the bottom, but it was in the middle of God’s discipline that Jonah prayed. He drew closer to God. Chuck Swindoll says, “It’s at our point of greatest weakness and helplessness that we realize our need for God most clearly.”
How do you move closer to God? What do you pray?
- God I’m A Mess. Verse 1 says Jonah prayed. The Hebrew form of the word prayed could more accurately be translated as judged. Jonah has judged himself and is broken. He is calling out to God acknowledging that he is broken.
- God I Need You. Verse 2 says Jonah called out to God, not some quiet in-his-heart prayer, but a loud proclamation. He pleaded for help like someone lost or in danger. “God I’m helpless and hopeless. Help me!”
- God Save Me. Verse 2 says Jonah cried for help from the depth of Sheol. Sheol was the place of the dead. Jonah knew death was closing in and that God was his only hope. So he cried out for God to set him free.
God heard Jonah in his distress and answered him. When you ask God for mercy He hears you. Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
You may feel like God doesn’t want to hear it, but He does. He’s waiting on you to call to Him. Psalm 50:15 says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you and you will honor Me.” Whether you’re in the depth of the ocean or the depth of despair, when you cry out to God, He hears.
2. Claim the Character and Word of God
Here’s the deal about running from God and the strategy of Satan against you. When you realize you have messed up, you feel an unhealthy sense of guilt and shame. God wants you to feel guilt to bring you to repentance. Satan wants you to feel guilt to keep you in bondage. Satan brings all kinds of shame and condemnation against you to keep you far from home, but the way home starts when you take your eyes off of your failure and put them on God’s faithfulness.
Jonah 2:7 says Jonah remembered God. What did he remember about God?
- He remembered God’s character. God is faithful, compassionate, forgiving, merciful, good, loving.
- He remembered God’s word. Jonah 2:4 is a reference to 1 Kings 8:38–39 when Solomon dedicated the temple. By faith, and in faith, he turned to God and claimed his Word.
When you hit bottom, claim God’s promises and His faithfulness. The way home is not for you to try harder and do more. The way home is to give up and to trust completely in God.
3. Surrender to God
In Jonah 2:8–9, Jonah says he will sacrifice, with the voice of thanksgiving and what he has vowed he will do. Previously he had refused to go to Nineveh and fulfill his purpose as a prophet, now he says, “I’m all in.”
Some people are reluctant to say that Jonah bargained with God. “God if you get me out of this, I promise I’ll do what you say.” But it’s in line with good theology to say that Jonah could have said, “God I’ve made an idol of myself and my life and my country. I see it now. I am done with vain idols. I can’t save myself. You are my God. You are the faithful one. I will do whatever you say and lay everything down for you. I’ll praise you no matter what. But if I survive this mess, I’ll do what you’ve told me to do.”
That’s the heart of repentance, isn’t it? “God, I’m done with my way and making an idol out of me. I’m calling on you, turning to you and I’m all in. Whatever you say, I’ll do.” This is a picture of surrender.
Surrender to God is not you giving some of your life and past and hurt to God while keeping back some parts. Surrender to God is unconditional surrender—you give everything to Him. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
When Jonah surrendered and gave up his way and his life he actually found life. In Jonah 2:9, Jonah declares that salvation is from the Lord. Jonah surrendered and he experienced physical deliverance, emotional renewal and spiritual restoration when he walked with God. Returning to God makes all things new, but there’s a critical last step God asks us to take.
4. Walk In Obedience To God
When you pass a test you get to move on. When you fail you have to take it again. God works the same way. If you fail the test, He’ll make you take it again. Jonah got to take his test again.
Jonah 2:10–3:2 records almost the same command verbatim that Jonah received the first time, but this time Jonah followed through with God’s instructions to go preach to Nineveh.
God is the King of not just second chances, but another chance. He gives you another shot. He doesn’t hold your past failures against you. He forgives, He makes new. He restores. And He uses you for His glory. He can actually redeem your pain and running and turn it into something beautiful and useful for his kingdom.
There’s no place like home. If you’re tired of the pain and emptiness of running from God, come home. Come back to the One whose love is free and is always enough for you.