God Bless You!
Friday, January 29, 2010
God Bless You!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (December 3, 2009)
Catherine Palmer lives in Atlanta with her husband, Tim, where they serve as missionaries in a refugee community. They have two grown sons. She is a graduate of Southwest Baptist University and holds a master's degree in English from Baylor University. Her first book was published in 1988. Since then, she has published more than 50 novels, many of them national best sellers. Catherine has won numerous awards for her writing, including the Christy Award—the highest honor in Christian fiction—and the Romantic Times BookClub Career Achievement Award for inspirational fiction. Total sales of her novels number more than 2 million copies.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (December 3, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“I shall never marry,” Prudence Watson declared to her sister as they crossed a busy Yorkshire street. “Men are cads, all of them. They toy with our hearts. Then they brush us aside as if we were no more than a crumb of cake at teatime. A passing fancy. A sweet morsel enjoyed for a moment and soon forgotten.”
“Enough, Prudence,” her sister pleaded. “You make me quite hungry, and you know we are late to tea.”
“Hungry?” A glance revealed the twitch of mirth on Mary's lips. Prudence frowned. “You think me silly.”
“Dearest Pru, you are silly.” Mary raised her wool collar against the cold, misty drizzle. “One look at you announces it to all the world. You're far too curly-haired, pink-cheeked, and blue-eyed to be taken seriously.”
“I cannot help my cheeks and curls, nor have they anything to do with my resolve to remain unmarried.”
“But they have everything to do with the throng of eligible men clamoring to fill your dance card at every ball. Your suitors send flowers and ask you to walk in the gardens. On the days you take callers, they stand elbow to elbow in the foyer. It is really too much. Surely one of them must be rewarded with your hand.”
“No,” Prudence vowed. “I shall not marry. I intend to follow the example of my friend Betsy.”
“Elizabeth Fry is long wed and the mother of too many children to count.”
“But she obeys a calling far higher than matrimony.”
“Rushing in and out of prisons with blankets and porridge? Is that your friend's high calling?”
“Indeed it is, Mary. Betsy is a crusader. With God's help, she intends to better the lives of the poor women in Newgate.”
“Better the lives of soiled doves, pickpockets, and tavern maids?” Mary scoffed. “I should like to see that.”
“And so you will, for I have no doubt of Betsy's success. I shall succeed, too, when God reveals my mission. I mean to be an advocate for the downtrodden. I shall champion those less fortunate than I.”
“You are hardly fortunate yourself, Pru. You would do better to marry a rich man and redeem the world by bringing up moral, godly, well-behaved children.”
“Do not continue to press me on that issue, Mary, I beg you. My mind is set. I have loved and lost. I cannot bear another agony so great.”
“Do you refer to that man more than twice your age? the Tiverton blacksmith? Mr. . . . Mr. Walker?”
Prudence tried to ignore the disdain in Mary's voice. They were nearing the inn at which they had taken lodging in the town of Otley. Their eldest sister, Sarah, had prescribed a tour of the north country, declaring Yorkshire's wild beauty the perfect antidote to downtrodden spirits. Thus far, Prudence reflected, the journey had not achieved its aim.
Now, Mary had raised again the subject of great torment to Prudence. It was almost as though she enjoyed mocking her younger sister's passion for a man she could never wed. Whatever anyone thought of him, Prudence decided, she would defend her love with valor and tenacity.
“Mr. Walker is a gentleman,” she insisted. “A gentleman of the first order.”
“Nonsense,” Mary retorted. “He has no title, no land, no home, no education, nothing. How can you call him a gentleman?”
“Of course he has no title--he is an American!” Annoyed, Prudence lifted her skirts as she approached a large puddle in the street. “Americans have no peerage. By law, they are all equal.”
“Equally common. Equally ordinary. Equally low.” Mary rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Pru, you can do far better than Mr. Walker. Sarah and I hold the opinion that her nephew, Henry Carlyle, Lord Delacroix, would suit you very well indeed. She writes that he is returned from India much improved from their last acquaintance. Delacroix owns a fine home in London and another in the country. He is wealthy, handsome, and titled. In short, the perfect catch. Leave everything to your sisters, Pru. We shall make it all come about.”
“You will do nothing of the sort! Delacroix is a foolish, reckless cad. I would not marry him if he were the last man in England.”
Annoyed, Prudence stepped onto a narrow plank, a makeshift bridge someone had laid across the puddle. Attempting to steady herself, she did not notice a ragged boy dart from an alleyway. He splashed into the muddy water, snatched the velvet reticule at her waist, and fled.
“Oh!” she cried out.
The plank tilted. Prudence tipped. Her balance shifted.
In a pouf of white petticoats, she tottered backward until she could do nothing but unceremoniously seat herself in the center of the dirty pool. Mud splattered across her blue cape and pink skirt as she sprawled out, legs askew and one slipper floating in the muck.
“Dear lady!” A man knelt beside her. “Are you injured? Please allow me to assist you.”
She looked into eyes the color of warm treacle. A tumble of dark curls fell over his brow. Angled cheekbones were echoed in the squared jut of his jaw. It was the face of an angel. Her guardian angel.
“My bag,” she sputtered. “The boy took it.”
“My man has gone after him. Have no fear on that account. But what of you? Can you stand? May I not help you?”
He held out a hand sheathed in a brown kid glove. Prudence reached for it, but Mary intervened.
“You are mud from head to toe, Pru!” She blocked the stranger's hand. “You must try to get up on your own. We are near the inn, and we shall find you a clean gown at once.”
“Hang my gown!” Prudence retorted. “Give me your hand, sister, or allow this gentleman to aid me. My entire . . . undercarriage is wet.”
At this, the man's lips curved into a grin. “Do accept my offer of assistance, dear lady, and I shall wrap my cloak about you . . . you and your damp undercarriage.”
The motley crowd gathered on the street were laughing and elbowing one another at the sight of a fine lady seated in a puddle. Prudence had endured quite enough derision and mockery for one day. She set her muddy hand in the gentleman's palm. He slipped his free hand under her arm and helped her rise. Before she could bemoan her disheveled state, he swept the thick wool cloak from his shoulders and laid it across her own.
“My name is Sherbourne,” he said as he led her toward the inn. “William Sherbourne of Otley.”
“I am Prudence Watson. Of London.”
Utterly miserable, she realized a truth far worse than a muddy gown, a missing slipper, and a tender undercarriage. She was crying. Crying first because she had been assaulted. Second because her bag was stolen away. Third because she was covered in cold, sticky mud. Fourth and every other number because Mr. Walker had abandoned her.
He had declared he loved Prudence too much to make her his wife. He kissed her hand. He bade her farewell. And she had neither seen nor heard from him since.
“You will catch pneumonia,” Mary cried as she hastened ahead of them to open the inn's door. “Oh, Pru, you will have a fever by sunset and we shall bleed you and care for you and you will die anyway, just like my dear Mr. Heathhill, who left me a widow.”
“Upon my word, madam,” William spoke up. “I would never lay out such a fate for a woman so young and lovely. Miss Watson is hardly bound for an early grave. Do refrain from such predictions, I beg you.”
“Oh, Mary, his rose was in my reticule,” Prudence moaned. “The rose Mr. Walker gave me. I pressed it and vowed to keep it forever. And now it is lost.”
“Your husband?” William asked. He helped her ascend the stairs and escorted her into the inn. “Give me his name, and I shall alert him to your distress.”
“She has no husband,” Mary informed him. “We are both unmarried, for I am recently a widow.”
“Do accept my sincere condolences.”
“Thank you, sir. But we have not been properly introduced. I am Mrs. John Heathhill of Cranleigh Crescent in London.”
“William Sherbourne of Otley, at your service.” He made a crisp bow. “You are Miss Watson's sister?”
“Yes,” Prudence cut in, “and if she will stop chattering for once, I shall welcome her attention. Mary, come with me, for I am shivering.”
“Heavens! That is exactly how the influenza began with my dear late husband!” Mary took her sister's arm and stepped toward the narrow staircase. “Thank you, Mr. Sherbourne. We are in your debt.”
“Think nothing of it,” he replied. “I wish you a speedy recovery and excellent health, Miss Watson. Good afternoon, ladies.”
“Such a gentleman!” Mary exclaimed as she accompanied her sister up the stairs and into their suite. “So very chivalrous. I wager he is married. Even so, I should be happy to see him again. You have his cloak still, and on that account we are compelled to call on him. What good fortune! He is well mannered indeed. And you must agree he is terribly handsome.”
Prudence was in no humor to discuss anyone's merits. “Find my blue gown, Mary. The one with roses. And ask the maids to bring hot water. Hot, mind you. I cannot bear another drop of cold water. I am quite chilled to the bone.”
While Mary gave instructions to the inn's staff, Prudence began removing her sodden gown. She shuddered at the memory of that boy snatching her reticule. Thank heaven for Mr. Sherbourne's kindness. But Mr. Walker's rose was gone now, just as the man himself had disappeared from her life.
“Did you like him?” Mary asked as she sorted through the gowns in her sister's trunk. “I thought he had nice eyes. Very brown. His smile delighted me, too. He was uncommonly tall, yet his bearing could not have been more regal. If he is yet unmarried, I think him just the sort of man to make you a good husband.”
“A husband?” Prudence could hardly believe it. “You were matchmaking while I sat in the mud? Honestly, Mary, you should wed Mr. Sherbourne yourself.”
“Now you tease me. You know my mourning is not complete. Even if it were, I am certain I shall never find another man as good to me as my dear late Mr. Heathhill.”
“If you will not marry, why must you make such valiant efforts to force me into that state? I have declared my intention never to wed. You and Sarah must respect that decision.”
“Our duty to you supersedes all your ridiculous notions, Pru. You have no home and no money. Society accepts you only because of your excellent connections.”
“You refer to yourself, of course. And Sarah. With such superior sisters to guide me, I can never go wrong.”
When the maids entered the room with pitchers of steaming water, Prudence gladly escaped her hovering sister. She loved Mary well enough, but the death of Mr. Heathhill had cast the poor woman into a misery that nothing could erase. Mary's baby daughter resided in the eager arms of doting grandparents while she was away, but she missed the child dreadfully. With both sisters mourning lost love, their holiday in the north had proven as melancholy as the misty moors, glassy lakes, and windswept dells of Yorkshire.
Not even a warm bath and clean, dry garments could stop Prudence from shivering. Mary had gone to the inn's gathering room with the hope of ordering tea. The thought of a cup of tea and a crackling blaze on the hearth sent Prudence hurrying down after her sister.
Amid clusters of chatting guests, she spotted Mary at a table near the fire. Two maids were laying out a hearty tea--a spread of currant cake, warm scones, cold meats, jams, and marmalade. A round-bellied brown teapot sent up a curl of steam.
Prudence chose a chair while Mary gloomily cut the cake and served it. “Not enough currants,” she decreed. “And very crumbly.”
“I have been thinking about your observations on my situation in life,” Prudence said. “I see you cannot help but compare my lot to that of my siblings. Thanks to our late father, Sarah has more money than she wants. You inherited your husband's estate and thus have no worry about the future. But I? I am to be pitied. You think me poor.”
“You are poor,” Mary corrected her. “Sarah is not only rich, but her place in society was secured forever by her marriage into the Delacroix family. She is terribly well connected. Surely you read Miss Pickworth's column in last week's issue of The Tattler. She reported that Sarah's new husband is likely to be awarded a title.”
“Miss Pickworth, Miss Pickworth. Do you read The Tattler day and night, Mary? One might suppose Miss Pickworth to be your dearest friend--and not some anonymous gossip whose reports keep society in a flutter.”
“Miss Pickworth keeps society abreast of important news.” Mary poured two cups of tea. “I value her advice, and I welcome her information.”
“Unfounded rumors and hints of scandal,” Prudence retorted. “Nothing but tittle-tattle.”
“Oh, stir your tea, Pru.”
For a moment, both sisters tended to their cups. But Prudence at last broached a subject she had been considering for some time.
“I am ready to go home,” she told her sister. “I want to see Sarah. I miss my friends, Betsy most of all. Anne, you know, is dearer still to me, but she is rarely at home. I do not mind, really, for the thought of Anne only reminds me of Mr. Walker.”
“Please forgive my interruption.”
A man's deep voice startled Prudence. She looked up to find William Sherbourne standing at their table. He was all she had remembered, and more. His shoulders were impossibly broad, his hair the exact color of strong tea, his hands so large they would circle a woman's waist without difficulty. She had not noticed how fine he looked in his tall black riding boots and coat. But now she did, and she sat up straighter.
“May I trouble you ladies for a moment?” he asked.
“Mr. Sherbourne, how delightful to see you again.” Mary's words dripped honey. “Do join us for tea, won't you?”
“Thank you, but I fear I cannot. Duty calls.” He turned his deep brown eyes on Prudence. “Miss Watson, my man retrieved your bag. I trust nothing is amiss.”
He held out the velvet reticule she had been carrying. So delighted she could not speak, Prudence took it and loosened the silk drawstrings. After a moment's search, she located her small leather-bound journal and opened it. From its pages, the dried blossom fluttered onto her lap.
“Sister, have you nothing to say to Mr. Sherbourne?” Mary asked. “Perhaps you would like to thank him for his kindness?”
“Yes, of course,” Prudence said, tucking the rose and notebook back into her reticule and rising from her chair. “I am grateful to you, Mr. Sherbourne. First you rescued me from the street, and now you have returned my bag. You are very gallant.”
He laughed. “Gallant, am I? I fear there are many who would disagree with you. But perhaps you would honor me with the favor of your company for a moment. There is someone I wish you to meet.”
Prudence glanced at her sister, who was pretending not to notice anything but the few currants in her tea cake.
“Do run along, Pru,” Mary said. “I am quite content to take my tea and await your return.”
William held out his arm, and Prudence slipped her hand around it. “I hope you do not think me forward in my request,” he remarked. “You know nothing of my character, yet you accompany me willingly.”
“I have called you gallant,” she replied. “Was I mistaken?”
“Greatly.” His brown eyes twinkled as he escorted her toward the door of the inn. “I am so far from gallant that you would do well never to speak to me again. But it is too late, for I have taken you captive. You are under my spell, and I may do with you as I wish.”
Uncertain, Prudence studied his face. “What is it you wish, sir?”
“Ah, but if I reveal my dark schemes, the spell will be broken. I would have you think me courteous. Noble. Kind.”
“You tease me now. Are you not a gentleman?”
“Quite the opposite. I am, in fact, a rogue. A rogue of the worst sort, and never to be trusted. I rescue ladies from puddles only on Tuesdays. The remainder of the week, I am contemptible. But look, here is my man with the scalawag who stole your bag. And with them stands a true gentleman, one who wishes to know you.”
Feeling slightly off-kilter, Prudence turned her attention to a liveried footman just inside the inn, near the door. In his right hand, he clasped the ragged collar of a young boy whose dirty face wore a sneer. Beside them stood a man so like William Sherbourne in appearance that she thought they must be twins.
“Randolph Sherbourne, eldest of three brothers,” William announced. “Randolph, may I introduce Miss Prudence Watson?”
“I am delighted to make your acquaintance, madam.” He made her a genteel bow.
She returned a somewhat wobbly curtsy. It was one thing to meet one man of stature, elegance, and wit, but quite another to find herself in the presence of two such men.
“Miss Watson, you are as lovely as my brother reported,” Randolph said. “His accounts are so often exaggerated that I give them little notice. But in your case, he perhaps did not do you justice.”
“I believe I called her an angel, Randolph. There can be no superlative more flattering. Yet I confess I did struggle to give an adequate account of Miss Watson's charms.”
“Please, gentlemen,” Prudence spoke up at last. She had heard too much already. These brothers were men like all the rest, stumbling over themselves to impress and flatter. “My tea awaits, and I must hasten to thank your footman for retrieving my reticule.”
“But of course,” William agreed. “Harris, do relate to Miss Watson your adventures of the afternoon.”
The footman bowed. “I pursued this boy down an alley and over a fence, madam. In short order, I captured him and retrieved your bag.”
“Thank you, Harris.” Prudence favored him with a smile. “I am most grateful.”
“What shall we do with the vile offender?” William asked her. “I have considered the gallows, but his neck is too thin to serve that purpose. The rack might be useful, but he has already surrendered your reticule, and we need no further information from him. Gaol, do you think? Or should we feed him to wild hogs?”
Prudence pursed her lips to keep her expression stern. “I favor bears,” she declared. “They are larger than hogs and make quick work of their prey.”
The boy let out a strangled squawk. “Please, ma'am, I'm sorry for what I done. I'll never do it again, I swear.”
She bent to study his face and noted freckles beneath the dirt. “What is your name, young man? And how old are you?”
“I'm ten,” he said. “My name is Tom Smith.”
“Tom Smith,” she repeated. “Does your father own a smithy?”
“No, ma'am. My father be dead these three years together.”
“I am sorry to hear it. Tell me, Tom, do you believe your father would be pleased that you have taken to stealing?”
“He would know why I done it, for he would see Davy's sufferin' and wish to ease it--same as all of us.”
“And who is Davy?” she asked.
“My brother. We're piecers, ma'am. And all our sisters be scavengers. Davy was crippled in the mill.” Tom's large gray eyes fastened on William Sherbourne as he pointed a thin finger. “His mill.”
“Impossible,” William said. “My family built our mill, in fact, with the express purpose of providing honest and humane labor for the villagers of Otley.”
“Take this, Tom.” Prudence pressed a coin into the boy's grimy hand. “Please use it for your brother's care.”
“A shillin'?” He gaped at her.
“Yes. But you must promise to turn from crime and always be a good boy.”
“I promise, ma'am. With all my heart.”
“Run along, then.” She smiled as he pushed the shilling deep into the pocket of his trousers.
“You are an angel,” Tom said. “Truly, you are.”
With a final look back at her, he slipped out of the footman's grasp and flew through the doorway and down the street.
“Now that is an interesting approach to deterring misbehavior,” William addressed his brother. “Catch a thief, then pay him. What do you think, Randolph? Shall you recommend it to Parliament on your next appointment in the House of Lords? Perhaps it might be made a law.”
Prudence bristled. “I gave the shilling to aid Tom Smith's injured brother. Perhaps you should recommend that to Parliament. I have heard much about the abhorrent treatment of children who work in the mills.”
Randolph Sherbourne spoke up. “My family's worsted mill, Miss Watson, is nothing like those factories of ill repute.”
“I believe young Davy Smith might argue the point. His brother blames your mill for the injury.”
“Do you take the word of a pickpocket over that of a gentleman?” William asked her.
“I see you call yourself a gentleman when the situation requires one, Mr. Sherbourne. Only moments ago, you were a rogue.”
“I fear William's first account of his character was accurate,” Randolph told her. “We have done our best to redeem him, but alas, our efforts always come to naught. He is bad through and through, a villain with a black heart and no soul whatever.”
“As wicked as that, is he?” Prudence suddenly found it difficult to fan her flame of moral outrage. “Then I am glad our acquaintance will be of short duration. My sister and I soon end our tour of the north country. Perhaps as early as tomorrow morning we shall set off for London.”
“But I have hardly begun to abuse William,” Randolph protested. “My brother deserves much worse, and you must know the whole truth about him. My wife and I should enjoy the honor of your company at dinner today. You and your sister are welcome at Thorne Lodge.”
“You will never persuade Miss Watson to linger in Yorkshire,” William assured his brother. “Her heart hastens her toward a gentleman who has been so fortunate as to win the love of an angel.”
“Ah, you are engaged, Miss Watson,” Randolph said. “I should very much like to congratulate the man who prevailed over all other suitors.”
“His name is Walker,” William informed him. “With a single red rose, he secured his triumph.”
“You assume too much, sir. I am not engaged.” Prudence looked away, afraid the men might see her distress and mock it. “Marriage is not the object of my heart's desire.”
“Yet your pain upon losing Mr. Walker's rose was great indeed,” William observed. “What can have parted you from him?”
“Upon my honor, Mr. Sherbourne,” Prudence snapped, “I think you very rude to intrude on my privacy with such a question.”
“Yes, but rudeness is the hallmark of my character. I give offense wherever I go.”
“Indeed,” Randolph agreed. “William is always impolite and discourteous. I should urge you to ignore him, Miss Watson. But in this case, I am as curious as he. How dare anyone object to a gentleman of whom you approve so heartily?”
“Mr. Walker is an American,” she told the brothers. “He is a blacksmith. And poor. With so many disadvantages, society decreed a match between us unconscionable. We were parted, and I do not know where he has gone.”
“An American, did you say?” William asked. “Is he an older man? rather tall with a stocky build? black hair?”
“Mr. Walker's ancestors were native to America,” Prudence said. “Of the Osage tribe. He is more than twice my age. Sir, do you know him?”
“I hired the man three months ago. He is the blacksmith at my mill.”
Prudence gasped. “Mr. Walker is here? in Otley?”
“Perhaps she will not be leaving Yorkshire quite so soon,” Randolph commented. “I believe Miss Watson has found a reason to stay.”
“She may find reason to go when she learns that Mr. Walker is soon to be married.” William's brown eyes softened. “I am sorry to bear unhappy tidings. Dear lady, you look quite pale. May I bring you a chair?”
“No,” she said, holding up a hand. “I am unmoved by your news. It is right and proper that Mr. Walker has found a wife. I am very happy for him. And now if you will both excuse me, my sister has long been wishing for my company.”
After giving the briefest of curtsies, she turned away and made for the fire as swiftly as her feet would fly. She would not cry. She would not reveal the slightest emotion. No one must guess she felt anything but contentment and perfect ease.
“Whatever is the matter with you?” Mary asked as Prudence sank into her chair. “You look as if you might faint dead away!”
“Mr. Walker is here,” Prudence choked out. “In Yorkshire. In this very town. And he is engaged to be married.”
Mary offered her handkerchief. “Shocking,” she whispered. “Shocking and sad. But dry your eyes before you make a scene, Pru, for I have just had the most wonderful news from the lady at the next table. Do you not wish to hear it?”
Prudence could barely form words. “No, Mary. I am quite undone.”
“You must hear it anyway, for this news concerns you.” Mary leaned across the table and lowered her voice. “Mr. William Sherbourne, who rescued you from the puddle and has paid you such extraordinary attention, is a proper gentleman with excellent connections. His eldest brother is a baron and owns a great estate in Yorkshire. His second brother is a clergyman who lives in India. He himself is a most distinguished officer in the Royal Navy, and he has just returned from sea after many months fighting the Americans . . . or was it the French? I can never recall.”
“Nor can I,” Prudence murmured.
“Never mind, because he has quit the Navy and is now settled in Otley for good. He owns a large worsted mill and is worth five thousand pounds a year. Think of it--five thousand a year! And best of all--he is unmarried. Quite unattached. How wonderful for you!”
Prudence swallowed against the growing lump in her throat. “I do not care if he is worth ten thousand a year and owns five worsted mills, Mary. I do not want him. I do not want him at all.”
“Quick, dry your eyes, Pru, for here he comes. And his brother. You may win his heart yet, and what happiness awaits you then. Oh, heavens, why did I not wear my good bonnet?”
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Points of Power: Discover a Spirit-Filled Life of Joy and Purpose by Yolanda Adams with Lavaille Lavette
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
FaithWords (January 5, 2010)
Yolanda Adams is listed among the artists who have achieved the greatest critical and commercial success in blending R&B styles with gospel music. She has released twelve albums, two of which were certified platinum, one gold, and has won over twenty awards for her music. She currently hosts The Yolanda Adams Morning Show and makes her home in Houston. You can find out more about Yolanda at
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (January 5, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2009)
Leslie Vernick, a licensed clinical social worker with a private counseling practice, has authored numerous books, including The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong. She completed postgraduate work in biblical counseling and cognitive therapy. Leslie and her husband, Howard, have been married more than 30 years and have two grown children.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.
Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.
Janet came into my office upset, anxious to share her latest litany of what was wrong with her life. Her friend Dana hadn’t invited her over last Sunday like Janet had hoped she would, and Janet felt hurt and rejected. Over the course of our counseling, I had learned that most of Janet’s friends didn’t support or love her as faithfully as she wished they would. She hated that she wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, or popular enough to gain the attention from others that she craved. Her job didn’t satisfy her, nor did it pay enough, and the people there weren’t very friendly either.
Janet’s mother also irritated her. She described her mom as too busy living her own life to care that her daughter was a single mom and often needed help with her kids. That prompted me to ask Janet about her church family. She said she didn’t get anything out of the sermons and no one from the Bible study ever invited her out to lunch—so why bother?
Janet wasn’t clinically depressed, but she was miserable with herself, with others, and with life. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. Nothing was ever the way she wanted it to be, or the way it should be. “I just want to be happy,” she moaned. “Why can’t God make it easier for me? I hate that life is so hard, so unfair.”
Perhaps your situation isn’t as extreme as Janet’s, but I think many of us can relate to her feelings. Life does disappoint us at times. Others don’t give us the love or attention we want or expect, and as a result we feel angry, hurt, gypped, and sad. We hate that we’re not perfect or popular or powerful or pretty enough to feel confident or attractive or worthy. Jesus’ promise of an abundant life seems hollow. We get stuck living in a mind-set of, If only I were more ___________________ or had more ___________________ , then I’d be happy. Or we tell ourselves, If only ___________________ would change, then I could be happier.
Take a minute and fill in the blanks for yourself. What might you put in? During one session, Janet said, “If only I were more popular and could lose ten pounds, then I’d be happy.” At another session, she said something different: “If only my mother would change and help me out more with my kids, then I’d be happier.”
What about you? Perhaps you tell yourself you’d be happy if only you were more beautiful, talented, or intelligent. Others say they’d be happy if only they had more money, more time, or more energy. You might believe you’d be happier if only you were married instead of single, or married to a different person instead of the one you’re married to. Or maybe you’d rather not be married at all. Still others think that if only they had a baby, or better-behaved children, or a more attentive spouse, or a more prestigious or powerful job, or a bigger house, then they’d finally be happy.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for making changes when possible and appropriate. But I’ve discovered in my own life, as well as in the lives of people I’ve worked with, that much of our misery is caused by the stories we tell ourselves about how things should be…rather than what actually is.
Janet told herself that her unhappiness resulted from not being good enough, thin enough, or pretty enough. She was unhappy because she didn’t make enough money, because people let her down, and because her life was unfair.
But those things weren’t the true source of her suffering. Janet’s misery was much more a result of her unrealistic expectations of herself, life, and others than of her actual life situations. Although she wasn’t aware of it, Janet lived her life out of a mind-set, or way of thinking, that was largely false. She created an internal story line of how things should go—and when they didn’t go the way she thought they should, she felt sorry for herself. For example, she believed life should be easy and fair. When life was hard, she found it impossible to handle her disappointment without falling into self-pity because, after all, life shouldn’t be so hard.
Janet also told herself that people should be nicer to her and that they should be more willing to give of their time and efforts to help her out. She wasn’t aware she did it, but she also scripted out what other people should say, how they should say it, and what they should do for her, especially if they claimed to be Christians. When they failed to follow her script, she felt hurt, disappointed, and angry with them. Not only that, but she also clung to those negative feelings for days, nursing more resentment and hurt.
But perhaps the biggest source of Janet’s unhappiness was her own unrealistic view of herself. She regularly dwelled on her flaws and weaknesses and imagined that others did too. She fantasized she’d be more desirable, lovable, and popular if only she were thinner and more attractive.
In order for Janet to change and experience true happiness, she needs to become aware of the story line and scripts she has made up about herself, life, and others. Then she needs to reevaluate them according to what God says is true, good, and right. In addition, she must learn to handle the painful emotions that come with losses and disappointments in a different way, without falling into her habits of self-pity, resentment, or self-hatred.
You see, whether by nature we tend to look at the glass as half empty or half full, our perceptions determine our inner reality. By nature I am a pessimist, and because of that leaning, I often make up internal stories about the worst things that can happen. When my daughter started to drive, I made up all kinds of stories of dreadful accidents, carjackings, or mechanical failures. (None of which happened, I might add.) When my mammogram results came back suspicious, you can imagine where my mind went. As a result of my thinking habits, I often feel anxious, and my peace and inner sense of well-being vanish.
Optimists can make up some pretty unrealistic stories too. I once watched a man playing blackjack lose $20,000 thinking positively. He told himself (out loud) that this was his lucky day, he was the man, and tonight he’d strike it rich. He allowed his unrealistic story and script of how he wanted things to end to capture his heart, overrule his rational mind, and control his decision-making. (And in chapter 4, we’ll see how a woman named Cheryl continued to believe her fantasy story line of a perfect fiancé—despite evidence to the contrary—only to wake up to an abusive husband.)
In order to learn how to be happier, we need to recognize 1) our internal stories and scripts and then 2) how they create expectations that, when unmet, often lead to foolish decisions as well as feeling anxious, miserable, sad, angry, discouraged, and even depressed.
Core Lies We Believe
There are many story lines and scripts that lead to misery and unhappiness, but the first clue in discovering your particular one is to look for the words should, shouldn’t, ought, supposed to, and deserve and then listen to what comes next. Let’s examine three of the most powerful ones.
“I should be better than I am”
Many people suffer because they fail to live up to their own expectations of themselves. Keith worked three part-time jobs just to put himself through college. He was proud of his accomplishments, but he started getting anxious and discouraged when some of his grades slipped from A’s to B’s and he fell behind in his rent payment. He studied long into the night, often forsaking sleep. He was cranky, exhausted, and definitely not happy.
But when I challenged his schedule, he insisted, “I should be able to handle this.” He refused to accept reality. His self-concept was based on an idealized image of himself, not the truth. Keith is not a god—he is a mere mortal. He has limits. He can’t function at his best with only four hours of sleep. He isn’t able to work three jobs, study all night, sleep adequately, go to college full-time, and get straight A’s in all of his subjects. Yet his expectations that he ought to be able to do it all, and his self-hatred for failing to live up to his idealized image of himself, was great.
People who are perfectionists may have a hard time admitting they actually expect they should be perfect all of the time, but deep down that’s what they want to be. And they grieve deeply when they fail. They can never be happy, because although they might achieve a moment of perfection, it’s unsustainable. Eventually they mess up, can’t do something, aren’t all-knowing, fail, or make a mistake. The internal shame, self-hatred, and self-reproach can be lethal.
Some individuals may not recognize they have unrealistic expectations of themselves, because they don’t expect perfection in every area of their life. For example, Elle wasn’t compulsive about her home, but she obsessed over her physical appearance. Every inch of her body and clothing had to look perfect, or she would beat herself up. “I shouldn’t have eaten dinner last night” or, “I should exercise more, I’m so fat,” she’d moan. She even slept with her makeup on so she would look good in the morning. No one was allowed to see her until she was ready, including her best friend.
Cindy failed to live up to her idealized version of the perfect Christian wife and mother. In a moment of sin and passion, she committed adultery with a co-worker. Her sorrow was great, but her repentance shallow. Her grief was not because of her sin against her husband or against God, but because she became small in her own eyes for failing to live up to who she thought she was. “I can’t believe I did that,” Cindy lamented.
“Why is it so hard for you to accept you’re a sinner, just like everyone else?” I asked.
“I don’t want to be like everyone else,” she replied.
“That’s part of your problem,” I gently told her. Much of Cindy’s suffering was because she expected herself to be better than everyone else.
People who believe they should be better than they are can’t be happy, because they are morbidly preoccupied with themselves. They become prideful over their perfection or filled with self-hatred at their flaws.
As with Janet, one particular variation on the I should be better than I am story line is feeling disappointed with one’s self over never being good enough, pretty enough, worthy enough, thin enough, spiritual enough, rich enough, or smart enough. You get the picture. The goal becomes I want to be enough. The question we must ask ourselves is, By whose yardstick will you measure yourself as “good enough”? Inevitably it is one’s own standard, not God’s. Even nonperfectionists like Janet become self-conscious about their limitations, weaknesses, and flaws when they tell themselves that they shouldn’t be that way, or if only they weren’t that way, then they would be happy.
When we live by these scripts, we will never feel happy. We (or someone else) will always find some flaw. Let’s be honest here. Who could ever say that he or she feels good enough in every area of his or her life? Feeling “good enough” is never the answer to lasting happiness. As soon as we feel good enough in one area, there are ten others where we feel insufficient or inadequate.
When we believe we should be better than we are, we become self-focused, self-centered, and self-absorbed. This leads to anxiety and compulsion, not joy and peace. In later chapters, we’ll learn how to accept our not being good enough so we can learn to be happier without having to be perfect.
“I deserve more than I have, and more ______________ means more happiness”
All of us have desires, longings, and wants. Much of the time these longings are legitimate, and there is nothing inherently sinful about them. In the introduction I shared about Francine who wanted a loving husband. She desired a better than average marriage. She wasn’t asking for too much.
Rhonda had different longings. She wanted more power, more impact, and more purpose in her life. These also are good desires. The problem is when they switch from desires to demands, from longings to expectations. Then whatever we get will never be enough because we deserve more. The story line becomes, It’s all about me and all for me. When our legitimate hopes, dreams, or desires move into the category of expectations, they escalate into demands—things we feel entitled to or deserving of. And when the demands aren’t met, we can feel quite miserable.
Janet had many expectations and demands of others that were unhealthy and unrealistic. Again, most of them included the words should or ought. For example, Janet believed that her mother should be a better grandmother. Her friends ought to care more about her needs and feelings than they did. Since she continued to live her internal story as if she were both the main character and the most important one, she felt entitled to other people’s attention and believed they should put her at the top of their priority list. Her needs, her rights, her wants, and her feelings should come first. Janet often told herself, If they really loved me, they would care more about my needs and my feelings. Therefore, when others failed to meet her expectations, she not only felt hurt and angry, she felt unloved.
Janet didn’t just desire her mother to be more attentive and interested in her children, she expected her to be that way. You might argue, What’s wrong with expecting your mother to be a good grandmother and to show interest and love for her grandchildren? Nothing’s wrong with it—except it didn’t line up with the way things really were. Janet’s mother was not that kind of grandmother, and as long as Janet kept expecting she should be, Janet would continue to get hurt and disappointed.
The truth is, no one ever gets everything in life that he or she wants or desires. When we live as if we deserve people’s love and attention all of the time, then we’re not living in reality. Instead of learning how to handle in a mature way the inevitable disappointment of not getting all that we want, we stay miserable.
In addition to our own internal unrealistic expectations, we also live in a culture that encourages people to demand their rights and to feel entitled. After all, we’re worth it! Because of this mind-set, people sometimes make terrible choices. They tell themselves they have the right to be happy and to pursue whatever it takes to be happy, even at the expense of others. I recall a woman I counseled telling me this very thing. She had fallen in love with her boss at work. She was a Christian, yet she believed God wanted her to be happy, and therefore he wouldn’t want her to stay married if she found her true love elsewhere. Despite my fervent warnings to think more carefully, she chose to end her marriage in order to get what she wanted.
When we are the main character of our story line and it is all about us, then we justify pursuing what we think makes us happy, even if it makes those around us (like this woman’s husband and three children) very unhappy. But we will never find true happiness at the expense of others. That will lead only to more heartache.
Whether our expectations are unrealistic, unhealthy, or just unmet, we become unhappy when we believe we’re entitled to have more than we have. Instead of feeling thankful for what we do have, we grumble and complain about what we don’t. The apostle Paul told us that he had discovered the secret of being content, whether he had a lot or a little (Philippians 4:11-12). The secret is surrendering to God’s plan—not getting all your needs, wants, desires, or expectations fulfilled.
“Life should be easy and fair”
When we pine for an easy life, we forfeit a fulfilling life. We become bored and apathetic, not happy. Author Gary Haugen tells a story of going on a trip but missing the adventure. During a camping and hiking vacation to Mount Rainier with his father and brothers, his dad wanted them all to climb the rock formation heading to the summit. Gary felt afraid and asked his father to allow him to stay behind at the visitor’s center where he could watch the videos and read about the wildlife and history of the mountain. After much pleading, his father finally relented. Here’s the rest of Gary’s story:
The visitor’s center was warm and comfortable, with lots of interesting things to watch and read. I devoured the information and explored every corner, and judging by the crowd, it was clearly the place to be. As the afternoon stretched on, however, the massive visitor’s center started to feel awfully small. The warm air felt stuffy, and the stuffed wild animals started to seem just—dead. The inspiring loop videos about extraordinary people who climbed the mountain weren’t as interesting the sixth and seventh times, and they made me wish I could be one of those actually climbing the mountain instead of reading about it. I felt bored, sleepy and small—and I missed my dad. I was totally stuck. Totally safe—but totally stuck.
After the longest afternoon of my ten-year-old life, Dad and my brothers returned flushed with their triumph. Their faces were wet from the snow; they were famished, dehydrated and nursing scrapes from the rocks and ice, but on the long drive home they had something else. They had stories and an unforgettable day with their dad on a great mountain. I, of course, revealed nothing, insisting that it was my favorite day of the whole vacation.
Truth be told—I went on the trip and missed the adventure.
When Jesus tells us that he has come to give us an abundant life, he doesn’t mean a safe and comfortable life, but a meaningful one. He calls us to a purpose beyond pleasing ourselves.
As we’ve already seen, Janet expected life to be easy and fair. She seemed mentally, emotionally, and spiritually unprepared for life’s ordinary bumps and hurdles. Yet Jesus clearly tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus warns us that life isn’t easy or fair, and he tells us this so that we can experience peace and find courage in the midst of life’s hardships.
How? You’ll find some specific tools in later chapters, but it starts by seeing things as they really are. Jesus tells us that if our eye is healthy, our whole body will be full of light (Matthew 6:22). Happiness, joy, peace, and an internal sense of well-being are never found in having an easy life or in a life full of possessions, power, or popularity. We only have to look at some of the Hollywood celebrities gracing the news these days to see individuals living an easy life. On the fairness quotient, they have the deck stacked in their favor. They have most of the things we tell ourselves we need to be happy. They are thin, beautiful, rich, popular, powerful, and have lots of possessions. Yet many of them appear purposeless and empty and actually look quite unhappy. These men and women may have pleasure, power, prosperity, and popularity, but they do not have happiness. Never confuse those things with a genuine inner sense of joy, peace, and well-being.
In fact, it is often when life is easy and good, plentiful and prosperous, that God warns us we are in the most danger of losing sight of what brings our soul true delight. When the Israelites were entering the Promised Land, God warned them,
When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).
The Adaptation Principle
If we want to increase our capacity for genuine inner happiness, we must begin to debunk our belief that having more _______________, or changes in our life circumstances, will make us significantly happier than we already are. The problem with this thinking is that it feels true. Losing weight, or getting a new job, home, or husband does make us feel happier for a time, but it’s only a temporary fix. After we get what we want, our mind naturally moves on to the next thing that is wrong, or what we want, or what we believe will make us happy.
When Janet finally found a new job that she liked and that paid well, she felt much better. But her newfound happiness lasted about two weeks. Then she was right back where she had been—unhappy with her life, even though she liked her new job. Psychologists have called this the adaptation principle. Over time, we become accustomed to or get used to our new life situation, whether it is better or worse, and eventually return to our normal happiness range.
I’ll Be Happy Forever, Mom!
I remember my son, Ryan, endlessly nagging me for a special toy. He was convinced that if only he had this one gadget, life would be good. He was so persuasive, I believed him. Eager to make him happy, I bought him the toy. He was thrilled. But three days later, I saw it lying under his bed. Now he was pleading for a new plaything he needed to be happy. As adults, often we’re not any different.
The writer of Ecclesiastes discovered this truth much earlier than the psychologists did. This book is written by a king who had an easy life. Most believe it was written by King Solomon, King David’s son with Bathsheba. Solomon had everything he wanted and enjoyed the things our culture promotes as giving us a satisfying life. He had enormous power, whatever pleasure his heart desired, plenty of possessions, a productive life, popularity, and over 700 wives and 300 concubines. Yet in the end, when he looked over everything in his life, it felt empty. Power, possessions, popularity, and prosperity weren’t enough to bring him true happiness.
The king discovered, as we all must if we want to find authentic happiness, that he had wrongly depended on something other than God to give him what only God could give.
Dismantling Our Story Line
To begin the process of learning how to be a happier person, we must see the deception of our internal story line and replace it with the truth. Most of us feel powerless to do this without some outside help. God already knows our weaknesses, and so what he often does to free us of our illusions and delusions is allow disappointment, pain, and suffering into our lives. This gives us the chance to wake up and see what matters most.
Recently, I was talking with Beth, who, like Francine, has been chronically disappointed and unhappy in her marriage. Her expectations for a loving and intimate relationship with her husband have never been met, and her years of heartache over such disappointment were laced with resentment and anger. But through some unexpected health problems, she has begun to wake up to her life and to a deeper walk with God. As a result, she’s appreciating the smaller things and noticing what’s good in her marriage instead of what’s wrong. She has learned to let go of her expectations without deadening her desires for a better relationship. And that’s an important distinction. It’s not that we don’t desire certain things, but we don’t demand them anymore!
“It hasn’t been easy finding this path of joy and contentment,” Beth said. “I can easily slip back into my old resentment and depression. This new road feels as thin as a thread’s width. But I want to learn to stay on it.”
Jesus tells us that the road that leads to life is narrow (Matthew 7:14). I don’t think he is referring merely to eternal life; he’s speaking about the abundant life. The king in Ecclesiastes pursued what he thought was the abundant life in all of his accomplishments, power, possessions, and pleasures. But through the disappointment of success, he realized that even those wonderful things didn’t offer him all he thought they would. He left these final words for us so we might glean understanding into what brings the heart true joy:
Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning.
When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember there will be many dark days. Everything still to come is meaningless.
Young people, it is wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless.
Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky…
Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 11:7-10; 12:1,2,6,7 nlt)
The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us a powerful lesson. We will always be disappointed with life (or others) when we ask it to do something it wasn’t designed to do. If we can learn to appreciate our life, our marriage, our job, or our family for what they are, then we can experience joy, wonder, and gratitude more readily.
Through Janet’s disappointment with herself, other people, and life, she began to ask some important questions as well as gain some new insights that led her to see Christ, herself, and her life through a new lens. She finally began to grasp that it was her expectations that were causing much of her pain. She realized that when she expected so much from others, life, or even herself, then even the good things she did have or receive, were never good enough. As she surrendered her internal story line, Janet was surprised to discover some peace and happiness even in the midst of painful situations.
The psalmist also felt sad and perplexed over life’s disappointments. But he came to understand through his suffering, that he needed to put his hope in God, not in other things (Psalm 42). Jesus loves us too much to leave us thinking or believing that a rich and meaningful life is found in anything other than loving and serving him. He tells us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). Another way of saying this is, where our pleasure is, our treasure is also.
Jesus has come to set the captives free. Whether we realize it or not, many of us are captive to the lie that something other than God will bring us happiness and fulfill our longings. When we put our hope in or expect something or someone other than him to fill us and make us happy, he will surely frustrate us. But he doesn’t do it to punish us. He does it to rescue us from our disordered attachments and delusions, and from ourselves. God promises to meet our needs—but what we feel we need, and what we truly need, may be very different.
Our disappointments and sorrows in life are gifts given to help us see things correctly. C.S. Lewis writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Disappointment can lead us out of illusion and into truth and reality. Sorrow teaches us to let go of our attachments to false or lesser things and to seek after God. True prosperity is never acquired through worldly accomplishments or possessions, but rather through the awareness and ability to live in God’s loving presence.
Peter tells us that suffering teaches us to be done with sin and to live for God’s purposes rather than our own pleasures and evil desires (1 Peter 4:1-5). Why? Because suffering helps us surrender our illusions, desires, and expectations of what life should be so we’re freed to live as God designed us to be (1 Peter 1:6).
Can you begin to let go by surrendering these lies to God, trusting him that he knows what you need to be happy? If you can’t just yet, don’t despair. He will help you. He wants to give you a new script to help you live a new story—a story that will bring more peace, more joy, more love, and more hope to your life.
Thought and Discussion
1. How did you relate to Janet? Have you considered that some of your unhappiness may come from unmet expectations of God, others, or life?
2. If you haven’t already, fill in the blanks: “If only I had more __________________ or a better _________________, I’d be happy.” Recall a time when you got what you wanted. How long did your happiness last?
3. What do you think of this observation: “Expectations are longings and desires that have become demands”? What are your demands of God, others, or yourself?
4. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer stated,
All striving springs from want or deficiency, from dissatisfaction with one’s condition, and is therefore suffering so long as it is not satisfied. No satisfaction, however, is lasting; on the contrary, it is always merely the starting point of fresh striving.
How have you experienced this in your own life?
5. Which core lie do you struggle with? How has it affected your happiness levels?
I ought to be more than I am
I deserve to have more than God gave me
Life should be fair
6. Reflect on the author’s statement, “When we believe we should be better than we are, we become self-focused, self-centered, and self-absorbed. This leads to anxiety and compulsion, not joy and peace.” How have you found this to be true in your own life?
7. Read Psalm 73:12-14. Listen to Asaph’s unspoken expectations of God as he surveyed his life and what was going on around him. Why did he feel he deserved better?
8. Discuss the difference between acknowledging the truth and emotionally accepting it. (For example, I know I’m in a difficult marriage, but I’m not okay with it.) Next, review each core lie:
I ought to be more than I am
I deserve to have more than God gave me
Life should be fair
In what ways do you acknowledge the truth throughout this chapter, but still resist emotionally accepting it? How does your refusal to emotionally embrace God’s truth contribute to your unhappiness?
9. Read Acts 14:15. How has disappointment and suffering helped you turn from vain things and turn toward God?
10. Read Psalm 63. What steps can you take to be more satisfied with God and less hungry for other things?
11. Jesus came to set the captives free. How have you been trapped in your stories and scripts? What do you need to surrender in order to experience greater happiness in your life?
My Book Review:
This is an Awesome book! It is a Godly self help book. Then, if that's not Awesome enough, it's also a Bible study! Leslie Vernick is so authentic! She gives you practical solutions to get you thinking correctly and on the right track. I would highly reccomend this book to anyone. Thank you Leslie Vernick for writing this book.
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Whitaker House (March 2, 2010)
Danette Crawford is an author and evangelist who founded Joy Ministries in 1989 and serves as the organization’s president. Danette earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a minor in Bible from Lee University and a Master of Arts in counseling from Regent University. Joy Ministries, based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and focuses on serving the needs of low income women and families. Her television ministry, Joy in the Morning with Danette Crawford, is syndicated around the world, reaching over 165 million homes each week. She has been featured on ABC, CBS, NBC, and TBN programming and has appeared on the 700 Club, Living the Life, and Paula White Today.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (March 2, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Are you in a storm the size of Texas? Are you looking up from a dark pit with high walls but see no ladder in sight? I want to extend a rope of hope to you!
If you feel like you’re in a pit, relax. You’re not the first person to find yourself looking up from within what feels like a deep, dark hole. In the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis, we read about a guy who found himself in his own pit—literally! His name was Joseph, and he was the eleventh son of a great patriarch named Jacob. The worst thing about Joseph’s pit was that Joseph’s brothers were the ones who threw him in there. Talk about rejection! For Joseph, that pit looked like a dark dead end, but it was truly a pathway to the palace—a direct route, at that. (See Genesis 37:11–37; 39:1–6, 20–23; 41:39–44.)
In the New Testament, we read about the apostle Paul, a respected Jewish leader who became a Christian, won souls for Jesus, and consequently found himself in his own pit. You see, being in a pit is a situation common to everyone—rich and poor, male and female, young and old, privileged and blue-collar. Paul’s pit was in the shape of a ship in a raging storm. Everyone wanted to jump off that ship, but God told Paul, “Don’t abandon ship—you’ll come through this!” (See Acts 27.)
I want to encourage you today—don’t abandon ship! Yes, you may be in the midst of the biggest storm of your life. Yes, your pit may seem overwhelming. But I can promise you that it’s only temporary. This too shall pass. It’s temporary as long as you make good choices and wise decisions as a result of your obeying Father God and doing what He tells you to do.
No, you are not alone; the Lord is with you no matter how deep and dark your pit may be. And no, you are not the only one who has ever been in that pit!
GRAB AHOLD OF THE WORD—YOUR ROPE OF HOPE
Both Joseph and Paul needed a rope of hope. There’s a rope of hope for you, too! It’s here right now in front of you. The other end of your rope is tied directly to the Word of truth—the Bible. God’s Word provides a map to guide us out of any and every pit that we find ourselves in. Psalm 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (nkjv). In other words, we all experience “pits” in our lives, but we must grab ahold of the rope of hope and be determined to climb out.
John 8:32 says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth on its own doesn’t set you free; it’s the truth that you know that sets you free. Our map to get out of the pit is the Word of God, but we must read the map. We must study the map, or we could stay lost in the pit. I travel a lot by car, and I always study the map before I leave. (I don’t like to use a GPS!) If I don’t study the map or refer to it during my trip, I’m just about guaranteed to get lost. Finding my way is as easy as reading the map, but I have to read it. I can’t obtain the knowledge by osmosis. The same is true with our map out of the pit.
(Insert call-out box) READ IT…’CAUSE YOU’LL NEED IT!
The good news is that every pit has the potential to be temporary because the Word assures us that God will deliver us from every affliction. One important key I have learned is that I must never quit; I must never give up. If I never quit, if I never give up, I can never be defeated. But if I decide to quit and give up, I will spend the rest of my life in the pit. The choice is really up to me. If I have a pity party in my pit…well, I’ll be there for a while! But if I grab ahold of the rope of hope every day, I can climb out of the pit and be back on the path to the palace.
DON’T LET THE LOCUST STEAL FROM YOU
What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. (Joel 1:4)
As an adult, I can look back and recall many times when the enemy sent locusts into my life to eat away at the blessings and the life that my heavenly Father had for me. These “locust attacks” became pits, and I had to choose not to allow them to be permanent states or seasons in my life.
Years ago, I was reading the Bible when I came across the above Scripture, Joel 1:4. I didn’t really understand it at first, but then the Lord started showing me that it described my life—one locust attack after another. And those locusts had stolen years of my life from me.
The locust of rejection had eaten away at my joy and self-confidence. The locust of anger had eaten away at my peace. And the locust of unforgiveness had eaten away at my very being. What wasn’t stolen in one locust attack was stolen in another. Years of joy, peace, and happiness were stolen from me when I was in the pits of abuse, divorce, and abandonment. I then began looking to the people who had hurt me to repay me for all of my losses.
Joel 2:25 says, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” In other words, we are assured that the Lord repays us for all the years that the locusts have stolen from our lives. Other people can never repay us for years that have been stolen—only the Lord can. In reality, it’s not people who have stolen from us but the hand of the enemy. When we look to other people to repay us for our pain, we dig a deeper pit due to the unforgiveness and bitterness in our hearts. That’s a dangerous place to be, because unforgiveness prevents us from ever getting out of the pit!
EVERY CHOICE CREATES INCREASE OR DECREASE
Every day of our lives, we make hundreds of choices. Those choices always produce either increase or decease in various areas of life. For example, when I decide to get up early and exercise, I make a choice that increases my health, even though it may decrease the amount of sleep that I get. Stop and think about it. Every decision creates increase or decrease. We must be led by the Holy Spirit and choose wisely.
When we panic in the pit, we often grab ahold of anything we can get our hands on—anything that we think might keep us from going deeper into the pit. Actually, the opposite usually proves true. If we panic in the pit, the thing we grab on to actually serves as a shovel and takes us deeper.
You’ve probably seen this before—a person who grabs on to, for example, a new relationship in an attempt to get out of a relational pit. What happens? Instead of getting out of that previous relational pit, she winds up going even deeper into it. Or perhaps you know someone who grabbed a drug or a drink in attempt to numb the pain from his pit, only to find himself in a deeper, darker, even more painful pit. Don’t panic in the pit. The key is not to react out of our flesh, or carnal instincts, but to act out of our spirits!
ACT, DON’T REACT
A good example of acting rather than reacting is found in the twentieth chapter of 2 Chronicles. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, heard from some of his men that a vast army was coming against him, and that they weren’t far away. They weren’t just an army; they were a vast army—a really, really, really big army! And they were not only coming after Jehoshaphat; they were also coming to destroy the whole city and everyone in it. They were advancing quickly. (See 2 Chronicles 20:1–2.)
It’s one thing when a storm or a battle is coming, but it’s a whole different thing when that storm is the size of Texas! The Word tells us that Jehoshaphat was alarmed, yet he did not react out of his flesh. Rather, he acted out of his spirit, meaning he took a deep breath and went to God with his troubles. (See verses 3–12.)
When we react out of our flesh, we freak out. We cry, we scream, we yell, we emit any other series of unproductive responses. Some people even run away from God at the very time when they need to run to God the most. Jehoshaphat didn’t react out of his flesh; he acted out of his spirit. Verse three tells us, “Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.” And in verse four, we read, “The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord.” In the midst of the biggest battle or storm of Jehoshaphat’s life, he inquired of the Lord. He didn’t inquire of his friends, his pastor, his boss, or his spouse. He came before the Lord in fasting and prayer, and he encouraged those around him to do the same.
(Insert call-out box) DON’T PANIC IN THE PIT
Jehoshaphat was alarmed when he learned that a vast army much larger than his was coming to make war with him. He was alarmed, but he did not panic. He did not react. He acted. Many times, we react emotionally to our pit or to the crisis at hand. As a result, we waste all our time and energy, and we don’t help the situation at all. As a matter of fact, we may even make things worse.
After waiting many, many years to get married, I found myself in an abusive marriage to a man who had a sexual addiction. After dating for a year, we got married, and I immediately saw a side of him that he had never allowed me to see.
It took me a few years to realize that my husband had a sexual addiction, but as soon as I did, I panicked in the pit! I didn’t act out of my spirit by any stretch of the imagination. I reacted out of my flesh with a full-blown panic attack in the pit.
By His grace, God had supernaturally kept me hidden under His hand of protection, even though I had been raised in a fatherless home. I was very naïve in many areas, and I was vulnerable to my husband’s deception as a result.
When we find ourselves at the edge of a deep, dark pit, reacting out of our flesh is the worst thing we can do. When we react, we react out of our flesh, our emotions, or our natural minds. Reacting to the pit or the battle you are up against acknowledges how big and how powerful the enemy is. But when we act out of our spirits, we acknowledge how big and powerful God is. This enables us to come successfully out of every pit that dares to entrap us.
Unlike me, Jehoshaphat acted. Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast that he might hear from God on how to handle the situation at hand. Not only did Jehoshaphat seek the Lord, he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. Everyone in the surrounding towns came together to fast and to seek God’s direction. The people responded according to how Jehoshaphat handled the situation. If Jehoshaphat had panicked and had come unglued, the people around him would have done the same thing. When we react out of our emotions and we don’t act out of our spirit, we give place for the enemy to defeat us. But, if we act out of our spirit, if we look to the Lord for how to handle the situations we face, then we always come out on the winning side.
(Insert call-out box) DETERMINATION WILL GET YOU WHERE YOU NEED TO GO
“Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord.” To resolve essentially means the same thing as to determine. So, Jehoshaphat determined to inquire of the Lord—not his friends, not his coworkers, not his family, but the Lord! And think about Joseph. That young man was totally alone in his pit, without a friend or brother in sight. So, whether we are alone in the pit or sitting there with the opinionated words of others swirling about our heads, our first and best option is to inquire of the Lord and get His opinion on things.
When the people of Judah all gathered at the temple, Jehoshaphat stood up and prayed. He started his prayer by acknowledging God as the all-powerful, all-knowing God. He prayed, “Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you” (2 Chronicles 20:6). When we acknowledge God for who He is, we don’t have any trouble letting Him be in control. But when we forget what He’s done for us in the past and doubt what He will do for us in the future, we start acting out of our own strength; we want to take control ourselves.
Jehoshaphat acknowledged God in his situation. As a result, he looked to God for the solution to the problem. The Bible instructs us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6). We need to recognize and acknowledge who God is in the midst of our pits and battles. Sometimes, we can get so caught up in acknowledging how big the opposing army is or how deep our pit is that we get distracted and forget that God is bigger and is still in control.
When we panic, we try to do in the flesh what can be done only in the Spirit. When we get in the flesh, we can dig an even deeper pit. It is my desire that you will refuse to grab a shovel but grab the rope of hope instead and determine to climb out, no matter how deep your pit may seem today!
Jehoshaphat was determined to inquire of the Lord. Determination will get us just about anywhere we want to go. If we are determined to go in a direction that’s opposite from God’s direction for our lives, we can. It won’t be pretty, and it won’t be fun, but our determination can take us in that direction—at least for a little while.
DETERMINATION—A GREAT GIFT
The Bible is full of great stories of men and women of God who went from pits to pinnacles in their personal lives or careers. Have you ever heard someone comment, “Today was a Jonah day”? When someone says that, you know she means that she’s had a very hard day or experienced an above-average rough time! Well, let’s look at how rough it got for Jonah.
The Lord directed him to Nineveh, where he was to convict the people of their wickedness. But Jonah was determined to go to Tarshish instead—and that’s exactly where he set out to go! His trip didn’t last long, and it wasn’t pretty, but that’s the direction in which his determination took him.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. (Jonah 1:1–3)
Jonah paid the fare to go in the opposite direction from the Word of the Lord. At the time, the fare seemed cheap, but the fare for disobedience is always extremely expensive. Sometimes, it can cost us everything, including our lives.
Because of God’s great love, He sent a violent storm to give Jonah another opportunity to use his determination to take him in the right direction. The storm was so violent that the ship on which Jonah was traveling threatened to break up. As the seas became rougher and rougher, Jonah admitted that everyone on the ship was going through the storm as a result of his disobedience.
Storms can come in our lives as a result of our disobedience, other people’s disobedience, or directly from the hand of God to prune us and cause us to be even more fruitful. Job is an excellent example of this.
When we walk in disobedience, God often allows storms to come into our lives to get us back on track. Not only does He allow storms to get our attention, but He supernaturally provides a way out of the storms, as well.
After Jonah confessed his culpability for the storm, he directed the sailors to throw him overboard. So, “they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:15, 17). After the storm subsided, Jonah woke up in the whale’s stomach with his head in a tangle of seaweed. Now, that’s a pit! What was the first thing Jonah did when he realized his predicament? He prayed.
ALWAYS PRAY IN THE PIT
Always pray in the pit! If you aren’t sure how to pray, you can borrow a few words from Jonah!
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:1–9)
Immediately after praying, Jonah was delivered from his pit. “The Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10). God repeated His command for Jonah to preach His message to the people of Nineveh, and this time, he obeyed.
The Lord brought Jonah up out of the pit, and He will do the same for you today. It doesn’t matter how or why you got in the pit. The important thing is that you don’t quit in the pit, but you grab ahold of the rope of hope and climb out.
(Insert call-out box) FROM PITS TO PINNACLES
There’s nothing like a pit to get you to pray. Some of the best prayer meetings that I have ever had have been while I was in a pit! Don’t quit in the pit, but pray like you have never prayed before.
If we are determined not to quit, we can successfully make it out of whatever pit we find ourselves in. As a young Christian, I felt as though I didn’t have any gifts that I could use to bring glory to God. I told God, “I can’t sing, I can’t play the piano…God, I don’t have any gifts.” It was years later when the Lord said to me, “Danette, your gift is the gift of determination.”
Well, I had never considered determination a gift. But all of us have gifts that we don’t even realize. God gives us whatever gifts we need to fulfill His call and purpose for our lives. As I look back over my life, I can definitely say that God gave me the gift I needed the most—the gift of determination.
Perhaps it will help you if I share some of my very personal “pit stops.” Or, maybe I should say “pit pauses,” because I had to remain determined not to stop at the pits. My prayer is that this book will encourage you to make your times in the pit temporary seasons. Yes, we all have pit experiences. So, in the following pages, I want to teach you what I have learned over the years. But most important, I want to encourage you to be determined never to quit in the pit but always to grab on to the rope of hope—God’s Word. And remember, the Word promises us double for all of our trouble! (See Job 42:10.)
Friday, January 22, 2010
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)
A man who has given his life to a deep examination of the Word of God, Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe is an internationally known Bible teacher, former pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago and the author of more than 150 books. For over thirty years, millions have come to rely on the timeless wisdom of Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s “Be” Commentary series. Dr. Wiersbe’s commentary and insights on Scripture have helped readers understand and apply God’s Word with the goal of life transformation. Dubbed by many as the “pastor’s pastor,” Dr. Wiersbe skillfully weaves Scripture with historical explanations and thought-provoking questions, communicating the Word in such a way that the masses grasp its relevance for today.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Isaac was the son of a famous father (Abraham) and the father of a famous son (Jacob), and for those reasons he is sometimes considered a lightweight among the patriarchs. Compared to the exploits of Abraham and Jacob, Isaac’s life does seem conventional and commonplace. Although he lived longer than either Abraham or Jacob, only six chapters are devoted to Isaac’s life in the Genesis record, and only one verse in Hebrews 11 (v. 9).
Isaac was a quiet, meditative man (Gen. 24:63), who would rather pack up and leave than confront his enemies. During his long life, he didn’t travel far from home. Abraham had made the long journey from Haran to Canaan, and had even visited Egypt, and Jacob went to Haran to get a wife, but Isaac spent his entire adult life moving around in the land of Canaan. If there had been an ancient Middle East equivalent to our contemporary “jet set,” Isaac wouldn’t have joined it.
However, there are more Isaacs in this world than there are Abrahams or Jacobs, and these people make important contributions to society and to the church, even if they don’t see their names in lights or even in the church bulletin. Furthermore, Isaac was a living part of the divine plan that eventually produced the Jewish nation, gave us the Bible, and brought Jesus Christ into the world, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Isaac wasn’t a failure; he was just different. After all, the people in each generation have to find themselves and be themselves and not spend their lives slavishly trying to imitate their ancestors. “Men are born equal,” wrote psychiatrist Erich Fromm in Escape from Freedom, “but they are also born different.” Discovering our uniqueness and using it to the glory of God is the challenge that makes life what it is. Why be a cheap imitation when you can be a valuable original?
No generation stands alone, because each new generation is bound to previous generations whether we like it or not. Isaac was bound to Abraham and Sarah by ties that couldn’t be ignored or easily broken. Let’s look at some of those ties and discover what they teach us about our own life of faith today.
HE RECEIVED HIS FATHE R’S INHERITANCE (25:1–18)
Abraham recognized his other children by giving them gifts and sending them away, thereby making sure they couldn’t supplant Isaac as the rightful heir. Along with his father’s immense wealth (13:2; 23:6), Isaac also inherited the covenant blessings that God had given Abraham and Sarah (12:1–3; 13:14–18; 15:1–6). Isaac had parents who believed God and, in spite of occasional mistakes, tried to please Him.
Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael (chap. 16), wasn’t chosen to be the child of promise and the heir of the covenant blessings. God promised to bless Ishmael and make him a great nation, and He kept His promise (17:20–21; 25:12–16); “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac” (17:21;
Rom. 9:6–13). Ishmael was on hand for his father’s funeral (Gen. 25:9), but he wasn’t included in the reading of his father’s will.
Ishmael pictures the “natural” or unsaved person (1 Cor. 2:14), who is outside the faith and hostile to the things of God. But Isaac pictures those who have trusted Jesus Christ and experienced the miraculous new birth by the power of God (1 Peter 1:22–23). “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). Ishmael was born a slave, but Isaac was born free (4:21–31; 5:1–2); and Ishmael was born poor, but Isaac was born rich. Every believer in Jesus Christ shares all the blessings of the Spirit in Christ (Eph. 1:3) and is part of Christ’s glorious inheritance (vv. 11, 18).
From the moment of birth, we’re all dependent on the older generation to care for us until we can care for ourselves. We’re also indebted to previous generations for guarding and handing down to us the knowledge, skills, traditions, and culture that are extremely important to daily life. Imagine what life would be like if each new generation had to devise the alphabet, invent printing, discover electricity, or design the wheel!
The most important part of Isaac’s legacy wasn’t the great material wealth his father had left him. Isaac’s most important legacy was the spiritual wealth from his father and mother: knowing and trusting the true and living God and being a part of the covenant blessings that God had graciously bestowed upon Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. How tragic it is when the children of devout Christian believers turn their backs on their priceless spiritual heritage and, like Ishmael and Esau, live for the world and the flesh instead of for the Lord!
HE PRAYED TO HIS FATHER’S GOD (25:19–34)
Genesis is a record of ten successive “generations.” Generations come and go, but the Lord remains and never changes. “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations” (Ps. 90:1 NKJV).
A devoted home (vv. 19–20). When Isaac was forty years old, God selected Rebekah to be his wife (chap. 24; 25:20), and we have every reason to believe that they were both devoted to the Lord and to each other. The record indicates that Rebekah was the more aggressive of the two when it came to family matters, but perhaps that’s just the kind of wife Isaac needed. Whatever mistakes Isaac may have made as a husband and father, this much is true: As a young man, he willingly put himself on the altar to obey his father and to please the Lord (chap. 22; Rom. 12:1–2).
A disappointed home (v. 21). Isaac and Rebekah waited twenty years for a family, but no children came. The entire book of Genesis emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the wisdom of His “delays.” Abraham and Sarah had to wait twenty-five years for Isaac to be born; Jacob had to labor fourteen years to obtain his two wives; and Joseph had to wait over twenty years before he was reconciled to his brothers. Our times are in His hands (Ps. 31:15), and His timing is never wrong.
Like Abraham, Isaac was a man of prayer, so he interceded with the Lord on behalf of his barren wife. Isaac had every right to ask God for children because of the covenant promises the Lord had made to his father and mother, promises Isaac had heard repeated in the family circle and that he believed. If Rebekah remained barren, how could Abraham’s seed multiply as the dust of the earth and the stars of the heavens? How could Abraham’s seed become a blessing to the whole world (Gen. 12:1–3; 13:16; 15:5; 17:6)?
It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get our will done in heaven but to get God’s will done on earth. Even though every Jewish couple wanted children, Isaac wasn’t praying selfishly. He was concerned about God’s plan for fulfilling His covenant and blessing the whole world through the promised Messiah (3:15; 12:1–3). True prayer means being concerned about God’s will, not our own wants, and claiming God’s promises in the Word. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer and enabled Rebekah to conceive.
A distressed home (vv. 22–23). One problem soon led to another, because Rebekah’s pregnancy was a difficult one: The babies in her womb were struggling with each other. The Hebrew word means “to crush or oppress,” suggesting that the fetal movements were not normal. Since Rebekah wondered if the Lord was trying to say something to her, she went to inquire. Isaac was fortunate to have a wife who not only knew how to pray, but who also wanted to understand God’s will for herself and her children.
In salvation history, the conception and birth of children is a divinely ordained event that has significant consequences. This was true of the birth of Isaac (chaps. 18, 21), the twelve sons of Jacob (29:30—30:24), Moses (Ex. 1—2), Samuel (1 Sam. 1—2), David (Ruth 4:17–22), and our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 4:4–5). Conception, birth, and death are divine appointments, not human accidents, a part of God’s wise and loving plan for His own people (Ps. 116:15; 139:13–16).
Imagine Rebekah’s surprise when she learned that the two children would struggle with each other all their lives! Each child would produce a nation, and these two nations (Edom and Israel) would compete, but the younger would master the older. Just as God had chosen Isaac, the second-born, and not Ishmael, the firstborn, so He chose Jacob, the second-born, and not Esau, the firstborn. That the younger son should rule the elder was contrary to human tradition and logic, but the sovereign God made the choice (Rom. 9:10–12), and God never makes a mistake.
A divided home (vv. 24–28). Esau probably means “hairy.” He also had the nickname “Edom,” which means “red,” referring to his red hair and the red lentil soup Jacob sold him (vv. 25, 30). The twin boys not only looked different but they also were different in personality. Esau
was a robust outdoorsman, who was a successful hunter, while Jacob was a “home boy.” You would think that Isaac would have favored Jacob, since both of them enjoyed domestic pursuits, but Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite. Rebekah was a hands-on mother who knew what was going on in the home and could contrive ways to get what she thought was best.
It’s unfortunate when homes are divided because parents and children put their own personal desires ahead of the will of God. Isaac enjoyed eating the tasty game that Esau brought home, a fact that would be important in later family history (chap. 27). Isaac, the quiet man, fulfilled his dreams in Esau, the courageous man, and apparently ignored the fact that his elder son was also a worldly man. Did Isaac know that Esau had forfeited his birthright? The record doesn’t tell us. But he did know that God had chosen the younger son over the elder son.
A friend of mine kept a card under the glass on his office desk that read: “Faith is living without scheming.” Jacob could have used that card. Before his birth, he had been divinely chosen to receive the birthright and the blessing; thus there was no need for him to scheme and take advantage of his brother. It’s likely that Jacob had already seen plenty of evidence that Esau didn’t care about spiritual things, an attitude that made Esau unfit to receive the blessing and accomplish God’s will. Perhaps Jacob and his mother had even discussed the matter.
The name “Jacob” comes from a Hebrew word (yaaqob) that means “may God protect,” but because it sounds like the words aqeb (“heel”) and aqab (“watch from behind” or “overtake”), his name became a nickname: “he grasps the heel” or “he deceives.” Before birth, Jacob and Esau had contended, and at birth, Jacob grasped his brother’s heel. This latter action was interpreted to mean that Jacob would trip up his brother and take advantage of him. The prediction proved true.
The fact that God had already determined to give the covenant blessings to Jacob didn’t absolve anybody in the family from their obligations to the Lord. They were all responsible for their actions, because divine sovereignty doesn’t destroy human responsibility. In fact, knowing that we’re the chosen of God means we have a greater responsibility to do His will.
HE FACED HIS FATHER’S TEMPTATIONS (26:1–11)
True faith is always tested, either by temptations within us or trials around us (James 1:1–18), because a faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted. God tests us to bring out the best in us, but Satan tempts us to bring out the worst in us. In one form or another, each new generation must experience the same tests as previous generations, if only to discover that the enemy doesn’t change and that human nature doesn’t improve. Abraham is mentioned eight times in this chapter, and you find the word “father” six times. Isaac was very much his father’s son. Abraham Lincoln was right: “We can not escape history.”
The temptation to run (vv. 1–6). When Abraham arrived in Canaan, he found a famine in the land and faced his first serious test of faith (12:10—13:4). His solution was to abandon the place God had chosen for him, the place of obedience, and to run to Egypt, thus establishing a bad example for his descendants who were prone to imitate him.5 The safest place in the world is in the will of God, for the will of God will never lead us where His grace can’t provide for us. Unbelief asks, “How can I get out of this,” while faith asks, “What can I get out of this?”
When Isaac faced the problem of a famine, he decided to go to Gerar, the capital city of the Philistines, and get help from Abimelech.6 Isaac and Rebekah were probably living at Beer Lahai Roi at that time (25:11), which means they traveled about seventy-five miles northeast to get to Gerar. Even after arriving in Gerar, Isaac and Rebekah may have been tempted to go south to Egypt, though God had warned them not to consider that possibility.
God permitted Isaac to remain in Philistia and promised to bless him. God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be greatly multiplied and one day would possess all those lands. Thus Isaac had a right to be there as long as God approved (12:2–3; 13:16; 15:5; 17:3–8; 22:15–18). God blessed Isaac for Abraham’s sake (25:5, 24), just as He has blessed believers today for the sake of Jesus Christ.
We can never successfully run away from trials, because God sees to it that His children learn the lessons of faith regardless of where they go. We can never grow in faith by running from difficulty, because “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character” (Rom.
5:3–4 NKJV). Like David, we may wish we had “wings like a dove” so we could “fly away and be at rest” (Ps. 55:6 NKJV), but if we did, we’d always be doves when God wants us to “mount up with wings as eagles” (Isa. 40:31).
The temptation to lie (vv. 7–11). Isaac could flee from famine, but when he put himself into a situation that offered no escape, he had to turn to deception to protect himself. Abraham committed this same sin twice, once in Egypt (Gen. 12:14–20) and once in Philistia (chap. 20). Remember, faith is living without scheming, and telling lies seems to be one of humanity’s favorite ways to escape responsibility.
Isaac was asked about the woman who was with him and, like his father Abraham before him, he said she was his sister. But when Abimelech saw Isaac caressing Rebekah, he knew she was his wife. Why did Isaac lie? Because he was afraid his pagan host would kill him in order to obtain his beautiful wife. His lie was evidence of his unbelief, for if he had claimed the covenant promise when he prayed for children (25:21), why couldn’t he claim that same covenant promise to protect himself and his wife?
The English poet John Dryden wrote, “Truth is the foundation of all knowledge and the cement of all societies.” When people don’t keep their word, the foundations of society begin to shake and things start to fall apart. Happy homes, lasting friendships, thriving businesses, stable governments, and effective churches all depend on truth for their success. The American preacher Phillips Brooks said, “Truth is always strong, no matter how weak it looks; and falsehood is always weak, no matter how strong it looks.” Truth is cement; falsehood is whitewash.
When he found himself in difficulty, Isaac was tempted to run and to lie, and we face these same temptations today. Isaac succumbed to temptation and was found out. It’s a sad day when unconverted people like Abimelech publicly expose God’s servants for telling lies. What an embarrassment to the cause of truth!
HE DUG AGAIN HIS FATHER’S WELLS (26:12–35)
Isaac inherited flocks and herds from his father, who had lived a nomadic life, but now the wealthy heir settled down and became a farmer, remaining in Gerar “a long time” (v. 8).
The blessing (vv. 12–14). Isaac and his neighbors had access to the same soil, and they depended on the same sunshine and rain, but Isaac’s harvests were greater than theirs, and his flocks and herds multiplied more abundantly. The secret? God kept His promise and blessed Isaac in all that he did (vv. 3–5). God would give a similar blessing to Jacob years later (chap. 31).
But Isaac was a deceiver! How could the Lord bless somebody who claimed to be a believer and yet deliberately lied to his unbelieving neighbors? Because God is always faithful to His covenant and keeps His promises (2 Tim. 2:11–13), and the only condition God attached to His promise of blessing was that Isaac remain in the land and not go to Egypt.
God also blessed Isaac because of Abraham’s life and faith (Gen. 26:5), just as He blesses us for the sake of Jesus Christ. We’ll never know until we get to heaven how many of our blessings have been “dividends” from the spiritual investments made by godly friends and family who have gone before.
The conflict (vv. 14–17). In spite of his material blessings, Isaac still suffered because of his lie, because the blessings he received brought burdens and battles to his life. Seeing his great wealth, the Philistines envied him and decided he was a threat to their safety. (A similar
situation would occur when the Jews multiplied in Egypt. See Ex. 1:8ff.)
“The blessing of the LORD makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Prov. 10:22 NKJV). Had Isaac not lied about his wife, God would not have disciplined him but would have given him peace with his neighbors (Prov. 16:7). Because of his sin, however, Isaac’s material blessings
caused him trouble.
The Philistines tried to get Isaac to leave their land and settle elsewhere, and to encourage this they stopped up Abraham’s wells and deprived Isaac’s flocks and herds of the water they desperately needed. Water was a precious commodity in the Near East, and adequate wells were necessary if you were to succeed in the land. The crisis came when the king commanded Isaac to move away, and Isaac obeyed.
The search (vv. 18–22). No matter where Isaac journeyed, the enemy followed him and confiscated his father’s wells and also the new wells that Isaac’s servants dug. To find a well of “springing water” (v. 19) was a special blessing, for it guaranteed fresh water at all times, but the Philistines took that well, too. The names of the new wells that Isaac’s men dug reveal the
problems that he had with his neighbors, for Esek means “contention,” and Sitnah means “hatred.” But Rehoboth means “enlargement” because Isaac finally found a place where he was left alone and had room enough for his camp and his flocks and herds.
Whenever Abraham had a problem with people, he boldly confronted them and got the matter settled, whether it was his nephew Lot (13:5–18), the invading kings (chap. 14), Hagar and Ishmael (21:9ff.), or the Philistines (vv. 22ff.). But Isaac was a retiring man who wanted to avoid confrontation. Since he was a pilgrim, he could move his camp and be a peacemaker.
In every difficult situation of life, we must use discernment to know whether God wants us to be confronters like Abraham or peacemakers like Isaac, for God can bless and use both approaches. “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18 NKJV). Sometimes it isn’t possible, but at least we should try, and we must depend on the wisdom from above that is “pure” and “peaceable” (James 3:17).
Looking at Isaac’s experience from a spiritual point of view, we can learn an important lesson. In the Bible, wells sometimes symbolize blessings from the hand of the Lord (Gen. 16:14; 21:19; 49:22; Ex. 15:27; Num. 21:16–18; Prov. 5:15; 16:22; 18:4; Song 4:15; Isa. 12:3; John 4:14).9 The church keeps looking for something new, when all we need is to dig again the old wells of spiritual life that God’s people have depended on from the beginning—the Word of God, prayer, worship, faith, the power of the Spirit, sacrifice, and service—wells that we’ve allowed the enemy to fill up. Whenever there’s been a revival of spiritual power in the history of the church, it’s been because somebody has dug again the old wells so that God’s life-giving Spirit can be free to work.
The assurance (vv. 23–25). Beersheba was a very special place for Isaac, because there his father had entered into a covenant with the Philistine leaders (21:22ff.). Beersheba means “the well of the oath.” The Lord comes to us with His assuring Word just when we need encouragement (Acts 18:9–11; 23:11; 27:23–24; 2 Tim. 2:19). No matter who is against us, God is with us and for us (Gen. 28:15; 31:3; Rom. 8:31–39), and there’s no need for us to be afraid. In response to God’s gracious word of promise, Isaac built an altar and worshipped the Lord. He was ready to meet his adversaries.
Like his father Abraham, Isaac was identified by his tent and altar (Gen. 26:25; see also 12:7–8; 13:3–4, 18). Isaac was wealthy enough to be able to build himself a fine house, but his tent identified him as a pilgrim and stranger in the land (Heb. 11:8–10, 13–16). A fugitive is fleeing from home; a vagabond has no home; a stranger is away from home; but a pilgrim is heading home. The tent identified Isaac as a pilgrim, and the altar announced that he worshipped Jehovah and was heading to the heavenly kingdom.
Like Isaac, all who have trusted Jesus Christ are strangers in this world and pilgrims heading for a better world (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). The body we live in is our tent; one day it will be taken down and we’ll go to the heavenly city (2 Cor. 5:1–8). Life here is brief and temporary, because this tent is fragile, but our glorified body will be ours for eternity (Phil. 3:20–21; 1 John 3:1–3). While we’re here on earth, let’s be sure we build the altar and give our witness that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.
The agreement (vv. 26–33). Isaac’s strategy paid off, because the Philistine leaders came to him to settle the matter of the property rights (21:22ff.). Fortified by God’s promises, Isaac was much bolder in his approach, and he confronted the Philistines with their misdeeds. It’s worth noting that Isaac’s conduct during this conflict made a great impression on them, and they could tell that the Lord was richly blessing him. More important than possessing his wells was the privilege Isaac had of sharing his witness with his pagan neighbors. (For a contrasting situation, see 1 Cor. 6:1–8.)
Isaac and the leaders were able to reach an agreement. To seal the treaty, Isaac hosted a feast, for in that culture, to eat with others was to forge strong links of friendship and mutual support. That same day, Isaac’s servants found one of Abraham’s wells (Gen. 21:25–31) and opened it, and Isaac gave it the original name, Beersheba. “The well of the oath” now referred to Isaac’s treaty as well as Abraham’s.
More conflict (vv. 34–35). Isaac was at peace with his neighbors, but he had war at home. His worldly son Esau had married two heathen wives who caused grief to Isaac and Rebekah. (Later, just to provoke his parents, he married a third heathen wife. See 28:8–9.) In view of Esau’s sinful lifestyle, we wonder that Isaac wanted to give him the patriarchal blessing (chap. 27).
All of us would like to find our Rehoboth (enlargement) where we have plenty of room and no contention, but Isaac’s Rehoboth was found only after he endured conflict. It’s through difficulties that God enlarges us for the larger places He prepares for us. “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” (Ps. 4:1). When the troubles of our hearts are enlarged and we trust God, then the Lord can enlarge us (25:17) and bring us “into a large place” (18:19). If we want room, we have to suffer, because that’s the only way we can grow and feel at home in the larger place God gives us when we’re ready for it.
©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Be Authentic by Warren Wiersbe. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.