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A Prayer for a Gracious and Compassionate God

  • Frank Sellar Pastor and Author
  • 2016 8 Nov
A Prayer for a Gracious and Compassionate God

Jonah 4:2-3

Gracious and Compassionate God

Jonah prayed to the Lord, ‘O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live’.

It has been suggested that in Chapter One Jonah runs from God. In Chapter Two Jonah runs into God. In Chapter Three Jonah runs with God and in Chapter Four Jonah tries to run God! In this prayer Jonah was telling the Lord off. Jonah was saying to Almighty God, ‘I knew this was going to happen!’ It sounds so astonishing! Could it be that prayers we pray might also be every bit as absurd! Giving out to God and having the temerity to tell Him how He ought to behave? Prayer can be a funny thing if we are the ones telling God what He really ought to do and what not to do. Having refused to pray on board ship and then having prayed a prayer of thanksgiving in the belly of the fish, now Jonah prays a really selfish, angry prayer. See how many times ‘I’,’me’ and ‘my’ appear in this outpouring? Six times. Less than perfect Jonah! O. Hallesby in his masterful book defines prayer as ‘An offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.’ William Still shares Brother Lawrence’s conviction that prayer is practising the presence of God. ‘Practically my every thought – about myself and about everyone else which comes to mind - should be shared with my ever-present Lord.’ While Jonah does indeed pray here in Nineveh, it’s not in order to develop a relationship of love and humility and trust but to scold! It’s just as well the Lord is indeed gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love! How good God is letting His children rant. But the Lord who is kind, merciful and forgiving wants Jonah to grow in grace and knowledge and love of Him and so He lets him speak before answering. How very different was Jonah compared to another preacher ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14) who shed tears over the city to which he had come to preach:

‘As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring your peace…’ (Luke 19:41-42).‘O Jerusalem, ... how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing’ (Matt. 23:37).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, how very patient you are with us and with our prayers that are more often letting off steam and demanding things we want. Please align our hearts to yours so that even as Jesus prayed with tears, we too might have His compassion, not hardness of heart toward those in need of the Saviour. For His name’s sake. Amen.

Content taken from Anywhere but Nineveh: A Month’s Journey with Jonah by Frank Sellar. © 2016 by Frank Sellar. Used by permission of Christian Focus Publications,

Frank Sellar is Senior Minister at Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in Belfast, having served in Ireland, South and North for the last three decades. In June 2016 he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Frank and Claire have three children, Rebecca (married to Christopher), Robert and Ruth.

Publication date: November 8, 2016

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