But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish
from the presence of the Lord.
Jonah 1:3 (NKJV)
Jonah knew the Lord, but he ran away because he didn’t want to do what God was asking. In God’s compassion for Nineveh, He asked Jonah to go and warn them of coming judgement if they didn’t repent. Jonah didn’t want them to repent so he turned his back on God and ran in the opposite direction. This sounds like our prodigals. The circumstances were different, but their response was the same as Jonah’s. They didn’t want to live God’s way so they ran in the opposite direction.
In this story, we have the benefit of seeing things from God’s perspective and how he dealt with Jonah. This gives us insight in how to pray.
Pray that God will use the consequences He sends to put an end to their rebellion.
Jonah got on a ship and God sent a great wind and a mighty storm so violent that the men on the ship thought they were going to die. There will always be consequences when one runs away from God. Consequences are not pleasant and usually cause pain to some degree. We must not interfere or pray that the consequences be removed. We must let God do His work. This may be painful for us, but it is God’s way of getting their attention. If God sent a storm because of Jonah’s rebellion, then we can know that whatever God sends in the lives of our prodigals, He is using for His purposes.
Pray that God will even use unbelievers to put an end to their rebellion
Every man cried out to his god and threw the cargo out to sea (v.5), except Jonah. He had gone below deck to sleep. The captain found him and told him to cry out to his God for mercy. The rest of the men didn’t know Jonah’s God, but God used them for His purposes and to further get Jonah’s attention. It became clear to Jonah that God had sent the storm because he had run away, but he wasn’t yet ready to repent. He told them to throw him overboard. What was he thinking? God may be getting our prodigals attention and even using unbelievers in the process, but still they aren’t ready to repent.
Pray that God will work in His own way to put an end to their rebellion
We know that God’s ways are not our ways. I mean, which one of us would have thought God should use a giant fish to swallow Jonah whole and let him sit in the belly until he repented? God certainly is creative. And it worked. What if the men had refused to throw him overboard? What if they had tried to save him from ruining his life? They would have thwarted God’s plan. Sometimes, I think that’s what we try to do. We hate to see our prodigal suffering and we try to fix it or minimize the pain. If only we could see things from His perspective…we would let Him do the work even if it took years. Another thing that happened when Jonah was thrown overboard…the storm stopped and the sea became calm. The men on the boat knew Jonah’s God, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land, had stopped that storm. They believed and feared Jonah’s God. Of course, Jonah was now inside the fish. He knew what God was capable of but still he was running. Many of our prodigals may not realize what God is capable of, but that doesn’t make Him any less powerful. We must be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:14). Trust that He knows what He is doing.
Pray that God will supernaturally protect them for His purposes
I don’t know if there has ever been another incident of a man surviving three days and three nights in side a fish. Only God can do that. Of course He could do it again, but always it would be God. Always it would be His supernatural protection for His purposes. God had a greater purpose for Jonah and it was bigger than himself. I believe with all my heart that God’s purpose for restoring a prodigal is always bigger than just themselves. He is waiting with mercy to restore them so He can turn around and use them for His glory to further His kingdom. Jonah was used to usher in a great revival!
Does the story of Jonah guarantee that a prodigal will always return? No, but it does give us hope while we wait and it does give us God’s perspective and show us ways to pray that are in line with His heart.
Prodigals and Those Who Love Them by Ruth Bell Graham
If a nest of wild hornets
were left in the room,
And the creatures
allowed to go free.
They would not compel
you to go ‘gainst your will
They’d just make you
willing to flee.