The Gift of Choice (Lane)
The Gift of Choice
by Lonnie Lane
There are times in our lives when circumstances threaten to shipwreck our faith. Whether because of our own sins or failures, or because of things done to us by others, we lose our spiritual footing and are threatened with a landslide into doubt or condemnation. That’s the human side of it. From above, God has provided a way to great advancement through these very issues. The weaknesses and failures in our lives can become the stepping stones to righteousness, and opposition and adversity can provide opportunities for greatness. It’s all in how you look at it, in your attitude. Our attitudes determine the altitudes of our very destinies.
Take Joseph, for instance (Genesis 37). If ever a guy had a right to be bitter and hopeless, it would be Joseph. As far as we can tell, as a teenager, the worse thing the kid ever did was have a dream that he was going somewhere in his life. Well, okay, it did rub his family the wrong way when it looked like his dream would mean they bowed down to him. But is that enough to throw him into a pit and scare him almost to death as he overheard them talk of killing him, only to then sell him to a caravan of profiteering Ishmaelites heading for who-knew-where, never to go home again? Pretty terrifying, eh?
We know the story. How Joseph is sold as a slave into a society vastly different from his own and how upon being framed by his owner’s wife, he winds up in prison. For years. With lots of time to sit and think. About how he’d been betrayed not just once, by his own brothers, but then by this lady who lied about him because he wouldn’t pay the attention to her as she “desired,” so that the master he’d come to even like and trust believed her and not him. Now here he was in this hell-hole of a prison.
He also had time to think about his dreams. (37:5-11) Especially after he gave those dream interpretations to those two fellow prisoners that came true and the one that was “paroled” forgot to tell the Pharaoh about him after all. Joseph had a “right” to be bitter. He’d really been victimized over and over again, hadn’t he? Who could fault him for feeling hopeless?
He also had to think about how he’d believed that God had planted a seed of greatness somewhere inside himself. He wasn’t sure what would have been, and it sure didn’t look like it now. But here was his crisis. Not in the circumstances but in what he was going to choose to believe, even what he would continue to think about. It is true, as James Allen wrote many years ago, “As a man thinks, so is he.”
Joseph had a choice. We all do, really. He could choose to think like a victim or a victor. He could decide if he was helpless and hopeless, or if he would look to God for help in hope! Somewhere along the way he had to come to those kinds of decisions. Maybe he had to make the same decision over and over again. Faith, like forgiveness – whether giving it or receiving it – must be renewed constantly when challenged. That could be a daily occurrence, depending on life’s situations.
If we see ourselves as victims, then it is no longer we who are in control of our lives. It is then our oppressors who control our lives. No doubt you’ve heard before that it is not life’s circumstances that hold us captive, but how we respond to and see ourselves in those circumstances that determines whether we are “victimized” by them or not. Joseph could have shipwrecked his faith by focusing on what had happened to him and been consumed with the injustice of it all. He could have wallowed in self-pity. Self-pity always anchors us to the past so that we cannot move freely into our future. Self-pity is an enemy that often masquerades as our compassionate friend.
If Joseph was a Christian today he might have blamed the devil and seen his life as being affected by the schemes of the devil to thwart God’s plan for his life. I had a conversation with a woman this past week who was sure that the devil did this and the devil did that in her life. The issue at hand for her was losing something. “The devil hid it; he took it from me.” No he didn’t. Sometimes we just lose things. Period. I suggested she not focus on the devil who loves the attention and the notoriety we give him when we accredit him with affecting things in our lives, rather than praise God for all His goodness to us. It’s not satan who is lord of our lives, Yeshua is. There are times for spiritual warfare, for sure, but sometimes the best tactic is to ignore satan and just ask God to help you find the thing and give Him thanks when He does.
It’s not likely that Joseph would have had the insight of how the devil can sometimes affect our lives, but he did have a choice as to how he was going to assess what was happening in his life. Joseph chose to turn his expectations to his God, to hope in Him to bring about justice and to restore his life. He chose to hold onto the picture God had given to him in his dreams; he chose to believe the dream came from God regardless of what the circumstances looked like, and he chose most importantly, to think like a man whose dream was already realized.
In the same way, we can believe the Scriptures and live as if they were already realized in and for us. After all, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for” (Heb 11:1). Joseph already knew that God gave him the insight that allowed him to interpret dreams. Likely he had asked God for insight into his own dreams, which may be how he knew God would give him the interpretations to the dreams of his two fellow-prisoners and eventually Pharaoh’s dreams.
Based on believing his dreams were from God, he believed he was not going to continue to be in these present circumstances all his life, however that would play out. Then he would think in terms of the success in God he expected would happen. Surely he couldn’t have imagined he’d come to the high place he did, but it’s a lesson that God will do “exceedingly abundantly beyond all we think or ask” (Eph. 3:20) in our lives when we trust Him to do so. God has given us enormous promises of overcoming victory in every situation. All God really ever asked us to do is believe Him! If we continue to believe all He’s told us, and hold the pictures in our minds of what He’s provided for us in Messiah Yeshua, there is no circumstance in which we can really be victimized. Why? Because, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28) You either believe that or you don’t. Trusting that He will keep His word to you is the key to unlocking its fulfillment. Joseph chose to believe God was in charge of his destiny, not anyone or anything else. We can too.
These very circumstances were what made Joseph into a man whom God could trust with great authority without that power corrupting him. Joseph came to know that all the position, power and authority that had come to him was God’s doing for God’s purposes. (Gen. 41ff) Even purposes to save the same brothers who had betrayed him and tossed him away to the caravan traders for a few pieces of silver. Even to saving that entire area of the world, as God gave him insight into agriculture in the same way he gave him the interpretations of dreams. Joseph knew that God was the strength of his life and his salvation. He knew that without God he would have lived out his life and died in prison. And so Joseph lived to honor Him. Even in the midst of a foreign nation with thousands of foreign gods, Joseph remained the Lord’s. And so can we.
But what about when the horrible circumstances in our lives really are our fault? Granted Joseph lived a pretty impeccable life before God, but what about when we’ve messed up big time? When we’ve failed so we’re afraid to try again? Or we’re practically immobilized with shame, fearing anyone should know? How do you overcome that? Peter comes to my mind. Poor Peter. Peter is quintessentially A.D.D.D. – the Attention Deficit Disorder Disciple. He’s impulsive and takes dangerous risks, like stepping out of a boat to try and walk on water to Jesus; he talks too much; he gets distracted from his original intention and lacks follow through. For instance: “I’ll follow you anywhere, Lord” becomes “I don’t know the man.” (Matt 26:69-75)
But the final flaw was, as quoted above, when he denied the Lord. The pain and anguish in Peter bleeds off the pages of Scripture. The hopelessness in his words, “I’m going fishing” (John 21:3) resound with a sense of failure. “I’m going back to what I used to do. There’s no hope left in all we hoped for. It’s over.” His own self-talk can almost be heard: “I’ve failed the dearest Friend I’ve ever had. I abandoned Him. I rejected even knowing him. I’m a coward. I opened up my mouth and declared a loyalty that’s not in me. All I care about is me and my own survival. All His selflessness and I’m just a phony.” Peter found out he wasn’t who he thought he was. And his shame and sense of failure were all consuming.
When Yeshua shows up on the beach after His resurrection and calls to them out on the water, and John recognized Him and said, “It’s the Lord!” all Peter can think to do is get to Him. He must tell Him how sorry he is. He must have His forgiveness. He must. Peter throws himself into the water and swims with all his might, and likely threw himself at the feet of Jesus, exhausted, out of breath and desperate.
Can you see Yeshua bending down to put His hand, His nail-pierced hand upon Peter, and lift him up to look into His face to see the forgiveness in His all-knowing eyes and release Peter from his shame and guilt? Can you?
What Peter experienced of his own failure took all the boasting, all the pride, all the arrogance from him, all the presumption, and made him the man God used to preach a history-making, destiny-changing sermon on that Shavuot (Pentecost) morning. (Acts 2: 14ff) His awareness of the weaknesses that were in him, had brought him to the realization that there was nothing truly good within him (see Romans 7:18f) and that only through his absolute dependence upon God would any good come out of his life or service to Messiah. It is that revelation which made Peter the example of the “rock” upon which Yeshua would build His church.
The Scriptures say, “Whoever believes in Him will not be ashamed.” (Rom. 10:11 KJV) In Peter’s case, he knew Yeshua well enough that he hoped he could obtain forgiveness if he could just get to Him and so he swam with all his might to Him and left his shame in the sand at Yeshua’s feet. If, however, I am so covered with shame that I can’t see life except through the lens of failure, then I haven’t really “believed in Yeshua.” If I believe Him, I’ll give him my pain and trust that He will really be there for me to take it from me when I let go of it to Him. That’s real faith.
The Scriptures tell us, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore and our sorrows He carried.” (Isaiah 53:4) How do we appropriate that? “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Heb. 12:2) Did He not “endure the shame” for us? If He did so, we really don’t have to. It’s a matter of what we believe. We either accept that as truth or we don’t. It’s not a flimsy faith thing. It’s a real transaction with a real God who keeps His word to us!
Forgiveness sometimes means forgiving ourselves. If He forgave us, we have no right to hold bitterness even against ourselves. Sometimes that seems the righteous thing to do. How can I get off so easy when I’m so awful? we ask ourselves. Well, it wasn’t easy. Yeshua died a more than awful death so that we can be free of shame and false guilt. “Religion” often puts shame and guilt on us, but Yeshua came to release us from it. Repentance is a way toward receiving it and entering into what He suffered to “buy” for us. He did it “for the joy set before Him.” (Heb 12:2) He has no joy in our holding onto guilt and shame. We bring Him joy when we choose to believe in the exchange of His atonement for our sin, weaknesses and failures.
The same choices apply in times of stress or rejection. We may be misunderstood. These things happen. But always we have a choice of how we will respond, of how we will assess the situation, and how we will see ourselves in the process.
God has told us who we are: “Whatever (whoever) is born of God overcomes the world and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Yeshua is the Son of God?” (1 Jn 5:4,5) We are privileged to be His. We have been told to “stand” with our armor of Christian character firmly upon us to protect us. (Eph 6:11-17 ) We know that we are destined for eternity in joy unspeakable. (1 Peter 1:8) No matter what anyone else may say about us, by God’s great grace, we will stand before Him, “blameless, in great joy. (Jude 1:24) We have even been given the awesome authority to declare someone forgiven as we bind or loose others from their sin (Matt 18:18) so that we can affect their eternal destiny. And above all, “Messiah Yeshua is our righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30). God Himself has declared these things. When we trust Him that His word is true and only His word is our only truth, we then can share in His joy, regardless of the circumstances. It is possible. It’s our choice.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundationk, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.