Thursday, April 28, 2011

prejudiced prayer

Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!
Jonah 2:8-9

Not every prayer is a good prayer. Jonah's prayer from the belly of the fish is just such an example of "bad" prayer. Verse 1 is really the heart of the prayer: "I called out to the LORD out of my distress and he answered me." There really is no more spiritual movement in Jonah beyond this. Really. He does not repent of his sin. In fact, he seems to blame his situation on God (Jonah 2:4) claiming that God has "driven" him away, when Jonah himself had been doing the running! So this is one really self-warped prayer!

Jonah thinks that just because he is turning to God, he is entitled to get something from God. Really?! The end of the prayer contains one of the most arrogant kinds of praying we can ever come across. Jonah begins by recognizing his own weakness: "I was fainting away" (Jonah 2:7). Then he smugly admits that he remembered God at that time. He had no other options left. And he dares to pray this! Is it proper? No. Is it spiritual? Well... sort of... but it is not humble or repentant.

Jonah's petulance continues when he ends the prayer with a comparison that makes him seem holier (in his own sight) than the pagan sailors he had been with. The prophet's prejudice remains. He rails against those outside the Jewish faith while smugly seeing himself as "holy". And the pagan sailors wound up having more honest faith than he did in this sanctimonious prayer! They offered sacrifices and paid vows (Jonah 1:16) while Jonah only promised to do so. The irony is plain for us to notice. Jonah has no idea what the sailors did after he became fish food. But we know the story. His prayer is more evidence that his prejudiced religiosity is ignorant, uninformed, and displeasing to God.

Sanctimonious prayer that only exalts my own sense of righteousness is not the kind of prayer God wants to hear. Jonah gets relief from his oceanic ordeal only by the good grace of God. He has not repented and has only felt bad. He still holds tightly to his hatred and disrespect for the call of God to proclaim His message to a gentile nation. God will have to keep getting his attention on this matter, and really we get to learn the lesson that Jonah never seemed to understand.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

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