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Praying Your Way Out

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

The prayer of Jonah in Jonah 2 is honest and genuine. He doesn't try to cover up his past failures; instead, he acknowledges his circumstances and seeks to restore his relationship with God. In repentance, Jonah desires to once again worship and serve God: "I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple" (Jonah 2:4).

Jonah 2 also shows us how to fill our prayers with praise for God, no matter the circumstances. It is easy to praise God when we have received a blessing or when things are going well, but it is often a struggle to praise and thank God when we are surrounded by a dark storm. Yet praising God in the midst of tough times is the secret to victory.

Even when we don't feel thankful for the circumstances, we can praise God for who He is as our sovereign, almighty Creator.

Prayer: Father, help me to remember to praise You even when I am in the middle of a storm. You are worthy of all of my praise, no matter the circumstances. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God" (Psalm 42:11).

Reacting To the Storm

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

There are many ways we can react to a storm. We can try to run away from its source, or we can keep ourselves so busy that we don't have a moment's rest for dwelling on our problems. But these human methods will fail.

How does God want us to react to our storms? He wants us to submit wholeheartedly to His will and to become willing servants wherever He calls us.

When confronted with his storm, Jonah knew what he had to do. He told the sailors, "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" (Jonah 1:12). Jonah knew the almighty God was not going to let his open rebellion go unnoticed. He knew that he could not hide from God's sovereignty. In telling the sailors to throw him into the sea, Jonah was declaring that he was done running away from God.

When Jonah surrendered to God, "the raging sea grew calm" (Jonah 1:15). Sometimes the consequences of our sin linger, even after our repentance. But the storm of rebellion will abate only after we have repented of the sin. As long as disobedience occurs, we will be tossed about on those stormy waves.

Prayer: God, when I find myself in the middle of a storm, help me to submit to You so that You can show me the source of my storm. Help me to respond in obedience. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent" (Revelation 3:19).

The Storms We Cause

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

We can trace the origins of our storms to three primary sources. Some storms are of our own making -- the direct consequence of sin in our lives. Other storms are caused by the actions of other people, and some are simply intended to test us.

In Jonah's case, his storm was a direct consequence of his disobedience. When storms result from our sin, we must first repent of that sin before even attempting to work through the consequences.

The Scripture tells us, "'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, . . . Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? . . . No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11).

Prayer: God, show me if there is sin in my life that is causing a storm. Help me to confess and repent so I can bear the consequences with humility and have peace as I rest in Your grace and mercy. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

Changing Course

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

Jonah thought he had circumvented God's call to Nineveh by sailing away from it. What Jonah couldn't see was the storm brewing beyond the horizon. Soon he would discover that his disobedience would cost him far more than the ship's fare.

God is extremely patient with us. When we begin to rebel, He often lets us run until we return to Him broken and repentant. But sometimes God will intervene: "Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up" (Jonah 1:4).

Are you drifting away from God? Maybe there is a task or a witnessing opportunity He has been nudging you toward, but you have refused to budge. Or perhaps you have turned a deaf ear to God's voice, fearing what He may be calling you to do.

Changing our course can be a challenge, but by spending time in prayer, we can listen for the Spirit's voice -- and His wisdom. Also, seek forgiveness for spiritual drifting or disobedience in your life. Commit to a fresh and renewed relationship with Christ.

Prayer: God, help me to change course so that I'm going the direction You have called me to go. Guide me and give me wisdom as I listen for Your voice. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. . .Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" (Psalm 51:10, 12).

Running To Tarshish

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

Have you ever desired something so strongly that you spent hours and hours in prayer over it, even though you knew in your heart that it was not God's will for you? What happened when that desire remained unfulfilled? Did you accept it as part of God's plan -- or did you turn your back on God in anger and frustration?

Running away from God will get us nowhere. No matter how far we try to run from God, He is always present.

God's will for our lives is far better than any plan we can conceive. Jonah, however, chose to follow a different plan: "Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord" (Jonah 1:3).

Instead of being filled with gratitude that God was calling him to do great things, Jonah boarded a ship that was going the opposite direction. God had called Jonah to Nineveh, a city in modern-day Iraq, yet Jonah was headed for Tarshish, located on the coast of Spain. Emotionally, spiritually, and even geographically, Jonah was running as far as he could in the opposite direction of God's will for his life.

Tarshish symbolizes that place in our lives where we've settled for what we want, instead of what God wants. Tarshish is the nice comfort zone in which we hide. It's safe, it's easy, and it's appealing. But sometimes the places where we can be of most help -- and make the most difference -- are the places where we are shaken and challenged.

Prayer: Father, what Tarshish are you calling me out of today? Forgive me for the times when I've run to my Tarshish to hide. Help me to trust that Your plans are best for me and to respond in obedience. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there" (Psalm 139:7-8).

Surely Not Me!

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

God never promised an easy life. In our service to Him, we will sometimes be called to certain tasks that are difficult or even frightening. In the Old Testament, we see the journey of the prophet Jonah as he, too, faced a challenging call from God.

Jonah's initial attitude toward his call to witness to the Ninevites can be summarized in these words: "Surely not me, and definitely not them!" All of us have been there at some point in our lives -- whether in a general attitude of not wanting to witness or in a specific situation that we found awkward or complicated.

Like many of us, Jonah wasn't ready to step outside of his comfort zone. He was happy to serve God when the tasks were easy and enjoyable, but he resisted God's call when it meant a greater height of service. How is God calling you to obey Him today? Whatever He is asking of you, do not delay in obeying His commands.

Prayer: God help me to be open and obedient to whatever and wherever You call me to, even when it takes me out of my comfort zone. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands" (Psalm 119:60).

God's Prompting

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

Has God ever given you a task that created a sense of panic or dread in your heart? Maybe He was calling you to lead a small group in your home. Or perhaps there was a specific person in your life who needed to hear the Gospel. Instead of rejoicing in this responsibility, perhaps you avoided it.

We often claim that we want God to use us, but in reality we mean this only on our terms. Our words loudly profess, "Here I am, Lord. Use me however you want." But our hearts often whisper, "Lord, I want to serve You, but only if it means working on this project or serving in that location. I definitely don't want to witness to this particular person or to that particular group."

No Biblical example better reflects this attitude than Jonah. In this book of Scripture, we see a man who had served God faithfully in the past but resisted God's call when it became less comfortable: "The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.' But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish" (Jonah 1:1-3). When God gives you a mission, will you run away, or will you choose to obey?

Prayer: God, help me to respond in obedience to Your prompting. Forgive me for the times I have avoided those promptings and, like Jonah, have run in the other direction. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"Then [Jesus] said to them all: 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me'" (Luke 9:23).

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