How do you suppose things look from inside a whale? Honestly. If you were to find yourself inside of a whale, is it the place you would think that things are finally working out for you, that you've got a bright future to look forward to, that you've got hope for whatever's coming next, that God is good?
I don't think so.
And yet, that's exactly where we find the prophet Jonah when he prays a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Inside the whale.
Sure, he's not in the ocean any more. He's been saved from certain death-by-drowning in the recently-raging seas. God has plucked him out of the waves and given him refuge. But don't you think that the inside of a whale also looks kind of like certain death? It seems like the smallest possible thing to be thankful for - not drowning...even while you're still clearly dying.
Most of us wouldn't even consider to thank God in a time like this. We'd wave our hands around and sarcastically say the words, maybe - thanks a lot, God - but we wouldn't mean them. In fact, most of us don't thank God until we're firmly on dry land.
Not after the storm calms.
Not after we're rescued from the depths.
Not while we're in the whale.
We don't thank God until our prayers are fully answered, until all of the danger has passed, until we've gotten to where we want to be and set our feet on solid ground, until we're sure the other shoe isn't going to drop. Well, reasonably sure. We don't thank God until after He's rescued us.
Yet send a fireman to pull us out of a burning building, and as soon as he takes us in his hands, we'll cry out by instinct, Thank you! Even if we're still surrounded by fire.
What is it that makes us trust the fireman more than we trust God? Anything could happen in that house to keep us from getting to the door, but as soon as there's a hand on us, we get this overwhelming sense that we're safe. Put God's hand on us...and we're not quite sure.
Anything could happen now, we think. There's a lot of space between here and there. Maybe God hasn't come to pull me out of the fire at all. And on and on and on we go with all of the reasons why God's saving grace is not worth a thank you until we have been wholly and fully saved by it. Until we're out of the fire. Until we're out of the whale.
We could still die here, don't you know. In fact, we're certain of it.
Say what you want about Jonah, about his unfaithfulness, about his pettiness, about his pouting, but he's got something on nearly all of us - Jonah knows how to say thank you in the middle of God's grace, even when he still doesn't know how it's going to work out. Jonah knows how to thank God when he feels His powerful hand on him, even if it hasn't delivered him yet. Jonah knows how to take inventory of where he's been and where he's at without becoming overly concerned with where he's going or where he would rather be and to thank God for what He's doing, rather than waiting to thank Him for what He's done.
We could all use a little more of that. I know I could.
So thank You, Lord. From the belly of the whale, thank You.