Prayer from the Belly of the Beast

Jonah 2.7-9
“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
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.

Reflection: Prayer from the Belly of the Beast
By John Tillman

Prayer and thankfulness seem natural around a table of friends and family. But prayer can be even more powerful in the dark places of our lives.

Origen, writing of prayer, speaks of Jonah’s faith that, even though swallowed, as it were, by death, he could be heard by God:

Jonah, because he did not despair of being heard from the belly of the monster that had swallowed him, was able to quit the monster’s belly and complete his interrupted prophet’s mission to the Ninevites. How many things could each of us recount should he choose to recall with gratitude the benefits conferred upon him and to offer praise to God for them!

Let him, moreover, who has learned by experience what manner of monster that which swallowed Jonah typified, if he should ever come to be in the belly of the monster, pray in penitence.

Analogies to the prophet aside, we may not be in the beast’s belly because of wrongdoing, but because our world is filled with beasts. But regardless of how we came to be there, our prayer may be sharpened, amplified, and have greater effect on our hearts. Origen continues:

We know that often fugitives from God’s commands who have been swallowed by death, which at the first prevailed against them, have been saved by reason of repentance from so great an evil, because they did not despair of being able to be saved though already overpowered in the belly of death: for death prevailed and swallowed, and again God took away every tear from every face.

If you have not been there yet, sooner or later we all experience the belly of the beast—sinking in the darkest hole of our lives, in deepest, grave-like depression. In the belly of the beast and in the grip of death, we can, as Jonah did, find in prayer what we could not find with our feet on solid ground.

As Origen says, “Souls that have long been barren but have become conscious of their intellects’ sterility and the barrenness of their mind, through persevering prayer have conceived of the Holy Spirit and given birth to thoughts and words of salvation full of contemplated truth.”

May we find God’s love. May we find courage. May we find purpose. May we find God, waiting there for us. Ready to wipe our tears and carry us onward.

Prayer: Request for Presence
I have said to the Lord, “You are my God;” listen, O Lord, to my supplication  — Psalm 97:9

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Jonah 2 (Listen – 1:20)
Luke 7 (Listen – 7:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jonah 3 (Listen – 1:31) Luke 8 (Listen – 8:09)
Jonah 4 (Listen – 1:56) Luke 9 (Listen – 8:05)

Additional Reading
Read More about Praise in the Midst of Trouble :: A Guided Prayer
A common note ringing from scripture is praise—most particularly praise from those in the midst of, and not yet rescued from trouble.

Read More about about Prayer for Those who Suffer
Bonhoeffer, who suffered for years in Nazi prisons, is both comforted and sobered by this reality: “Only God can help. But then, all our questions must also again and again storm directly against God.”

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Beyond Selfish Thankfulness

Jonah 1.1-3
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

Reflection: Beyond Selfish Thankfulness
By John Tillman

On a day of Thanksgiving we take a brief look at a selfish prophet—Jonah.

Jonah was a prophet of national status. Second Kings tells us that Jonah prophesied that God would restore Israel’s borders through Jeroboam II, Israel’s longest reigning and most outwardly successful king. However, Jeroboam II was an evil king who maintained the evil practices of the kings before him, and the Bible is clear that God saved Israel at this time for the sake of his name and because of the suffering of the people, and not due to Jeroboam’s repentance, leadership, or greatness.

Jonah was likely thankful for God’s mercy on his own country and people, despite their evil leadership. But then, Jonah is called to prophesy to another evil nation. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire that had been threatening and oppressing the northern kingdom of Israel for years.

And Jonah ran. He ran not to avoid God’s punishment for his sins, but to avoid being the instrument of God’s mercy for others’ sins. Jonah thought he could selfishly carry God’s mercy away.

A God who does not treat us as we deserve is also a God who often does not treat our enemies as we might feel they deserve. It is hard to be thankful for God’s mercy to others. We’d more often, like Jonah, set up a watch party to view their destruction.

Jonah’s only moment of thankfulness is one of selfishness. He is thankful for the plant that shades him from the burning sun. But he is scornful of God’s mercy that shaded Nineveh from God’s burning anger.

We too often, like Jonah, feel responsible that those who have wronged us should not “get away with it.” But in God’s timing, nothing goes unpunished. Assyria eventually suffered all the destruction and punishment their evil practices deserved. But in this moment, mercy was offered, and mercy was accepted. And Jonah had to learn to be thankful for it.

It is wonderful to have a national holiday focused on thankfulness. But we need to go a step further than our culture, a step further than Jonah, to go beyond being selfishly thankful.

May we be selflessly thankful for the mercy that God may choose to display even to those who we deem unworthy.
May we be thankful to be agents of forgiveness to those who do not know their right hand from their left.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.  — Psalm 95:6-7

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Jonah 1 (Listen – 2:29)
Luke 6 (Listen – 6:46)

Additional Reading
Read More about Resisting in Faith
Daniel embraces civility and service to his enemies. Daniel embraced civility even when he was under the direct threat of death.

Read More about Face Like Flint :: A Guided Prayer
In what ways are we willing to accept victory with Christ but not suffering? Where do we reach for our swords, when Christ calls out, “No more of this!”…and heals the one we would attack? Are we willing to heal our enemies?

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Thanksgiving Stirs God’s Heart

Luke 5.8
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

Reflection: Thanksgiving Stirs God’s Heart
By John Tillman

When Simon (not yet called Peter) saw what Christ had done for him and his partners, he skipped right over being thankful to being fearful. “Go away from me! I’m not worthy. I don’t understand! You don’t know how sinful I am!”

Simon didn’t yet understand the heart of Jesus. He didn’t understand that he came for the sinful, that he was seeking that which was lost, and that Simon himself would be changed and would become, Peter, the rock.

But whatever happened in this moment, he was changed enough at heart to follow when Jesus asked. This passage from Luke resounds with thankfulness from those touched by Christ.

Richard Foster writes in his book Prayer, that seeing the heart of God is the key that opens the door to thankfulness in our hearts.

If we could only see the heart of the Father, we would be drawn into praise and thanksgiving more often. It is easy for us to think that God is so majestic and so highly exalted that our adoration makes no difference to him. To be sure, the self-sufficiency of God is a precious doctrine, but we should always remember that words of Saint Augustine: “God thirsts to be thirsted after.”

Our God is not made of stone. His heart is the most sensitive and tender of all. No act goes unnoticed, no matter how insignificant or small. A cup of cold water is enough to put tears in the eyes of God.

Foster goes on to list many who, with simple acts of thanksgiving, touched the heart of Christ. When we act in thanksgiving, acknowledging the gifts of God’s Spirit to us, it connects us to Christ and marks us as his children carrying on his work in this world. Foster continues:

And what about us? Dare we hold back? It brings joy to the heart of God when we grip that pierced hand and say simply and profoundly, “Thank you, bless you, praise you.!”

And if we cannot grasp his hand in thankfulness, we can grasp the hand of our enemies in love.
And if we cannot provide him a place to lay his head, we can work that others might have one.
And if we cannot anoint his head and feet, we can anoint those who suffer in this world.
And if we cannot weep on his feet, we can weep with those who weep.

For what we do to the least of these, we do unto Him.
And what we would do for One, by His power, we may do for all.

Prayer: The Small Verse
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.  — Isaiah 9.1

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Obadiah 1 (Listen – 3:28)
Luke 5 (Listen – 5:04)

Additional Reading
Read More about Thankful Workers for Peace :: Worldwide Prayer
May we be as miraculously transformed as the Gerasene man, and as thankful as he, running to the cities with the life-changing message of the gospel.

Read More about Thanksgiving in Times of Trial
The first Christians were thankful in suffering because their focus rested not on the storm around them, but on the solid rock of Christ.

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Confessing Christ, Full Grown

Luke 4.41
Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.

Reflection: Confessing Christ, Full Grown
By John Tillman

Very few individuals, before the resurrection, stated out loud their belief in who Jesus truly was. And most of them were women.

Simeon, and Anna are the first. But it is somewhat easier to proclaim a baby the Messiah. Baby Jesus as Messiah isn’t making any demands. This is why Baby Jesus is widely culturally acceptable. It is only once he opens his mouth to speak that people reject him.

It is more difficult to stand before a man who, by inaction, allowed your brother to die and call that man the Messiah, as Martha did.

It is more difficult to admit that the man who confronted you with your sexual sin is the Messiah, as the Samaritan woman did.

It is more difficult to speak what has been revealed to you by God when you don’t fully understand it yet, as Peter did when he confessed, “You are the Messiah.” Peter showed that he didn’t fully understand, only a verse or two later when he rebuked Jesus for talking about his upcoming crucifixion.

Like Peter, we have a tendency to want to tell Jesus what to do instead of doing what he tells us. Jesus corrected Peter for not being concerned about what God, what Jesus, was concerned about, and he would say the same to us today.

Peter, and the rest of the disciples, despite being exposed to so much otherworldly power, were concerned about earthly kingdoms and power. Even after the resurrection, moments before his ascension, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

We must stand and confess, not just the Christ Child and the childish, temporal hopes we may have for this world, but confess Christ the Crucified King. We must stand before the man who says, “In this world you will have trouble,” and accept it as he did, “for the joy set before him.” We must stand before the man who said, “take up your cross,” we must, like him set our face, “like a flint,” toward our sacrifice.

When we pray “your kingdom come”, the kingdom must come in our hearts before it can be realized into the world.
The kingdom among us, is realized in our work together.
The kingdom among us is realized as we sharpen each other.
The kingdom among us is realized when each part of Christs’ body does its work.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all your who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.  — Psalm 31.23-24

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Amos 9 (Listen – 3:08)
Luke 4 (Listen – 5:27)

Additional Reading
Read More about Beyond Admiration
The difference between an admirer and a follower still remains. The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe…he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires.

Read More about Doing All Things Well :: Readers’ Choice
As we follow Christ, we are meant to take on this mantle of confidence and comfort. This is not a confidence in our ability or a comfort in our own power, but an indwelling, filling, and freeing expression of the Holy Spirit with us.

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Better Things to Do

Amos 8.5-6, 11
When will..the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?
…buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals…

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.

Reflection: Better Things to Do
By John Tillman

At this time of year a basket of ripe fruit brings connotations of joy and celebration, but as God explained to Amos, the ripeness of the fruit was not the ripeness of joy, but of inward sin.

The people of Israel only seem religiously observant. Inwardly, they are wishing that the bothersome business of worshiping God could be over with so they could get back to making money.

In a day when only openly religious businesses dare to be closed on Sunday, we may not comprehend a time when no business in the nation-state of Israel would dare to be open on a religious holiday.

In our culture, extended holiday hours are expected. They are a fact of life and many work additional jobs during the holidays to get by.

Although I’ve never rushed out of church to open a grain market, at times I have needed to get to the mall and open a Santa set. In my own life and the lives of many others, additional holiday employment doesn’t supply luxuries or money for presents, it is needed to get by. The additional work I get around the holidays has at times provided nearly a third of our yearly income. The gig economy is not always pretty.

The poor indeed are bought with silver.

We see repeated in Amos the theme of economic sins being prioritized by the Lord’s prophets in his messages. The uncaring attitude that the wealthy market owner has starts with a greedy lie that he has better things to do than worship God—namely, to wring out profit from every minute, every worker, and every square foot of land.

As we move into a cultural season in which we will all interact with many seasonal workers—often undertrained and often sleep-deprived—may we at a minimum interact with them with mercy and grace. And, for those who are supervisors and managers, may we work to humanize our treatment of our employees and better their lives encouraging as much rest as is possible in this season of economic frenzy.

And in moments of worship, whether private or corporate, may we remember there is nothing more profitable that we could be doing than worshiping God.

Amos is clear that if we don’t value worshiping God, the punishment is a famine. Not a famine of profit, or water, or food. A famine of the Word of God.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.  — Psalm 25.1-2

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Amos 8 (Listen – 2:16)
Luke 3 (Listen – 5:24)

Additional Reading
Read More about Inattentiveness in Worship :: Readers’ Choice
We must cultivate in worship a certain kind of inattentiveness toward other worshipers and even toward the leaders—maintaining our attention on God as the focus of all our joined efforts.

Read More about Prayers God Hates
Jesus, like Jeremiah, was concerned about oppression. We see this not only by who is driven out, but by who Christ calls in their place. The blind. The lame. The children. Christ makes room for the marginalized and the oppressed, and in they come.

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Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

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