Responding to God’s Discipline

When was the last time you failed to follow God’s call to holiness? Maybe you knew you should give a gracious answer, but instead responded to a friend, spouse, or child with anger. Perhaps you knew you were to be content in a situation, but discontentment filled your heart. Or maybe you knew God would take care of you and your loved ones, but you didn’t stop worrying until the situation was over. Regardless, if we’re honest there are many times when we know what would be pleasing to the Lord, but instead we sin with our words or actions. Like our children, we need to be disciplined. Thankfully, our heavenly Father disciplines us for our good, so that we might grow in godliness. Perhaps no book of the Bible teaches this better than the book of Jonah.     

               If you’re familiar with the book of Jonah, you will recall that God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell the people that God is bringing disaster upon them because of their evil. However, instead of following God’s call, Jonah flees, sailing in the opposite direction of Nineveh. But the Lord caused a bad storm on the sea that threatened the safety of the sailors. Seeking to save the ship, they cried out to their gods, tossed cargo overboard, asked Jonah to cry out to his God, cast lots to see whose fault it was, and even threw Jonah overboard. It was the latter that stopped the storm. Remarkably, the sailors recognized the power of the true God and worshiped Him.

               Meanwhile, the Lord appointed a fish to swallow Jonah. For three days and three nights he remained in its belly. Finally, in the darkness Jonah repented and the Lord had the fish vomit him onto dry land. The story of Jonah goes on to tell of his ministry in Nineveh, the mighty cries of the Ninevites that averted God’s judgment, and the misery of Jonah after witnessing God’s grace upon the wicked. But I want to focus on what happened in the belly of the fish because it instructs us on how to respond to God’s discipline.

3 Ways to Respond to God’s Discipline

(1) Recognize the hand of God. Jonah acknowledged that God had cast him into the deep, and therefore cried out to Him (Jon. 2:2-3). Far from being a demonstration of God’s anger, this was an act of God’s love. The Lord pursues His children, even to the depths of the seas of rebellion. When we flee His presence, He follows us. His purposes and plans will not be thwarted by our game of hide and seek. The Almighty God knows our hiding places and in His grace and mercy finds us.

               Jonah also recognized and believed that he would again look upon God’s holy temple (Jon. 2:4). Although he had fled God’s presence, God’s presence had not left him. When we walk out of the doors of the church in rebellion, or turn away from praying to God to pursue our own dreams, we can be certain that upon repentance our fellowship with God will be restored.           

               Finally, Jonah recognized God as the Savior (Jon. 2:5-6). It was when he was imprisoned, unable to come up for air, surrounded by darkness, and in a hopeless state of ever being rescued that Jonah reached rock bottom, cried out to the Lord, and was pulled out of the pit of despair. All of us that have been wrapped in the chains of sin can resonate with Jonah’s experience. It is oftentimes when we are at rock bottom, and think all is lost, that the Lord rescues us.       

(2) Repent of your sin. Jonah “remembered the LORD” and prayed to Him, forsaking vain idols and once again hoping in the Lord’s steadfast love (Jon. 2:7-8). It is often in our darkest moments that we come face to face with our Creator and learn to hate and forsake our sin. God put Jonah in the belly of a fish, so that he would cry out to Him again. Even better, He put His Son on the cross, so that we can cry to Him forever.  

(3) Rejoice in the Lord. In the darkness, Jonah responds with thanksgiving, pledging to sacrifice to God and pay his vows. He can rejoice because, “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jon. 2:10). When we are experiencing God’s discipline, let us also rejoice. For, “God is treating you as sons…he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:7-11).

Dear believer, if you are being disciplined by the Lord today, don’t be discouraged. In the darkness, turn to your deliverer. In the pit, remember His promises. In the suffering, remember His salvation. Without the darkness of the fish’s belly, Jonah never would have experienced deliverance. Without the darkness of the exile, Israel never would have experienced restoration. Without the darkness of the cross, Christ never would have accomplished our redemption. And without the Lord opening our eyes to see the darkness of our sin, we never would have cried out, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9).  


Sarah Ivill