Use The Jonah Model
Introduction: As society falls apart, our culture feels like a train flying off the rails. Sometimes that’s true for us as individuals. People say things like: We’re trying to get our marriage back on track. He’s going into rehab to get back on track. We’ve got to get our finances on track. I’ve got to get my emotions or my schedule or my schooling back on track.
How do we do that? That’s what the book of Jonah is about. Jonah is a masterpiece of psychological insight. I want to encourage you to use the Jonah model if your life needs rehabbing.
Background: After the division of Israel, the Northern Kingdom became idolatrous. The Lord sent miracle-workers. He wanted to shock people into repentance. Here came Elijah. Here came Elisha. Then here came Jonah, who had probably been a student from Elisha’s School of Prophets.
To our surprise, God gave Jonah an assignment unlike any thus seen in Scripture. He told Jonah to leave his country and travel 500 miles to evil Nineveh and preach repentance there. God commissioned Jonah as the first official foreign missionary in history.
Jonah ran away and went into a tailspin. He had two issues. The Lord used a whale to resolve the first one, in Jonah 1-2; and a worm to resolve the second one, in Jonah 3-4. Based on the first two chapters, I want to suggest seven steps for getting your life back on track. These steps are as psychologically and spiritually sound as the most modern recovery techniques. If they worked for Jonah, they will work for you.
1. Respond to Catalytic Moments in Life – When we’re in trouble, we need a moment when we realize we’re in trouble and that we need to change. For King David, it was when the prophet Nathen confronted him. For the prodigal son, it was the realization he was eating husks with the pigs. For Peter, it was when Jesus turned and looked into his eyes. Sometimes it’s being caught red handed doing something. We often call this hitting bottom, but it doesn’t need to take a disaster to wake us up. If we’re alert, we’ll be honest and open enough to see signs that we’re making a mess. We have to stop denying we have a problem.
For Jonah, it took a deadly storm. I think his turnaround began when the captain told him to wake up. Jonah 1:6 says: The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” This was the captain speaking, but it was also the Lord, saying, “Wake up! Get up! How can you let this go on? You’ve got to change things starting now!”
We have to make sure our consciences stay tender and that we don’t become hardened in heart so we can respond to those moments of conviction.
2. Take Ownership of the Situation – We may want to lash out at others and blame them for the problems we’re having. But at some point, we have to take personal responsibility. Jonah did this when he said, “I know it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you” (Jonah 1:12). Those are important words because Jonah admitted he had a problem and he was to blame—I know it is my fault. His rebellion had endangered other people, but he was ready to own his problem, take responsibility, and implement correctives.
3. Segregate Time to Work on Your Problem – Jonah 1:17 says: Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
This was Jonah’s time in rehab. This was Job’s time in counseling. This was where God sequestered him to rehabilitate him spiritually and emotionally. For you, that may mean a Bible study group, a support group, a spiritual retreat, counseling, anger management sessions, financial management classes. It might actually mean rehab. We need to segregate a specific period of time to improve the area of our lives that has come unraveled.
We have to work on us. If I get myself into a bad state of mind or habit, I need to work on me so I can come back and be of service to you. It’s better to never get into a bad state, but most of us do at some point. We have to do whatever’s necessary to get healthy again.
4. Turn to Prayer – The story goes on to say: From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: In my distress, I called on the Lord, and He answered me….
Think of all the things Jonah could have done inside the belly of that whale.
- He could have felt sorry for himself and sunk into depression and self-pity.
- He could have raged in anger and seethed within himself.
- He could have felt a level of fear borne from claustrophobia.
- He could have worried himself to death.
- He could have languished in boredom.
- He could have given up.
- He could have composed a scientific essay on the anatomy of a whale.
But instead he prayed. He prayed earnestly and intelligently. Though he was entombed with the ribcage of a giant fish beneath tons of water, his prayer flew to the highest heaven, unfettered, unhindered—and it changed Jonah, it changed Nineveh, and it changed history.
Prayer isn’t the last resort; it’s the best option. The answers may be immediate, or eventual, or eternal—but the One who listens hears instantly and can even transform a fish’s stomach into a communications center unrivaled by the most advanced submarine on earth.
5. Pour Over Scripture – We also have to turn to Scripture. Nothing about Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2 is original. He simply quoted or paraphrased Scriptures he knew, primarily from the book of Psalms. Jonah was so full of the Scripture he just started quoting the words of Psalms, which he had studied and memorized and internalized. Let me show you:
In verse 2, Jonah said: In my distress, I called to the Lord, and He answered me.
- Psalm 18 says: In my distress, I called to the Lord.
- Psalm 120 says: I call on the Lord in my distress, and He answers me.
In verse 2, Jonah said: From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and You listened to my cry.
- Psalm 16 says: You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead.
- Psalm 30: I called to you for help.
- Psalm 6 says: The Lord has heard my cry.
In verse 3, Jonah said: You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.
- Psalm 42 says: All your waves and breakers have swept over me.
- Psalm 88 says: I am counted among those who go down to the pit… You have put me in the darkest depths… you have overwhelmed me with all your waves…Your wrath has swept over me… like a flood…completely engulfed me….
In verse 4, Jonah said: I have been banished from Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.
- Psalm 21 says: I am cut off from your sight.
- Psalm 5 says: I will bow down toward your holy temple.
In verse 5, Jonah said: The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
- Psalm 69 says: I sink in the miry depths where there is no foothold. I have come into deep waters; the floods engulf me…. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me.
In verse 6, Jonah said: But You, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.
- Psalm 30 says: You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down into the pit.
- Psalm 40 says: He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire.
In verse 7, Jonah said: I remembered you, Lord.
- Psalm 77 says: I remembered you, God.
In verse 8, Jonah said: Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.
- Psalm 31 says: I hate those who cling to worthless idols.
In verse 9, Jonah prayed: But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to You.
- Psalm 27 says: I will sacrifice with shouts of joy.
- Psalm 147 says: Sing to the Lord with grateful praise.
In verse 9, Jonah said: What I have vowed I will make good.
- Psalm 61 says: I will ever sing in praise of your name and fulfill my vows.
- Psalm 116 says: I will fulfill my vows to the Lord.
In verse 9, Jonah said: I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.”
- Psalm 37 says: The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord.
- And Psalm 62 says: My soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from Him.
In the hour of greatest need, at the turning point of his life, when he had no physical copies of the scrolls, he had enough Bible inside of him to meditate, to think through things, and to pray with Scriptural authority.
If you want to correct something in your life, go to the Bible. Find the relevant verses. Study them. Memorize some of them. Meditate on them. Pray through them. The power of Scripture is foundational for a better life.
6. Make Exciting Commitments – If we’re going to get our lives back on track, we have to also make some commitments, which Jonah referred to as “vows.” He said in verse 9, “But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
In other words, Jonah said, “Lord, I’ve learned my lesson. You want me to go to Nineveh and tell them about Your salvation, and I will do that. With shouts of grateful praise, I’m going to get my life back on track.” You too can change. You can correct those areas of your life that are causing you trouble. You can get on track.
7. Base Everything on the Power of the Resurrection of Jesus – It’s not just a matter of turning over a new leaf. It’s a matter of drawing upon the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said in Matthew 12: A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The story of Jonah became a type of the resurrection of Christ. It reminds us we cannot change through our own strength. We have to grab hold of God’s incomparably great power, which is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named (Ephesians 1:20-2). Jesus rose from the dead to give you overcoming victory over Satan and sin. Claim it! Live in the power of His eternal life.
Conclusion: Don’t give up. You can change. You can improve. You can grow. When you let Christ become the captain and engineer of your faith, He knows exactly how to get you back on track. If He could help Jonah, He can certainly help you.