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4 Ways I Pray When in a Dark Place

Like the prophet Jonah, swallowed by a fish, there are ways to reach out to God.

Prayers from a dark place
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Ever feel so low that you don’t know how—or what—to pray? Sure, we may need prayer most at such moments, but that’s also when we find it hardest to form a cohesive thought, let alone a prayer. Sometimes when that happens to me, I think of Jonah. 

Jonah was the ancient prophet who ran from God, got thrown off a sinking ship and was swallowed by “a great fish”—where, the Bible says, he prayed.

I always remember Jonah when I think, “How could God let this happen?” or “How can I recover from this?” or “How can it possibly get any worse?” Because Jonah’s prayer from inside a fish helps me to pray in my darkest places. Here’s how his example can help you:

1)  Pray Where You Are

The Bible says, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God” (Jonah 2:1, NIV). 

Wow. He prayed there. As dark as it was. He said:

In my distress I called to the Lord,
    and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
    and you listened to my cry. (Jonah 2:2, NIV)

He prayed the facts. He didn’t sugar-coat his situation. He expressed how he felt, how things truly seemed.

God already knows where you are, of course; you’re not telling Him anything new. But it helps you to pray where you are, as you are.

2)  Give Thanks
It’s incredible that Jonah prayed where he was, but it’s even more amazing what he prayed. He looked forward in hope and gave thanks: 

To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
    the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
    brought my life up from the pit. (Jonah 2:6-7, NIV)

It seems unbelievable that anyone would say, from inside a fish, “You brought my life up from the pit.” Though there have been times when I’ve been thoroughly down, crushed by circumstances, feeling alone and bereft, when I’ve started giving thanks, not even really meaning it much when I start, but thanking God that I’m alive, that I’m healthy, that I have the wife I have, the family I have, the friends I have…the depression starts to lift. It’s as if depression cannot coexist in the human heart with gratitude, as if one will drive out the other.

3)  Affirm What You Know Is True
As Jonah’s prayer continues, he says:

Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs. (Jonah 2:8, NIV)

It seems out of place…until you notice that virtually every line of his prayer echoes a psalm—at least 13 different psalms, in fact. So, clearly this wasn’t the first time Jonah prayed. The psalms were a part of his prayer language. 

Sometimes we wait until we’re in the belly of a fish, figuratively speaking, before we cry out to God. But that’s like waiting to take piano lessons until you’re booked to play Carnegie Hall. Not Jonah. The school of prayer had prepared him for the school of hard knocks. It can be the same for us. Daily prayer is both performance (for an audience of one) and practice (for a performance yet to come). 

When you cry out to God from a dark place, remember what you’ve heard and read and prayed in the past. Repeat those things. Affirm them. Hold onto them. 

4)  Await Your Deliverance
Jonah’s prayer from inside the fish concludes:

But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
    will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
    I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9, NIV)

Amazing. Doesn’t he know he’s in an impossible situation? Obviously not. He’s praying like it’s just a matter of time before he is delivered. And it was. 

Deliverance from your dark place may come sooner…or later. It may come after three days, as it did for Jonah, or after 40 years, like the deliverance of Israel from the Sinai. It may be a deliverance from your trial, like Peter’s rescue from prison, or a deliverance through your trial, like the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace.

But sooner or later, “from” or “through,” “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9-10, NIV). Until then, keep praying—even in your darkest place.

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