Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone.Matthew chapter 8, verse 34; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Sometimes my writings and my sermons talk about things that not everyone has experienced. The old saying, “You just had to be there” comes into play. And hopefully those that were there found something that encouraged them. But today’s subject matter is something I am highly confident that everyone has experienced: Setbacks! You didn’t get that promotion. You didn’t get the job. Someone close to you had a serious medical situation and it looked like they were about to recover–but had to go back into the ICU. Or how about congregations in the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church who were blocked (you can read about it here) from pursuing disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church thanks to the leadership of Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson just before she left town.
Setbacks are agonizing and arduous. They cause a myriad of questions to rise to the surface. Those questions can come at us one right after another, after another, after another–seemingly non-stop. But what if I told you that Jesus understands the ache caused by setbacks? Case in point: today’s epic sage. Jesus had just done the impossible–drove out those demons who had taken over the lives of 2 men. Those 2 must have been at least a nuisance to the community–if not an outright danger. Now their problem had been solved. They should be grateful! Right?
But they weren’t! In fact, they didn’t thank Jesus for helping their community! Instead they asked Him to leave; just leave! Think about it! Jesus teaching in that village and those 2 formerly demon-possessed men standing next to Him; clean, dressed, and in their right mind! Boy! What a right and ripe opportunity for Jesus! If I were one of those original disciples I would be excited about what would happen next! Instead Jesus, and thus His disciples, were persona non grata!
I can’t speak for you, but I can and will for myself–now that would have definitely be filed under the category of setbacks! So what does Jesus do? How does He respond to this setback? Chapter 8 doesn’t say–but Chapter 9 tells us. We see in verse 1: “Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town.” This setback doesn’t derail Jesus. He stays focused on The Mission that defined His Purpose. And what does this teach us when setbacks create painful glitches? Glad you asked.
Though a circumstance has changed because of that frustrating setback, not everything else has changed. Do what the most prolific songwriter of all times did when he had a setback. What did David do? Great question! He wrote songs, and one in particular: Psalm 103. Part of his song goes like this; and I use the King James Version for it’s poetic language:
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.KJV
In the middle of that setback you need to remember! Not all those other setbacks! No! Remember all the good things God has done in your life. Remember you are not alone. You’ve never been alone, though it may have felt like that. And you will never be alone, even if you think you will be. God has been preparing you for that setback. Maybe it was a song you heard. Or perhaps it was a book. Better yet, maybe you learned some important principles that at the time, you didn’t understand why the Spirit was teaching you that. I have numerous stories of God teaching me some things that at the time I didn’t know why; but later I did.
In the harrowing and heart-wrenching times of setbacks, when questions and emotions erupt like a volcano, we have two clear-cut and conflicting choices. One choice is to stay focused on the setback with all its pain and questions. But there is that other option; it’s not always easy and requires much, scratch that–it demands a whole lot of self-discipline. It’s what David did; and it’s what Jesus did. They remembered the Faithfulness of God. If you don’t think that God is faithful to you–then you’ve bought the lie of Satan, hook, line, and sinker. I wouldn’t be writing this today if it wasn’t for God’s faithfulness. He led you through other setbacks. And He has been preparing you for this setback, or the next. Whichever the case may be. And His strength and guidance is ready for each and every setback.
When we remember all God’s benefits–then and only then–can we know that this current setback or that future setback is neither final nor is it fatal. So, sing David’s song and as you do–get ready to remember all that God has been doing in your life.