Turn Setbacks into Stepping Stones

Turn Setbacks into Stepping Stones

(An excerpt from an upcoming book called: “What does the future hold?”)

Things happen

This side of heaven both good and bad things happen to everyone. Sometimes they may be unfair or even undeserved, but for the committed Christ follower, there is a comforting promise found in the following scripture.

Romans 8:28-29

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

First, all things (good and bad) will only work together for good as you love God and walk in His purposes for your life.  This promise is therefore conditional. If you are far from God, or have a half hearted relationship with Him, the enemy is going to exploit the gap and pound you with accusations and guilt. He may even tempt you to think that God has supposedly let you down in a bad situation and try to undermine your faith for the future.

Second, you have a part to play in cooperating with God to turn a setback into a stepping stone. Passive faith or resignation is not what this is all about. In bad situations, what happens in you is more important than what happens to you. Keeping your heart and soul healthy is the key here.

This article will focus on several pointers to help you turn adversity or even abuse into an advantage and cause you to continue being useful for God.

Where setbacks come from

Setbacks cannot always be directly blamed on the devil: ‘the devil made me do it’. They may be the result of your own or someone else’s ignorance, folly or even disobedience. Some things that happen are within your control, while others are not. The point here is not to become trapped in playing the blame game, but recognize the source and do something about it. It doesn’t help to keep blaming someone else for their part in the setback, or even feel bad about the mistakes you may have made. You have to move past the setback. Learn to confine a setback to the past, and not let it define your future.

Don’t believe the enemy’s lies about God’s nature or ways. He will try to convince you that God is standing in your way. God is always good and will never tempt you with any form of evil. The Bible teaches that the devil’s way is to take advantage of our strong desires (lusts), and entice us to do evil. When we yield to temptation and sin, a setback of some sort will surely follow (James 1:13-14).

Think of the prodigal son. He was drawn away from his purpose in life by a strong desire for an independent identity. One thing led to another and he squandered his inheritance on prodigal living. When he came to his senses he went back to his father’s house. His father (like God) was eagerly looking for his return, and immediately received him back with great rejoicing. His setback was turned around because he did something about it, not his father (Luke 15:11-22)! The son may have lost everything, but he still had his will. He chose to turn and go back to where his identity, provision, authority and purpose lay.

In times of setback there’s always mercy in God’s throne room when we draw near to Him. God made His move by sending Jesus, and now expects us to make ours.

Hebrews 4:16

16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

God’s mercy does not even dry up after one or two setbacks (Psalm 118:1). It’s His nature to be merciful with the one hand, and then with the other He enables or graces us with the necessary strength and wisdom to press on past the setback.

You may have heard the saying: ‘It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill, just don’t lose your cow!’ The point here is to stay connected to the source. In cases where you are primarily responsible for a setback, and remain convinced that God loves you, you will always return to Him. God has promised to ‘clean up’ when we ‘fess up’ to our ‘mess-up’.

1 John 1:8-9

9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Don’t run from God in bad times, run to Him!

Personal Testimony

When our family left the relative comfort of our homeland in South Africa, with its familiarity and job security, we experienced some good and bad things on our journey in the early months after arriving in the United States.

The good things stemmed from the grace and mercy of God. The bad things were rooted in our naivety, ignorance, foolishness, presumption and pride as well as a dose of ‘good old fashioned’ persecution. Our responses were varied. There were times where we did not handle our circumstances well at all. We knew that God was with us and cared about us, even though it didn’t always seem that way. Then there were times where we felt things were just plain unfair, but that didn’t help much either. We learned to drop that approach and take hold of His hand and press on in faith.

In looking back it became clear that God was mostly interested in what was developing in our hearts. Of course He cared about the practical difficulties associated with moving and settling in a foreign country, but these things were small in comparison to what He wanted to do in and through us. Time and again God reminded us to develop and maintain a positive attitude, and to be thankful for what we did have rather than complain about what we did not have, or were experiencing. The journey is not over yet.

How many setbacks can a man take?   

The apostle Paul suffered enough setbacks for ten men, yet he kept the faith. His example towers high in church history as a testimony to God’s faithfulness and the nature of spiritual warfare.

2 Corinthians 11:23-28

…in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness–

This list chronicles the severe persecution he received for fearlessly advancing God’s kingdom in a hostile world.

On one occasion he and his preaching partner Silas were unfairly thrown in a Philippian jail (Acts 16:22-26). They were beaten and held in stocks in the innermost part of the prison. Yet at midnight they faced down the temptation to complain that God had not come through for them, and begun doing what they could in their terrible circumstances. They praised God and sung out so loud that the others prisoners heard them at midnight. They did what was within their reach and God responded with a mighty deliverance. Their praise moved heaven and earth, and a mighty earthquake rocked the jail setting them and the other prisoners free.

Praise in a time of setback is like going on the attack when all else is saying lie low, lick your wounds and feel sorry for yourself. Praise says yes to the future, and no to the shame, guilt, frustration, anger, excuses and unbelief of the past. Make a habit of praising and thanking God in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Not for all things, but in all things!

Paul’s shipwreck

On the occasion he was shipwrecked with two hundred and seventy six others on his way to Rome as a prisoner after having appealed to Caesar, we see Paul stepping up in faith after a severe and dangerous setback. This setback was not of his own doing but definitely due to the folly of those in authority over him.

The account of the ship wreck in Acts 27:1- 44 is too long to quote in its entirety but well worth reading. Take a moment to do that.

Paul was on his way to Rome, knowing that God had ordained that he speak to ‘Kings and rulers’ as part of his calling. Even though he was under the charge of Roman soldiers in difficult circumstances, God’s will was going to be worked out! At first, sailing conditions were with a measure of difficulty, but when the stormy season approached, Paul advised that the voyage would end in disaster! He had heard from the Lord on this and now advised the seaman not to press on at this time. The helmsman and the owner of the ship of course had other ideas, looking to the unsuitability of the harbor for the winter. They did not want to stay there for the winter and lose revenue. Later, their loss would be far greater for not having listened to the preacher! There was a majority ‘vote’ and they set sail toward the island of Crete, Paul’s lone voice now blown away in the soft and promising sea breeze. The preacher now looked a little foolish sitting in the back of the boat.

However the weather turned bad, and a storm raged that forced the crew to let the ship drive before the wind. They had to lighten the ship’s load and on the third day even had to throw the tackle overboard. They soon lost all hope and stopped eating! Meanwhile, Paul had been before the Lord in prayer, and an angel advised him that they would not lose a single life, only that they would be shipwrecked. (Isn’t it true that we want to hear the Lord say that absolutely everything will be miraculously taken away? We don’t always want to hear that we still have to go through some things till we come out safely on the other side.)

In the ensuing drama of the ship being run towards the shore, Paul was able to be the channel of God’s mercy to everyone on the ship. The centurion in charge was now listening to the preacher a little more closely. Paul advised that they eat and get ready for the desperate scramble to the shore. In the meantime, they had lost all the cargo and the profit the ship owner in his lack of prudence had hoped to make!

In the midst of great danger, rain and cold, every single one of the ship’s two hundred and seventy six passengers were able to make it to the shore of the Island of Malta where they were kindly received by the friendly locals who build them a fire to warm them up. Paul’s prophecy had come true in the midst of the disastrous circumstances. Total loss in the midst of this shipwreck was avoided!

Recipe for a shipwreck

We can all learn from this account by noting that the sailors opened the door to trouble by being dissatisfied with the suitability of the harbor for wintering. Their impatience contributed to their lack of judgment as they relied on their own natural judgment. They lacked discernment in this situation and most importantly ignored the word of the Lord given to Paul. (The Bible teaches that we will prosper when we believe the prophets (2 Chronicles 20:20). Paul was a prophet as well as an apostle, and had spoken the Word of the Lord to them in warning.

Finally, the sailors looked only to the circumstances of the favorable soft south wind at the start to lead them. Look back over the previous paragraph and see whether any of the highlighted areas have applied in any previous setback you have suffered.

This is one recipe you don’t want to cook up if you can help it.

Things to learn from this setback

Storms do come, and to be forewarned is forearmed. A strong foundation in doing the Word is also critical.

Luke 6:47-49

47 Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. 49 But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.”

How you react to threatening situations will determine the final outcome. Do not fear. Fear attracts trouble whereas faith attracts God who comes to the rescue. 

Acts 27:24-25

‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 “Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.

When fear comes, realize that God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). You have the choice to refuse fear. As a child of God it is unnatural to fear. Refuse to entertain fear when it comes knocking on the door of your heart and mind.

Thanksgiving is another key ingredient for turning a setback into a stepping stone for deliverance. Note that Paul gave thanks in advance of their deliverance. Thanksgiving and faith are inseparable. If you really believe God has heard your cry, then you will be prepared to give thanks in advance of the manifestation of God’s intervention.

Acts 27:35-37

35 And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. 36 Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves.

A last lesson from this account is that it is best to stick together in trouble. They were all saved from total loss when they stuck together around the man of God.                           

Acts 27:31

31Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”

Not a soul was lost and Paul eventually took passage on another ship to complete the journey. God’s will was eventually done in Paul’s life despite the delays and extreme hardship. He looked to God to stay calm in the storm, obeyed His voice and was the catalyst for saving all the rest on the ship.

When you do the same you will come out of a setback stronger, and others around you will benefit from your faithfulness to stand strong in the Lord as well.

Three pointers towards your future

Your future depends on whether you grasp the following pointers in times of setback.

First, know where setbacks come from and deal with them appropriately. If you had a part in initiating it, then repent and move on. If someone else was instrumental, forgive them and move on. If the enemy is behind it, resist him and press on with boldness (1 Peter 5:9).

Second, guard your heart and mind from developing a victim mentality. God has made you more than a conqueror in Christ (Romans 8:37). Don’t play the blame game and watch your attitude.

Third, realize that things will change for the better when you play your part. Failure and setbacks are temporary when you do what is within your reach. God will see to it that He meets you at the point of your faith. So feed your faith in difficult times, and do not retreat. The future is too bright for the faithful to be forfeited by neglect and passivity. He will strengthen you as you wait on Him.

Psalm 27:14

14 Wait on the LORD;

Be of good courage,

And He shall strengthen your heart;

Wait, I say, on the LORD!  

Isaiah 40:31

31 But those who wait on the LORD

Shall renew their strength;

They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

They shall run and not be weary,

They shall walk and not faint.

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