“Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish….” (Jonah 2:1)
People have prayed in many strange places, but none stranger than the belly of a great fish. The mind boggles. Yet, once Jonah quit running from God, the sailors tossed him overboard and a great fish (appointed by God) swallowed him. Then he started to look to God. Jonah prayed.
Many people turn to God in times of crisis. But what do they say? How do you pray when words fail you?
Today a dear friend let me know about the passing of his father-in-law this morning. He emailed me these words:
“He was two weeks short of 95. We were with him yesterday afternoon, and in the evening more family joined together to say goodbyes. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer and some psalms and said a blessing over him. My wife was alone with him this morning when he passed. He will be missed, but leaves a legacy of quiet, steady, and unassuming faithfulness. We think of psalm 116. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.”
Kevin has continued a long tradition, all the way back to Jonah and beyond.
As Jonah languished for three days and nights in the dark belly of that over-sized fish, he prayed. He prayed … the Psalms.
In the mere 8 verses which record his prayer, he recites phrases from Psalms 3, 5, 16, 18, 22, 30, 31, 42, 50, 69, 77, 116, 120, 142, and 143. When his own words failed him, he utilized the prayers of Scripture to express his anguish, distress, repentance, faith, and hope.
So many followers of Jesus begin their Bible with the Gospels. Yet, the classroom of prayer sits in the middle of our Bibles, with 150 lessons we call the Psalms.
Benedictine monks read these Psalms — all of them — each month. In doing so, they learn a different language; a language marked by both raw feeling and faith; a language filled with both emotion and reason; a language that gives voice to the deepest cries of the human heart and the highest aspirations of the human spirit.
Jonah prayed the Psalms.
He turned his face again to the Lord, and repeated words which the Lord Himself had inspired. And as he cobbled together the words and phrases from centuries past, his soul drew a single conclusion: “Salvation is from the Lord.” (2:9)
How are your prayers? Shallow? Hollow? Empty? Short?
In sadness and sorrow, in joy and in delight, the Psalms have consistently shaped the souls of God’s people.
As Kevin and his family find solace and hope through this inspired poetry this week, perhaps some of us would benefit from a stint in the classroom, too.