‘The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”’ Jonah 3:5-9)
Summary: Repentance precedes and results from a move of the Holy Spirit.
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I trust that we've noticed that God is doing a work in Jonah as much as He’s doing a work in the Ninevites. I trust we’ve also noticed that God begins a work Jonah before Nineveh. Too often we are so captivated by the state of the world that we fail to reflect and notice our own lukewarmness. Brian Edwards in his book Revival, a People Saturated with God writes:
‘There will be no revival all the time we analyse the state of the nation and merely lament the terrible sins of the world around us. After all, we should have learnt in 2,000 years that sin is what is to be expected of an unbelieving world. And there will be no revival all the time we lay the blame [other Christians]. God comes to a people who admit their own sin and cry for forgiveness for their own coldness and unholiness.’
‘For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?’ (1 Peter 4:17)
Here, Peter is speaking of God purifying His people. God is working to purify His church because we are His holy people. Peter is referring to prophecies such as that of Malachi:
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.” (Malachi 3:1-4)
God was purifying Jonah so he would become effective in reaching the ‘wicked city’; likewise, He’s purifying us so we can reach this ‘wicked city’ and beyond. We see that Jonah repented by going to Nineveh (as we shall see he’s still a long way from perfect!); likewise, the people of Nineveh also repent. Repentance precedes and results from a move of the Holy Spirit. Any true coming to God is accompanied by conviction and sorrow for sin and repentance.
This narrative challenges me as to whether I’m too casual in my approach towards sorrow for sin and repentance. I've noticed that the topic of sorrow for sin is rarely addressed in church. In our worship and conferences we are often exhorted to overlook our failures and rest in grace but how often are we confronted with our sin? While it's appropriate to celebrate God's grace and feel confirmed in His love during church meetings, do we allocate enough time for sorrow for sin, confession, and repentance? This should also be a feature of our private devotions. Jesus speaks of God’s delight in humility:
‘To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
RESPONSE - EXPRESS SORROW FOR SIN
Let’s consider how we can lament and express repentance in our private and public worship. Conviction of sin and confession is often a feature of revival.
COMMUNITY GROUP NOTES AND STUDY
It might be good to begin with notices. Please share from this week’s Church News.
Please try to use the COME TO JESUS DAILY DEVOTIONALS (blog). This will help us to get deep into this book together. There is also a video option if that helps (Ensure that everyone knows how to access this)
Please get signed up for Funky Monkeys and invite your friends: https://www.communitychurchputney.com/funkymonkeys
What has God been speaking to you about from His Word this week?
3. RECAP OF SUNDAY’S MESSAGE - PLEASE SHARE IN YOUR GROUP
WHEN GOD SAW
Please read Jonah 3:4-10
MAIN IDEA: URGENT PRAYER MOVES GOD
1. JONAH BEGAN
Jonah began and so must we. For anything to happen, it must be begun. The first step is essential for any progress in anything. If we want to get things done - become more effective in evangelism, for example, we must make a practical first step and begin. It’s easy to talk about doing hard things, but it’s the doing that’s really important. God does a great thing through Jonah’s simple step of obedience - the city and even the king believe and repent.
2. URGENT PRAYER MOVES GOD
The king and the Ninevites sets us an example of urgency in prayer. In Nineveh we see fasting, repentance and urgency in their response to Jonah’s message. Let’s compare our own spiritual fervour with the Ninevites’: having come to know God, does fasting, repentance and urgency mark our lives and prayer meetings? They knew that God’s judgement was coming and they were led to urgent prayer. We know that judgement is coming, God wants our compassion to lead to urgency in prayer.
What we see in Nineveh can be compared to what we see in a move of God in revival. Revival starts in the church and spills over into bringing many into the Kingdom of God. Revival always starts with prayer. Here is an example from the 1859 ‘Prayer Meeting Revival:
‘Have you ever heard of the great 1858 American revival? An obscure man laid it up in his heart to pray that God would bless his country. That man was Jeremiah Lanphier…burdened by the need around him, he decided to invite others to join him in a noonday prayer meeting every Wednesday in Fulton Street…for one hour. The first meeting six attended, the next week twenty, third week forty. They decided to hold a mid-day prayer meeting daily. Then came a financial crash and ensuing panic as banks failed. The atmosphere was ripe for God to move. The prayer meeting grew to a hundred, the others began to start prayer meetings; at last there was scarcely a street in New Your that was with a prayer meeting…6,000 were attending daily prayer meetings in New York. This spread to other cities… by May it was reliably estimated that there were 50,000 conversions in New York, the population of which was around 80,000…There were several New England towns in which not a single person can be found unconverted’…The revival become known as the ‘prayer meeting revival’. Edwin Orr, after long and careful research, endorsed the estimate ‘that fully one-million were converted out of a population of less than thirty million, in the revival in the two-year period of 1858-59. The churches actually increased their membership by this figure…solid, lasting converts.’ (Great Revivals, Colin Whittaker)
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because I’m God’s child and am saved by grace that urgency, persistence or passion in prayer is irrelevant. However, Intensity in prayer goes hand in hand with a move of God; Revival - the outpouring of God’s Spirit - is instigated and is sustained by prayer. Jesus taught us to pray with persistence and urgency:
‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.’ (Matthew 7:7-8)
I cannot explain why simply asking is not enough, why we sometimes have to add seeking, or why we sometimes have to add knocking. All I can say is that Jesus teaches us that fervent and persistent prayer leads to doors being opened. URGENT PRAYER MOVES GOD!
We read that ‘Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city’. What does Jonah's simple beginning lead to?
Do you have any examples of how taking simple steps of obedience has led to big things in your life?
Why should urgency in prayer mark our lives and our church culture?
Have you, like Jonah, 'begun'? How have you Served, Invested and Invited in your communities this week? (Let’s share about this again next week)
How have you got on with making a list and praying for your non-believing friends each day? (Let’s share about this again next week)
Let’s now pray for specific people that God has put on your heart and in your life.
Let’s pray for each other that the Spirit would fill us with His resurrection power so as to be compassionate and courageous this week.