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Have you ever felt reluctant to do something you knew would bring you satisfaction or even downright joy? It seems silly at first glance, but we could be talking here about eating a pear rather than a candy bar. Or sitting on the porch swing rather than scrubbing the floor. Or trying out for that part in the local theater rather than watching summer reruns. Or praying rather than wrestling with a gorilla of a problem by ourselves. What makes us slow to do what we know we really want to do?
In the book of Jonah, we encounter a passel of reluctant pray-ers. These people would rather suffer than pray! They're as silly as ... well, as we are. But once they turned their hearts to God, God did some heart-turning of his own.
In this lesson you'll have a chance to think about what causes you to be a reluctant pray-er and what can happen when you overcome that reticence. Like the characters in Jonah, you'll discover God is merciful, loving, and a discerner of hearts who is eager to hear from you.
A Moment for Quiet Reflection
1. Find your way to a porch swing, an overstuffed bedroom chair, or another spot sheltered from the noise of your world. Spend several minutes considering what makes you reluctant to pray. What in your heart keeps you from praying? What in your present circumstances? What in your past experiences? Read over "Uttered from the Edge" at the beginning of this book if you need some ideas to stimulate your personal examination.
2. Ask God to bring healing to past wounds, to clean the rooms of your heart in preparation for regular prayer, and to remind you to pray when you become too frenzied to remember.
Knowing God's Heart
The book of Jonah may be the "prayingest" book in the Bible. It contains more prayers in its few pages than most of the larger books do in their many. But the pray-ers here are not eager.
The book starts out with the Lord communicating with Jonah. But Jonah is more than reluctant to respond-he is ready to disobey. Plugging his ears, he dons his Nikes and boards a boat destined for a distant land, far from Nineveh, the city the Lord commanded Jonah to preach repentance to.
So the Lord sends a violent storm after the ship with Jonah aboard sets sail. The first prayer we encounter is the sailors'. Once they had determined Jonah's disobedience had caused the storm that threatened their lives, they were reluctant to follow Jonah's advice to pitch him overboard and save themselves.
1. Take a minute to read Jonah 1:4-13 together. What are five ways the sailors displayed their reluctance to turn to God?
2. Which of their solutions are ones you've tried in a crisis? Share one personal example with the group.
3. Read verses 14-16. What actions and heart responses finally brought an end to the storm?
4. Why do you think none of the sailors' previous actions had helped the situation?
5. Jonah, the next reluctant pray-er, finally speaks to God from a rather uncomfortable prayer chamber. Read Jonah 1:17-2:10. What emotions do you think Jonah felt as he prayed?
6. What does the prayer tell you about Jonah's relationship with God?
7. What price does he recognize he paid for his reluctance to respond?
8. Jonah obeys God, travels to Nineveh, and proclaims repentance. This was no small task since Nineveh was so large it took three days to walk across it. And, as Jonah knew before he went there, the citizens of Nineveh certainly did not live prayer-oriented lives. When they got up that morning, they had no idea prayer would play a central role. Yet read about their prayer in Jonah 3:4-10. Why do you think they responded as they did?
9. Think of a situation in your life, now or in the past, that felt or feels disastrous. What does the Ninevites' reaction suggest about how you could have handled or could handle your situation better?
10. Read Jonah's next prayer in Jonah 4:1-4. Now, this is a prayer Jonah should have been reluctant to pray! (Can't this guy get it right?!) What has he forgotten about himself?
11. What can we learn and apply to our own lives from God's reply to Jonah?
12. What do we learn about reluctance and the heart as we look at all these prayers?
1. While the book of Jonah has a serious message to give us about seeking God, it also has a humorous side. Part of that humor is recognizing our own ungainly responses to God reflected in some of this book's characters. Tell the group which part of the book tickles your funny bone and why. Or mention some part of the book that you especially related to.
2. Exchange phone numbers (or e-mail addresses) with each other. This week give someone in the group a call or send her a message with a prayer request or praise report the two of you can pray about together.
Just for Fun
During the week ahead, treat yourself to something (harmless!) you've been reluctant to indulge in-take a few extra minutes to sleep in the morning, give a smile to someone who doesn't seem to have one, buy that home decorating magazine you've been eyeing. Then call a woman in the group and tell her what you indulged in and what happened as a result.
Share something you've been reluctant to pray about. It could be something so small you didn't think it was worth mentioning, or something you have been avoiding discussing with God. If you don't feel comfortable discussing what you need to pray about, perhaps you can tell the group why you've been reluctant. Pray for one another that in the upcoming week you'll overcome your reluctance.
Making It Real in Your Own Life
1. Begin each day this week by praying, "Lord, help me to be quick to pray today and slow to resist you."
2. Try to find time (even a few minutes) at the end of each day to examine the times you were reluctant to pray. Ask yourself how you can overcome that reluctance tomorrow. Write down any thoughts you have.
I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. Abraham Lincoln
You'll never know Jesus is all you need till he's all you've got. Ron Dunn
Give yourself a day off from worrying. You deserve it. Barbara Johnson
Help us, Lord, to turn toward you, and in our turning, find that you have been turned toward us all along. Timothy Jones
Excerpted from Growing in Prayer Copyright © 1998 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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