As I was preparing for our Thanksgiving series, I looked at all the passages in the Bible where “thanksgiving” is used. Jonah is one of the most popular stories in the Bible, but it is also one of the most controversial. Liberal theologians and skeptics have a hard time believing that a man could be swallowed by a great fish and live for three days and nights. It is important though that we believe the Bible by faith. If the Shipyard in Hampton Roads can engineer and build a nuclear submarine that can keep human beings alive for months under the ocean, don’t you think the Creator of the universe can? As we look closer at the story of Jonah, we will see three distinct marks of thanksgiving.
Jonah 2:1 begins, “Jonah prayed to the Lord his God….” Prayer shows our dependence on God. Thanksgiving to God is a sign that you have put your trust in God. Fear and doubt only show a lack of trust in God. Do you feel like you have been swallowed by a great fish? Like you are drowning? Like you are in a storm? Pride will keep you from praying. Don’t be too proud to call on God. You can’t make it on your own. Notice that Jonah prayed “to his God.” Jonah had gotten away from God. Fellowship was broken but Jonah was still God’s child and God was still his Father. You may have gotten far from God and even turned your back on God, but God has not turned his back on you. There are times when we all feel like God has forgotten us (see verses 4, 7). You may feel like God has passed you by. The same God who saw Jonah sees you! Jonah testified, “The water engulfed me up to the neck; the watery depths overcame me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. I sank to the foundations of the mountains, the earth’s gates shut behind me forever! Then you raised my life from the Pit, Lord my God!” (v. 5-6). Jonah thought it was all over, but it is not over until God says it is over! Maybe you feel down, discouraged, or depressed after the Thanksgiving holiday. Jonah had hit rock bottom. He was desperate. But God works through desperation. The way up is down on our knees. The first mark of thanksgiving is prayer.
Jonah continued, “Those who cherish worthless idols abandon their faithful love, but as for me, I will sacrifice to you with a voice of thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation belongs to the Lord” (v. 8-9). God had Jonah positioned for a purpose. In chapter 1, he made excuses. Here am I Lord, send someone else… It is not a good time… I don’t even like those people… Why can’t I be a prophet to Israel like the other prophets? Do you ever compare yourself to others? Why can’t I…? Don’t let your feelings overcome you. Don’t let your feelings deceive you. Don’t let your feelings determine the will of God. In chapter 1 Jonah made excuses. In chapter 2, he had regrets. Today’s excuses will be tomorrow’s regrets! Life is a journey. Do you have regrets today? Don’t listen to the lies of the devil that your life is wasted. God has the final word! What got Jonah in trouble to begin with was believing a lie. Idol worship seems so primitive and third world, but every day we have idols and false gods that compete for the throne of our heart. We do our bowing to our bank accounts, credit cards, smart phones, search engines, and calendars. Idols are self-centered. They are for the worshipper not for God. Remember our purpose in life is to live for God not self. The purpose in receiving a blessing is to be a blessing. When we live out our purpose of magnifying Christ, we can’t help but praise and thank Him.
“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18). If Jonah could offer thanksgiving and praise from the belly of the great fish, then you can offer thanksgiving and praise in your present situation. Note, Jonah did not ask to be delivered but he started praising God and he was delivered. Praise is a weapon that overcomes. It’s amazing what praising can do! Praise the Lord. He can work through those who praise Him. Praise the Lord. For our God inhabits praise. Praise the Lord. For the chains that seem to bind you serve only to remind you that they drop powerless behind you when you praise Him. Jonah, Job, Paul, and Silas all sang a song of thanksgiving in the night. Praise is the key that unlocks prison doors and will set your free. You don’t have to praise God for what He has done but just start praising God for who He is. Don’t give in or give up, give thanks!
Jonah 3:1-2 says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach the message that I tell you.” Only the perfect people – the pharisees, religious, legalists, did not need a second chance. The rest of us need a second chance. What past failures and regrets are keeping you from doing what God wants you to do? What is keeping you from living a life of thanksgiving? No one is beyond the grace of God. The Christian life is about new beginnings. God is the God of another chance. He is the God of new beginnings. Thank God today that He is the God of another chance. Spend time praying, remembering your purpose, and praising God for all that He is.