What is the 2nd most extreme location for prayer that we are told about in the Bible?
Why that question?
We have been asked as much as we can to isolate ourselves at home; and when not at home to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others. It seems hard to do but we try. And doing this can leave us alone.
This is something that many are not used to. With all the social media, with all of the things we (and Google, and Facebook) know about each other, how can we be alone? With all the business, noise, entertainments, and so on how are we ever really alone? And so we are confronted by a kind of quietness that we have become unused to with only our thoughts to keep us company. We feel the isolation.
Once again, what is the 2nd most extreme place for prayer? The most extreme place of course was the cross, but what was the 2nd most extreme? You can read about it in the Bible. After Jonah had run from God and run away from God's call to go to Nineveh, after he boarded the ship to get as far away as he could, after the storm, and after confessing to the sailors that he was at fault, Jonah was thrown into the sea and was swallowed by a "great fish" that God had prepared for that day. Think of the isolation, there within the belly of the fish (3 days and 3 nights).
And "from the belly of the fish" Jonah prayed to God. He was in complete darkness. He had no way of knowing where he was; or knowing which way was home. And he had no way of knowing what the next day or even what the next hour would bring. Does that sound familiar? And yet Jonah addresses his prayer to the Lord, and says, "Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple." (NASB)
This is the prayer of faith (remember, "faith is believing the words and promises of God"). It is the prayer of faith because it takes hold of the words and promises of God; and that is so much more solid that a general feeling of hope. Through the words and promises of God the temple of the Old Testament gives way to the Word of God walking among us, carrying all the promises of God in Himself. It is a transforming thing. The promises of God, and our hope in the goodness of the Lord, do not rise or fall with the situation we are in, or our prospects for the future -- because Jesus is there.
This time of crisis will end. But even when there is no crisis there is aloneness and isolation. We can have a lot of online friends and yet feel very alone. This is not anything new. For many generations people have recognized that you can be in the middle of a crowd and at the same time be very much alone. It is part of the human condition. Other people do not know our thoughts or our deepest feelings. Deep within the soul we are apart from every other human being. G. K. Chesterton observed that there is a place within where there is only you and God. We ignore this truth to our spiritual, psychological and emotional harm. So Jonah's experience is important for us.
Jonah finds out in the belly of the fish that he is not as alone or as isolated as it seems, or as he feels. This is profound, and it is repeated time and again in the Bible.
Psalm 46 calls God "a very present help in trouble."
Psalm 27 says "He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble"
Psalm 139 says "O Lord, You have searched me and known me! ... You discern my thoughts from afar. ... Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it altogether."
And in Matthew 28 Jesus promises, "I am with you always, to the end of the age."
The reason why Jesus can know our aloneness is because He shared it. The 2nd most extreme place for prayer was by Jonah from the belly of the fish. The most extreme place for prayer was by Jesus on the cross. His time of extreme prayer, beginning in the garden of Gethsemane (praying in great agony) all the way to the final prayer from the cross reached in the words, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me." In those words He carries all our isolation and separation, coming to where we have been so He can bring us back to be with Him -- forever. the reason why He can promise, "I am with you always," because He has conquered. He is risen.
Lord Jesus, You know me -- every part, and all the way to my deepest being. Help me to take Your presence seriously, to talk to You in my times of isolation, to talk to You in the deepest parts of my soul; and to hear and hold Your words and promises deep within my soul. Thank You that You are constant as my Friend, and persistent as my Shepherd. Amen.