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Trusting in the Lord During Trials (Psalm 3)

The following sermon was delivered at Lakeview Baptist Church, in Benton, KY on the 8th day of October 2017:¹

“A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

LORD, how many are my foes!
    Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
    “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
    I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LORD!
    Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;
    your blessing be on your people! Selah
” (Psalm 3).

Introduction: Sorry, But Rodney Atkins Was Wrong

There is a popular country song on the radio today that’s been around for a while, and I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with its meaning. I know I’m overly critical of things in general, I know my wife can attest to that. I like country music myself, we listen to it all the time, so don’t get me wrong. However, the song If You’re Going Through Hell, by Rodney Atkins should have never been written. While it has some good themes and a good tune, it is the worst possible explanation for what is going on in the trials of life. I know its not meant to be a sermon on the trials of life, but what astonishes me is that many people have a theology of trials almost synonymous with the message of this song! I believe Rodney is seriously mistaken when he describes what’s going on in the trials of life and what to do about them. Here’s the chorus we all know:

If you’re going through Hell

Keep on going, don’t slow down

If you’re scared, don’t show it

You might get out

Before the devil even knows you’re there!

First of all, trials are not hell – not even close. Trials do not compare with the eternal wrath of God poured out on the nonelect. Though I know Rodney is using the term loosely, the fact is, some people actually believe that trials in life are hell on earth. Secondly, self-pride and self-strength are not the way to get through them. A lot of people think this way. Thirdly, if you are scared, it’s okay to show it. Don’t hide your fear of the unknown as many people do. Fourthly, most of the time you don’t get out of them. I’ll give Rodney credit here – he says you might get out. But for believers and nonbelievers alike, we will never been done with trials on this earth as long as we’re here. And finally, the devil isn’t always watching to see if you are in a trial. Though the devil is a crafty enemy, I think people give him way too much credit these days. He is rarely the direct cause of trials in life, and he is certainly not always watching you, though he does strike at moments of weakness which may happen during trials of life.

Rodney Atkins’ song is not what is happening in the trials of life, and that’s not the way to react to them either. But you know, just as worse sometimes is the way that we do react to trials. Sometimes we do have an outlook on trials like the one portrayed in the song, and sometimes our outlook is even worse! It has been my experience in speaking with people as a pastor, and in dealing with my own trials, that we as believers do not usually react to trials in the right way. We usually react with a desire to escape, or having great despair, suffering from anxiety, being depressed, or perhaps even being angry with God. If we always reacted rightly during trials, there certainly wouldn’t be a plethora of biblical commands concerning this very matter (John 16:33; Romans 12:12; James 1:2-4).

Whatever way that we tend to react to trials of life, it is certainly the teaching of Scripture that we should react to trials by trusting in the Lord. We could spend our entire time together proving that fact, but I’ll just note a few examples. Consider Joseph – he certainly trusted in the Lord during his troublesome times when he was sold into slavery by his own brothers. He had confidence in the Lord during the turmoil he faced along the way. He confessed at the end of that account in Genesis that he believed the Lord was doing what was good and right the entire time. Remember that he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). The book of Psalms themselves are each an expression in some way of trusting in the Lord during times of lament, sorrow, persecution, trials, and even joy. In fact, there isn’t one psalm that doesn’t have an underlying confidence in the Lord. It may not always be explicitly written, but it is always the thread which binds the verses together. James tells us in his letter that we should count our trials as joy because of knowing and trusting that the Lord, through the trial, is developing us into stronger believers (James 1:2-4).

And assuredly, David trusted in the Lord during the trial he faced as he was being pursued by Absalom his son. This entire psalm is an expression of trusting in the Lord during the time when David was fleeing his own son. That situation is what fostered the writing and praying of this psalm we have read, and we see clearly in this psalm that David trusted in the Lord in many ways. To give you some understanding as to his situation, look at the superscript above verse 1. It’s the smaller print above most of the psalms which will give you insight as to what spurned the writing of the psalm, or instructions regarding how to use the psalm. The whole narrative is in 2 Samuel 15-17, and we see there that David’s son, Absalom, conspired a revolt against David and his kingdom. Absalom wanted to be king, so David fled from Jerusalem in search of safety. Absalom would eventually pursue David to try to kill him.

The way David reacted is what we have recorded in Psalm 3, and it is easily recognizable that the way he reacted was by trusting in the Lord. He trusted in the Lord because he went immediately to the place of prayer. He trusted in the Lord because he knew who He was. He trusted in the Lord because he slept peacefully. And because he petitioned God for what he needed and believed in His promises, he trusted Him. The whole psalm is a beautiful call for all suffering believers to trust in the Lord during the trials they face in life. And because the psalms themselves model for us how we should pray, what we should believe, and how we should respond as the authors did to their various situations, we will see from this psalm that, like David we can and should trust in the Lord during our trials. We will learn from David’s prayer here exactly how we can trust in the Lord during our trials. We will look at each verse this morning and learn that we can trust God during trials if we will:

I. Lament in the Presence of God (3:1-2)
II. Reflect on the Person of God (3:3-4)
III. Gain Relief from the Peace of God (3:5-6)
IV. Express Petitions to God (3:7a)
V. Believe the Promises of God (3:7b-8)

Do you want to trust in the Lord during your trials? That’s something we should all want to attain, so let us look now at Psalm 3 to find out how we may do so.

I. Lament in the Presence of God (3:1-2)

The first thing we need to do in our trials is lament in the presence of God. We need to go immediately to the place of prayer. When the winds of trials are violently gusting upon our lives, we need to take cover in the place of prayer, and talk to the Lord about what is going on. We are by nature people who think we can handle problems by ourselves—we’ve been that way ever since Adam and Eve tried to cover up their sin and deal with it by themselves and without God (Genesis 3:7). But prayer reverses that tendency. Instead of handling trials and troubles with our own hands, going to the place of prayer puts trials and troubles in the hands of God. By prayer, we acknowledge our dependence upon the Lord for everything we need. And sometimes, the trial our trouble we’re going through is so extremely intense, we often need to pour out our hearts to God immediately—before we ask Him for anything or resolve to do anything about our trials.

And this is precisely what David did. David went immediately to the presence of God in prayer, and lamented about his situation to God. In vv. 1-2, David laments in the presence of God, expressing his situation to God. David lets the Lord know about the enemies he is facing because of Absalom’s rebellion. David laments to God regarding his enemies, noting that they are many in number and they taunt him, claiming that God is unable to deliver him. And it’s not because God doesn’t already know what’s going on—but it so that David can gain some relief from his distress—so that he can get some of these burdens off his shoulders. So what David does in the first part of this psalm is what we are to do when faced with extreme trials—we should lament in the presence of God. We should go immediately to the place of prayer, and talk with the Lord. Notice how David does this:

“O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.”

The psalm begins with a lament, which is an expression of great sorrow. And this lament is divided up into two parts—David tells God about his enemies, and then about what they are doing to him. So first, David tells God about his many enemies: “O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me” (v. 1). David is pouring his heart out to God concerning his many enemies. David wants to be delivered from his many enemies, that is abundantly clear. His enemies are great in number, for notice the language, “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul.” It is not just Absalom who is pursuing David, but many other enemies which Absalom convinced to join him! The author of the account in 2 Samuel tells us this when it documents Absalom’s conspiracy against David. It wasn’t just Absalom and a few soldiers who were coming up against David, it was a great number of people. The author of that narrative describes it this way, that “Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (v. 6, 13). So, there was a great number of enemies who were pursuing David—that fact is only confirmed by David’s second lament: “Many are rising against me,” conveying a similar meaning that David is being surrounded by enemies all around.

That brings us to the second part of the lament, where David’s enemies taunted him by mocking his relationship to God. In verse 2, it gets interesting because we see that David’s enemies are concerned with much more than his physical life. They taunt David with an insult towards God. The second part of David’s lament is this: “Many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.” The taunt and insult that David’s enemies hurl at him is directed at his soul, not just his physical body. Their taunt is in regards to David’s relationship with God—they claim that God is unable to save David. They say, “God will not deliver you,” indicating that David’s enemies do not believe in the power of God to save. David’s enemies attack him in the area which is dearest to him—his relationship with God. They are saying, “There is no deliverance for him in God!” or “God can’t save him!” They taunt, “No deliverance shall be his as we pursue him, for his God cannot save him at all!”

David is expressing all of this to God in prayer through his lament. We see David lamenting in the presence of God through prayer here, and this is the first principle in learning how to trust the Lord during trials. It should be our default setting to run to the place of prayer as soon as we are afflicted with difficulties and trials. We should be in the constant mode of prayer anyway, regardless of facing trials and troubles (1 Thess. 5:17). But we should especially go to the place of prayer when facing extreme troubles. Now, we must be careful that we are not just talking at God—moping and soliciting, as it were, in His presence. That is, spending time there and not accomplishing anything. And we must not stay there in lament-mode, but move on in prayer to reflecting on the person of God, trusting in Him, bringing our petitions to Him, and believing His promises. But the point is, it is okay to begin your prayers as such—the point is that David responded to trials with prayer, and so should we. We need to tell the Lord about what is going on in our lives.

Now, why should we lament about a situation God already knows? Why tell Him what’s going on if He is all-knowing? Jesus does say in the Sermon on the Mount to consider this truth when praying: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Why am I speaking to God about a situation He already knows? Well, because we do not pray to inform God, but to conform ourselves to His will. We pray to get burdens off our shoulders. Prayer is a means God has provided for us to be changed and gain relief from our communion with Him. 1 Peter 5:7, though written first to all elders in the church, instructs all believers, “[cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

We also pray in order to recognize that our trials aren’t as big a problem as we think. Sometimes we just need to vent, and as soon as we start describing the situation, we most of the time will realize that we may have exaggerated it and made it into something bigger than it is. But we can’t exaggerate to God—He knows the situation or trial we’re going through. Once we talk to Him honestly about it, it seems to shrink in size.

We pray also because it is simply obedient to do so. Scripture tells us to do so, and this verse implies that we should. It is what David first did, and it is what we must first do. During trials, we need to first lament in the presence of God. But we also need to reflect on the person of God.

II. Reflect on the Person of God (3:3-4)

As I noted earlier, let he who has ears to hear understand that it is a grave mistake and contradictory to the very nature of prayer to remain at the place of lament when praying about your trials. After we cry out to God in lament, we must reflect on who He is. In prayer, it is not enough to say, “Alright Lord, here’s what’s going on,” we must instead say, “Alright Lord, here’s what’s going on—but I trust in You because You’re a great and sovereign God.” We must reflect on the character and person of God during our trials—we must know who He is, and based off of knowing who He is, we should then trust Him.

That’s the second thing David does in this prayer. David expresses trust in the person of God, because he is reflecting on the person of God. In vv. 3-4, David refutes the taunt of his enemies by describing God’s character, and pointing to his relationship with God. Underlying what David says about God, and what David says about his relationship with God is a confident trust in Him that God will see him through. And we will see from these verses that, like David, we too must trust in the person and character of God during our trials. Listen to what David says in response to his enemies:

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah”

First of all, observe here that David reflected on and was confident in God’s character. David refutes the taunt of his enemies, that God is unable to save. David’s enemies say, “There is no salvation for him in God,” and David replies by pointing to who God is, that He is indeed, a God who grants salvation to His people. David defends the fact that God saves in this part of the psalm—he destroys their staggeringly foolish taunt with proof that there is “salvation for [David] in God.” And it’s because of who He is. “God can’t save you,” says David’s enemies—and David replies, “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” David describes God’s character in three ways:

God is a Shield. God is a king who protects—that’s what shields do, they protect. God is a shield of protection all around David, even when he sleeps. God has promised to protect His own and this is the first thing David points to in order to refute the claim of his enemies: “You, O LORD are a shield about me.” This is a repeated theme in the Psalms, the fact that God protects His people from physical and spiritual danger. God is described very often in the Psalms in terms of a protector. He is a refuge, protector, deliverer, a warrior, a keeper, the preserver, the rock, a fortress, a stronghold, a rescuer, a shepherd, and a king. You can learn all of that just from reading up to Psalm 23.

God is David’s Glory. God is also David’s glory, meaning here David’s “power.” God is the Glorious One who provides strength to His people, and especially to His kings. God is so glorious that He can marshal the angelic host to aid His children (Psalm 34:7; 91:11).

God Lifts David’s Head. This phrase means that God has raised David up. God raises the humble, and those with their heads down. While David may be down and afflicted, God is ultimately the one who raises him up again.

Now in v. 4, David gets more personal in reflecting on God’s character. Secondly, notice that David reflects on the person of God in terms of his relationship with him. David turns from reflecting on God’s character to reflecting on God’s relationship with him. And what’s interesting is that David uses answered prayer as the greatest display of his relationship with God: “I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill” (v. 4).

David explains that he prayed to the Lord, and God answered him. He cried aloud to the Lord, meaning he prayed. And God answered him from His holy place—where He sits high and lifted up. And by the way, David was not in Jerusalem when he prayed this prayer. Even when David was removed from the presence of God in Jerusalem, he knew that the Lord would answer him when he called. David understood that he didn’t have to be in Jerusalem for God to hear his prayer—and neither do we. We don’t have to be in church or even in some quiet room with Bible verses everywhere (as in the movie War Room). Anywhere we are, we can pray and God will hear us.

Here’s something else extremely important to notice about this part of the psalm. Consider the order of the verses here—David first reflects on God’s character, then he prays. David points to who God is as a protector and shield, and then he prays. David’s prayer comes after he has reflected for a time on who God is. The prayer of verse 4, comes after the reflection of v. 3. David first looks up to God and then he cries out for help. From this we see a great truth, which is worthy of imitation: David’s understanding of God is what lead him to pray and ask God for help. David’s reminiscing of the power and protection of God leads him to cry aloud to the Lord. And you want to know why we so rarely pray and trust the Lord during trials? Verily, it is often because we do not understand who He is. Often times, the reason why we do not immediately respond to trials by trusting in the Lord is because we don’t understand the character and person of God. David truly did, and it was only a few truths about God at that. David acknowledged a few key truths about God, and that is what lead him to the place of prayer. I mean, just consider this for a moment. Would you be more inclined to pray if you knew God “who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6)? Would you be more inclined to pray if you knew, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:27).

Maybe the reason why we don’t pray during afflictions is because we haven’t reflected on God’s character. Maybe if we knew more of God’s character, we might be more inclined to pray. If we stopped and remembered that God is “[working all things] together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), we may be more inclined to pray. This is the biblical order of prayer—reflecting on God’s character—who He is, and then expressing our needs in prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Philippians 4:5b-7). That’s precisely what David did here. Now, the importance of doing this comes in the next section—why reflect on and trust in the person of God? Because of the benefits of doing so, and that we take up in the next two verses. We will see in the next section (vv. 5-6) why it is so important for us to reflect on and trust in God’s person and character during trials.

We need to reflect on the person of God during our trials. We must know who He is through His word, and in those times of trials, remember who He is. The only way to do that is to be saturated with the word of God—to be so much in the word so that life’s most difficult trials can’t get the word out of you.

III. Gain Relief From the Peace of God (3:5-6)

Trusting the Lord during trials requires for us to lament in His presence, and reflect on His person. And when we do, we will gain relief from the peace of God. Now, there is no command here in this section, neither is their stated anything we should do during trials. Rather, this is something which will happen if we respond to our trials the way David did. This is what God does in response to our lamenting to Him and reflecting on who He is, and thereby trusting in Him. You can observe here that David explains what God did in response to his prayer. Because David reflected on the person of God and therefore trusted in Him, he can sleep peacefully and have no fear of his enemies, even if there were more of them.

And this is what God will do if we will trust in Him. He will sustain us, and we can rest our weary head on the pillow of His sovereignty. God will give us “peace which surpasses all understanding,” says Paul the apostle, but we must first “let our requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6-7). That is, God will grant us peace in our trials but we must trust in Him and pray. We must rest in who He is as a sovereign God, and He will sustain us during our trials. C. H. Spurgeon preached once on this very thing, stressing the need and importance for us to trust in the Lord to sustain us during our trials. He said, “The sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which the child of God rests his head at night, giving perfect peace.” If we will understand the truth about God from Scripture, namely the sovereignty of God, we will trust in Him as David, and gain relief from the peace God will give us.

And to that point, David expresses two ways in which he gained relief from trusting in God. He can sleep because God sustains him, and he can have great courage in the face of his enemies. Listen to what he says,

I lay down and slept;
    I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.”

David explains that he is able to sleep peacefully because God sustains Him: “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.” After lamenting, after trusting in the Lord by reflecting on His character/person, he says that he went to sleep. Now, remember—David is in great danger at this time—his life is being sought after. Nothing has changed about his situation and his trial. But something has changed about his perspective. After reflecting on who God was and praying, he is so confident in God’s ability to deliver him that he prepares to go to sleep. Now that is what you call confidence. A king is either insane or truly protected to respond to war by going to sleep! But not only does he lay down to sleep—he does sleep (indicated by “slept”), and he wakes up again the next day! And David expresses trust once again in the person of God by telling us why he can sleep in the midst of trouble: “for [or because] the LORD sustained me.” So we get a picture of David no longer having fear of his enemies, so much so that he can lay down on his bed, go to sleep, and wake up the next day—all because God has sustained him. But notice too, not only does David have a great peace to come upon him because of how he has responded to his trial, but also he no longer has fear.

David expresses that he no longer has fear of his enemies: “I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (v. 6). Notice again—David’s problem hasn’t changed at all. In fact, he expresses that he will have no fear even if it does—even if it gets much worse! Even if there were more enemies surrounding him, he would still have no fear. Compare v. 1 to v. 6—a lot has changed since v. 1! A lot has changed since David has lamented in God’s presence, reflected on the person of God. David’s problem hasn’t changed at all, but his perspective certainly has. Now there is a new perspective on the same problem. What a great change from simply reflecting on God’s character and praying!

Everything changed when David reflected on who God is. This experience of peaceful sleep and courage in the face of more enemies comes only after David brings his prayer to God and reflects on the person of God. That’s the central thrust of this psalm—David wants everyone who reads this psalm to understand that they too can have peaceful sleep and courage in the face of trials if only they will pray and understand who God is! We too can experience sustenance, peace, and courage in our trials if we will do what David did. Our problems may not change, and they may even get worse (and most of the time they do), but we can change our perspective! We can get through the trials we have in life when we pray and recognize who God is. Once we understand who God is, our perspective and attitude will change—we will trust the Lord.

And another thing too, note how brief David’s reflection of God’s character is—David only needs to understand a few key truths about God in order for him to gain confidence again. All he acknowledged about God was that God protects him, God answers his prayer, and God sustains him. This just goes to show you that the length of our prayers do not matter as much as their content! David’s brief description of God’s character, and his corresponding confidence shows us that you are closer on the road to peace and faith when you know who God is, than you are if you pray for 10 hours. And you know, something I have found to be astonishing in comparing our faith to the faith of characters in the Old Testament like David is this: Many characters of the Old Testament had a better understanding of God and a greater faith in God with less Bible than we do with the whole Bible! David had peace, joy, and courage again after reflecting on only three truths about Godbut it was because he knew them. He had read them, known them, and been taught them. Let me tell you something—you’ll never have a faith like David’s and you will never have the peace, joy, and courage like he had until you understand truths about God which come from His word. And it is those truths which we must reflect on during our times of trouble.

This is especially important during trials in life, because there are all kinds of emotions we are dealing with—and emotions can be deceptive. You may feel distant from God, you may feel like God has abandoned you, you may even feel like God is “punishing you,” but you need to have your faith rooted in the objective, unchanging word of God because it doesn’t matter how you feel during your trials. What truly matters is what you know and what you do with it. Once we know who God is through His word, we can truly trust in the Lord during our trials.

For a while now, my parents have had a little Jack Russel Terrier named Charlie, and one thing that has been surprising to us about him is that he likes to take care rides. He’s the first dog we’ve ever had in the family that actually likes to take rides in the car. Our dog hasn’t always been so audacious—he used to be really timid and scared. But as long as he rides up in the front with you, he’s pretty calm. He usually puts half his body out of the driver side window, while burying his nails into your knee. But you know, I’ve noticed something about him. When he is hanging out the window while we’re going 45, or while we are driving on a curve, he will start to lose his footing. He gets freaked out and comes back inside the car for fear that he may drop out. So usually I hold on to his side or his back leg so he won’t go out the window when we turn on curves or are going too fast down the road. He is pretty fearless when you’re holding on to him—he has faith in me because he knows who I am. He knows I’m not going to drop him. He knows that if the ride gets rocky, too fast, or swings him around, he’s going to be just fine because I’m not letting him go. Charlie has no fear because he knows who I am.

Let me tell you something—we should have no fear of what might happen to us when we’re driving through life because we know that God isn’t letting us go. You may be suffering so much that you feel like you are being thrown out of the window. You may be in such a tumultuous situation that you feel like your life has crashed—but all you need to do is look over to the driver seat, my friend. God is there, and He is the one driving. He is holding on to you, and He won’t drop you—all you need to do is trust Him. Don’t trust your hold on Him, but trust His hold on you.

Once we lament in the presence of God, and reflect on the person of God by knowing and believing His word, we will gain relief from the peace of God—He will allow us to sleep peacefully and have courage.

IV. Express Petitions to God (3:7a)

Trusting in the Lord during trials begins by lamenting in the presence of God. We then must reflect on the person of God, and when we do, we will gain relief from His peace. Fourthly in this psalm, we see that we must express our petitions and requests to God. After all of these things in the psalm, David prays for what he needs. David petitions God for salvation and deliverance saying, “Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God!” (v. 7a). David made mention in v. 4 of a prayer he prayed that God answered, and the first part of v. 7 contains that prayer. David wants for God to rise up and deliver him. Though many have arisen against him, David wants for God to rise against his enemies. He wants God to get up from His throne, and to come down and save him from his enemies. We won’t spend much time here in this point because there’s not much said in this part of the verse—but one thing we can glean from this for sure is that David petitioned God. And this too is an essential element to learning how to trust the Lord during our trials. Whatever it is that we need, we need to ask the Lord for it. We need to petition God as David did here. What is it that you need during your trial or difficulty? Ask the Lord for it. This is certainly included in Scripture’s teaching on responding to trials and anxieties (Phil. 4:7; Matthew 7:7-12; James 4:2).

V. Believe the Promises of God (3:7b-8)

Lament in God’s presence, reflect on God’s person, gain relief from God’s peace, express petitions to God, and finally we need to believe God’s promises. Finally, David expresses belief in the promises of God. Why does David have such a request as the one in v. 7a? Why does David believe that God will answer that petition/prayer? Because he believes in the promises of God. Listen to the way David explains this: “[Petition] Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For [or because] you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people!” (vv. 7-8). David prayed because he rested in God’s promises—and these two statements in this section are two promises of God. One is a promise from God to His enemies, the other a promise from God to His people.

The first is a promise to God’s enemies (v. 7b). Now, this phrase may seem harsh to our ears, but it’s what this phrase conveys that is really important. David is resting in God’s promise that He will protect His covenant people by destroying their enemies. This was a promise from God to do this. God will strike the enemies of the king, and wipe them out.

The second is a promise to God’s people (v. 8). This was also a promise that David rested in. David knew that God had promised to deliver His people, and it was the only source of David’s confidence that God would answer his prayer for deliverance. God has promised to eradicate the wicked, and has said previously that salvation belongs to Him. And these promises are what gave David the confidence to pray such a thing as he did. These are promises David recalled which are specifically applicable to his situation. They speak directly to what he was going through. And because David rested and believed in these promises, he was able to pray confidently. He prays, “Arise and save me, for here is what You promise to the wicked, and here is what You promise to Your people.” These specific promises of God from His word are what gave David his confidence that God would hear His prayer and answer it. And let me just ask this morning, considering that these are promises specifically applicable to his situation—how many promises of God do you know which are specifically applicable to your situation? If we do not know the promises of God, we will have no rest nor confidence that God will answer our prayer or see us through. The promises of God are the blood flowing through our arms when we lift up our burdens to the throne of God. If we know what God says in His word about our troubles and trials, then we can rest in those promises. If we don’t know the promises, we will have no rest. How many promises of God do you know?

We need to believe the promises of God in order to trust the Lord during trials.

Conclusion: A Hymn With the Wrong Name

One of my favorite hymns is What a Friend We Have in Jesus because it conveys to us the importance of prayer in our pain. It explains to us what God will do when we pray. Really, I think this hymn has the wrong name. It only speaks of Jesus as a friend remotely—it’s main emphasis is how God works through prayer. I love this part of the song:

“What a Friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer!”

We forfeit peace and bear needless pain when we do not carry our pain and burdens to the Lord in prayer. It’s what David did, and it is what we must do if we will learn to trust the Lord during our trials. We do not have to go through our trials without peace and bearing needless pain—if we will trust in the Lord, He will take care of the rest. We don’t have to act like we’re not scared during trials—but we should trust the Lord to calm our fears. Like our dog Charlie, we should not fear what will become of us because our Father holds us near Him.

As God enables us, may we trust in Him during our many trials by going to Him in prayer, reflecting on who He is, gaining relief from His peace, expressing our petitions to Him, and believing His promises.


  1. This sermon was also delivered at LaCenter First Baptist Church in LaCenter, KY; Ohio Valley Baptist Church in Barlow, KY; New Concord Baptist Church in Melber, KY; and Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, KY.

The following sermon audio was recorded at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, KY:

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When God Prayed: Jesus’ Devotion to Prayer (Luke 5:16)

That annoying alarm wakes us up. We grab a shower and a cup of coffee, then we’re out the door on our way to work. We might listen to a sermon on the radio during our morning commute, or we might read the Bible at lunch time. And soon enough, it will be time to go home. We go home, do a few things around the house, cook supper, pay bills, and then we’re off to bed to restart the process. But here’s a pressing question: when did we stop and talk to God, and really spend some time praying to Him? If you’re answer is anything like mine, you might feel a bit of shame. Most of us would likely admit that we haven’t been praying as much as we should be. For me, reading the Bible isn’t a problem. I’ve got a Bible reading plan that keeps me in line. But prayer . . . that’s another story. It is difficult for me to find time in my busy day to really spend time with God. That’s an honest confession.

I read something in the Scripture today that drove me to prayer this morning. It’s something I’ve read dozens, probably hundreds of times before. But a few details helped my understanding and application of it. What I read today was Luke 5, the verse that convicted me to prayer was v. 16 where Luke notes that Jesus prayed at His busiest moment at the beginning of His ministry. It reads in this way:

“But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16).

In this passage, Luke records Jesus cleansing a leper saying that once He healed this leper, “even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities” (v. 15). Jesus cleansed this leper, and word got out about His healing power. Because of this, crowds came to hear Him preach and teach, and they came to be healed of their many diseases and infirmities. Jesus was getting popular at this point. More and more people began to know about Him as time went on. And Luke says that there was one thing He would always do, even when He was busy with His teaching and healing ministry: He would withdraw Himself from the crowds, to places where He could be alone, and He would pray. There are several passages of Scripture in the gospels that tell us that Jesus prayed alone, prayed for others, and prayed long prayers (Matt. 11:25-26; Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12; 22:41-44; 23:24; John 17:1-26). The fact that Jesus prayed is astounding for two main reasons. First of all, because He was God in the flesh, and still prayed. Because He was God, it would make you think that Jesus would not need to pray, but it is very apparent from the gospels that prayer is something that He needed and something that He did. Though Jesus was God, He prayed to His Father and He made use of prayer.

Second, it is astounding that Jesus prayed because He was occupied with more tasks than any of us ever will be, and He still found time to pray. We might say, “But Jesus didn’t have a full time job like I do. Jesus’ didn’t cook supper for children, or pick them up from school everyday like me. Jesus didn’t have emails to send and receive.” Historically, that’s absolutely true. Jesus wasn’t a factory worker, working from nine to five. Jesus didn’t go to see His children play football at the high school. Jesus didn’t have an iPhone and wasn’t able to Tweet or check emails. But let me tell you what Jesus was involved in doing: Jesus was teaching crowds of hundreds of people everyday, and they were increasing as He became more popular. When is the last time you taught growing crowds of people multiple times a week? He was healing all kinds of diseases, people were coming to Him to be healed of all their infirmities and sicknesses. When is the last time you cleansed a leper? He was calling and teaching His disciples. He was dealing with the persecution of the religious rulers. Everywhere He went, He had to walk. When is the last time we did any of those things? And here’s the biggie: no one else could duplicate Jesus’ ministry. No one else could do what He was doing. It would be different if Simon Peter could heal the same way Jesus was, and teach the same way He was. But there was only one Son of God, and there was only one ministry that could do all this: Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was one busy man.

So even though Jesus was God, and even though He was unbelievably busy, nothing seemed to deter Jesus from spending extensive time in prayer. So we need to reflect now on our own prayer life. In light of this passage of Scripture, what is keep us from spending time in prayer? Whatever it might be, we need to get it out of the way and spend time alone with God, taking our requests to Him, praising Him for His blessings upon us, and praying for His grace and enabling to be obedient. I’ve said it before, and it’s something I have to constantly remind myself of: if you are too busy to pray, you are too busy. Let us pray, and let us devote time to prayer. Jesus did, so should we.

Ephesians: Start Your Engines (3:14-21)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on March 16, 2014:

Introduction

While studying this text, I have asked why would Paul need to pray here? He’s already prayed in 1:15-23, why would he need to pray again? I discovered why when I began to note the literary differences in 1:1-2:22 and 4:1-6:24. Ephesians 1-2 is all about who you are in Christ and what God is like in salvation—one of the most crucial types of knowledge about God that you can have. These chapters consist of information, doctrine, and statements.

Notice: Ephesians 1:3-14, you are: elected (1:4), holy and blameless before Him (1:4), predestined (1:5), adopted (1:5), redeemed (1:7), forgiven (1:7), sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:13). Didn’t find any commands there.

Ephesians 2:1-22, you are: no longer dead in trespasses and sins (2:1), no longer following the course of this world (2:2), no longer following Satan (2:2), no longer living in the passions of your flesh (2:3), no longer children of wrath (2:3), loved by God’s great love (2:4), given new spiritual life (2:5), seated with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6), saved by grace through faith (2:8), God’s workmanship—created in Christ Jesus for good works (2:10), brought near by the blood of Christ (2:13), united in one body through the cross (2:14-17), no longer strangers and aliens (2:19), fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (2:19), a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (2:22).

Even in Ephesians 3, you are “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” (3:6).

But look at the difference in language in the latter chapters of Ephesians:

Ephesians 4:1-32—live in unity and live as a new person.

Ephesians 5:1-33—walk in love, wives submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.

Ephesians 6:1-20—children obey your parents, slaves obey your masters, put on the whole armor of God.

So Ephesians 1-2 explains what you are, and Ephesians 4-6 tells you what to do. But just knowing isn’t enough—they always say knowing is half the battle. But it is only half. You need the strength and resources to carry out those commands—the power to live out Ephesians 4-6. That is exactly why Paul prays here—that his readers would have the strength to carry out those commands. Imagine that you as a Christian are an engine. Paul has described all the parts of that engine in the first two chapters, and in the latter chapters that engine is running and working and doing. Somewhere in between you have to get that engine started. So then, the prayer that follows is sort of like Paul saying, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

The Text

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

INTRODUCTION TO THE PRAYER (3:14-15)

Verse 14 reads, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father. . .” Remember 3:1 where Paul says the same thing? “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus. . .” Remember that he interrupted his prayer and explained the nature of his apostleship and the different aspects of his ministry. Here in v. 14 is where he picks up again on that prayer. Again, like with the last time we studied this, he states “For this reason” which points back to the salvation and privileges that belong to his readers through Christ. Just read chapters 1-2. That’s the reason Paul “bows [his] knees before the Father.

The Father

The Father has been central to what Paul is saying here in Ephesians. Paul indicates here, like the rest of the Scriptures that every member of the Trinity is necessary for salvation. (You just read about it throughout this letter). In the Bible, God is always seen as acting as a tri-personal team. The Father plans your salvation, the Son carries out your salvation by dying on the cross, and the Spirit of God applies your salvation by giving you new spiritual life and sustaining you till the end.

So Paul prays here to the Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (v. 15). All those in heaven (angels and peoples alike) have their origin from the Father, and all living beings (families of people, families of insects, families of animals, etc. every family) have their origin from the Father.

It’s true that when someone or something is named, it provides a description of what that thing is or who that person is, but also for someone to give a “name” to something must mean that they possess some type of authority to do so. You name your children because your children belong to you and you have the right to name them. Same principle here. For God to give creatures a name isn’t simply to provide them with a label. But it signifies that God has authority over them and every right to give them names. All things depend on God for their existence.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PRAYER (3:16-19)

The reason Paul points to God’s authority here is because of what he is about to say in the description of his prayer. Paul is going to focus mainly on God’s power in the body of his prayer. Think about it: God’s authority points to His sovereignty and His sovereignty points to His power.

Paul’s First Prayer Request

So we will look at Paul’s first prayer request for God’s power in v. 16: “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”

First he says “that according to the riches of his glory” He may do this for you. Notice that Paul doesn’t say “out of his riches.” There’s a difference—a big difference. If God gives “out of his riches” then He would give a portion from the amount that He has. But if God gives “according to the riches of his glory” (like the Bible says He does) then He would give in some accordance with what He has. If you go to a rich man and say, “I need $500.” The rich man gives you $4. He gives out of his riches. If you go to that rich man and say, “I need $500” and he gives you $1000, that is giving according to the riches that he has.

God always gives in accordance with what He has. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

And Paul prays here that God would give according to His riches, in accordance with what He has, that these Ephesians would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in [their] inner being.”

Let’s break down this prayer:

Paul’s prayer: That they would be “strengthened with power.”

How it happens: through the Holy Spirit.

Where it happens: in your inner being.

The Inner Being—Strengthened Through the Spirit

It will not happen any other way—if out “inner beings” are to be strengthened, they will only be strengthened through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the only way to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit is to yield yourself to Him, and fill your mind and heart with the Bible—because the Bible is the Spirit’s thoughts on paper and we need to allow the Spirit to fill our mind with His thoughts and that only happens through considerable time with His Book.

The Holy Spirit can’t call to your mind any Scripture that you haven’t read before. What about when you are tempted? Do you know that the Scriptures say that God provides a way of rescue (1 Cor. 10:13)? What about when you are joyful? Do you know that the Scriptures say to delight yourself in the Lord (Psalm 37:4)? What about when you are sorrowful? Do you know that the Scriptures say to “lift up your soul to the LORD (Psalm 25:1)? If you aren’t filling your mind with the book that the Holy Spirit inspired, then He cannot bring these passages to your mind when you are faced with situations that would compromise your fellowship with God.

You will not remain in a neutral state—there will be something that will take place of the thoughts of God if the thoughts of God (in the Bible) are not filling your mind! We need to write these things on the tablets of our hearts (Deut. 11:18), and meditate on these things day and night (Psalm 1:2) so that we can think the thoughts of God in our inner beings, and the Spirit can dominate our thought pattern.

If you wonder why your always thinking about things that you shouldn’t be thinking, then you need to back up a little and start immersing yourself in the Word of God. Because, when you are yielding yourself to the Spirit of God, being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), allowing Him to control your mind, actions, walk, and influence everything about you—then you will be strengthened in the “inner being,” that is the inside part of you. That’s what Satan is targeting when you are tempted. That’s what sin affects when you are weak. And it’s a daily Christian struggle. Paul expresses this in Romans 7. He says that he wants to do right, but he finds himself always doing what he doesn’t want to do: “21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom. 7:21-23).

But where does Paul find the solution? “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). We need to pray as Paul did here, that God would strengthen us with power through His Spirit in our inner being. And we need to yield ourselves to the Spirit of God with each passing moment.

Paul’s Second Prayer Request

Paul bows his knees before the Father (v. 14) and prays first that his readers would be strengthened with power in their inner beings through the Spirit (v. 16) Now we read his second prayer request: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (v. 17a).

Paul prays “so that” Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. That makes all the difference because in order for Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith, something previous would need to have taken place—that is, being strengthened in the inner man through the power of the Holy Spirit. If you’re not strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit, then Christ cannot dwell in your heart through faith. That’s what Paul is saying here.

Katoikeo

I want us to look for a moment at the word “dwell” here. I’m going to give you a Bible study tool for free tonight. 1) The NT was penned in Greek. That was the language used at that time. 2) The Greek language is complex. Many of the characters in Greek consist of what looks like our letter X and O (Maybe God was writing a love letter when He inspired the New Testament). 3) Often times the same English word is used for different Greek words. John 21 is a prime example. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times. The first two times He asks Peter, the word love is agapao which means a “God-like love.” In other words, “Do you love me the way I love you?” The third time, the word love is phileo, which means “to appreciate.” And we read that Peter wept because Jesus asked him that the third time.

Well, the Greek word for “dwell” here is katoikeo. It’s more complex than meets the eye. Split that term in half and katoi means to dwell or to reside in. And keo means to be at home—or to be comfortable in a home. Put those two terms together and you have “to dwell comfortably in a home.” Now read it that way: “So that Christ may ‘dwell comfortably in your hearts’ through faith. . .” Makes a huge difference.

Your Heart—Christ’s Home

This is Paul’s prayer that Christ may dwell comfortably in their hearts but not before they are strengthened with power through the Spirit. Would you say that Christ is not comfortable in the hearts of His people sometimes? Of course. I know that to be true in my case. Often times, in the hearts of His people, Christ goes where He would never choose to go. And listen to me, Christ can’t settle down and be at home in our hearts because He’s always up cleaning the place up all the time because it’s such a mess!

But if our “inner beings” are being strengthened with power through the Spirit and we are allowing God to do with us as He pleases and we are giving Him all the room He needs to work in our lives, and we are opening up every door to Him, then Christ will finally be able to settle down and be at home in our hearts. But He must have full access to every part of your life.

So you get saved and Christ comes to dwell in your heart (now picture your heart like a house as the Greek here would imply). He goes into the library—the control room where all the thoughts are stored. Jesus says, “Alright we’ve got to get these books out of here—too many bad ideas here and lustful thoughts and such. We’re going to burn up these books, and replace them with My Book.” You say alright, Jesus you’re right. He goes into the living room—where you have fellowship. That’s where you leave Jesus when you neglect Him. Jesus says, “Hey you maybe want to sit down and spend some time together? We need to talk.” You say alright Jesus, you’re right. He goes into the dining room—that’s where your appetites are. He says, “Oh I see, this is what you hunger for—pride, prestige, lust, money. . .” Jesus about has the place cleaned up when this terrible odor comes from inside your closet. Because the cleaner the house, the worse it smells. He says, “Hey what’s in that closet?” You say, “Really Jesus? I’ve given you everything, that’s my only closet! You can’t want that—its’ 2×4 at the most!” You see that’s the room in your life where you keep thing from God. You think they’re secrets—but God knows them anyway. These are the things you really don’t want to reveal to God.

That’s the way Paul is relating here: Christ can’t settle down and be at home in your life until the garbage is cleaned out of it, and that will only happen when the Spirit of God has strengthened you in the inner man to give you victory over sin. We must give God access to all the rooms of our life if Christ is to settle down and be at home in our lives. The Spirit of God will do the cleaning—that’s what God does after you’re saved right? He cleans you up. Conversion is only the beginning.

Where in your life is the Spirit of God stifled or hindered? What areas in your life do you need to open up to the Spirit of God?

Paul’s Third Prayer Request

Paul has prayed that the Ephesians would be “strengthened in the inner man through the power of the Holy Spirit,” and he has prayed that Christ would be able to be comfortably at home in the hearts of these Ephesian believers. And in the latter part of v. 17 he says “that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” Paul is assuming that they are already “rooted and grounded in love.” Like it’s something that has already happened because Christ is at home in their hearts. Let’s read this text where Paul names his third prayer request: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. . .” (vv. 17-19)

Knowing the Surpassing Love of Christ

Here we have Paul’s third prayer request: that they may know the love of Christ. Paul prays that they may have strength to comprehend what is the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ. That’s a wordy phrase there. Paul simply is pointing to the fact that the love of Christ is far-reaching. He is evoking a sense of immensity and greatness of the love of Christ. And even every type of measurement—like is named here, cannot comprehend the love of Christ.

You know, people say, “I wish I had more love for somebody. I wish I had more love for the Lord. I wish I loved more the things of God and hated the things of the world. I wish my love was properly directed.” It’s just not that simple, people. It’s not enough to have a desire to do that. You need strength for that. Back up! Is Christ really at home in your life? He isn’t unless you’ve been strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man. If you don’t love, Christ is not at home in your life because you are not strong in the inner man, because you are not yielded to the filling of the Holy Spirit. Start at the beginning, and love will be the byproduct.

In v. 19, the Greek for “know” here, is kata lombono. Which means to “seize and make your own.” They always say that you will never know love until you experience love. That’s the idea here. You’ll be able to seize the very love of Christ and make it your own. You will know the “love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”

You ever see two young people in love? Man everything is just bliss. They’re holding hands, love is just everything—and that’s true. Love is everything when you experience love. Now if human love can do that, imagine what divine love would look like in our lives.

The Fullness of God

Paul has prayed here that the Ephesians would 1) Be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner man, 2) Have Christ at home in their hearts, 3) Comprehend the “love of Christ” that surpasses knowledge. Now all that must take place for the end of v. 19 to make any sense. All this must happen for you to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19b).

This doesn’t mean that you become God or God becomes you. It just means that God’s very essence flows through you and permeates your very being. You see, because if the Spirit is strengthening your inner being, Christ is at home in your heart and He’s not having to be up cleaning it up all the time, and you are really grasping and experiencing the love of Christ in your life—then God can do whatever He wants through you and you will be filled with all the fullness of God!

That’s the only way that vv. 20-21 make any sense. Often times people favorite these verses because they promise that God is able—but there is more to this text than just “God is able.” Now, God is able. God is able to do far more. Far more abundantly. Far more abundantly that all that we ask or think according to this passage of Scripture.

Underestimating God

Now often times we underestimate the fact that God is able. That’s bad enough. We underestimate God and think He isn’t hearing our prayers—when we know that He tells us “call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things” (Jer. 33:3). We underestimate God and think that He doesn’t have forgiveness for our many sins—when we know He says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). We underestimate God and think that He isn’t sovereign over our lives and circumstances—when we know that He says, “[He] works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

But you know what is absolutely bone-chilling for me? When God asks us a question. When God asks the questions in the Bible, something really stirs in me. When we underestimate God, He asks, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:37).

God is Able—Through Us

Now it’s bad enough that we underestimate God’s power as it is . . .but read the rest of this verse . . . “according to the power at work within us.” The Bible doesn’t just say here that God is able—it says that God is able through us. If we underestimate God’s power as it is, how much more will we underestimate His power through us?

That power will not be at work within you—and God will not be free to do what He wants through you until you have first experienced what Paul has talked about above:

1) Be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner man,

2) Have Christ at home in their hearts

3) Comprehend the “love of Christ” that surpasses knowledge.

THE DOXOLOGY (3:20-21)

So you’ve got all these things—and God is at work in your life “according to the power at work within you.” You’re a real spiritual big-shot. It’s all going well for you.

But Paul says something in the end of this prayer that keeps you from being prideful: “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever” (v. 21). Who gets the glory? Man gets it? No. God gets it. The purpose of God in salvation is to give you Himself—in turn He gets the glory. You enjoy God, He gets glorified—God’s passion if for His glory.

Paul writes to these Ephesians—that’s great if all these things happen for you—just remember that God gets the glory in both the church and in Christ Jesus.

And this will happen for “all generations forever and ever.”

Conclusion

Are we praying this prayer? Are we allowing the Spirit to strengthen us in our inner being? Are we allowing Christ to settle down and be at home in our lives? Are we allowing God to give us the strength to comprehend His love? Are we being filled with all the fullness of God?

Jonah: Jonah’s Prayer (2:1-10)

Jonah: Jonah’s Prayer (2:1-10)

Introduction

What we are going to study tonight may be the theologically richest part of the book of Jonah. The amazing context of this poetic prayer is Jonah’s gratitude while inside the fish. He fully expected to die in the water. His thanksgiving within the belly of a fish is a proclamation of joy, with the realization that God has delivered him in spite of his running. Though he is not yet on dry land, his faith reaches a new dimension of understanding. He seems to have no doubt that, as he was delivered from drowning, he will also eventually be delivered safely to the shore. In chapter 2 of Jonah we are able to understand Jonah’s point of view, as he speaks in the first person. It also offers a window into the nature and circumstances of true gratitude.

The Text

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, 2 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.
3 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.
4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
5 The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.
7 When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
8 Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

Inside the Fish

“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish” (v. 1). The author tells us in the first verse what we are about to read. There is a prayer that follows. And Jonah prayed these things while he was in the belly of the fish. We know that this account is still a miracle—but it is interesting that Jonah actually prays while inside the fish. It’s important to notice here that his is the first time that Jonah speaks directly to God. In all this account and all we’ve experienced with him, he was not spoken to God until now. Remember however, Jonah is still in danger. He is still at sea, inside the fish—but still in danger. He doesn’t have a living room built inside that fish.

But here’s what he prays: “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” (v. 2). This is the beginning of the prayer of Jonah. Jonah says that he “called out to” God out of his distress. He says that God answered him. But Jonah says something interesting here: “out of the belly of Sheol I cried.” What does Sheol mean? It’s a term used most often in the Old Testament to mean the place of death. Sometimes it means separation from God. Jonah did not literally pray from Sheol but describes his near-death experience. He says that God heard his 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” (v. 3). Jonah is describing his experience being thrown overboard with vivid imagery: “into the deep,” “the heart of the seas,” “your billows passed over me.” Just for clarification, billows are great waves or surging masses of water. Though it was the sailors who had hurled Jonah into the sea (1:15), he knows that God was working sovereignly through them, and so he can say that God cast him into the sea.

Jonah expresses, however that he will see dry land again: “Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple’” (v. 4). Here Jonah demonstrates his understanding of the power of simply turning again toward the presence of God. Next Jonah gives a very visual description of coming close to death. In vv. 5-6, “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my heard at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever, yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.” He says that the waters closed in on him to take his life—he was probably drowning at this point. The deep surrounded him, and he was definitely at the bottom of the sea because he states that seaweed was “wrapped about” his head. He even went down to the “land whose bars closed upon [him] forever.” Departure into Sheol was to go through gates made of “bars.” Job 17:16 says, “Will it go down to the bars of Sheol?” (emphasis mine) See also Psalm 9:13. But regardless, God brought up Jonah’s life from the “pit.” Jonah also says that “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple” (v. 7).

Saved but Not Completely Delivered

What is interesting to see throughout this entire account of Jonah’s prayer is this: He has been rescued from death by God’s sending of the fish (1:17), but he has not been delivered to dry land just yet (2:10). He has not drowned, but he was unexpectedly saved from death by the “great fish,” but he isn’t completely safe—he is still in danger.

Our lives are very similar to this story—our lives as believers. When we are converted, when we are saved, we are delivered from death and saved from judgment: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). But, we are not immediately taken to the place where there is no sin, no evil, no suffering, and no pain (Rev. 21:4). We are saved in this life, but we are not completely delivered from the ailments of living in this present world. You probably know all too well, that your struggles do not end once you are saved. Struggles continue. In fact, some struggles happen more often because you are saved (ex. persecution). Remember that salvation is in three tenses:

1) Past: You were saved. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Once we had repentance and faith toward Christ, we were saved. That’s a secured deal.

2) Present: You are being saved. “Therefore, by beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, emphasis mine). We are daily being delivered from the presence and power of sin through the Holy Spirit.

3) Future: You will be saved; “Training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13, emphasis mine). One glorious day we will finally be delivered from the presence and power of sin forever.

This is what we share with Jonah: We have been delivered from death and the penalty of sin, but we are not yet completely free from sin. One day we will be in complete safety (“dry land”), but until then we must do what is necessary to fight sin daily (Rom. 7).

The Real Miracle

Another thing that is interesting to note here (that we tend to look over) is that Jonah should have died. Listen again to this dreadful description of what is was like to nearly drown at sea: “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever. . .” (vv. 5-6). The real miracle here is that what should have been a place of death for Jonah became the place of deliverance and life! What does he say God did? “Yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God” (v. 6b).

Remember the “sign of Jonah” expression used by Jesus? “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” (Matt. 12:40). Jesus used Jonah’s experience to refer to His own death. The apostle Paul states, “he was raised on the third day” (1 Cor. 15:4). But the wonder of the sign of Jesus’ death and of Jonah’s experience is that a place that ought to have been a place of death became a place of deliverance and life. What do you think of when you see a cross? Jesus death? Addition? We have beautified the cross so much that we have a tendency to forget what a cross actually was in Jesus’ day. We have jewelry, t-shirts, rings, pendants, and various things that may have crosses on them, but in Jesus’ day a cross carried a much different meaning. The crucifix was a torture device. The Romans wanted to state their authority loud and clear to criminals, so they devised this form of punishment known as crucifixion. The cross was a symbol of death—the most humiliating form of death.

But because of Christ’s death and resurrection, the cross is a symbol of victory over death and reminds us that at the cross, we were given deliverance from sin and death. So what should have been a place of death has become they symbol for the Christian faith that has stood the test of time. Christ’s descent to earth and His willing humility even to death on a cross brought redemption to all (Phil. 2:5-11).

A Strange Statement

Jonah has described his experience in his prayer to God and utters something rather abstract: “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (v. 8). It’s a true statement—but it’s strange because it has nothing to do with Jonah’s experience. Does it say anything about him drowning or struggling on the ship? No. Jonah has been describing his experience in the waters as he comes close to death—and he expresses thankfulness for God’s sending of the great fish, but here he states something like a proverb. It’s an interesting part of Jonah’s prayer because it expresses something about his relationship with God.

He was truly grateful to God for saving him through this fish. He has truly praised God for rescuing him in this miraculous way. But Jonah is here referring back again to these sailors and the Ninevites and says that “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (v. 8). He doesn’t pray for them, but states this truth about them. So in the midst of Jonah’s prayer (and after all he has been through!) he is still protesting the idea that God should offer forgiveness to the Ninevites. Remember, why did Jonah run from God’s call in the first place? Because he didn’t believe that God should have compassion and forgiveness for sinners. He knew that if he preached to the Ninevites, that there could be a possibility of them repenting from sin and obtaining forgiveness from God. “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (4:2).

A Strange Struggle

He was praying, but still protesting. We like Jonah may disagree with God for different reasons—but that shouldn’t stop us from praising Him. And God doesn’t expect everyone who praises Him to always have all their questions answered or all of their doubts erased. We will always have questions—but we shouldn’t stop praising God and giving Him thanks. Satan will always use our weaknesses against us. One of our weaknesses is a limited, finite mind. Satan sees an open door there to stumble us and turn our hearts away from God. So when we have questions or doubts about God, we should read the Bible with all our might—listen where God has spoken, but restrain our curiosity beyond His Word. God knows we have struggles and difficulties understanding Him sometimes, but He still welcomes our praise even when we don’t understand or are confused. “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33).

Jonah here, gives thanks to God even when he disagrees with Him concerning the Ninevites. Why is it important to have faith in God when you don’t understand His ways, or you don’t understand your circumstances? Because we have the assurance that God is sovereign, God knows what He is doing, God wants for us what we would want for ourselves (if we had the sense enough to want it), and God calls us to trust Him because of it.

There are numerous biblical examples of this trust that God calls for. One of the greatest is found in Lamentations 3:21-24. This book is a despairing poem about the destruction of Jerusalem. In the midst of the unbearable sorrow, Jeremiah cries out, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him” (ESV). Another example is when the psalmist asks, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1), but expresses in v. 5, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”

We continue to trust God in our difficulties and in our confusions, because we know who He is. Our faith in God is not blind. We know that He is a God “who never lies” (Titus 1:2), and “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19) Therefore, when God makes a promise like “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), we know that He means what He says.

Salvation Belongs to the LORD!

We have come to the end of Jonah’s prayer and his last statement is this: “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (v. 9). Jonah says that with thanksgiving he will sacrifice to God, and says that he will return to do what he originally was called to do. And he utters a statement that is absolutely foundational to the overarching message of the Bible: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

Do you think Jonah expected to be saved when thrown into the raging sea? Of course not. He thought he would surely die. If he didn’t he would have described his experience as going down to the land “whose bars closed upon [him] forever” (v. 6). God was at work to save Jonah even before he was fleeing from Him. Think about your own salvation. Think about that day. Did you expect to be saved? Did you expect it to happen? Did you know any point in your life prior that that day would come? Of course you didn’t. That’s what Jonah expresses here. Salvation belongs to the LORD. It is and was God’s plan, God’s work, God’s way, for God’s glory. It wasn’t your plan (Eph. 1:4), and it was not your way. Jesus’ work of salvation through His death and victory over death was even done while the world was still at odds with God. God is indeed the author of our faith, and Jonah here is a key witness. This shines light on the fact that God has been at work to save you (His enemy; Rom. 5:10) ever since before you were born. And Christ died for broken sinners long before they would ever converted. God alone is deserving of full credit for your salvation.

Conclusion

Plainly put, Jonah has looked toward God. It is enough for his deliverance. God will deal with his protest and running issues later. God answers those who call out in distress whether their issues of protest are resolved or not. He delivers those who call out in times of trouble. He accepts Jonah’s thanks and his lack of repentance because he accepts Jonah’s protest, not as sin but as a welcome dialogue. When Jonah concludes his prayer, God answers this way: “And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land” (v. 10). God has not given up on His prophet, and will continue to relentlessly pursue him.