The AMI QT Devotionals from November 12-18 are provided by Cami King. Cami, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), was a staff at Symphony Church (Boston) and Journey Community Church (Raleigh) for nearly eight years. Currently, she is on home assignment, waiting on the Lord’s next assignment for her.
Devotional Thoughts for Today
“The God Who Hears”
Exodus 2:23-25 (NET)
During that long period of time the king of Egypt died, and the Israelites groaned because of the slave labor. They cried out, and their desperate cry because of their slave labor went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, God remembered God’s covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, 25 God saw the Israelites, and God understood….
[This week, I’ve been asked to write a series of QTs on topics/passages that are very close to my heart. As a result, what I offer for reflection will be much more personal than usual, as a draw from the intimacy of my journey with God. I pray these precious reflections will be a blessing to you this week.]
There’s an old story around the origins of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” The song is credited to John Newton, Anglican clergyman and slave ship captain (yea, let that sink in for a moment). As the story goes, while at sea, Newton awoke to a storm that threatened certain death. He called out to God, the storm ceased, and thus began Newton’s conversion to Christianity (after which, he continued to traffic Africans in slave ships… just to be clear). This experience marked the pinning of the famous hymn.
But there is a parallel story in the Black Church Imagination. “Amazing Grace” is unique because, although the words are likely Newtons, the melody is unlike other hymns—it’s African, written in the pentatonic scale (the same scale in which African-American Spirituals are written (if you don’t know what African-American Spirituals are, look them up!). And so the story goes, in the womb of that same ship, were the Africans, groaning under the weight of captivity. And, it was because of their groaning that God quieted heaven, silenced the storm, to hear them. The words may be Newton’s, but the melody was theirs.
As a Black American woman well acquainted with the marginalizing effects the racist and patriarchal history (and present) of the Church, I remember this quote from a foremother in the faith (the late great Dr. Katie G. Cannon): “I wanted to know about a God who would treat [people like me] so terribly… And the liberation to me was knowing that it was a sin [for] anyone to depreciate the image of God that’s in me.”
There are moments in history and in my life that cause me to scream, “Where are you, God!?” in anger and frustration, in oppression and loneliness, in apparent abandonment, in injustice and hurt all kinds. But it’s stories like the one above and in our passage for today, that remind me that even when I don’t understand God’s ways, I know exactly where God is when I’m hurting and in trouble: God is near. Although I am yet to receive answers to many of my “why” questions, I have received answers to the critical “who” question—I know who God is. God is One who hears, sees, and is with us—even when we find ourselves in the womb of the ship.
Take heart! “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Prayer: Almighty God, I declare in faith today that You are mindful of me. You care for and tend to me no matter what circumstances suggest. Even in the darkest valley You are with me. In the face of any present and future struggles in my life, may I take comfort in knowing You are near. For the people in my life and those around the world who are held captive in various ways, please make Yourself known to them today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: John 12
Lunch Break Study
Read Jonah 1:12-2:10 (NIV): Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 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. 3 You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 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. 7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. 8 “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. 9 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.’” 10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
Question to Consider
- From what you already know of the story of Jonah, how did he end up in the situation in the verses above? (See also Jonah 1:1-4, 14-15)
- Why does God send a fish to swallow Jonah?
- What does Jonah do in the fish? What is the end result?
- Spend a few moments reading Jonah’s prayer (vv.2-9). What parts stand out most for you? Why? Spend time reflecting on this with the Lord.
- Jonah was disobedient to God (albeit with good reason). God called Jonah to go and prophesy (a negative prophesy of damnation and destruction) to violent and racists enemies of the people of God, the Ninevites. Jonah, understandably, did not want to go. So he was disobedient and went the other way. God had a plan to bring Nineveh to repentance, but Jonah didn’t want any part of it.
- It’s easy to think the fish was punishment, when in fact it was protection. God protected Jonah from death by sending a fish. Otherwise, Jonah would have drowned. Oftentimes the very things that feel like punishment from the Lord, are God’s protection of us.
- Jonah prays. Jonah’s prayer requires repentance because he’s running away from God, but the points is that he turns to God, leans into God, and prays. The end result is that Jonah is released from the fish onto dry ground. Jonah is free. But not just from the fish, but from a path of disobedience. Jonah’s heart begins (and I say begins because the following chapters reveal that he still has a long way to go) to be changed.
- Spend time in personal reflection.
If you didn’t do the lunch break study today… go back and read the passage.
My favorite part of Jonah’s story is one that can only be seen in the Hebrew version of the text. The fish is described differently in 1:17 and 2:1. In the first instance, it’s male. And in the second instance it’s female. Why the difference? Did the writer make a mistake? Furthermore, the word for “belly” or “inside” of the fish can mean two things – stomach (where things are devoured) or womb (where things are nurtured). Context determines the meaning. I think (and others agree) that God is teaching us something about suffering. Whether it’s the inside of a fish (where Jonah found himself because of his sin) or the inside of a slave ship (where the Africans found themselves because of the sins of others), the very situations that should mean our devouring, God can turn into something altogether different and birth in us something amazing when we lean into God. I do not say this lightly, suffering is real and far from easy. But in all things, God is at work for good and for glory (Romans 8:23).
Spend time reflecting on the ideas above with the Lord. Are there situations in which you’ve found yourself that threatened to destroy you? Have you experienced God using those very situations to birth good in you? Spend time thanking God. Are you in a situation like that right now? Pray for God’s presence and deliverance.