When prayer moves God’s heart to mercy
We have talked about the prayers of the humbled (publican) and the prayers of criminals (thief). Oftentimes, when we hear about prayer, we immediately think about personal prayer. However, the Bible does contain examples of prayers at the national level. Prayer increases in strength when it comes from numbers!
In Jonah 3 we read about Jonah’s return to his mission. God called him to deliver a final message to the wicked city Nineveh, proclaiming that their city would be destroyed. The message seemed clear, judgment would be delivered to the great city.
Imagine how the city you live in would react to an individual roaming your streets preaching that the city would be destroyed soon for its sin? Many would dismiss the person as a lunatic, crazy, or another one of those typical fear monger types. But this is what happened in Nineveh!
Jonah believed that the city would be destroyed, so after he preached his message he left the city, found an elevated plain, and waited for the light show to begin. You can read about that in the following chapter.
However, while Jonah became comfortable, the city did not. They heard the message and became sorry for their sins. They put sackcloth and ashes (a ritual of mourning). The king issued a decree of fasting and repentance, calling on all citizens to cry out to God. He believed that they could change God’s mind and the city would be spared.
We know how the story ends, unfortunately through Jonah’s disappointment. But this story indicates that it is possible to change God’s mind. It reveals that bodies of people as large as cities can move the heart of God to bestow mercy. That is crazy to believe. We, sinful human beings, through prayer, can move God’s heart! If it could spare a city as large as Nineveh (as compared to the lack of prayer in Sodom/Gomorrah), how much different can your church be with community prayer!
At times prayer can seem like a ritual, but in many instances it can mean the difference between life or death, the reversal of judgment, and moving the God of the universe to compassion.
The people of Nineveh took Jonah’s message to heart and action. They did not laugh Jonah off. They changed their lifestyle and pleaded with God for mercy. They boldly approached the throne of grace. They believed that through prayer they could unlock Heaven’s storehouse for a blessing of mercy.