Most of us can point to a period of adversity in our lives that shaped up. Some of us look back on that time with a bit of sorrow or even bitterness because of how bad it was and where it left them. Others look back on it as a bad time that created a positive outcome in their life. It could have been just as bad as someone else’s, but because the end result was different, they change how they look at it. How do you view that time? How far had God brought you since then? It’s hard to see God’s hand in our lives the closer we are to that time. However, the farther away we get, if we look back, we should be able to see God’s hand in it carrying us or moving us into a position through it. We rarely know everything He is doing, but with some distance and perspective we should be able to see how He can work everything out for our good.
In Genesis, we find the story of Joseph. He was a man that went through 13 years of adversity without letting it make him bitter towards God or others. His own family beat him, threw him in a pit and sold him as a slave. The man who purchased him from the slave traders lived in a foreign land. Joseph was a hard worker despite his circumstances. He was given more and more responsibility until his master’s wife made a pass at him. Because he rejected her, she lied and had him thrown in prison with no parole. He was left there and forgotten even though he helped people there. After he interpreted pharaoh’s dream, he was given all authority in Egypt to make decisions as he led them for 7 years of blessings and through 7 years of famine. During those 14 years, he got married and had two kids, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Genesis 41:52 says, “He named the second [son] Ephraim (fruitfulness), for ‘God has caused me to be fruitful and very successful in the land of my suffering.’” The more Joseph looked back on that time, the more he could see the faithfulness of God who was positioning him so that the dreams God gave him as a boy could be fulfilled. He didn’t allow bitterness to grow in his heart towards God or others. In doing so, he was able to be fruitful and successful even though he didn’t understand as he went through it. Our attitude in adversity, and even after, will often affect our outcome. God is faithful and able to turn any situation around for our good, no matter how bad it was. When I’m discouraged in times of adversity, I find hope when I look at Joseph knowing that God can make me fruitful and successful no matter how bad things get, and that He will be faithful to His Word through it.
A friend was telling me about a lady who went to his church. Her son was in his twenties and had started serving the Lord when he passed away unexpectedly. She was devastated over it, but she still tells people how good God is. She was asked, “How can you talk about the goodness of God when you have had such heartache?” She replied, “My circumstances don’t change the goodness of God. Who know what could have happened to my son in the future? Perhaps it was the kindness of the Lord to take him home early.” Her perspective on God is right on and contrary to how so many would feel. Most of us would get bitter towards God or be ad at Him at least. Her story reminds me that o matter what comes my way, God is still good.
Job was a person in the Bible who also experienced great loss. In a matter of minutes he found out that his livestock and animals was stolen taking away his wealth and income. His workers who were planting crops were also attacked and killed taking away his future food security. Then his children were killed by a collapsed house taking away future generations. In that moment, he tore his clothes in grief and dropped to his knees. Instead of cursing God or asking Him “why”, he worshiped God. He reiterated God’s goodness and acknowledged His sovereignty. Even though he didn’t understand why it happened, but he still made sure to keep the proper perspective on things. He came into the world with nothing and he would leave with nothing. God gives and God takes. He then blessed the name of the Lord.
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose” (AMP). There are times when your circumstances don’t look good, but God still is good. Things may be a mess right now, but messes are incubators for miracles. Difficult circumstances are the things that God uses to work out His plan in our life and to grow our faith in Him. I don’t know what you’re facing today or what you’re going through, but I do know that God is good and He is working things out for your good through it. Stand on this promise as a firm footing when everything else seems to be slipping away. Be like Job and profess God’s goodness even when it may not feel good.
You can’t have the promises of God without going through the processes of God. Some processes are giving of tithes and offerings. Other processes can be difficult seasons. Those to me are the hardest ones to go through. They’re not as simple as give and it shall be given unto you. Many times these seasons are something God walks us into without asking us. There’s also no time limit to them or clear outcomes. However, when God takes us through these seasons, we can be sure He is with us and will produce something in us that makes us better.
David was a young shepherd when he was anointed king. He at least knew what the promise was before going through the process. For the next 15 years, he would go through more downs than ups. He would be forced to live in caves surrounded by outcasts. He would face many sleepless nights fearing for his life. For a while he even had to live in the country of his enemy. His wife and kids were kidnapped along with the wives and kids of his army. He faced a mutiny after that. After years of struggling, he finally became king. The process changed him from one who could watch a few sheep into one who could lead millions.
Psalms 66:12 says, “You’ve allowed our enemies to prevail against us. We’ve passed through fire and flood, yet in the end you always bring us out better than we were before, saturated with your goodness” (TPT). What God allows to happen in our life is often part of His process. He uses the darkest most painful times to either change us, push us closer to Him or to help us be able to empathize and connect with another person. God is always working in our lives to make us more like Him. When going through the hardest times, we can hold onto Romans 8:28 which reminds us that ALL things work together for our good. Keep going through the process. His promises are on their way.
The story of Joseph in Genesis is one of my favorites. As a late teenager, his brothers beat him up, threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery. The brothers told their dad that he was killed by wild animals. God was with Joseph through the trials he endured giving him favor with the people he met. Things were going well with Potiphar, but his wife wanted Joseph. When he refused her, she accused him of trying to rape her. Without a trial he was sent to prison for life. Many years later the pharaoh’s wine bearer and baker joined him in prison. For a long time, Joseph waited on them. They both had a dream one night, Joseph interpreted them and they came true. It was two more years before Joseph would be freed from prison and placed second in command to pharaoh.
After nearly twenty years since his brothers sold him, they traveled to Egypt looking for food. Joseph recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him. They were hungry and out of options. They begged Joseph for food, but we’re treated harshly by him. After accusing them of being spies Joseph put them in prison for three days. He released all but one as an incentive to get them to bring their other brother to Egypt. When Jacob found out, he was distraught. In Genesis 40:36 he said, “You have bereaved me [by causing the loss] of my children. Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin [from me]. All these things are [working] against me” (AMP).
Many times as God is working out His plan in our life, things appear to be working against you. For years nothing seemed to be going right for Joseph. For years Jacob grieved his son and then ran out of food. In those moments, the feelings of doubt, fear and that everything is against you are normal. In the case of Joseph and Jacob, they were in a place of preparation. We don’t see them curse God or even question Him. I’m sure they spent many sleepless night crying out to God wondering why. However silent God might have been, they stayed faithful in that place and God honored it. He honors our faithfulness as well. The place of preparation can be dark, lonely and hopeless, but while everything seems to be working against you, God is working things out for your good.
Not long ago I realized I was singing one of the most iconic Christmas carols incorrectly. “Joy To The World”, written by Isaac Watts in the early 1700’s, says, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” not, “has come.” I looked up the history of the song, and it turns out it was written about the second coming of Jesus and not the incarnation. Watts was concerned with the lack of joy he saw in Christians as they worshipped. He wanted to remind them to look past their current circumstances to the return of Christ when all things will be made right. 300 years later, it’s a good reminder for us as we live for Christ.
Romans 12:12 says, “Let this hope burst forth within you, releasing a continual joy. Don’t give up in a time of trouble, but commune with God at all times” (TPT). Joy is not something that is based on your circumstances. Joy is as much an attitude as it is an emotion. It keeps us focused on what is to come rather than what is. Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength. It’s no wonder that the enemy of our soul is constantly trying to rob us of our joy. He knows that when he removes joy, it makes it hard to trust God. It makes serving God feel more like a chore than a privilege.
If you’re burdened down, going through a rough time, let hope burst forth within you today giving you joy. We know that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28), and that struggles produce growth in us. Let the things that are trying to steal your joy push you into closer communion with God. Instead of blaming Him, thank Him for taking the time to grow you and make you more like Christ. Above all, remember that this too shall pass and the Lord will come again to make all things right. We can joyfully worship just as Job did no matter what we’re going through by keeping things in perspective. When all else fails, choose joy.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet who lived in the 1800’s. He was no stranger to pain. His first wife died during a miscarriage. He married again almost ten years later. He had six children with her. Not long after the Civil War began, his wife was cutting their seven year old’s hair and decided to preserve some curls in wax. The wax drilled onto her dress and she caught fire. He tried to help put it out, but sustained severe burns himself. She passed away the next day. Not long after, their son joined the army to fight in the war. Henry was devastated by it all and quit writing poetry.
That first Christmas afterwards, he wrote in his journal how sad all holidays were. The next year he wrote,, “I can leave no record of these days. Better to leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps God can give me peace.” The following year he didn’t write anything. The next November he found out his son had been shot and was severely wounded, possibly mortally. When his son arrived home, it wasn’t as bad as he feared. That Christmas he penned a poem which became the carol, “I heard The Bells of Christmas”. God was able to bring him through such tragedy and increase his effectiveness as a poet and writer.
2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (NLT). The holidays are not happy for everyone. Many have endured loss and suffering and are in need of God’s peace and comfort. You and I have that ability to be agents of comfort, healing and peace during this season. If you’re struggling this season, I want to leave you with my favorite lines from his poem. It says, “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, goodwill to men.” He can make all things work together for good.
How do you respond when your plans get disrupted? How do you feel when things don’t go according to the way you thought they were? At times, we follow God’s leading in our life, thinking it’s going to go one way, when things happen and they go another. It drives me nuts when that happens. I’ve already played everything out based on the information I have from the Holy Spirit, but then I find out that I don’t have all the information. He often has a different plan than the one I have. He has other motives that I don’t know about. So when He disrupts what I think is the plan, I often don’t recognize that it’s Him. Instead of rolling with the changes, I often push back.
In Acts 8, the Early Church was growing rapidly until Saul came on the scene and started persecuting Christians. People had to move away from their homes to escape. One person that did that was Philip. He went to Samaria where Jews were hated. He preached the Gospel and revival broke out. So many people were getting saved and healed that Peter and John went there and took over Philip’s ministry. An angel then told him to go down the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. There he encountered an Ethiopian reading Scripture. He explained it to him and he got saved. After baptizing him, the Spirit caught Philip away and transported him to Ashdod instead of Gaza where he thought he was supposed to go. That was a seven hour walk away.
In each of these cases, the plans Philip had were disrupted or changed. Because of the persecution, the Gospel spread around the world. Because he followed God’s leading after his ministry was taken from him, aN Ethiopian took the Gospel to Africa and established the Church there. Romans 8:28 says, “So we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together for good, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose” (TPT). Whatever disruption you’re facing right now could be from God. Even if it’s not, God can work it out for good and for His purposes. Instead of throwing a pity party, ask God what He needs from you in this time. Who knows the ripple effect of what God can do through you when you submit to His will instead of your plans.
Two of the biggest lies we hear when we’re going through a difficult time is that no one else understands and that God doesn’t care. I remember hearing both and believing them. The first one tries to get you on a technicality because there is no one else with your exact situation. I’ve found that while our situations may be unique, the pain and the process we go through is very similar. While someone may not be able to fully understand my exact situation, they can identify with the pain. That leads us to the second lie that God doesn’t care. The lie wants you to think that if God cared, you wouldn’t be going through so much. The truth is that even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He’s there with you to guide you and comfort you. He makes all things work together for our good.
I don’t know anyone who went through as much as Paul or Job. Job lost everything including his wealth, his kids and property. He still was able to worship God in that moment. In Job 2:9, when his wife told him to curse God and die, he responded, “Shall we accept good from God and not the trouble?” (NIV) When Paul was thrown in prison with Silas after having been beat, he invited God’s presence into the deepest, darkest part of that prison in the middle of the night by singing praises. When both of these men felt abandoned by people and God, they worshipped knowing that God dwells in the praises of His people. They held to the truth that God cares for us no matter how bad things may seem.
Psalm 31:7 says, “I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul” (NLT). In the darkest nights of my life, the most painful times, I turned on praise and worship music to help me worship when I didn’t feel it. God is worthy of our praise no matter what it is we’re going through. He sees the anguish in our soul and He cares deeply for us. He knows that the pain, the hurt, the sadness and the darkness will only last for a little while. He never leaves us in those times though He may feel far away. He’s there leading us into a greater joy and life that often goes through the darkest valley. Don’t listen to the lies and despair. Listen to the truth and worship.
A friend of mine has a ministry called Know The Fight. He understands that people feel misunderstood, unwanted and unloved, so he began helping them to tell their stories. What he found was that as he helped them tell their stories, he helped them bridge the gap between them and others. The more people revealed about their hidden wars, the more that others realized they weren’t fighting alone. He creates and shares some amazing videos. On his personal social media, he posts things from hilariously absurd memes to quotes and reminders that will sometimes hit you between the eyes. He posted one of these recently and I wanted to share it here. He wrote, “My anxiety drops when I realize that everything that’s happening to me is to make me more like Christ.”
The more I thought about that, the more I realized how true it’s been in my life. God used some dark days in my life to purge me and to make me more like Christ. When things happen that I don’t understand, I remind myself that He is the potter and I am the clay. I’m sure that the clay doesn’t understand when chunks are taken out of it, when it gets crushed and out back in the middle of the wheel or when it gets hollowed out. I know that I don’t, but looking back on those times in my life, I can see that God was making me more like Himself, removing parts of my life that were holding me back and rebuilding my life to make me more Christ-like. Did those times hurt? More than you may know. When I look back from where God has led me, I’m thankful that He took the time to do those things, painful as they were, so that He could bring me here.
In the Early Church, they faced mass persecution and Paul addresses it a lot reminding people that God was using it to grow them and the Church. In one such exhortation in 2 Thessalonians 1:5, he wrote, “All this trouble is a clear sign that God has decided to make you fit for the Kingdom “ (MSG). I don’t know the hidden war going on within you today, but God does. He gave us the promise in Romans 8:28 that He works all things out for your good. No matter what it is that you’re facing, know that God can use it to make you more Christ-like. You may feel like you’re the only one going through it and no one can relate. While your circumstances may be unique, the pain, the battle and the loneliness are shared by others. God sees you and He is using this time to reshape you more into His image.
Impatient. That’s a word that can often be used to describe me. Even though I know that something like an oil painting requires a lengthy process, I want it done quickly. But you can’t do that with oils. You paint a color at a time in an area and let it dry for a few days. You then add some more. Oil paintings require time and patience if you want an excellent piece. I always want it to look like a Rembrandt, but I’m not willing to go through the process. As I look at his work, I imagine the time it took him to create those masterpieces and am in awe of the finished product.
Our lives are not much different than his masterpieces. To become the complex work of art that God has planned for each of us, we must go through a lengthy process. We can easily get impatient wondering if God will ever finish what He started. Sometimes He adds color to our life, then puts the paintbrush down while it cures. We want the whole picture quickly, but masterpieces aren’t created in a day. They must submit to the process.
David could have easily been as impatient as I am. Imagine this: he had been anointed king, yet he had to go back to tending sheep. He had slayed a giant, but he still had to do his chores at home. Even though God had called and anointed him as king, he still had to submit to the process to become the masterpiece that God wanted him to become. He could have killed Saul several times, but he understood that would have interfered with the process, so he trusted God.
In Psalm 138:8 he wrote, “The Lord will work out His plans for my life” (NLT). He understood what we need to understand. God is the one working things out in our lives, not us. When we get impatient and interfere, we mess with the masterpiece He’s creating. He is the artist and we are the canvas. If you’re in the process of waiting right now, don’t become impatient. God is still working out His plan. The brush may be set down right now, but He’s not finished with you. He will be faithful to complete it.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.