After Christmas every year, we get “punked” finding gift cards sent to our kids by various relatives. We checked up on a promising-looking one, only to hear the quirky computer voice on the other end of the phone proclaim it had an “available balance of $2.06!” Woo hoo, jackpot!
Sometimes, my hope seems just as depleted as those gift cards. Face it, life can be “relentless.” Sometimes circumstances pound you mercilessly. You wonder lots of unanswerable things, like “When is it going to stop?” and the piece de resistance of theological exploration, “Why me?”
The one thing I keep noticing about my life, and about the lives of most biblical characters, is how God puts us through pain for a purpose. Some pretty tough and sometimes horrible things happen to us in life, it’s true. But…and that’s an important word there…if we respond with continued faith in the ultimate goodness of God, we will eventually see good come of it.
Though critics accuse the Bible of being “pie in the sky” wishful thinking, it actually gives big helpings of “tough love” throughout. God never said everything that happened to you is “good,” but that all things will eventually “work together for good” (Romans 8:28). And the way I see that working is a lot of those “not so good” things end up preparing you to face some really huge challenges and come out victorious in the end.
Bible Story Time
Look at the story of David and Goliath. Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell points out that the traditional way of looking at that confrontation is probably all wrong. The miracle was not that a kid with a slingshot killed a giant. The real miracle was how God trained that kid through perilous wild animal attacks on the sheep he was tending in the fields. Through what must have been terrifying nights alone in the wild, David learned how to fight off predators at a safe distance. Gladwell points out that an experienced “slinger” could hit a bird in the air, and the rock that hit Goliath in the forehead landed with the same velocity as a bullet from a small hand gun!
The same thing was true of Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused of rape, thrown into prison. Anyone looking at Joseph’s career trajectory would have written him off as toast, yet God was putting him in exactly the right place to eventually become Pharaoh’s second-in-command.
In the world’s eyes, you “work your way up the ladder of success.” But in God’s book, you have to work your way to the bottom first! Yes, it’s incredibly counter-intuitive, but God repeatedly puts his followers through hell to help them get ready to face the fights ahead of them. It doesn’t make sense to us, but that’s how we know it’s God working and not just happenstance!
When the moment of truth finally comes, our arms know exactly how to fight the battle in front of us because God has taken us through the motions so many times before. We are like Daniel in the Karate Kid movies, doing meaningless exercises for Mr. Miyagi (“Wax on, wax off”). We don’t understand their significance until the fight is upon us and our training kicks in to save us.
It’s like the process of back-burning. Fire fighters sometimes do this to stop a raging wild fire from destroying a community. They will pick a spot between the wild fire and the houses, and then do something which at first seems insane—they start a fire! But there’s a smart reason for this. For a fire to spread, it must have fuel. So a controlled burn destroys all the potential fuel of a raging fire. When the wild fire reaches the back-burned area, it has nowhere left to go. So the place the firefighters burned ends up being a barrier (or a “hedge” if you will) around the community of homes.
Here’s your good news for the coming year: If you had a lousy one last year, congrats! You’ve already “been through the fire.” It has been painful, and some of the things that happened to you didn’t seem to make any sense. But the good news about fires is this: The fire cannot go where the fire has already been! God has protected you from what could have devastated you. You are now stronger than you were from your training and purer than you were from the fire. Things that might have destroyed you will now be the staging ground for a great victory…if you will only believe.
So if you’ve had a tough year, that’s a good indication God has a wonderful victory ahead for you. Be warned—it won’t come without a fight. But when the giants come at you, all your pain from 2018 will suddenly take on new meaning and purpose.
You might want to check the balance on your spiritual account now. Even if it was “insufficient funds” last year, there might be a little something unexpected in there waiting on you now…
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.