When I was about 14 years old, I went to church camp. Back in those days, I was a pretty hardcore christian kid. I went to church three times a week. I fasted when the adults of the church fasted. I prayed three times a day. I read the bible from cover to cover three times over the course of about five years. I studied. I even tried to learn Greek at one point thinking that I’d like to read the bible in the language it was written. So, while I had fun and enjoyed all the fun things church camp had to offer, I was also there to seek God and figure out his will for my life.
I was also popular with the younger kids, and they would crowd around me because they looked up to me and I gave them attention. One day at camp, I was sitting in the chairs and a bunch of the younger kids were sitting next to me in our little group. The message the preacher preached was about Saul and how he “stood head and shoulders above the crowd.” It was a message about God’s calling for your life and how God used Saul in the beginning. I looked around and noticed that I, too, was standing head and shoulders above everyone around me because I was surrounded by kids. I took this to mean that God had called me to preach.
I remember as I was returning home with my parents, I told them that I felt like God had called me to preach. I said that I wanted to go to bible school and to become a preacher. And I’ll never forget what they said to me. I was actually a little surprised. They said to pray about it and to think about it, and that I shouldn’t put off going to actual college to go to bible school because I needed a way to provide for myself and my family. I mean, at the time, I wondered why they would say something like that. Isn’t the standard answer to your child saying he wants to be a preacher an emphatic “heck yes”? What sort of parents would actually tell their child to hold off on being a preacher until you go do something that’s going to make you money?
All these years later I look back on it and I’m super glad my parents told me that. At the time, however, I was quite disappointed. I remember in the days that I had fallen away from the church and headed on a one way street straight towards atheism that my mom recalled that conversation as a regret on her part. She said that she wished that they had encouraged me to do what I felt in my heart and that maybe I wouldn’t have fallen out of church. I had an idea in my head about the way my life was supposed to go, and it didn’t go that way at all.
Let’s look at a story from the bible where something similar (albeit a lot more spiteful and ill-intentioned on the part of his family) happened. The scripture is from Genesis 50:
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
–Genesis 50: 15-21
If you know anything about the bible, then you are surely aware of the story of Joseph. That story has been a favorite of Sunday School teachers for decades. The story is one of jealousy. Joseph’s brothers saw that Jacob (their father) favored Joseph because he was the son of Rachel (his favorite wife). The jealousy so consumed them that, one day when they were in the fields tending the sheep, they took him and threw him into a well and discussed whether they should kill him or not. Reuben, the oldest brother, worked hard to convince them that killing him was too harsh and that they should simply sell him into slavery to the band of travelers that was passing by at the time.
So, they took him from the well and sold him to the travelers and the rest is history. Joseph wound up in Egypt. He gained the trust and respect of the Pharaoh, and eventually was put in charge of the entire land of Egypt to help guide them through a drought. Eventually the drought became so bad in all the surrounding lands that it put Joseph back into contact with his brothers. Here was a chance for sweet revenge. Here was a chance for Joseph to tell them to pound sand. But what did he do? He was so overcome with emotion and joy to see his brothers, that he forgave them and hugged them.
But the part I want to focus on is in verse 20:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
What a powerful perspective! Joseph’s entire life was taken from him the day his brothers sold him. Can you imagine what that must’ve been like? To be stripped from your home and taken to a foreign land to be a slave? To wind up in prison through no fault of your own? But Joseph was perhaps the most powerful shifter of perspective to ever live. When he was sitting in a jail cell, he wasn’t stewing in his bitterness over his brothers. He had every right to be, though. It wasn’t his fault. His life was taken from him. He did nothing wrong, but he found himself in the most miserable station on earth: a slave in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
But in the midst of his prison, he used his gifts to help the king. He had such a powerfully positive perspective that he rose from the lowest station on earth to the most powerful position on earth. And, when the chance for legitimate revenge presented itself to him, he shrugged it off and told his brothers that what they had meant for evil, God had meant for good.
Those are the words of a man who knows how to find the purpose in the prison. Those were the words of a man who knew how to find contentment in whatever situation he found himself. He decided that, instead of stewing in resentment and bitterness, he was going to use his gifts to the fullest of his ability because he knew that something greater than himself was being accomplished through him.
Sometimes life throws us a curve ball. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we intended them. I never did become a preacher. I never did go to bible school. Instead, I was thrown on a path that led me to the complete destruction of my life, landing me on what I consider to be my rock bottom. It took me to a place where I was divorced and bankrupt, working a job that I hated, and filled with regret for all the things I never got to do with my life.
But in the darkest of times, I found my purpose. My perceptions and perspectives were shaped by those experiences and made me into the person that I am today. Would I hold the perspective that I have today if I had chose to ignore my parents’ advice and go to bible school? You see, you can’t learn what I’ve learned about life sitting in a bible college. I cut my teeth on life in utter failure, defeat, and destruction. I learned what it was like to face anxiety, fear, and depression. I learned what it meant to sit in darkness, to delve into the darkest parts of myself and expose them for what they really were.
The message for today is one of perspective. It’s very simple. You can look at the circumstances of your life and decide to live in regret and defeat, or you can decide to see a higher purpose. You can choose to be bitter and angry about what might have been, or you can work with what is. The most successful and happy people in life are the ones who keep their focus on the present moment and don’t worry about what should be happening in their lives. I should be a preacher right now, but that’s not what God had intended for me. There was another purpose for my life. There were things I needed to learn.
The other part that sticks out to me is that Joseph treated his brothers with kindness. The same people that wanted to kill him years earlier were standing before him, and all he could see was a greater and higher purpose. He took the bad and used it for good. And out of the good he cultivated a spirit of compassion and kindness.
So, for those of you reading this who are living in regret or bitterness at something that happened to you…use it for good. I spent fifteen years looking back at my experiences in church, at all the times I was hurt by the people who went there, and feeling anger and resentment towards those people. I blamed them for how my life turned out. I blamed them for the loss of my faith. But when I SHIFTED MY PERSPECTIVE, everything began to change.
Whatever happened happened for a reason. There’s a reason why you are where you are. There’s a greater purpose at work in your life. Sometimes you can’t see the purpose because you don’t have the complete story. There’s greater things to come. You are expecting to grow up in Israel, but you are needed in Egypt. The bad things that have happened to you are meant for good. They are mean to be used by you for a higher purpose. Fix your eyes upward on that purpose and let the bitterness and the anger go. The answer will come in time. Just hold fast and keep the faith.
If you enjoyed this post, feel free to leave a comment below. Also, please share it with someone who could use encouragement. Thank you for your patience and God bless!