A monthly column by Michael Cassidy, evangelist, author, Christian leader and founder of African Enterprise whose ministry in Africa and the world has spanned more than 50 years.
Are you about at the end of the road? Do you feel you just can’t go on? Does it seem that the bottom has fallen out of everything? Perhaps your business is going bust, or your job is getting you down. Or your marriage is on the rocks. Maybe there has been bereavement, or trouble with the children, or prolonged illness, or mental anguish, or impossible work or study pressures. Anyway, for whatever reason, you feel at the end of your tether.
If that is where you are right now, you might be on the edge of a great spiritual breakthrough in your life. For the fact is that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. It has always been so.
When Moses came to the end of himself, God intervened and called him to a great ministry. When the Prodigal had hit rock-bottom, he snapped out and the moment he faced his predicament and humbled himself, his father could step in with forgiveness and restoration.
The trouble is that humans are obsessed with the idea that we can live independently of God and manage on our own.
So we snap our fingers at God, with a sort of spiritual “I’m alright, Jack”.
So the person then charges at life with proud self-sufficiency. For a while it works. The job goes well. The money comes in. The marriage is happy. Tragedy and loss steer clear. Health is good. Then God is seen as the crutch only of the weak and inadequate. So the Lord who wants to love and guide and empower his life is left to wait till “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” usher in humbler days. Patiently he awaits his opportunity.
And then it happens. Bang! Some turn of events, some trial, test, tragedy or folly knocks the bottom out of things. We feel helpless and hopeless. We can’t cope. In some people, independence and toughness vanish like morning mist at such moments. In others, pride steps in, hearts are hardened and there is refusal to admit need. Or else they resist admission that God is the one who could help. They resist His loving availability. Jerusalem did this, and Jesus said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” — Matthew 23:37.
Whatever the barrier which holds you back, can’t you let it fall? Climb down, if it’s pride. Look up, if it’s blindness. Bend, if it’s stubbornness. Soften, if it’s hardness. Why on earth let the storm keep raging if there’s someone at hand who can say: “Peace, be still?”
Mark records for us how the disciples learned this during a boat outing with Jesus: “And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But He was in the stern asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him: ‘Teacher, do you not care if we perish?’ And He awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them: ‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’ And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?’ ” (Mark 4:35-41).
In their moment of desperate need, the disciples humbly and sensibly turned to the only one who could deal with it. And Jesus was totally adequate to their situation, as he can be to yours. He stepped in. And there was a great calm. Why not let him work on your storm?
Says he: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:37).
In fact any negative situation the Lord can make positive, as we cooperate with him and allow him to do it.
It all starts with understanding and accepting a Biblical principle which, though articulated in many places in scripture, is most concisely expressed in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” Note carefully that Paul says “All things.” The term is inclusive. Every experience of life, however bad, sad or mad can be turned to creative ends by God. All sin and all suffering can be made to work together for good in a person’s life.
The whole principle depends from the start to finish on God. This is not something we can do for ourselves. This is something He does for us as we trust him for it. Because of the greatness, power, sovereignty and love of God He can take every piece of our experience and integrate it creatively in our lives. Nothing that happens to us is reject material in His hands. In His economy nothing is thrown away. Even the far country has its creative lessons for the Prodigal.
In fact suffering can be truly redemptive. This is suffering into which we allow God to be drawn. Needless to say, He is not the author of such suffering, but He can in His great power and mercy take it and use it positively. Through it He can refine, purge and develop a human soul. So James can write: “Count it all joy when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2). He goes further. Indeed, “blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” –James 1:12.
The pattern here is of course Calvary. Here was the wickedest, most cruel and potentially most meaningless event of history. Yet under God it became the greatest blessing of history and the means of salvation and atonement. So our principle applies not just to suffering, but even to sin. Thus the sins of others towards us as well as our own sins towards others, or ourselves or God can all be taken by Him and used positively to teach us new lessons. Our sins and mistakes can under God become springboards to new growth, new insights, new humility or new determination.
Yes, all things can work together for good. But for whom? For everyone? No. Only, says Paul, for “them that love God”. To those who have entered a love relationship with God by commitment to Christ this principle applies. To others it does not. By their own decision they exclude themselves from this blessing. But for those who love Him, God is committed to making the negative positive, however negative the negative may be. Doesn’t that attract you? Surely you cannot remain negative about a God who is that positive.