Is Your Setback an Inconvenience or a Divine Opportunity?

Text: Acts 16:6-34

Recently, while driving through Atlanta, our family ‘ran into’ a frustrating inconvenience.

Literally.

It appears that someone intentionally threw a box of nails onto the dark highway to cause mischief in the late night—and it worked. Our car ran over the box with our right side tires going about 70 mph. I was driving in the middle lane with very heavy traffic all around us. There was a tractor-trailer on my right as the tires blew, a line of cars blazing by in the acceleration lane to the left of me, and bright headlights coming up fast on my rear bumper. It was a tense moment as I gradually navigated the car through traffic and to the side of the highway with only two tires left on the vehicle. Unfortunately, about a dozen other cars hit the same debris and had to pull off the highway with flat tires.

We needed roadside assistance to tow our car off the highway, had to check into a motel after midnight, were forced to rent a car the next morning, and had to wait two days for our vehicle to be repaired.

I know what to do when someone throws me lemons—make lemonade! But how do you handle a situation when someone throws you a box of nails on a perilous freeway? After we shook ourselves from the jitters of an exceedingly dangerous situation, we decided it would not just be an inconvenience for us, but an opportunity—an opportunity to be a blessing!

We intentionally sought for ways that we could be a blessing to the highway patrol officer who drove us to the motel, the tow truck driver, the folks at the motel, the agents at the car rental office, and the mechanics who worked on our car. What could’ve been accepted as nothing more than a disappointing and expensive setback was ultimately reframed in our perspective as a missional journey to share God’s love and kindness in a place we didn’t have on our GPS, and a people we didn’t plan on meeting. God graced us to be His witness and a blessing in that context. We also experienced a joy that would’ve been unknown if we had only counted this ordeal as a setback.

Throughout scripture we see God using “setbacks” as divine appointments for His people. Joseph is abandoned by his family and sold as a slave but he later becomes a blessing to Potiphar’s house. He is falsely accused and thrown into a prison where he also becomes… a blessing. He is eventually released and promoted to second in command over all of Egypt and reunites with his mischievous brothers as an authority over them. But instead of using his cloak of authority for vengeance, he reframes the misfortune in light of God’s redemptive purposes: “As for you,” he tells them, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20 ESV)

God used all of Joseph’s hardships to bless others—many others!

Paul also knew a thing or two about setbacks. He landed in Macedonia because of a setback by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-10). The obedience of Paul and Silas gets them beaten, humiliated, and thrown into prison. But behind bars, they sing praises to their God. They didn’t allow their circumstances to cause them to doubt God’s will for their lives. It wasn’t an inconvenience; it was an opportunity to be a blessing. And through this chain of ‘unfortunate’ events the jailer comes to faith in Christ and his entire family gets “saved” and baptized.

This same Paul once declared: “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” (Acts 20:22-23 ESV)

Is Paul being pessimistic? No. He just understands how God works. He has been at this missional journey long enough to consider that every hardship, every setback, and every inconvenience is just another opportunity to be God’s blessing in unexpected places and unimagined contexts. He knows that our witness for Christ carries the most weight when others see how we respond to the adversity of the moment.

So my friend, how are you dealing with that box of nails that has been thrown in your path? Are you seeing your circumstances as frustrating setbacks or divine opportunities? Oftentimes it’s the way we respond to inconveniences that gives the most credence to our faith and witness for Christ.

twitter-64Oftentimes it’s the way we respond to adversity that gives the most credence to our witness for Christ.
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Think about that as you abide in Him this week.

For further study: James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9, Philippians 4:6-7

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. How do you typically respond to adversity?
  2. If you were beaten and thrown into prison for obeying God, like Paul and Silas were, do you think you’d be singing praise songs? Why were Paul and Silas able to respond this way?
  3. How have you seen God work through setbacks in your life? In what ways has hardship given you an opportunity to be a witness or blessing for Jesus?
  4. What can you do this week to see your setbacks less as frustrating inconveniences and more in the light of divine opportunities to bless others?
  5. Who has God brought into your path to be a blessing to this week?

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