If you had a bad family, grew up in a bad environment, went through divorce in your family, or a parent died, those are hard, hurtful things. But we have a choice when those things happen. We can either let those things dictate our future, or we can rise above our circumstances.
Joseph rose above his circumstances, and his life shouted: “By the grace of God, I will not let these things which could destroy my life stand in the way of my being everything God wants me to be.” And we too can live out our dream, have our visions, and be what God wants us to be.
There’s a temptation on the part of many modern Americans to look at their circumstances and say, “Well, how could I act any other way than this? This is the way I was brought up. This is the kind of home life I had.”
Joseph erases all those excuses off the board and says, “No! Nobody had a worse situation than I had. But I had something in my heart—to be great for God—and I never lost sight of it because I wanted to be His” (Genesis 37-50).
We can rise above our circumstances to be what God wants us to be.
God forgives and grace lifts up, transforms, and then takes what’s broken and uses it for His own glory. Only God’s continuing grace could take up the sorry elements of human life and use them for His own blessed purpose. There is nothing more marvelous in all the world than the power and possibility of God’s grace.
When we sin, we have the assurance that God will not leave us in the mire of degradation, defeat, and disgrace. The great love of God’s grace is in its power to heal broken hearts and mend broken lives. The Gospel comes to hearts that are broken by sin and despairing of any kind of redemption; and the Gospel tells of pardon, peace, and purity in the blessed healing and transforming power of God’s mercy, love, and grace.
Jesus Christ came to redeem people, to save all the wicked and rebellious sons and daughters of the earth, and He comes to reclaim the broken lives of His children.
Some people have said to me: “I want to walk with God but have messed up my life so much, rebelled against God, and done things I just can’t even forgive myself for, let alone ask God to forgive me.”
But I want to tell you something. God is far more forgiving than most Christians are, and God is far more forgiving than you are. He loves you, and He will forgive you. I can’t tell you He will make done things undone. There’s always a penalty associated with our sin. But God can take what’s left and make it work to His glory.
There’s not a one of us, if we’re honest, who can claim to be perfect. We’re all here by the grace of God. You may be lily white in the eyes of everybody else, but you know the heart is deceitfully wicked and desperately sinful.
But God can love you, and He does love you. And if you’re willing to come obediently to Him and put your life in His hands, He will forgive you and take what you’ve messed up and make it work for His honor and glory. He’s the God of all grace, and the God of all mercy, and the God of super-abounding love!
Problems provide us with greater advantages if we look for the possibilities in our problems. They promote spiritual maturity if we let them make us better and not bitter. They prove our integrity because character is not a factor of circumstance. They produce a sense of dependency as we learn that our power is connected to the presence of the Lord. And they prepare our heart for ministry so that in our sufferings, we serve.
In prison, God taught Howard Rutledge the power of prayer. Howard wrote that “Words don’t come easy when I pray, but even we amateurs discovered in prison the incredibly powerful force prayer can be in our lives. I learned I could talk to God anyplace: dangling from a parachute or shackled in a cesspool. I learned in prison that He could hear me whether in worship with a crowd of men or alone in solitary confinement.”
And it was in prison that Howard Rutledge learned the importance of the church. He writes: “I was shot down in Viet Nam as a church dropout, disinterested in the Christian faith. I would return to freedom aware of God and anxious to stay in fellowship with Him…. In prison I learned what it means to be isolated, struggling to build my faith alone. I had resolved never to be outside the community of Christian believers again.”
God taught Howard Rutledge the importance of his family while in prison. “I was too busy,” he said, “doing other things to really be a dad. How I regretted those late night cocktail parties that seemed strategic to my life; and I decided in Viet Nam in prison that if I were ever free again, I would listen and understand and try to show spiritual leadership in my home and with my family.”
Why does God put people in prison? Our prisons may not be in Viet Nam, filled with the torture of physical suffering. But, God puts you through problems so that you can learn. He puts me in problems so I can grow. I don’t like them. I, in my human self, run from them, but they catch up with me. And when in the midst of them, God uses them to make me the kind of man He wants me to be.
Don’t run from the pressures God wants to use to make you His perfect example of Christlikeness. We want the crown, without the pain. We want Easter without Good Friday. We want all the game, without the pain. But God will not have it so. In our lives individually, in our families, and our church, God can take these problems and make us better—if we cooperate with Him.
One of my boyhood heroes was a young man by the name of Carson Freemont. He was in my father’s church, but went away to college. When he came home at Christmas, he brought his fiancé to meet his church family. They looked like the perfect pair. He was a handsome athlete and she looked like a campus queen.
In his senior year, Carson came home again. This time he was alone. He told my father through tears that his fiancé had broken the engagement saying, “I will not, and I cannot, go to Hong Kong as a missionary, where God has called you.”
Carson knew what he had to do. “I don’t have any choice. It’s either serve her, or serve God.” So he let the engagement be broken. Then he graduated and she went her way and he went to the mission field by himself.
My father had a secretary who was the neatest, most spiritual woman I’d ever met, and she was not married. God gave us 4 years to work on the project. When Carson came home from his first tour, after a bit of resistance because he wasn’t sure whether he was being set up or not, he finally went out with her.
They fell in love, and the next term, they went back to the mission field as husband and wife. They served God faithfully for many years.
Carson declared personally and publicly that what God seemed to take away from him, which he didn’t understand, was taken away so that God could provide what he needed—the one woman in all the world who could be God’s perfect provision for his own personal and spiritual needs, in the place to which God had called them.