Sometimes in my devotionals I like to look at familiar Bible stories from an unfamiliar perspective. My first experience with this came through teaching Sunday School to young people in our church. For this particular class I was studying to teach the story of Jonah. Everyone knows and love the story of Jonah and the Whale, especially young people. As I was studying and preparing for this lesson I read:
Jonah 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah 2:1-3, 5 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly and said, I cried by reason of my affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all they billows and thy waves passed over me…The waters compassed me about, event to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeks were wrapped about my head.
After Jonah spent 3 days and 3 nights in the whale under those conditions, praying fervently, Jonah 2:10 says that “the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited Jonah upon the dry land.”
The question came to my mind, what if Jonah had given up after 2 days of praying to God? What if after 2 days and 23 hours Jonah said, “I have prayed and prayed and God has not heard me. If he was going to help me, surely he would’ve done something by now. I don’t have the strength to continue waiting. I quit.” What would’ve happened if Jonah had just laid down and died?
If Jonah had relied upon his faith, strength and patience, the people of Nineveh may never heard God’s word of warning. Would they then have had the opportunity to correct their ways and be saved? Recall what Ezekiel 3:18 says:
“When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.”
What would have happened to Nineveh, if Jonah would have just given up?
What about Jonah? Ezekiel’s warning being truth, Jonah would’ve had blood on his hands. Then imagine what Jonah would think upon getting to heaven and finding out that he literally only had minutes to go before God would help. How would Jonah feel to find out that if he had just waited on God for a few more minutes the future of an entire city of people would be different?
I posed this question to my students, “when you are in a time of trial or difficulty and you feel like nothing is changing, nothing is improving; when you feel like you can’t go on and God doesn’t hear you, what does this lesson tell us?” Answer: We can’t quit until we are out of the trial. If we quit before we are out of the trial, how do we know we weren’t just a few minutes from God’s solution? How will we know God’s greater purpose? How will that feel when we stand before God and he shows us that if we had just hung on a few more minutes, if we had just trusted Him for a little while longer, we would’ve seen the full reward? God’s patience and God’s faith is sufficient to get us through it all.
I had a similar thought process in my Bible study today. Acts 7:59-8:1, 3 reads:
“And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this in to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem;…As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.”
We know how the story goes; Jesus meets up with Saul in Damascus and Saul becomes Paul in a literal flash of light. We more often relay this history from Paul’s perspective, giving glory to God for a miraculous transformation in Paul’s “Damascus moment.” But as we did with Jonah, what if we look at this lesson from an uncommon perspective; not the perspective of Paul but the perspective of the Christian?
Beginning with Stephen being stoned to death, the Christians began praying for their persecution to end. As Jesus teaches that we should pray for our enemies, you can rest assured that these Christians were praying for a miraculous change of Saul. These Christians suffered greatly for their disobedience to government under the command of God. Yet, they continued to pray and wait on God. What if they had just quit? What if they said, “God doesn’t obviously doesn’t hear us or maybe he doesn’t care? I am not going to do this anymore, it’s just not worth the suffering. I don’t have the strength, the faith, or the patience to do this anymore.” They would never have seen the miracles that God was about to perform.
I say “miracles” because Paul’s transformation was more than just one miracle. Yes, Paul saw one miracle; his Damascus transformation. However, when we consider a different perspective we understand that the Christians saw many miracles; God’s answer to their prayers. Paul’s transformation and the miracle of God’s mercy and grace to endure the hardships to the end of God’s plan. Both perspectives prove that God’s grace and mercy are sufficient. However, the Christian perspective proves that although you may suffer through God’s longsuffering of man’s sinful behavior, it is not our patience, faith, or strength that is to carry us through, it is HIS. His supply of faith, His supply of patience, and His strength will take you all the way to the miracle you need.
God has given us a promise in 1 Cor 10:13:
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
I am so grateful for these lessons, as God used them as a preparation of my heart for my own trials. I found myself in a position of emotional stress and pain. I often doubted my ability to endure, wanting to give up, wanting to take actions into my own hands, instead of waiting for the end of God’s plan. In those moments of spiritual depression, I recalled these lessons and was able to pray for God to uplift my spirit with His strength, faith, and longsuffering. It was not easy, but I was able to endure. Weeks become months, months became years waiting for God’s purpose and I kept thinking of Jonah: “I can’t give up on God now, what if I am just minutes away from deliverance? I want to stand before God one day with His joy in my heart.”
After three years of waiting, true deliverance came. Those on the outside may have only seen the deliverance. I, however, was able to experience multiple miracles! The first miracle was in the deliverance itself. The second miracle was in seeing the answer to my prayers. The third miracle occurred when God whispered to my soul, “I’m sorry it took so long, but I had some demons to wrestle first.” Glory be to God. What a wonderful feeling not only knowing that God will deliver, that He hears our prayers, but that he loves ME so much that He wanted to reassure me that He was fighting for me the whole time!
When we doubt our ability to continue in a difficult or painful situation, we are not doubting ourselves, but doubting God. He will make our escape, we just must undergo some “wait training” and wait upon the Lord. God never promised us the walk would be easy. We have a placard hanging in our home, “Faith is not believing God can, it is knowing God will!” That testimony means more to me now than ever before.
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
What is the common moral of these stories? You can trust God and trusting God is worth the wait, no matter the pain in the middle!!