Imagine with me for a moment......
It is a morning just like any other. You awaken, go about your daily routine, eat your breakfast, drink your coffee, take time to worship your god, and head out into the early morning sun. As you stroll through the great city that is your home, you have nothing to fear. With a thriving industrial economy what can go wrong? With fifteen great gates guarded by soldiers, who can attack you from the outside? With a great supply of food, and plenty of water canals supplying the city with water, what need is there for anything? You have it all, even success and satisfaction.
As you go for your morning walk, you greet your friends as they come out of their houses preparing for the day. One of them waves to you as they pull the cloth off of a cart, which carries an assortment of goods they plan to sell in the market.
"Good morning!" He calls as you go by. You nod and wave, yet hurry by. You do not have time for chitchat this morning. With the entire day open before you, your mind is awhirl of motion, mapping out a plan on how to make the most of your sales with the people of the city.
A flurry of excitment down the street distracts you for a moment as you try to go past. People argue and whisper among themselves, but it does not concern you. Daily there are scuffles, spats, and even murders that occur, but as long as you stay out of it everything will be fine. Someone grabs your arm. You pull away, only to be pulled on by someone else.
"Let me go!" you shout. "I have nothing to do with your argument!"
"Have you heard the news?" a man questions you.
"No, I have not heard any news," you reply. "I try to mind my own business." You yank your arm roughly out of his grasp and hurry away. The nerve of those people!
Another loud commotion begins in front of you. You roll your eyes and heave a big sigh. You are not going to finish your morning walk any time soon at this rate! You pause, wondering how to get by this mess when a person is strange clothes catches your eye. He is standing on an upside down crate, shouting out something you cannot make out. As you approach the growing crowd around him, you begin to catch phrases like, "forty days" and "destroy your city." People are laughing at the stranger, shaking their heads, questioning how anybody could possibly reach beyond their massive wall surrounding their big city.
The strange man turns and looks right at you with piercing eyes. "Nothing is impossible with my God! He is going to destroy your city in forty days and nothing will be left! I was sent here to cry against your city and that is what I am going to do!"
"How do you know this to be true?" one of the citizens asked the man.
"I am Jonah, a great prophet of God! My God never lies! What He says He does. If He says He is going to kill all of you, then so be it! You have forty days! Just forty days!"
You stand there, not sure what to think of this madman claiming death for your grand city and all its inhabitants. If the king were to hear of this craziness, he would have the man beheaded right in the street for all to see. This man Jonah would be made an example of what happens to those who cry against Ninevah!
Yet, as the day wore on, nothing was done to rid the streets of this pesky fly that buzzed the news about an upcoming doomsday. You watch as the smiles on everyone's faces disappear. Frown and worry lines suddenly show up where there were none before. Is it possible that people actually believe this crazy man?
You head home that evening, a little disappointed in business that day. Distracted by the news, nobody felt like buying anything. All they had wanted to do was listen to what Jonah had to say. A mass of people had followed him around as he made his way up street after street, pronouncing judgment for their wickedness. It made no sense! Why would a God they did not serve want to destroy them? You think about the Israelites and their God. Jonah was one of THEM. Their God had some strange requirements, and forbade them to do certain things, many things to be exact. There were so many things they could not eat, and things had to be done a certain way or else they would be cast out from their people. It was a bunch of hogwash! Or was it?
All night long you lie in bed, unable to get the words of the prophet out of your head. Unable to sleep, you rise early and head out to see what is happening around you. You notice your friend, the one with the cart of wares, sitting on the step of his house. His face is downcast.
"What's wrong, friend?" you ask.
He looks up at you and for the first time in your life, you see fear there. "I am afraid. I don't want to die!"
You laugh at the absurdity of it all! "Die? What makes you think you are going to die?"
"The prophet Jonah said so."
"And you believe that crazy man? That's absurd!"
"Yes, I know it may sound odd, but I truly believe him. There is a witness inside me that says I need to take heed to his words. Perhaps if we pray to his God, his God will change His mind and spare us."
You are not sure how to respond, so you walk away. How dare Jonah come waltzing in here and spread the infectious disease of sullenness and worry among your people? Yet, though you are afraid to admit it, something in your heart begins to wake up and start to believe.
Thirty more days....
The city of Ninevah is a great city. It took a few days for the prophet to travel through the entire city, but now everyone knows. Now everyone fears.
Twenty more days....
Even the king believes! It was astonishing to hear, but when the king got word of Jonah's news, he called Jonah into his palace so he could question the man. He listened to the words of the stranger and actually began to believe it! All commerce and business were called to a halt, or what was left of it anyway. Nobody had the heart to continue working because with the threat of doom looming over their heads, what good would it do to buy and sell anyway?
Over half of the time was gone. Half of the days promised to them were used up. You only have twenty more days to live. People are turning to daily prayer. You dress in sackcloth and ashes. Maybe Jonah's God will be merciful? Oh, such a wretch and poor man! Forgive my sins and my way of living! Our sins are like a stench that makes you want to turn and throw up! Evil are we in Your eyes, but forgive us of our sins and wash us clean!
Ten more days...
The prayers have become desparate pleas. The king has proclaimed a citywide fast. Dress in sackcloth and put ashes on your head! Even the animals need to wear sackcloth! Be merciful, dear God, be merciful to our people!
One more day...
You lay down on your bed. What will happen tomorrow is unknown, but at least in your heart you are clean. Whether God spares the city or sends fire down to destroy everyone in it, you know you are forgiven, yet you pray the whole night long.
The fortieth morning...
You jerk awake. What was that noise you heard? You listen, waiting to hear it again, but all you hear is silence. It is too quiet. Maybe the city was destroyed while you slept and nobody is left? You creep over to the window and peer out. The city is still standing. Others are peeking out of their windows too, looking for the same thing as you. The day is just dawning. Yet, maybe judgement will come later that day...
On your knees, you spend the entire day praying for mercy, forgiveness, and life. The streets are silent all the day long. An occassional child cries, angry their hungry tummies remain empty. A mother hushes him and reminds him of the importance to pray instead of eat.
The sun sets. You are still alive. The city is still standing. People come out into the streets. A gentle rain begins, washing the dust and ashes off your head; washing you clean from all your worry and fears. People begin to raise their hands and shout to the God of heaven for His mercy. For His forgiveness. For sparing judgement on you. For life. And you vow to never forget His love and mercy for the rest of your life.
Oh, to have the kind of prayer life that these people had in the city facing doom! May we never forget to keep pleading for our people and our country, that God will have mercy on it for the sake of our children! Amen!