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September 22, 2021

Faith sees obstacles as opportunities

The surprising success this season of the San Francisco Giants had me thinking the other day of Dave Dravecky. Beloved by Giants fans, Dravecky was a popular pitcher until a tumor invaded his throwing arm. After surgery he forged a surprising comeback—until the cancer returned. Dave’s career crashed the very day the Giants clinched the pennant on their way to the World Series. 

His arm was amputated. Then his influence took off. Dave and his wife Jan became speakers and authors who have inspired millions, including our congregation, about enduring tough times with faith.

One of Dave’s favorite Bible verses is Genesis 50:20, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” That verse comes at the very end of the long, strange story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis.

Cliff Notes on the story if you missed that week in Sunday School: Joseph starts as sort of the classic genius kid with tons of potential but zero social skills. He keeps telling his older brothers how they will bow to him one day, until finally they decide to just get rid of him. They actually sell their own brother into slavery and tell their father he is dead. 

One thing after another goes wrong for Joseph: he becomes a slave to an Egyptian, he is falsely accused of a crime, he is thrown into prison, he waits years for exoneration in vain—he gets his hopes up and they are dashed repeatedly—but by God’s grace each obstacle turns into an opportunity. In prison, while waiting, he serves those in need. His talent is spotted and he eventually rises through the ranks until he is advisor to Pharoah. 

Then during a famine his brothers come begging for help. They do not recognize him. He looks and sounds Egyptian. At first he toys with them, threatening them. Finally he reveals his identity and agrees to assist.

That’s when Joseph says it. “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Because of their brutal betrayal, he ended up in a place of power. Now he can save their lives. 

Joseph discovered a key to serenity: God takes even missteps and misbehavior and misunderstandings and rewrites them into a great story.

I don’t love the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” That makes it sound like God purposely plans evil in order to turn it into good. God is not the author of evil. Maybe a better way to say it is, “God uses everything for his purposes.” Or, “God turns obstacles into opportunities.” Or, “God never wastes a hurt.”

I believe that is all definitely true. 

As he is dying, Joseph reminds his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you, and bring you back from this land to the land he promised…” (Genesis 50:24) 

The brothers are now afraid of losing him, their protector. And indeed, a Pharoah arises who “knew not Joseph” and their descendants are enslaved. Tough times ahead. But Joseph has seen how God can and will work through anything.

Then he repeats the promise. “God will surely take care of you.” (Genesis 50:25)

“Surely.” Really? Yes. Joseph’s story shows how God is always at work behind the scenes. Claim that for your troubles, for your mistakes, for your heartaches. Claim it through the continuing frustrations and fears we are all experiencing through the global pandemic and its associated stresses.

“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” 

That means you have a choice: to obsess on the evil or to anticipate the good. You can choose to see nothing but obstacles. Or you can choose to see opportunities. Even the agonizing wait for the pandemic to subside is a chance to serve others, to consider the health and well-being of neighbors above yourself, to make a difference in the lives of those who need an infusion of love and peace. Perhaps most importantly, this is an opportunity for you to grow. You are changing anyway, either into a person of pessimism or a person of faith. How are you deciding to develop?

Dave Dravecky told me that if God offered him a chance to go back in time and do it all over, he would still trade a long baseball career for a life of impact. His cancer ended his pitching. But it enabled him to encourage so many people. Yet he says the biggest benefit was one he only saw clearly years later. His own character changed. He says he is growing to be more Christ-like, something that can only really happen through tough times. 

Your pain may not give you a platform for thousands or allow you to rescue your starving family. You may not see healing before heaven. But it can change your character to become more mature and joyful and confident and peaceful. That’s God taking care of you too.

So listen to Joseph’s words. Receive them in faith. 

“God will surely take care of you.” 

God is at work, even when you don’t see it. Even when it seems everything is turning upside down. Even when you are tired of waiting for things to change. Even now.


René Schlaepfer is senior pastor of Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, www.tlc.org.

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