Many people reject God on the basis of something bad that has either happened or is happening to them. ‘I am a Christian’, they say, ‘so why did God allow me to have this accident? … get this awful disease? … lose our savings in a bad investment? … have a child with Down’s Syndrome? … fail my exam?’ … etc.
No doubt you could add to the list. If you are someone who feels that God has overlooked your need, or who has let you down badly, please consider the experiences of the three people in the following stories. I want to encourage you to look beyond the present difficulty and consider the big picture that God has for your life. God’s word says, ‘We know that in all things [not some things but all things] God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).
Let me remind you about three people in the Bible
JOSEPH … was despised by his brothers because of the special treatment their father gave him. And when Joseph was unwise enough to recite his triumphalistic dreams in their presence, they decided the time had come to cut this tall poppy down to size.
The day came when Joseph fell into their hands out of their father’s sight. They sold the 17-year-old to a caravan of traders on their way to Egypt. As Joseph was forcefully dragged down to the Nile delta it seemed as though his God had abandoned him.
In Egypt he was taken to a slave-market where he was sold to the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. How humiliating for this lad who had enjoyed a free Bedouin-like lifestyle to be sold as a slave? How could God permit such a thing?
Joseph’s years of slavery concluded when his master’s wife betrayed him in order to revenge herself for Joseph’s refusal to betray his master’s trust in him. For his faithfulness Joseph was given a stiff prison sentence. It seemed to Joseph that his life was plunging into the abyss of increasing darkness. His life, as free as the wind under an indulgent father, was followed by thirteen years under strict authoritarian control.
You might say, ‘But Joseph always knew that his ill-fortune would reverse one day because of the two dreams he had back in Canaan. In those dreams God promised Joseph that he would eventually reign over those who oppressed him.’
Many of us have also had grandiose dreams, but few would lay much store by them. They would have significance only if they came true, which would have seemed a very remote possibility for Joseph the slave, or Joseph the prisoner.
The key thing to remember is that while Joseph may not have had much faith in his dreams, he would have made a huge mistake had he doubted God’s ultimate purpose for his life at any point in his trials, and, as a result, given up in discouragement. He never let go of God, and God honoured him for that.
As we shall see, at no point in our lives – not even when we are drawing our last breath – can we afford to accuse God of failing us. If we do, it’s because we do not see the big picture that God has for our lives. And we can’t see the big picture in this life – only God can – so we have to trust him fully, even when it seems that absolutely everything in our life is turning to custard.
When it comes to your life, failure is not a word in God’s dictionary. God delights in turning every failure into success, every dark valley into a mountaintop and every heavy cross into a glorious throne. He did so for Joseph, and he wants to do so for you, if you will but hold on to him by faith.
MORDECAI … was a good man, a bit of a fundamentalist, but a good man. However, his unbending religious conservativism affronted the proud Haman. This prime minister of king Xerxes decided to get revenge on Mordecai by exterminating every member of his race in the land – every man, woman and child.
When Mordecai heard of Haman’s death decree against his race, which was to be executed on the thirteenth day of the month Adar, he immediately sought help from Queen Esther. In turn, she took her life into her hands by approaching the king without an official invitation (Esther 4:16). She invited the king and Haman to a banquet that she would prepare. The king was eager to know what she really wanted, but at the banquet she declined to tell him. Instead, she invited him and Haman to come to a second banquet.
When Haman travelled home after work that evening, he was elated. Nobody gets to be invited to attend a banquet with just the king and queen; but he had been. The sight of Mordecai at the city gates, however, made him seethe with rage. As Haman passed through the gates in his official chariot everyone bowed except Mordecai. That Jew would bow down to no one but the Lord. Well, Haman would see about that.
That evening, with the encouragement of his family, Haman decided to ask the King for permission to have Mordecai executed. In anticipation of the King’s agreement, he went ahead and erected the gallows. He would string Mordecai up so high the whole city would be able to see the crows feasting on his corpse.
That night the king, somewhat agitated by what Esther might ask of him, tossed and turned on his bed. Unable to sleep he called for the court secretary to come and read him some boring Persian history. Maybe that would help him drift off into slumber. By Divine Providence the secretary turned to a page that recorded how Mordecai had once saved the king from being assassinated. Xerxes asked what reward Mordecai had been given for his noble deed. ‘Nothing has been done for him,’ his attendants answered.
The king said, ‘Who is in the court?’ Now Haman had just entered the court of the palace to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai on the gallows he had erected for him. His attendants answered, ‘Haman is standing in the court.’
‘Bring him in,’ the king ordered.
When Haman entered, the king asked him, ‘What should be done for the man the king delights to honour?’ Now Haman thought to himself, ‘Who is there that the king would rather honour than me?’ So, he answered the king and said the best thing the king could do would be to let this highly favoured person be king for a day. Let him be dressed in the King’s clothing, let him ride on the king’s horse, let him wear the royal crest on his head and let a herald lead him through the streets proclaiming to the citizens of the city, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honour.’
‘Great suggestion!’ exclaimed the king. ‘I made a good choice when I chose you to be my right-hand man. Now go and do all these things for Mordecai the Jew, and you be the one to lead him through the streets and to announce that I delight to honour him in this way.’
Haman, momentarily stunned by the king’s request, recovered and did as the king had ordered. Afterward he rode home with bowed head, totally humiliated by the experience of being required to exalt the man he wanted executed.
Hardly had he shared his grief with his family when the king’s eunuchs arrived to take him to the second banquet. There Queen Esther exposed him as the one who had plotted to murder her and all her people. The king, confused by these astonishing revelations, went for a walk in the royal garden to gather his thoughts. When he returned, he found Haman clinging to his wife begging for mercy. Now no one touches the queen – no one but the king. Before the night had advanced much further Haman was taken away and executed on the gallows that he had erected for Mordecai.
The royal signet ring that the king removed from Haman’s finger was given to Mordecai, and all of Haman’s considerable possessions were signed over to Queen Esther.
We smile when we read this story because we know how it ends. Justice is done to the persecuted people of God; their enemies are destroyed and their possessions given to the saints of the most high, just as Daniel 7:26-27 says would happen. That outcome, however, was not at all obvious to Mordecai when he heard the death decree pronounced against his people. And neither was it obvious to Esther when she took her life in her hands to approach the king unbidden. These were anxious hours for the two of them. And the proclamation of the forthcoming pogrom had every Jew in the kingdom of Persia on his or her knees. It was a fearful and anxious time for God’s people. They had no assurance that God would intervene on their behalf.
That is the way things often appear to us. Our troubles are overwhelming, they overwhelm us because we can’t see the big picture; we can’t see God working in the shadows behind the scenes for our ultimate good. But his timing is impeccable and the outcome is beyond improvement. In the meantime, however, we feel forsaken and all alone. Where is God when we need him? We pray and fast but nothing appears to be happening. The outcome, however, will always glorify God and honour his people. One day we will see the big picture and repent at our impatience and unbelief. So, hang fast and never give up!
LAZARUS … was a friend of Jesus. His sisters, Martha and Mary, knew that Jesus loved Lazarus. Whenever Jesus visited Bethany, he and Lazarus always greeted each other enthusiastically and each was genuinely interested in what was happening in the life of the other. So, when Lazarus took ill with a life-threatening condition it was natural to expect that Jesus would hurry back from Trans-Jordan to heal him as soon as he received the message from the sisters bidding him to come quickly.
After two days the sisters said to Lazarus, who was now tossing on his bed in a raging fever, ‘Hold on, Lazarus. Jesus will be here soon. He won’t be far away now.’ But that day passed without the Saviour appearing. And the next. By then everyone was asking, ‘Where could he be? Why hasn’t he come?’ What had caused the delay?
The sisters had been hoping that Jesus’ healing of Lazarus would convince their unbelieving friends that he was the promised Messiah. It was with some disappointment and embarrassment therefore when Jesus still had not turned up when Lazarus took his last breath. Jesus was even too late for the burial. ‘Some friend, this Jesus!’ thought the Jewish relations of Martha and Mary, though they were careful not to say so in the hearing of the two grieving sisters.
Lazarus’s last hope was Jesus, but he died without having that hope realised. Martha’s and Mary’s last hope was Jesus, but it appeared that they had hoped in vain. They had told their unbelieving friends that Jesus would heal Lazarus, but it appeared to them that Jesus didn’t even respond to their request to come. Is that all he thought of them? Were other things more important to him than the life of his friend? They were embarrassed and hurt. They couldn’t understand why things had turned out so badly for them and felt let down in a very big way.The lesson we can learn from this story in John 11 is that God himself decides where the finish line will be, not us. What appears to be the end for us, is often a new beginning for God. While that new beginning may not be in this life, it surely will be in the world to come. This life is a preparation for our ministry in the new earth.
After the resurrection of God’s people, we shall discover that every trial, every disappointment and every apparent loss, was permitted to prepare us for our service in Christ’s coming kingdom. We shall not regret a single one. With Paul we will say
Romans 8:37 “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”