Three ways to rethink about your problems found in the February 2019 issue of Turning Point

Three ways to rethink about your problems found in the February 2019 issue of

Turning Point

I.                   Learning not to be defined by your problems

II.                Deciding not to be confined by your problems

III.             Seeking to be refined by your problems

 

I.                  Learning not to be defined by your problems

   Poor Job! When his friends looked at him they wanted to cry. All they saw were his losses, his loneliness, and his pitiful condition. When his name arose in conversation, it was in connection with his problems. When people prayed for him, it was due to his disasters. In the streets, people sadly shook their heads from side to side and clicked their tongues and said, "How awful."

   Job was on the verge of being defined by his problems.

   But even at his lowest moment, this man wasn't about to let that happen. Job never lost faith in God, and he never totally faltered in his determination to let the Lord redefine his life by the touch of sovereignty. The book of Job teaches us a powerful lesson: We must never allow our problems to define us. We must let God define us by how we handle our issues-and by how we let Him deliver us.

Problems Should Not Define Us

   The story of Job opens with a volley of satanic attacks. In the span of a few hours, Job lost all his possessions, his flocks, his herds, his livelihood. His employees were slain. His children perished in a weather-related disaster. Then his health broke, and his whole body erupted in boils. When he began that day, his sun was shining brightly, but by sunset of the next day his life was shattered and as dark as a cave without a candle.

   Without God's hedge around us, we're defenseless against Satan. The devil prowls around, seeking to destroy us. We have a God who shields us, for Christ prayed for our protection from the evil one (John 17:15). Yet we do face problems.

   Job's problems are so dramatic because his prior days had been so idyllic. There are two fascinating chapters in this book-Job 29 and 31-in which Job grew reflective and recounted what his life was like before his disasters. His life had been watched over by God (29:2), and God's intimate friendship blessed his home (29:4). Job spoke of the respect given him by city leaders, both young and old; who stood when he entered their presence (29:7-9). He spoke of helping the poor and the fatherless (29:12). When someone in his town died, he was at their bedside, giving words of comfort and spreading reassurance to the mourners (29:13). Job was burdened to help the blind and lame, to provide for strangers, and to rescue victims (29:15-17).

People sought out his advice and followed his counsel (29:21-25).

We must never allow our problems to define us.

   Job had also cultivated a reputation for personal purity and upright morality (31:1,9). He had a strong sense of social justice (31:13-14),and he was generous in providing for those in need (31:16-19).Though he was wealthy, he didn't want his money to define him. He said he had never put his trust in gold or rejoiced over his fortune (31:24-25).

   Job had spent his entire life seeking to live a life defined by grace; but now when people thought of him, they remembered none of those things. They thought only of his mountainous misery, and he was in danger of being forever defined that way.

   Job could have been defeated by his problems. His wife encouraged him to "curse God and die" (Job 2:9). As low as he was, he refused to do that, knowing it would lead to his total emotional and spiritual collapse. Job responded, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10)

Every life has some tough moments) but we don't have to let those burdens define our lives) determine our responses) or characterize our future.

   If Job had given up in disillusionment, his legacy would have been cursed with the stain of calamity, like a Shakespearean tragedy, such as Hamlet or Othello or Macbeth, or like an old black-and-white film noir.

   That's what happens when we sink into despair. It doesn't take the problems of Job to define, defeat, or disillusion us. Everyone faces trials and tribulations, and sometimes tragedy comes calling. Every life has some tough moments, but we don't have to let those burdens define our lives, determine our responses, or characterize our future.

   Bryan Anderson, an Iraq War veteran, is one of the few triple amputees to have survived his injuries. In October 2005, he was injured by an Improvised Explosive Device, losing both his legs and his left hand. In his book, No Turning Back, he wrote, "I didn't want people to define me by my injuries. Yes, that experience is a part of me, but it's not what I want people to remember about me. I'd prefer they know me by my accomplishments, my actions, and my words."

Problems Should Define God

   That was Job's attitude too, and so he never abandoned his faith in God.

   He knew God could be trusted, and in one of the rawest statements of faith in the Bible, he said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15).

   He knew that God is eternal and that our life on earth is momentary when compared with the glories to follow. In Job 19:25-27, he said, "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!"

   Job also grasped something of the sovereignty and omnipresence of God, that God is always present though we may not see Him and always in control guiding us. He wrote, "I go forward, but He is not there, and  backward, but I cannot perceive Him; when He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him. But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall Come forth as gold" (Job 23:8-10).

   Job also knew that his God was a Shepherd who knew his name, guided his steps, and sustained him with powerful words. "My foot has held fast to His steps;' Job wrote. "I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food" (Job 23:11-12).

   When we focus our eyes on God and treasure His words more than our necessary food, our problems can never define us, for our lives come into definition by the lens of God's grace and glory.

   Do you know what the New Testament authors thought of Job? The writer of the epistle of James didn't define Job by his problems but by his perseverance, saying, "My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord-that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful" (James 5:10-11).

   Job persevered, and God was glorified for being compassionate and merciful.

   When people think of our names, let's make sure they don't define us by our problems, but by our perseverance and by the God in whom we trust. Shift your focus from the hardships of life to the faithfulness of your God.

   Let FAITH be your middle name.

   When Hiram Ulysses Grant was leaving his childhood home for his appointment at the United States Military Academy at West Point, he ordered a trunk for his clothing and belongings. He was dismayed when the local craftsman riveted his initials in brass tacks on the front of it: HUG. Grant worried that the other cadets would  ridicule him and his initials would become a nickname.

Shift your focus from the hardships of life to the faithfulness of your God.

   He decided to reverse his first two names and become Ulysses H. Grant, but when he registered for class he learned that through a clerical error, his name was listed as Ulysses Simpson Grant or U. S. Grant. He embraced his new name so thoroughly that it served him well. It seemed like the perfect name for a man who wanted to become President of the United States.

   We can change the way people view us as we shift our focus from our afflictions to our aspirations and trust God with our heaviest burden. If you're dealing with an issue today, don't let it define you. You have a new name written down in glory. Let's be known as God's children, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, for the

Lord is very compassionate and merciful.

 

II.               Deciding not to be confined by your problems

 

   When Darry Burton stopped going to church, his grandmother warned him, "One of these days, boy, you are going to need Jesus. I hope you remember to call on Him." Burton didn't think much of his grandmother's advice at the time, but she was right.

   In 1985, Burton was convicted of a murder he didn't commit and sent to prison. For the next fifteen years, as he later recounted, "I was really angry and upset and really frustrated about my situation and being wrongfully imprisoned." Finally he remembered his grandmother's words and said to himself, "Well, I have tried everything but God, what do I have to lose." Several people had been persistently witnessing to Burton, and because of their influence he gave his life to Jesus. Centurion Ministries, which takes on cases of the wrongly convicted, came alongside to help with his legal challenges. It took eight more years, but eventually a judge overturned Burton's conviction.

   Now Burton shares his testimony in the local church where he serves as pastor, and his ministry touches people around the world. He has an insightful way of viewing what happened to him: "God had to work something out of me (bitterness and hatred), in order to work something into me (love and grace), in order to do His work through me.”

   Everyone's life includes certain imposed confinements, which are sometimes as real as prison bars. We all face limitations-sometimes physical, sometimes financial, sometimes geographical, sometimes vocational. We must decide whether going to let our problems hem us in or whether we're going to let Him enter our space for His glory.

   How we deal with our limitations is at the core of our character. The same was true in biblical times. Some of the heroes of Scripture were hemmed in by massive problems; others weren't as confined. But all of them faced challenges that drove them to the Lord.

   Take Esther, for example. Talk about limitations! She was an exiled and orphaned Jew living in the Persian city of Susa and being cared for by an older relative named Mordecai. Esther probably thought hers was a limited future, destined to obscurity. But God had given Esther the gift of physical beauty, and when King Ahasuerus needed a new queen she became the unlikely candidate. Almost overnight, Esther, whose Jewish heritage was a secret, found herself in the corridors of power, caught up in a web of political intrigue that threatened the very survival of the Jewish people. She also confronted an evil archenemy, Haman, and had to overcome his plot to destroy her and her people.

We must decide whether we're going to let our problems hem us in or whether we're going to let Him enter our space for His glory.

   The word God is found nowhere in the book of Esther, but the Lord's unseen hand is everywhere helping Esther, Mordecai, and the Jewish people in their moment of crisis.

   The fast-paced book of Esther shows there are no coincidences for the children of God. If we encounter problems, it's because God allows them. If we face limitations, it's because God wants us to overcome them. If we feel confined or trapped, we have an open channel above us and can approach the throne of grace.

   When it comes to our problems, then, we have two choices. We can either let them confine our possibilities or we can let them clarify our potential.

For children of God) there are no coincidences.

Problems Can Confine Our Possibilities

   Wouldn't it be interesting if we could chat with Esther about our problems? What if you could tell her about your limitations right now? You feel confined. You need more money, more wisdom, more time, more recognition, more opportunities, more options, more relationships. Esther might reply by telling you of a time when she was beset by limitations-an exiled Jewish orphan, destined, it would seem, to a life of poverty. God overruled the circumstances of her life and opened the door for her to sit on throne of Persia. Yet, perhaps to her surprise, Esther faced even greater limitations in the palace. Yes, she was the queen, but she couldn't approach the king whenever she wanted; only when he called for her. She had little authority on her own. She was hemmed in by powerful political enemies, especially the wicked prime minister, Haman. And Esther knew that if her people faced a bloodbath, she would not escape their doom. It's easy to emotionally suffocate when limitations like those tighten around you. But Esther decided she wouldn't be confined by her problems. Though it took enormous courage, she made up her mind to turn the tables, expecting God to bring about deliverance. As Haman's plot unfolded, Esther devised a plot of her own, but it took the prompting of her relative, Mordecai. He sent a warning, saying, "Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13-14)

Problems Can Clarify Our Potential

   Mordecai knew that it was not an accident Esther had assumed the throne just when the Jews were facing an existential attack. It was not a matter of luck or chance or good fortune. For children of God, there are no coincidences. God was moving pieces on the chess board. He was making His move, and He was in absolute control, knowing well how to ordain His plan and orchestrate His people. How important to remember that!

   Esther fasted and planned, using God-given wisdom to arrange her next moves. She told Mordecai, "Go, and gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!" (Esther 4:16) She invited the king and prime minister to a set of banquets, and she trusted God to be in the details. Her attitude was one of stoic faith and dogged faithfulness.

The lives of God's children are appointed by His sovereignty and orchestrated by His providence.

   The story ends with Haman executed on the gallows he had built for Mordecai and with the Jewish people empowered to protect themselves in all their dispersed around the world.

   Esther and Mordecai were ordinary people like us, born into uncertain times but born according to divine destiny. As we learn from their story, the lives of God's children are appointed by His sovereignty and orchestrated by His providence. We are not here by chance. We are born at just the right time in the will and wisdom of God; our backgrounds are to God in advance; our gifts and abilities are bestowed by Him; and we'll go to heaven when He calls us home.

   God has placed you on this planet for such a time as this, and when you run into problems and limitations you can be certain God wants to use them as occasions to clarify your thinking and show you a new set of possibilities. Our steps are ordered by the Lord (Psalm 37:23). Remember what Darryl Burton said: "God had to work something out of me (bitterness and hatred), in order to work something into me (love and grace), in order to do His work through me.”

   Helen Keller, who grew up both blind and deaf, said something similar: "The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse."

   Esther threaded the dark valley, illumined by the path-lights of God's providence, until it led her upward to the throne and onward to the hilltop of God's overruling grace. Let's learn from that. Let your problems create new possibilities. Without the Lord, adversity would confine us, limit our moves, and lessen our options. Imagine how trapped we would feel. But with the Lord, our problems don't confine us; they simply lead us to new and clarified possibilities.

   Even in the dark valleys, God will meet you in all your emotional, physical, and spiritual limitations and show you a purpose, plan, and a path forward. Decide to think of your problems as opportunities for God, and let Him turn your limitations into launching pads for His fresh work in your life.

 

III.           Seeking to be refined by your problems

   I seldom read the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 without a tear welling up in my eye. To me, it's one the most emotional stories in the Bible. As a seventeen-year-old, Joseph had dreams of grandeur, but his brothers seized him and sold him into slavery. For thirteen years, he endured slavery, prison, and heartbreaking disappointments. But at age thirty, he was summoned to the palace to interpret a dream for Pharaoh, and subsequent events propelled Joseph to the leadership of the greatest empire on earth at the time. His oversight of Egypt saved multitudes from starvation, and at the end of the story he saved his own family, including the brothers who had betrayed him. What he told them has reverberated through time: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:20, NIV).

   The Lord took the iron chains around Joseph's feet and refined them into golden chains around his neck. His purity of heart and perseverance of spirit provide a powerful motivation for us, and his amazing story helps us see how our problems can prepare us for God's purposes in our lives.

Refined, Not Defined, by Problems

   Rather than our problems defining us, we should let God refine our hearts through our problems. Dr. J. I. Packer wrote: "We should not ...be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Simply that God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet."

   Joseph's story is about a young man who was refined, not defined, by his problems. He illustrates a truth found throughout the Bible. The apostle Paul told us to boast "in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:3-4). James repeats this truth in similar terms: "Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2-4).

The Lord took the iron chains around Joseph's feet and refined them into golden chains around his neck.

   I don't know about you, but it helps me to know that my problems aren't random, meaningless, or wasted. As we work through the difficulties of life; God is using them to refine us. Think of your biggest problem right now. I know you have several of them-at least, most of us do. But what is your most vexing problem on this day of your life? Doesn't it help to know God has determined to use that problem for your good, to refine your qualities of perseverance, character, and hope?

   In God's economy, nothing is wasted; and if He allows trials to beset us, it is because He means to turn them into occasions for refining our faith, resilience, and hope. Psalm 66:10 says, "For You, 0 God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined."

Refined, Not Defined, by Persecution

   Joseph also shows us how we are refined, not just by problems, but by persecution. His brothers sold him into slavery for a few coins, and they did it out of envy. They resented his goodness and the glory of God that rested on his life. Many years later, the apostle Peter wrote to those suffering persecution throughout the Roman Empire, saying, "You greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:6-7, NIV).

In God's economy) nothing is wasted.

   Few of those reading this page will endure the persecution of imprisonment, physical abuse, or martyrdom, although these evils are increasing every day and numberless multitudes of believers are paying a high price to follow Christ. What's happening to Christians in oppressive countries is blood-chilling. But the Bible teaches that every follower of Jesus will face persecution on some level (2 Timothy 3:12); and if there's no push back to our testimonies, perhaps we aren't doing or saying enough for Christ. Have you encountered ridicule, rejection, or resistance for Christ's sake? That can be a refining experience!

   William Carey, the great pioneer missionary to India, suffered many setbacks and disappointments, but he later wrote, "If I were deserted by all, and persecuted by all, yet my hope fixed on God's sure word, will rise superior to all obstructions .... I shall come out of all trials as gold purified in the fire."

Refined, Not Defined, by People

   We are also refined by people, even the negative ones that come into our lives. The book of Genesis is sparing in its descriptions of Joseph's suffering, but Psalm 105:18says that his tormentors hurt his feet with fetters and put his neck in an iron ring. It's distressing to think of this young man stripped, chained, put in irons, and marched mercilessly across the blazing desert sands toward the human auction blocks in Egypt.

   But talk about forgiveness! It may have taken years for Joseph to process what happened to him, but later in Genesis 45:4-8 he revealed his identity to those who had betrayed him. Struggling to hold back his tears, he said, "I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life ....God sent me before You to preserve posterity for you in the earth ....So now it was not you who sent me here, but God."

   I would never minimize the sufferings we endure at the hands of others; sometimes the ones we most love hurt us the most deeply. Yet nothing is beyond the redemptive touch of God, and He can help us process our relationships over time. He empowers us to release bitterness as we put past offenses under the overflowing blood of Jesus Christ. He can help us better understand how the things that have happened to us have, over time, resulted in our good and in blessings to others.

   Give Him your hurts, and in coming years you'll look back and see how He used them to refine you into a vessel fit for the Master's use, just like Joseph.

Nothing is beyond the redemptive touch of God.

Refined, Not Defined, by God's Purpose

   God's ultimate purpose for our lives is to refine us into vessels reflecting the image of Jesus. One of the most remarkable aspects of Joseph's story involves the parallel between his story and that of the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of the elements of Joseph's history:

• He was a dearly loved son of his father, clothed with regal garments, who was rejected by his brothers, stripped and abused, sold for pieces of silver, bound and condemned unjustly.

• Though sorely tempted by Potiphar's wife, he did not sin; and nothing bad was said of him.

• Despite his flawless character, he became a servant.

• On one occasion, he found himself between two criminals-one who was lost and the other who was saved.

• At the age of thirty, this man entered his life's great work of saving the world. He uttered the words, "Do not be afraid;' and he knew how to forgive in a way that is almost unimaginable.

• Though he descended to the lowest place, he was exalted to the highest, a man to whom reverence and respect was given as he sat on the most powerful throne known to men.

   Dr. W. A. Criswell once said that whenever he read the story of Joseph, he seemed to have the same feelings in his heart as when he read the story of Christ and of Calvary and of Easter. It almost seems to be a story of our Lord in miniature and in advance.

   Everything that happens to us can become a refining stage toward Christlikeness. Isaiah 48:10 says, "Behold, I have refined you ... I have tested you in the furnace of affliction." It's not an easy process, but it's a blessed one.

   Instead of growing bitter, let's grow better. Instead of letting our problems define us, allow God to do as He promised in Zechariah 13:9: "I will ... refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'This is My people'; and each one will say, 'The Lord is my God.'"