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As I write these words, dark clouds are gathering on the horizon. A storm is brewing. Usually storms are just the result of natural causes. But sometimes God stirs the clouds with his fingers. The trick is to learn which is when, and to respond appropriately.
When last we checked in with Jonah, he was boarding a boat for Tarshish, although he should have been riding in a caravan to Nineveh. At first, sailing was smooth—so smooth, in fact, that Jonah went below deck for a nap. But according to Jonah 1:4-17, the smooth sailing didn’t last long. According to verse 4, “the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.” And according to verse 5, the sailors responded with a mixture of emotion, pragmatism, and religion: “All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.”
Unfortunately, none of the sailors’ initial responses to the storm calmed it. So they dug a little more deeply into their bag of religious tricks and cast lots to see which man’s god was angry at him. Jonah drew the short stick. According to verse 8, the sailors interrogated Jonah: “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us?” According to verse 9, Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
Thinking quickly, the sailors asked Jonah in verse 11: “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” This is fairly logical. After all, from the sailors’ perspective, if the source of the storm was Jonah’s angry god, then doing something to Jonah would make that god happy and the storm less fierce. According to verse 12, therefore, Jonah instructed the sailors with these words: “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” So they did, and it did.
Most people have a come-to-Jesus moment in the midst of a trial. They turn to God when things are bad. But the sailors had their moment after the storm had passed. Verse 16 says, “At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.” That demonstrates the sincerity of their devotion. Everyone cries out to God in a storm at sea. Only believers pray when the waters are still.
And what about Jonah? He caught a submarine ride back to Joppa. According to verse 17, “the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.” As I said earlier, usually a storm’s just a storm. But sometimes, when we’re out of God’s will, God uses life’s difficult moments to grab our attention. When he does, make sure to do what you must to get back on the road to the Nineveh where God has called you.