Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.Ephesians 6:18 (ESV)
Most people are familiar with the story of Jonah. It’s one of the most well known passages from the Old Testament. One that invokes feelings of awe and excitement. Even as a young child, I remember thinking how incredible it was that a grown man could stay alive in the belly of a giant fish. I wondered how Jonah could possibly survive in that horrific environment. Back then, the deeper meaning of Jonah’s story escaped me as my ability to discern the profound lessons of Scripture were quite lacking at the time. I assume this was likely also the case for many other children who heard the same tale. Sadly, growing older doesn’t necessarily make one wiser. Even for adults, the fantastic elements of this story can overshadow what is a vitally important message about pride, rebellion, and forgiveness.
In the beginning of the story, one learns of God’s great wrath, which had been built up towards the city of Nineveh and its inhabitants. These people had done exceedingly wicked in the eyes of the Lord and their time of judgement had come. Jonah was charged to enter the city and warn the inhabitants of their coming fate. Jonah however, decided he knew what was best. His anger and disgust with the people of Nineveh outweighed his sense of obedience to the Lord. For him, the Ninevites did not deserve a warning. They were not owed an opportunity to repent. Their evil was so great, it exhausted all the grace God was capable of providing, or so he thought…
As we continue to read, a theme of irony emerges. We see how Jonah had become actively engaged in open rebellion towards God, while simultaneously accusing the Ninevites of the very same thing. Along with the blatant hypocrisy, Jonah also thought he could hide from the Lord. But as we find out later, not even the depths of the sea could hide him from God’s presence and divine accountability.
While Jonah eventually acknowledged God and committed to do His will while in the belly of the giant fish, it’s unlikely he ever seriously contemplated the fate of the Ninevites. How unfortunate it was that he never stopped to reflect how desperate the people of Nineveh were for their eyes to be opened and their sins forgiven. Scripture doesn’t provide any evidence contrary to these assumptions, which leads us to conclude that for Jonah, the Ninevites were irredeemable and unworthy of compassion or mercy. In Jonah’s mind, they weren’t even worth praying for. Such a tragedy…
And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?Jonah 4:11 (ESV)
Throughout the course of your marriage stand, perhaps you have encountered the spirit of judgmentalism. Quite easy to identify, it portrays itself as holy and righteous anger. It enters subtly, and over time eventually consumes us. It also exists as an accusatory mindset whose constant focus is on everything our prodigal is doing wrong. Unfortunately, when we allow ourselves to be filled with these thoughts and attitudes, we are prevented from obtaining a mind and heart filled with compassion. It is from this same spirit, the desire to pray and make intercessions for our prodigal is derived. To put it bluntly, you simply cannot have a heart of genuine love and mercy if you are constantly focussed on someone else’s sin. There are no two ways about it.
During the time of separation from my wife, the Lord greatly burdened me to lift her up in prayer. The reminders from the Holy Spirit were constant. Many times throughout the day I would stop what I was doing and retreat to a place of solitude where I would intercede on her behalf. These were usually very intense moments and often times filled with an abundance of emotion, energy, and focus.
Over time, I found the more I prayed for my wife, the less inclined I was to concern myself over things she was doing that were sinful, and in many cases, done intentionally to hurt me. Prayer helped to develop character in my life and provided the much needed boost of compassion and longsuffering that for far too long, I had been lacking.
While much can be learned from the story of Jonah concerning our judgmental tendencies, let us not forget the most important elements; the patience, compassion and longsuffering of our Lord. After years of shameless wickedness, God saw fit to show mercy on the people of Nineveh. Ultimately, it was Jonah’s righteous indignation and distorted sense of justice that took a back seat to God’s love and mercy. The eternal attributes of the Almighty eventually won the day.
As we continue to fight for our marriages and struggle with the constant battle of anger versus compassion, let us be vigilant in going before the Lord and praying for our prodigals. The more we are engaged in doing this, the less likely the evil one will gain a foothold in our own lives and prolong the journey towards restoration.