By Commissioner Jolene K. Hodder

After a good night’s sleep, our family rose early, slathered on the sunscreen, and prepared for our holiday adventure -whitewater rafting down the Nile. This was my husband’s idea of a perfect holiday, but he was careful not to give me too many details in advance. If he had, I surely would have bolted.

Within minutes of getting into the water, our guide detected my hesitation, and to test my readiness, he flipped over the raft. As he did so, I did exactly what I had been told not to do: I let go of the safety rope. I ended up under the raft, gasping for air, and thanking the Lord I was still alive. I was then transferred to another, larger raft.

I told the guide on the second raft that my husband would give him a nice tip if we made it through the entire day without flipping over. He grinned. “Get down as far as you can,” he said, “and hold onto the safety rope.” This time, of course, I held on for dear life.

At the end of the day, we crawled out of the rafts and slowly made our way up the embankment to the waiting bus. As we were saying our good-byes, I thanked one of the guides for not making me feel as though I had let them all down. He looked puzzled. “What do you mean?” he said. “You went over every rapid and made the entire journey. Many people just get out and walk.” I shook his hand, smiled weakly, and chided myself for not knowing sooner that I had an option.

I thought of this experience recently when I reread the story of Jonah. God planned an adventure for Jonah that included traveling 500 miles to Nineveh in order to give the people a stern message. But after God had laid out all the details, Jonah immediately got up, packed his bags…and bolted. He went to the shore and hopped on the first boat out of town, heading nearly 2,000 miles in the opposite direction. He paid his fare, went below deck, and fell asleep, hoping he had managed to escape God’s plan.

A huge storm soon struck the vessel, and after confessing to his shipmates that he was the cause of the bad weather, Jonah was unceremoniously tossed into the water. But instead of letting Jonah drown, God sent a big fish to swallow him. It was in the belly of that fish that Jonah praised God, for he was still alive. And now, he was ready to complete his mission.

The story of Jonah is one with which we can all identify. There are times when we fear the adventure that God has planned. We’re frightened. We want to bail. We’re afraid of drowning under our circumstances, and we long for someone to come along and save us. And God will do so.

But there’s another point here. Jonah 1:7 tells us that “the Lord provided a fish to swallow Jonah.” That hardly fits our idea of “provision.” We naturally associate the provision of God with something pleasant, something good, but His provision can be very different. It may even be something we don’t want. Sometimes God loves us enough to provide scary or painful experiences, for it may only be then that we are stopped in our tracks, and forced to trust Him. Only then can we get back on the right path.

This Thanksgiving, you will no doubt thank the Lord for His abundant blessings. We are grateful for His providential care. But don’t forget to thank him for those things that are not so lovely, like suffering and discipline. Because regardless of how He brings about His plan in our lives, He always has the best in mind for us. And if we can trust Him, He’ll help us to live courageously and complete our God-given mission.