As a storyteller, I’m always up for a good story. I make sure that my granddaughters Haylie and Finley are exposed to books and storytelling and all the imagination I can muster up. Now we know that all stories have a beginning, middle, and end. What happens in the middle of the story? Well, it’s typically messy. This story of Jonah and the whale is definitely messy in the middle as Jonah finds himself in the belly of a whale. YIKES!

Photo by Iewek Gnos on Unsplash

I definitely wouldn’t want to be in the belly of one of these big guys.

The point of the story, however, is when we find ourselves in the middle of the mess; the prayers that have been written on our hearts are the prayers we automatically go for. For example Texas funerals—here in the great state of Texas, you’d be hard-pressed not to find a funeral whereby the song Amazing Grace isn’t sung. Or the 23rd Psalm isn’t recited. They always, always do it. But, then, that’s the point. It’s a “go-to.”

The Lord told Jonah to go to Nineveh where all was bad. Messy. Now the Jews hated Nineveh. Mosul was where the Jews lived. Remember the Lord told Jonah to go to Nineveh. So instead he goes to Spain. Specifically, Tarshish. Ha-ha! God wasn’t laughing. Then God told him to go east. But, Jonah, in all his defiance got on a boat going west. Undeterred by Jonah, God sent a wind to force the boat east. And now this is where we pick up the story from our scripture here. I’m thinkin’ Jonah sounds like someone I know very well…ME!

While the wind was raging, the crew emptied the boat while Johan slept. They woke him and told him to help and pray. Jonah refused. They cast lots and blamed Jonah. So Jonah said, “Okay, fine. Kill me and toss me in the sea!” They told him, no, but the storm increased in intensity and they threw Jonah in the sea. Believe it or not, Jonah was fine with it because he hated Nineveh so much anyway. It’s that cutting off your nose to spite your face kinda thing. Sound familiar?

The fish came along and swallowed Jonah. However, it took him three days before he started praying to God. Stubborn little booger wouldn’t you say. To make matters worse, Jonah prayed an inappropriate prayer. He found himself in the middle—the messy part. The prayer didn’t fit, but it was true. So the fish vomited Jonah out and then God told him, yet again, to go to Nineveh. Jonah wasn’t happy, but he went.

Finally in Nineveh, a lackluster Jonah told the people to repent and stop sinning. Surprisingly, they did. The Ninevites believed in God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. But Jonah still hated them and threw a tantrum and went to sit by a bush. When morning came the bush was gone. Once again Jonah got angry. He finally fell back on the prayers that were written in his heart.

When we pray, if our heart is filled with hate, what’s the point? What value do we serve when we aren’t praying the prayers that are written on our hearts? God already knows our heart. But if we go to Him with hatefulness, He won’t listen. He will keep pushing us just like He pushed Jonah.

Looking at the story of Jonah and the whale it strikes me as being similar to another story. A story where the middle is quite messy. As well it should be for any good story. And this is a good story. It’s the story of America. You know that place, right? That wonderfully messy in the middle country that we look to on Independence Day and celebrate all our messiness.

The story of America has a beginning, a middle, and it will have an end. That end will be when our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, returns. In the meantime, we must, as Americans, meet in the middle. Because you see the middle is quite messy at the moment. Like any good story once we get past the middle and start working our way toward the end, the messy as down deep as it might run makes a turn toward the better.

The American people are a lot like Jonah. We get angry. We don’t follow God’s instructions. We find ourselves fleeing from the Lord just like Johan. Thinking all the while we can handle things on our own—beholding to no one. Ultimately we get swallowed up in the belly of our own whale. Then when we don’t pray with our hearts we don’t understand when God turns a deaf ear.

I find in my life when I pray in earnest and pray from way down deep in my heart and soul, that God listens and answers. During this Independence time in our country’s history, might we meet in the middle? Might we find common ground? Might we take a chance and listen to God’s voice—to His commandments? Might we wade through the mess and reach out our hands not only toward one another but more importantly toward God?

Photo by McKenna Phillips on Unsplash

As we celebrate this year’s Independence Day, let’s reach out to God and one another and see if we might just take a step out of the messy part. Will you meet me in the middle? I know I’ll be there. So will God.

It’s going to get messy. But that’s what birth is all about—the mess. As a child grows from the mess of birth so does a nation. That’s why you must meet in the middle. You must go way down deep to solve problems and ease out of the mess.

I must now ask: What’s your Nineveh? What’s your messy middle? Are you a Jonah? I know I am! But you know what? God can help with that.

Happy 4th of July!

And that’s what I learned in Church……see ya next time!