“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From inside the fish, Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 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…The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head…But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit’” (Jonah 1:17-2:6).

Theologian, J. I. Packer, writes, “If I had found I had driven into a bog, I should know I had missed the road. But this would not be much comfort if I had then to stand helpless watching my car sink and vanish.” The Christian life is not like that. We may stupidly or willfully drive off the road, but God does not allow us to sink into the depths of the bog. We can have confidence in the God who will not let us ruin our souls. Temptations, conflicts, bad advice, and even devastating trials assault us. Adversity is inevitable. It may make us feel we are sinking. Yet if we see difficulties as a part of the course we’re on, we can press forward with hope. We can learn how to deal not only with the bad things that happen to us but with our own besetting weaknesses. “Grace,” writes Packer, “is God’s drawing us sinners closer and closer to himself. How does God in grace prosecute this purpose? Not by shielding us from assault by the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

Our worst moments may be when we realize that some of our gravest troubles are of our own making. We feel the guilt. We wonder how we could have done something that so displeases God. Packer says that one of the most startling applications of God’s grace is how he uses our sins and mistakes. He points to men in the Scriptures who made huge mistakes—Moses (murder), David (adultery and murder), Jonah (fleeing from God)—yet, by repentance, they learned to cleave far more tightly to God. At times, most of us will find ourselves like Jonah, living, as it were, in the darkness and stench of a great fish belly, crying out to God for forgiveness. Packer asks, “Is your trouble worth a sense of failure? The knowledge of having made some ghastly mistake? Go back to God; his restoring grace waits for you.”

Adapted from The One Year Book of Encouragement