One of the things I enjoy doing is cooking. One of the things I’ve learned is that foods taste better if you take the time to develop the flavors. That means that instead of adding onion and garlic later, I may start with them and let them sauté a bit in order to bring out more flavor. When I create a sauce to cook in, I may let it simmer a little longer so that it reduces. Doing that will intensify the flavor. To turn a recipe into a beloved dish, you have to take the time to develop and bring out the hidden flavors with heat and time. It’s more than simply adding ingredients.
I believe our lives are the same way. God wants to create amazing flavors in our lives that point others to Him. To do that, it requires Him to do things differently than our recipe. It also requires us to be put in the fire, sometimes longer than we care to be there. It’s really our choice how we respond. Do we give Him the freedom to bring out the flavors that are locked inside of us? Or do we allow those times to produce a bitter flavor that turns people away from us and Him? God’s desire is that each one of us would have complex, well developed flavors so that we’re not just another Christian.
James 1 tells us to consider it joy, even a gift, when trials and challenges come at us from all sides. In that pressure cooker, it releases hidden flavors into the world. In verse 4 he writes, “So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (MSG). When things aren’t going right and life is coming at you hard, don’t run away. God is at work in you and pulling out flavors that were locked away and hidden before. He’s not going to allow these problems to overwhelm you. He knows what you can take and how long you can stay there. Trust His judgement and let Him do His Work in your life.
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.
In the early 2000’s, all the life groups in our church did the same curriculum for one semester. There was a brand new book out that everyone was talking about and reading, so our pastor decided to have the whole church go through it together. It was based on the book “The Purpose Driven Life”. Since it’s release in 2002, it has sold more than 50 million copies. Whether you like the author or not, that many copies sold of any book tells you that it struck a nerve with people worldwide. People want to know that their life has purpose and meaning and this book helped them find it. Many people in the Church have listed this book as the most influential in their life outside of the Bible.
One of the things I’ve learned is that God uses the pain of our past and the struggles that we’ve faced in life to prepare us for our purpose. There are many times I’ve prayed, “God, why do I have to go through this?” Years later, I will come a Ross someone who is struggling as they go through something very similar. I’m able to connect with their pain and help them through it. God doesn’t waste your pain. It has purpose in your mission. In fact, as you continue to go through difficulties, it means there’s still greater purpose for your future. The deeper the pain you go through, the greater grace you receive and are able to impart that grace to others.
In John 15, Jesus was talking to His disciples just before His crucifixion. What He told them applies to you and me. In verse 16 He said, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and I have appointed and placed and purposefully planted you, so that you would go and bear fruit and keep on bearing, and that your fruit will remain and be lasting” (AMP). God has chosen you and put you right where you are for a reason. It’s not by accident that you’re reading this today and that you are going through whatever circumstances you’re facing right now. It’s part of God’s purpose for you. One of my daily prayers is, “God, help me to have the strength to endure today. Give me your all sufficient grace and help me to give your grace. Open my eyes to see those whom you’ve placed in my path that need to know and feel your love. Give me the courage to step out in faith where you lead as I fulfill your purpose for my life.” Your life has been purposefully created by God for such a time as this. Go make a difference today.
When I was a teenager, the scouting program I was a part of gave us a code to live by. Today, we would call them values statements or core values. One of the eight values was courageous: he is brave in spite of danger, criticism or threats. I didn’t realize then how important that particular one was as a teenager, and even more so as an adult. It taught me to be strong in the face of things when they weren’t going my way or even against me. Being courageous means you don’t run away in those moments. You do what’s right no matter what going on around you.
In the last several chapters of John, Jesus was talking to the disciples on the night before His crucifixion. He was telling them what was about to happen to Him, and also what would happen to them going forward. He wanted them to have peace in the chaos, and to let them know that He was going to send the Holy Spirit as a helper who would live inside of them to combat the outside pressures against them. Then, just before He prayed and went to the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, “For in this unbelieving world you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33 TPT)
He reminded them, and us, that we are going to experience times when the world is against us. We are going to have troubles and things not go our way, but we are to be courageous. He said these things because He wanted us to look past our current problems knowing that He has already won. We can be brave because whatever we’re facing is not the end and it won’t conquer us because He is in us. We have to keep reminding ourselves of this verse when things look bad or like there’s no tomorrow. We can be courageous in spite of what we’re facing by trusting His promises.
If you’ve followed my devotions for a while, you know that there was a period in my life of nearly a year where the bottom kept failing out from underneath me. Some of it was due to my own failures and sins, and other parts just felt like everything was piling on top of me. During that period, God course corrected my life. He also brought people into my life who would speak to me for Him since I was unable or unwilling to hear Him. By the time the storm ended, I knew more about God than I ever had, and I had been in church every time the doors were open since I had been born. I found the depth of His grace was deeper than my sin, the joy He could give me was greater than any pain I had experienced and His strength was more than enough in my weakness.
In Luke 8, Jesus was traveling all over Israel with His message. He had already been baptized with God audibly speaking for all to hear. He had raised a dead boy to life and healed countless sick people. The disciples had caught a boat load of fish by casting their net on the other side and had been following Him everywhere He went. So when He told them to get in the boat to travel to the other side, they didn’t think anything of it, at least until the storm came. They panicked and did all they could to keep the boat upright. Finally someone noticed Jesus was missing. They found Him sleeping in the hull, woke Him up and asked if even cared that they were about to die. He got up, rebuked the wind and the storm stopped. Luke 8:25 says, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you fearful? Have you lost your faith in me?’ Shocked and shaken, they said with amazement to one another, ‘Who is this man who has authority over winds and waves that they obey him?’” (TPT)
We can look in disdain at the disciples for doubting who Jesus is. It’s easy for us to do as we sit in a dry house and read the story, but I believe there’s something in their question for us. When God takes you through a storm, He reveals more of who He is to us. The disciples didn’t blame Him for the storm. They went to Him for help in it, and He revealed that He didn’t just have the power to heal the sick or raise the dead. He showed them that even creation is under His authority. You and I can never know God fully in these bodies. We can’t handle it so He reveals Himself to us in ways that change the lenses through hutch we see Him. He allows things to happen to bring us closer to Him so we can know Him more. It may be fearful or painful at the time, but the end result is to reveal to you parts of His nature that we’re previously unknown to you. If you’re in the storm, quit fighting it yourself. Go to Jesus the way the disciples did and look for Him to reveal Himself to you through it.
When I was younger and I wanted to take a trip, I would break out my Rand McNally map and plot a course. I would take the map with me so I could follow along or use it if I got lost. Today, most of us use an app with GPS to get us where we’re going. We plug in an address and off we go blindly following wherever it leads. There have been times when I questioned where it was taking me and I thought I knew better. I was wrong. Even now, I question it, but I’ve learned to give it the benefit of the doubt because it sees what’s coming ahead and knows what path to take.
After David was anointed king, I’m sure he thought he knew the path God was going to take to get him to the palace. It wasn’t that long until the king called and invited him to the palace without knowing David would be the next king. Then the path took an unexpected turn. David was on the run and had to leave the country God said he would rule over. He found himself living in caves instead of in the luxury of palaces. He didn’t question God’s path to get him there even though it was a different path than he would have chosen.
From the cave, he penned this in Psalms 142:3, “When my spirit was overwhelmed and weak within me [wrapped in darkness], You knew my path” (AMP). No matter how dark that cave was, he trusted that God knew his path. That’s something we can all learn from. Sometimes God’s path will lead you through some dark time, but even though you walk through the valley of the shadow, God will be with you. He uses those times to develop us, to prove His faithfulness and to have us bring light into the darkness. Don’t turn from the path God is leading you down. He knows what’s ahead and is taking you on the best path for your future.
A friend of mine told me a story about how when he was a young man, his boss came to him and told him the company had been bought out. He said the new company was going to lay off most of the old employees, but not to worry because he would protect him. When the layoffs came, everything happened just as the boss said. Then a few days later, the boss came back and apologized. He had to let him go. It turns out his boss let go of the new owner’s nephew and was forced to hire him back.My friend was upset. He didn’t have a degree, and his wife was pregnant with their first child.
In moments like these, we normally cry out to God, “What are you doing?” Have you ever had one of those times? Everything points to God allowing you to be crushed, broken and ruined. We wonder where God is and why we have to go through it. The ten sons of Jacob who went to Egypt for food had one of those moments. They had gone to purchase food, but didn’t recognize their own brother they had sold into slavery. They bowed to him just as Joseph had dreamed years earlier.
Joseph didn’t let on that he was their brother. He held one in prison to make sure they came back. Then he had their money returned to them in their bags of grain. When they were a day away, one noticed it. Genesis 42:28 says, “‘Look!’ he exclaimed to his brothers. ‘My money has been returned; it’s here in my sack!’ Then their hearts sank. Trembling, they said to each other, ‘What has God done to us?’” (NLT) They couldn’t see that God was actually blessing them.
That brings me back to my friend. Because he got fired, he found a job with a major company. He then got a degree and moved up in the company. He was able to provide for his family more than he would have at his old job. What looked like an end was really a beginning. What looked like a curse was really a blessing. If you’re going through something you don’t understand, don’t be quick to judge God. Give Him time to work things out for your good. He has a pretty good record of blessing His people.
One of the hardest things to do is to see God in the middle of our struggles. I’ve found that the further away from it I am, the more I can see what God was doing. Even now, God is showing me things that He was doing two years ago in our lives. At the time, it was like we were in the middle of a tornado that was ripping through our lives, uprooting everything. We shed tears, asked God where was He in all of it and began to lose hope.
Because our outside world was crumbling, our inside world began to get affected. Like Peter, who took his eyes off Jesus as he walked on water, our hearts and minds began to sink within us. When that happens, it becomes very difficult to see God. We become more concerned with finding answers than finding God. We look at everything that’s going on instead of at the One who holds us in His hands.
In Matthew 5:8, Jesus was speaking to a crowd from the side of a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. One of the things He said was, “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world” (MSG). For many of us, including myself, it takes a while for us to get our inside world put back in place to be able to see God in our outside struggles. I believe He is telling us that we can have that peace and clarity in our storms though.
If you’re going through a difficult time right now, pray that God would help you get your inside world right. Ask Him to help you to keep your eyes on Him, and to trust Him. Remember that He is your refuge and protector. He knows that without struggles we can’t get stronger. He uses them to prune us and transplant us so we can experience more life. Even if you have to rebuild your life after the storm, it will be better and stronger than before. Also, don’t forget to look back. The more you look back and see God in your past, the easier it is to see Him in your present.
Since it’s Christmas time, I have a question for you. What’s the best gift you ever received? Some of you might say a ring, or a car, or a bike, or a child. Each of us will have different answers depending on where we are in life, but I’m pretty sure that none of you said that going through difficult times was the greatest gift you ever got. However, looking back on your life, and seeing how that dark time made you into who you are today, you might want to reconsider. Yes, I’m suggesting your darkest days could be the greatest gift you’ve ever received.
Most of us think of those times, and try to put them behind us, or pretend that they never existed. But I believe God uses those times to move us into position for our future, to develop in us the qualities of character necessary for the future He has for us, and to grow our faith in Him. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (MSG).
Those final sentences are tough for us to hear. When we are in a trial or test, we want them to end quickly. We pray and beg God to get us out of them. When we do get out of them early, the work is unfinished that He was trying to do. In Max Lucado’s book “The Anvil”, he writes that of God has you in these times, rejoice. It means He still thinks you’re worth reshaping. He hasn’t discarded you as useless and put you with the other tools the He no longer uses.
If you happen to be going through one of these times right now, I’d like you to look at the next verse in James. It says, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.” God will be there to help you through instead of out of it. Pray for His help, but also pray to ask Him to develop in you what He needs to during this time. Right now it may not seem like a gift, but what God does in us during the hardest times is often one of He greatest gifts He gives.
Patience. It’s not a word we like very much. We like to have results quickly without having to put in the time and effort. We want answers given to us without us having to dig for them. We want growth without risk, and we want fruit without tending the garden. We’ve heard the saying, “Good things come to those who wait,” but who really wants to wait? We live in a now society where everything is given to us quickly. The temptation is to let our societal speed carry over into our spiritual growth.
Endurance. It’s not something you get in good times. It requires pushing yourself beyond what you think you’re capable of. It takes mental toughness to get it. You have to withstand pressure repeatedly in order to attain it. Giving up can’t be an option if you’re going to increase your endurance. You have to keep your mind on the prize to keep your mind off the struggle of you’re going to build your endurance. It isn’t given to you, it’s earned.
Both of these things are required of us as Christians. The more of God you want to know, the more patience and endurance you’re going to have to have. If we are willing to give up in the struggle, we will miss the blessings God is preparing us for. Hebrews 10:36 says, “Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that He has promised” (NLT). When things appear to be going wrong in our life, God is preparing us to receive all He has for us.
We can’t be like Jacob and fight it. In Genesis 42, there was a famine in the land. Jacob sent 10 of his sons to get food in Egypt. Joseph wanted them all there so he pretended to not know them, sent them home with their food, and held one brother captive until they returned with their other brother. Jacob felt like he was being punished when God was just trying to get him to the land of plants. In verse 36, he cried out, “You are robbing me of my children! Joseph is gone! Simeon is gone! And now you want to take Benjamin, too. Everything is going against me!”
If everything is going against you, it’s quite possible that God is actually trying to bless you. Jacob waited a long time before he sent his sons back to get more food and their brother. He could have been living without fear of starvation. He could have had the relationship with his son restored. God was trying to use what appeared to be negative circumstances to move him into a place of blessing. Imagine what God could be trying to do for you in your situation. Work on having patient endurance instead of complaining, and see what God does.
Each of us have things go wrong in life. Each of us have those periods where it seems nothing can go right. It can get to the point of ridiculousness that all you can do is laugh at how bad things have gotten. There’s also that temptation to just give up because no matter what you do, you fail. In those periods of life our response matters. They can create good things in you like perseverance, patience, endurance, strength or they can bring out the worst like selfishness, resentfulness, anger or bitterness. Our reaction is our choice.
In the book of Ruth, we see the story of Naomi who was Ruth’s mother in law. She had been going through a rough time. Due to circumstances, she had to move her family away from their home. Some time after they arrived in their new country, her husband died and left her to raise two boys. They grew up and married. After ten years of marriage, neither of her sons were able to produce an heir and both of them died. She was left with two daughters in law to care for and no means to do it. She decided to return to her homeland, but knew there wasn’t enough to sustain all of them. She encouraged her daughters in law to stay behind in their land and to remarry. One stayed and one clung to her side and wouldn’t leave.
When they arrived back in her hometown, the people were excited to see her. They asked, “Is that really you, Naomi?” Her response was, “Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter… I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn’t.” She allowed her circumstances to make her bitter. She was so bitter that she asked them to call her Bitter as her name. She felt like God had abandoned her and that He didn’t even know her name. She felt alone and hurt. I wonder what would have happened to her if Ruth hadn’t made the trip back with her.
The good news is that Ruth saw the bitterness and struggles in her mother in law and refused to leave her. She became a support person for her. It wasn’t long after they arrived back in Naomi’s hometown that Ruth met Boaz. After they were married, God gave them a son. Chapter 4:14 of Ruth says, “The town women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be God! He didn’t leave you without family to carry on your life.” Naomi loved that baby so much that the neighborhood women started calling him “Naomi’s boy”. His real name was Obed. He would become the grandfather of King David and also part of the lineage of Jesus.
Whatever your circumstances are today, you have a choice to make. Will people call you “Bitter” or will they call you “Blessed”? While Naomi went through a time of bitterness, ultimately everything had to happen that way so that a line of future kings could be born and ultimately our savior. I don’t know what difficulties you’re facing in the present, but I know that God can use them to create an amazing future. Difficult times and periods of life are not without purpose. God has a plan for you and the future of your family. This rough patch is simply getting you into position to change you from bitter to blessed.