Don’t Gut the Fish

By Zim Flores –

The book of Jonah chronicles a man of the same name who rebelled against the instructions of God and fled from Nineveh. He was tossed into a tumultuous sea, only to be swallowed by a giant fish that God had appointed. Inside the fish’s belly, Jonah was faced with a decision: he could either force his way out of the fish – gutting it from the inside out – or he could embrace the stillness.

The situation couldn’t have been comfortable for Jonah. It was probably terrifying. He probably felt stranded, trapped on all sides even. But as he prayed to God, he didn’t pray for deliverance, like many would have.

It was only while being still, inside the fish, that he received revelation. There he was, trapped in the belly of this creature for three days and three nights. Instead of trying to escape, he made a declaration. He acknowledged his own shortcomings and thanked God, offering up a sacrifice of praise and proclaiming that God had the final say.

In times like these, it’s important that we don’t find ourselves desiring deliverance more than revelation. Sometimes, when we don’t understand what’s happening around us, we just want the pain to stop. But wanting out too early simply evades the process that God wants us to go through. It eliminates the growth we’ll experience if we stay the course. 

There are countless examples of men and women of God being put to the test. But what is most noble and notable about their stories isn’t of their escape; it’s what happened when they endured. 

As much as we desire the rescue, we have to find comfort in the discord. Refusing to gut the fish means that we’re committed to the assignment God has for us. 

When Jonah was delivered from the belly of the fish, he wasn’t regurgitated into the ocean to fend for himself. He didn’t have to swim miles back to shore. Even though he was tossed into the ocean in the middle of a storm, Jonah was delivered onto the safety of the shore. Jonah was delivered on firm ground with a fresh revelation of his assignment. “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you’” (Jonah 3:1-2).

The Darkest Hours. Even in our darkest hours, we are still under the protection of the Lord. We will never understand our purpose if we always gut the fish. 

Choosing not to gut the fish is perhaps the most grueling part of it all. We know that God sees what’s happening, and sometimes it seems like cruel and unusual punishment. But how else will God grow us? 

No matter how painful or how terrified we are of the unknown, we have to remember that our former lives weren’t necessarily better. They were just different. When we find ourselves dwelling on the simpler days, we should remember Isaiah 43:18-19, which says, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Those who stayed in the midst of their challenges benefitted from a full restoration of God’s promise in their lives.

• Joseph was a dreamer who was sold into slavery, but later became a ruler over Egypt. 

• Job had everything taken from him, but never cursed God. In the end, his riches were completely restored – and then some. 

• David was a shepherd boy who became the king of lsrael.

• Esther was an orphan who became a queen.

• And Rahab was a prostitute who became an ancestress of Jesus Christ.

God wants to deliver us unto our purpose, but it’s up to us to stay the course.

Within the quiet moments of a tumultuous season, you’ll find the answers you need – as long as you don’t force your way out. Pause and praise. We can’t pray our way out of a silent season. But we can pray for the strength to endure and for an open heart to receive. That’s how we make it out to the glory of God.

God is a character-forming God. He turns our times of transition into testimonies for His glory. 

The word selah is mentioned roughly seventy-four times in the Bible. Although its exact meaning is unknown, many scholars agree that its meaning necessitates two things: a pause and a praise. Selah then becomes the conduit by which we learn to appreciate the many transitions of life, whether planned or not. When we think about the goodness of God, we cannot fully do so without pausing to reflect on the many ways that he has shaped our lives and saved us from the devices of the enemy.

The moment praise dwells on our lips, God is in the midst. The Bible says that God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3). Pausing and praising doesn’t just change our hearts, it transforms our minds. When we thank him for the things he’s already done, what he has chosen not to do in our lives begins to fade into the distance.

The reality is that faith in the middle of suffering looks a lot different than faith in the testimony. Faith during our testimony is polished. It speaks of an undeniable, unshakable faith in the goodness of God and his sovereignty. But faith in the middle of our suffering asks questions. It doubts. It can be angry. As we go through new challenges, we realize that faith isn’t pretty. It’s ugly. It’s hard. It can break us. And our lack of it can turn us away from God.

Faith requires a pause. And let’s be honest: no one likes waiting. We wait in long lines. We wait in traffic. We wait for the perfect relationship. We wait months for our babies to arrive. Pausing without praising leaves room for the enemy to introduce tactics of deceit and confusion. An idle mind breeds more contempt.

Think about what we’ll be able to do for God’s Kingdom if we master the art of pausing and praising. Selah means that we are actively positioning ourselves to receive God’s best. It means that we acknowledge God’s direction and timing in our lives. Faith is important. In fact, the Bible says that it is impossible to please God without it (Hebrews 11:6). Imagine your life if during every trial you had absolute confidence that God was with you. Or imagine your response if you knew God was working within the details to leverage everything for your good. 

Faith grows from being tested and enduring. We grow from faith to faith; we don’t just magically start with tons of faith in God. According to Romans 12:3, God gives everyone a measure of faith. As Christians, it is then our responsibility to continue to grow in it. 

This is not to say that there is always a reward for your pause and your praise. Perhaps it simply means that God will change your heart about that very thing you thought you wanted. When Jesus and the disciples were in a boat that was caught in a big storm, Jesus took a nap while the disciples were beside themselves. They woke him up to ask him to save them. Matthew 8:26 says, “And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” 

By sleeping through the storm, Jesus was saying that we can trust him even in the middle of it. When we pause without praising, we become hasty. We get impatient. We try to take matters into our own hands to try and help God out. When we choose to stay where God places us, we continue to work as unto the Lord, prioritizing our relationship with him as we serve others. 

It may not be our fault that we’re in a given situation. It’s not our responsibility to figure out what got us there. But it is our responsibility to bloom where God plants us if we dare. Everything that we go through is meant for the greater assignment that he has for us: to be more like him. If our life is a staircase and Jesus is on the top step, with every gutted fish, we take a step backward. But God holds us there in his grace. We are already redeemed by his blood. And with every season we stay in the belly of the fish, we take a step toward our purpose.

Zim Flores is the author of Dare to Bloom: Trusting God through Painful Endings and New Beginnings. An entrepreneur, Zim is the founder of Italicist, an online styling service, and is a Forbes “30 Under 30” awardee. (c) Zim Flores. Adapted by permission of Thomas Nelson.

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