Bouncing Back from the Bottom
Success: how high you bounce when you hit bottom. - Gen. George Patton[i]
General Patton’s words remind us that most of us hit bottom at some point. Life has its ups and downs, its highs and lows. No matter how you try to stay on the high peaks of the mountain, at some point you descend into the deep dark valley. At some point you hit bottom.
You may hit bottom when you make wrong, foolish choices, or you may hit bottom because of the wrong foolish choices of others. Failure can send you plummeting down to the depths of discouragement. When your money runs low, or your health is snatched away--when depression drags you down and you can’t seem to find any hope---when you feel all alone and God feels far away-- you look around and discover you’ve hit bottom.
Everybody goes through it at some time or another. Everybody hits bottom. The real issue is: how do you bounce back when you hit bottom?
Let’s ask a man who’s been there. He knows what’s like to go as low as you can go. His is the story of a man who’s gone to the bottom and bounced back. His name is Jonah, and his bounce back is recorded in Jonah 2 where the Bible shows you and I how to bounce back from the bottom. Let’s begin in vs. 1.
How do you bounce back when you hit bottom? Jonah says begin by
I. LOOKING UP IN PRAYER (v. 1)
One of the reasons God so often sends us to the bottom is to humble us.
A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.--C. S. Lewis[ii]
This is certainly true of Jonah.
Jonah turns his gaze away from God to himself. His pride blinds him to God’s purpose and presence. Instead of obeying God and going to Nineveh, he sets his sights on escaping to Tarshish. The storm doesn’t clear up his vision. When he sees the winds and waves, he sneaks below in the ship’s hold hoping to die in his sleep. Even when he gets thrown overboard Jonah is looking only for death.
But God has other plans. He sends a great fish to swallow Jonah, and keep him in time out for 3 days. During those 3 days this prodigal prophet is finally humble enough to look back up.
Jon 2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly.
I don’t know if he has enough room to get down on his knees, but I do know old Jonah calls out humbly to the God’s he’s been running from. When he hits bottom, he begins to look up.
Has that ever happened to you?
Lots of folks say they don’t have time to pray. It’s a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week world we live in. People work long hours, get home and go back to work on other things. Before you know it the whole day is over, and just before your eyes close in sleep, you whisper a quick prayer asking for God to bless everybody. When do you find time to pray?
You find time to pray when you hit bottom. When trouble grinds your life to a halt, when you become desperate to figure out what to do, suddenly you find time to pray. When you get sick or hurt and you don’t know when you’ll get better, you’ll find time to pray. When the seeds of your disobedience produce a harvest of chastisement, suddenly, you find time to talk to the Lord. When the devil whispers that you’ve gone too far, that you have no hope, that you might as well give up and get it over with, then it’s time to look up in prayer to God.
When you hit bottom it’s not time to wallow in self-pity, fussing “God, why are you treating me so bad?” It’s not time to dig in your heels and harden your heart. Jonah could have done this and stayed in the fish’s belly until he was digested.
No, my friend. When you hit bottom, you need to look up to God, call on His Name, believe He’s still listening, because the wonderful truth is even when you’ve hit bottom, He still hears your prayers.
Jerry Levin was assigned as Middle East bureau chief for CNN. He viewed his assignment as a new adventure. But his adventure took a turn for the worst when in 1983 Jerry felt a light tap on his shoulder. A short bearded man in his early twenties pushed a green handgun into his stomach. Two and a half hours later he was led into a building and shoved into a room, where they shackled his right arm to a radiator, and then they left. Jerry waited and listened; he was alone. Days passed in a blur of monotony and fear.
It was here that the most remarkable thing happened. Jerry prayed for the first time in years. He prayed to God, and to Jesus, and he prayed "God, please forgive men like these," he prayed, "because they are in part responsible for bringing me to You and Your Son." Jerry realized…God used [his] imprisonment to get his attention.[iii]
Many times it’s only when you hit bottom that you really start to look up and turn to God. Over and over again I’ve seen trouble and tragedy drive hurting people back into the arms of the God Who loves them. Like them we can relate to the psalmist in
Ps 116:3-4 3The pains of death surrounded me, And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow. 4Then I called upon the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!”
To bounce back from the bottom, you begin by looking up to the Lord in prayer. But Jonah shows us when we hit bottom we also need to
II. COME TO AN UNDERSTANDING (v. 2-9a)
Sometimes the issues need a little clarification.
Once, Abraham Lincoln was debating a man who seemed to have a hard time telling the truth, he said, “Well, let’s see if we can’t come to an understanding. Tell me, how many legs does a cow have?” “Four, of course,” came the reply disgustedly. “That’s right,” agreed Lincoln. “Now suppose you call the cow’s tail a leg; how many legs would the cow have?” “Why, five, of course,” was the confident reply. “Now, that’s where you’re wrong, sir” said Lincoln. “Calling a cow’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”[iv]
Sometimes prayer is not asking God for what you want—it is coming to an understanding of the whole truth.
In vs. 2-9a. Jonah doesn’t really ask God for anything. Instead, he says something like, Lord, I need help to get a few things straight. Jonah asks 3 very important questions that help he and God come to an understanding:
Where am I? Jonah expects to drown soon after hitting the water, yet he finds himself alive. But where is he? Jonah paints a picture:
Jon 2:2 Out of the belly of Sheol I cried…
Sheol= the place of the dead. Jonah compares being in the deep blue sea in the dark belly of the great fish to being buried in the grave. (v. 3, 5-6) Jonah is in a hard place, a place of punishment, a dark place, but not a hopeless place. He’s at the bottom, but he’s not done yet. I’m down, but I’m not out.
How did I get here? For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas…(v. 3) Jonah realizes God brought him to the bottom. He didn’t get here by chance, but by divine providence. God sent Jonah to the bottom to give him a little more time to think, to give him another chance to make the right decision. Jonah is still able to choose, but he also is able to understand the truth: God brought me here to help me, not destroy me.
What’s my next move? Jonah faces a choice, and there are indications that he makes the right one.
v. 4 …Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.
v. 7 When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord…
v. 9 But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed.
The Temple was the focal point of God’s presence in Israel. Remembering the Lord is not just calling God back to mind, but returning to God. Jonah is ready to sacrifice—to give up his own will for God’s will. Instead of running from God’s presence, Jonah begins to seek God’s presence. The Biblical word is repentance. I will turn back to the Lord.
If you want to bounce back after you hit bottom, you need to come to an understanding with God. These same 3 questions can help you do this.
Where am I? At the bottom things can look pretty dark. You can look around you and decide you’ve finally gotten to the place where there’s no help or hope for you.
It’d be easy to lay down and give up. It’d be better to realize what Jonah did: I’m down but I’m not out. I may be at the bottom, but this is not the place to quit, it’s the place to learn courage, patience and persistence.
How did I get here? Jonah is at the bottom because he’s running from God. Not everyone is there for that reason. Maybe it’s your own fault, or somebody else’s fault. Maybe it’s nobody’s fault; just one of those unexplainable things that happen.
But in the bigger picture, you need to understand that behind everything that happens to you, God is at work. He often brings us to the bottom like He did Jonah, not to destroy us, but to help us. If you are a child of God nothing happens to you by accident, but only through God’s plan and purpose.
What’s my next move? Do what Jonah did—turn to the Lord.
If you’re at the bottom because of disobedience, you need to confess your sin and repent. You need to come to the understanding that God is right, and you are wrong, and the only way to get right is to admit it and repent. One of the reasons God puts us in time-out is so we can change directions from pursuing sin to pursuing God. Repentance involves not only a change of heart, but a change of direction, seeking God and forsaking our sins.
Disobedience might not be the reason you’ve hit bottom, but you still need to turn to the Lord. You need to come to an understanding that just because you’ve hit bottom doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. You can still turn to Him for comfort, turn to Him for strength, turn to Him for wisdom and guidance. Too often folks who hit bottom become bitter and angry, instead of turning to the Lord. Don’t let that happen to you. Turn to Him and remember that even in the deepest darkness, Jesus walks with you.
Corrie ten Boom used to say, "When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out? Of course not. You sit still and trust the engineer to get you through."
Bouncing back after hitting bottom involves looking up in prayer, coming to an understanding with the Lord, , and finally
III. TRUST GOD TO LIFT YOU OUT (v. 9b-10)
When you hit bottom, sometimes you wonder if you’ll ever bounce back.
A young man takes a short cut home late one night through the cemetery when he falls in an open grave. He calls out then tries to climb out. There’s no one around to hear his cries or lend a hand. So he settles down in a corner of the dark grave to await morning.
A little later another young man takes the same short cut home and falls into the same grave. He starts clawing and shouting and trying to get out, but gets nowhere. About the time he was ready to quit, the first fellow comes up behind him out of the darkness, lays his hand on his shoulder, and say, "You can't get out of here." But you know he did![v]
Fear got this young man out of his pit, but vs. 9b-10 tells us it is faith that bounces Jonah up from the bottom.
You literally cannot get much lower than Jonah is in the belly of the fish. I was reading that large whales can dive 7000 feet below the surface and stay there for up to 2 hours. We don’t know for sure what kind of sea animal Jonah was in, but he probably went farther down into the ocean than any other living person up to this time. No submarines, no scuba gear—who in the world would come and save him?
Jon 2:9 …Salvation is of the Lord.
Jonah figures out where he is, why he’s there, and what his next move is, but he also knows if he is ever going to see the light of day again, it will be because God rescues him. He is completely and utterly helpless to save himself; God must save him.
When you hit bottom, you can trust God to lift you up.
When you’re lost in sin, and helpless to reach God, the Bible says Jesus can lift you up.
Ro 5:6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
The old hymn expresses it this way:
I was sinking deep in sin, Far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, Sinking to rise no more;
But the Master of the sea, Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me — Now safe am I.
Love lifted me, Love lifted me; When nothing else could help
Love lifted me.
You and I cannot save ourselves; He must save us, and He will save us if you trust Christ.
A man was sitting next to a preacher on an airplane. "You look nervous," said the minister. "Are you all right?" "I'm scared stiff," said the man. “Why?" “Because you know what they say: what goes up must come down." The minister decided to share with this man the peace that comes from knowing Jesus, and there on the spot the fellow dedicated his life to the Lord. "I imagine you see things a little differently now?" asked the minister. "Yes, Reverend," he said. "I know now that if we go down, I go up!"
Jesus died for us so we can be rescued from the pit of sin.
But let me also add that there is no pit in life He cannot save you from if you will trust Him.
Ps 40:1-2 1I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. 2He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock…
The most important thing you need to remember when you hit bottom is not how far you’ve fallen or how impossible your situation seems. The most important thing to remember is Who can rescue you from the pit.
A man fell into a pit and try as he did, he could not get out.
A counselor came along and said, "I feel your pain."
A college professor came along and said, "It's logical that someone would fall down there."
A politician pledged to appoint a committee to work on how to help people out of pits.
A Pharisee walked by and said, "Only bad people fall into a pit."
A news reporter promised the exclusive story on the plight of those who fall into pits.
An IRS collector asked if he was paying taxes on the pit.
A TV evangelist said, "Just confess that you're not in a pit."
An optimist said, "Things could be worse."
A pessimist said, "Things will get worse."
But then Jesus came by, and seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit.
If you live long enough, you will find yourself at the bottom. The bottom may fall out for you financially, or emotionally, or spiritually, but it will come. Everybody spends time at the bottom. The important thing to know is how to bounce back from the bottom.
Jonah has shown us how to do this: by looking up in prayer, by turning to God, by trusting the Lord to save you. Do you need help getting out of your pit tonight? Why not call out to the Lord and let Him lift you up?
[i]10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2000).
[ii]Bruce B. Barton and Grant R. Osborne, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Life application Bible commentary (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1999), 61.
[iii] Charles Colson, KINGDOMS IN CONFLICT, (New York: William Morrow, 1987), pp. 58-61.
[iv]Bits and Pieces, July, 1991 10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical
[v] James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 385.