I got a Facebook message from a well-meaning Christian friend. It read as follows:
“God has seen everything you’ve been going through, and He told me to tell you ‘IT’S OVER’! Your trial has ended, and now God’s about to open up the windows of heaven to bless you beyond your wildest dreams!!!!!”
(Full disclosure: I may have actually miscounted the number of exclamation points. My apologies).
Then there was the usual threat that if I didn’t forward this to three or more people, I really didn’t love God and enormous trials would come my way (Hey, I thought God said, ‘IT’S OVER’ ?)
I love God, but I truly hate stuff like that—things that build up false hopes, and do so in God’s name. I mean, really, God doesn’t say anyone’s trial is over just because I posted some message on your Facebook page. I know they say “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings,” but that message won’t end anyone’s trial no matter how corpulent the sender!
In the past, I’ve done ministry to inmates in jail. I’ve given them Bibles, counseled them, and organized classes for them to attend. But one thing I don’t do is march into their cells yelling, “God says your trials are over! You’re all free!” I can only imagine the blank stares I’d receive.
The hard news is there are times when it’s God’s will for us to be held in a trying situation. Passionless marriages, rebellious children, dead-end jobs, and even extended illnesses (sorry, faith-healing friends) are places where God sometimes chooses to deny our parole.
You remember Joseph—he of “Technicolor Dream Coat” fame? He’s the spoiled brat who bragged to all his brothers God would make him ruler over them all. Though Joseph was gifted by God to interpret dreams, he, unfortunately, was not gifted with great people skills and wound up dumped in a well. A stream of crises put him in a prison, even though he was innocent of any wrongdoing.
Like Joseph, you need to understand that the reason you’re stuck in some current “prison” is because God may be holding you there. I know we can’t imagine God doing that, but he really does have his reasons.
I remember one lady with marriage problems whom I was counseling. She told me God told her to get a divorce, even though it was clear the marriage could be saved. How did she know God was okay with it? Because “God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy, would he?”
Here’s a big shocker for many of us: God is not that interested in you being happy! Yes, read that line again if you can’t believe it. Let it sink in. Feel the warm fuzzies draining from your body. And there’s a good reason for that—he knows our “happiness” is a flighty thing, based on fickle feelings and whimsy, and not on him.
However, he is totally invested in making you complete, fulfilled, and mature (James 1:4). And usually, in fact, quite often, he will accomplish that by putting you in an extended trial—a prison of circumstances. His goal is never to do you harm, but, instead, to produce the character traits you currently are lacking.
I was trapped once in a place I hated. I was disrespected, spied on, and gossiped about, even though I was doing a pretty good job. So after several years of hoping the situation would improve, I decided it was best to put out some resumes and look for a new job. I then waited for the offers to pour in.
Crickets…no bites at all. Getting new opportunities had never been a problem for me before. What the heck was going on?
It was clear after a while God was the one shutting down every attempt I made to leave. God had me there to prepare me for my future. He brought out abilities I’d never had before, and developed a resilience to face new challenges.
My prison was actually the key to a brighter future—it was truly the doorway to my destiny.
Joseph learned a great deal in his prison. He learned wisdom and maturity to go with his spiritual gifts. He learned to recognize the suffering of other inmates and not to focus on his own problems. And he was put in the perfect position to minister to Pharaoh when his dreams needed interpreting. All the negative experiences were indispensable steps toward his destiny, which ended up blessing not only him, but his own people as well.
I’m thinking now of those inmates I served, and how much they wanted their freedom. But are they ready for freedom yet? Have they learned the lessons they need to learn yet? Or would their freedom be wasted now on immaturity and wrong motives that time hasn’t yet had its chance to purify?
Maybe that’s why God has you trapped somewhere, in some miserable situation. He is growing you, stretching you, maturing you. He may also be using you to help someone else trapped there. But he promises that, in the end, it will all be worth it.
We need to rest in the fact that when the time is right, a higher authority will turn the key himself. He and he alone knows when we’re ready to be free. He is watching our progress, rooting for us, encouraging us not to give up. He will most surely give us our freedom, but not until we are ready.
So stop trying to pick the lock. Stop whining about how long it’s taking, because that may only make the wait even longer. Stop trying to dig a tunnel out of your cell with a spoon, you’ll only frustrate yourself. Stop fighting, and embrace what God wants you to learn and who he wants you to help there in that cell next to yours.
And then, suddenly, when you least expect it, the door will swing wide open and you will step into your destiny. And the man or woman who walks out of that cell will be a hundred times better, because they were willing to let God take his time while they were doing their time.
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.