Disasters and detours in our lives jar and disorient us. They “rattle the cage.” You get a bad diagnosis or a pink slip or divorce papers. Often those things cause the compass needle to spin in our lives and we’re wondering which way is up! What is God doing? But I think it is in those situations that we need to realize that the Bible says it rains on the just and the unjust.
Bad things do happen to good people, but here’s the good news, all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose. It is not that we are immune to all these things that happen, it is that God can use them for His purposes to make us like Jesus, and that’s what we hang onto. Paul was taken on a detour on his way to Rome. I have this mental picture of Paul in the midst of a storm hanging onto driftwood in the Mediterranean until the water-logged boat finally made it to shore.
And by the way, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is hang in there. If you are at that place, hang in there! I believe you are going to make it to shore, and here’s what I’ve discovered in my life, sometimes the worst thing that happens to us can turn out to be the best thing that happens to us. God has a way of using those things to lay a foundation in our lives and to prepare us for what He wants. And I might suggest that sometimes we get so focused on getting where God wants us to go that we totally forget that God is far more concerned with who we are becoming in the process.
Listen, God is going to get you where God wants you to go, that’s His business! But He’s not going to get you there until you are ready to get there, and who are you becoming is far more important than where you are going. So it is in these situations that God is working His purposes in our lives.
In 1809, he was born into poverty in a one-room log cabin, 16 by 18 feet. In 1816, his family was evicted from their home and he had to work to support them. In 1818, his mother died. In 1831, he failed in business. In 1832, he ran for the state legislature and lost. In 1832, he lost his job and wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in. In 1833, he borrowed money to start a business and was bankrupt by the end of the year. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off that debt. In 1835, he was engaged to be married but his sweetheart died and his heart was broken. It was devastating to him. In 1836, he had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for the next six months. In 1843, he ran for Congress and lost. In 1849, he sought the job of land officer in his home state and was rejected. In 1854, he ran for the Senate and lost. In 1856, he sought the vice presidential nomination at his party’s national convention, got less than 100 votes. Ouch. In 1858, he ran for the US Senate again and lost again.
In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States of America. Talk about the cage of failure! If anybody should have gotten stuck in that cage! His biographies that I’ve read are some of the most fascinating to me. What may be one of the most revered persons in American history, and I can honestly say that after reading all kinds of different biographies, he would be the last person that I would want to be because he was a tortured soul. It was a tough life, full of setbacks and sufferings and failures, but those things prepared him for this thing called the Civil War, and if it weren’t for Abraham Lincoln, we might have like two elections coming up, ya know? One is crazy enough, is it not?
By the way, it was Martin Luther King who said, “What does not destroy me makes me stronger.” I love that. Lincoln lost 40 pounds while he was in office. He hardly slept. When his son died, he became incoherent and could hardly discharge his duties. Dale Carnegie, in his biography said, “Year by year, his laughter had grown less frequent, the furrows in his face had deepened, his shoulders had stooped, his cheeks were sunken, he suffered from chronic indigestion, his legs were always cold, he would hardly sleep, he wrote habitually on his face the look of anguish.”
So here’s my question—what kept him going? What allowed him to survive the personal and national crisis that he was at the center of? I think a lot of it is that he never lost his sense of destiny. It is very hard to know what was going through the mind of someone who lived 150 years ago, but his speech before he came to take office in DC I think is revealing.
I love these words, he said, “I now leave not knowing when or whether ever I may return with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being whoever attended him, (referring to the God that Washington worshipped,) without the assistance of that Divine Being, whoever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail.” I don’t know but those may be some of the most profound historical words in our country’s history. Without His assistance, we cannot succeed.