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?

Support our Work
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.

Vibrant Faith :: Weekend Reading List

Our mission at The Park Forum is to cultivate vibrant faith and sharpen cultural insight through curated devotionals and scripture readings. Each day over 4,000 of us read, pray, and expand our faith through this community.

Over the last year we’ve sought to grow not only our knowledge of Scripture, but our understanding of the culture we live in. We believe that fostering an informed faith is one of the first steps in making the grace and peace of Christ known in our communities.

Today, for the final Weekend Reading List of the year, we want to take a look back at some of our favorites.


 

Restorative Silence

Once a spiritual discipline, silence is now more likely to be viewed as the uncomfortable penalty for those who do not have enough to do. But how can we hear the whispers of the Spirit without the cloister of silence?

 


 

David Brooks on Simplicity and Morality

Life seems to become perpetually more overwhelming, despite the time and money we spend simplifying—most of us feel underwater when it comes to work, family, and personal life.

 

 


 

The Bible’s Future

More versions of Scripture are available, while less people are reading and legally able to spread the word of God than ever before. It is time for Scripture’s seventh major transition.

 


 

Christian Civility

Civility falters when people live in fear—fear that their views may be wrong; fear that their power is limited; fear that there is no sovereign who cares for their interests.

 


 

Confronting Sin

Today’s calls for racial justice, if anything, understate the problem—white America, however well meaning, is astonishingly oblivious to pervasive inequity.

 


 

Today’s Reading
Jonah 4 (Listen – 1:56)
Luke 9 (Listen – 8:05)

This Weekend’s Readings
Micah 1 (Listen – 2:46) Luke 10 (Listen – 5:40)
Micah 2 (Listen – 2:11) Luke 11 (Listen – 7:33)

 

Thanksgiving and Prayer

Reflection :: Gospel Community
Philippians 1.3-11

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Prayer of Thanksgiving
from an undated and anonymous papyrus

On you we call, Lord God, all-wise, all-surveying, holy, the only true Sovereign. Your will is that all should be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.

With one voice we offer you praise and thanksgiving; full-hearted, full-throated we sing you the hymn you have right to at this hour. In your mercy you called us (holy the calling!), taught us and trained us, gave understanding, wisdom, and truth to us—gave us life eternal.

You brought us back with the pure and precious blood of your only Son, freed us from lies and error, from bitter enslavement, released us from the Devil’s clutches and gave us the glory of freedom. We were dead and you renewed the life of our souls and bodies in the Spirit.

Give us the strength of your support. Give us encouragement, give the light that goes with it. Make us live by the faith preached by your holy apostles and the high teachings of the gospels of our Savior, Jesus Christ. May we not be content only to hear and speak of them, but behave and act as they bid us.

Teach us to look upwards, to seek out and search the heavenly, not the earthly. If that is our attitude and if you act in us, what glory for your power, all-holy, omnipotent, worthy of all praise; glory through Jesus Christ, your beloved, with the Holy Spirit, now and through the ages.

Amen.

*Prayer abridged and adapted from an undated and anonymous papyrus, on display in Berlin, published in Patrologia Orientalis (18:442), 1907.

Today’s Reading
Jonah 3 (Listen – 1:31)
Luke 8 (Listen – 8:09)

 

The Joy of Christ

[Jesus said,] “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” — Luke 7.41-42

The most intellectually offensive part of Christianity is not its insistence on miracles—including the incarnation and resurrection—but its foundational teaching that each person is deeply marked with the pride and brokenness of sin. The modern mind, like the Pharisaical mind, is convinced it just needs a little forgiveness.

The core philosophy of internal goodness helps us hold the power and fullness of God at bay. If we are really not all that bad, we don’t really need all of Christianity—a touch of its ethic on top of our otherwise good hearts will suffice. And, if we do not require that much forgiveness, we are not all that indebted to God. Our relationship with him can function ad hoc—waxing and waning as we perceive need.

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis writes:

I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke.

Everyone there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one’s eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people’s eyes can see further than mine.

While the central message of Christianity assumes our brokenness, it is not predicated on it. In this way, Christianity is surprisingly focused on a relationship between God and man—with pride and brokenness on display as the key barrier to that relationship.

Jesus draws attention to the forgiven debt not as the foundation of his relationship with the generous woman in Luke 7, but as the context for her gratitude. She discovered something the prideful religious leaders had not: the joy of pursuing something of ultimate worth and joy.

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

 

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