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Using a Setback to Make a Comeback

September 12, 2022

I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival . . .”  (Luke 16: 8, The Message).

Years ago, my husband had a photograph poster of a golf ball in a sand trap.  The caption was the famous Einstein quote: “In the midst of every difficulty lies opportunity.”   He could probably relate many instances in golf history when a golfer snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with an incredible shot from a sand trap or another adverse lie.  

One of the themes running through Sunday’s Scripture texts is not only overcoming the inevitable obstacles and adverse events that occur in our lives, but turning them into opportunities for success.[1]  Tiger Woods did just that in overcoming setbacks in his personal life and physical health to win the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia in 2019.   And again, in April of this year he returned to competitive golf after sustaining horrific injuries in a car accident last year. 

The example of overcoming adversity given by Jesus, and recounted in the 16th chapter of Luke, is the parable of the dishonest manager.  The owner of a company decided to fire his general manager because of the man’s dishonesty.  He had been overcharging customers and pocketing the difference between the actual price and the price he quoted to them. After his boss fired him, the manager realized that he wouldn’t be able to get a job anywhere unless he made some friends.  So he went to the customers, asked them what they owed; they quoted him the inflated charge that the dishonest manager had previously given them.  The manager told them to pay a reduced amount (the actual charge).  The result was that the owner got what was owed to him, and the manager made a few friends to look to for future employment.

Much to our surprise, Jesus says that the owner praised the dishonest manager: “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself.  Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior” (Luke 16: 8-9, The Message). 

God doesn’t want us to cheat others or look for sly angles to get ahead.  He makes it clear in the words of the prophet Amos, that he will not forget the evil deeds of those who take advantage of the poor: “Listen to this, you that trample on the needy and try to destroy the poor of the country. You say to yourselves,  . . . we can overcharge, use false measures, and fix the scales to cheat our customers. We can sell worthless wheat at a high price. We’ll find someone poor who can’t pay his debts, not even the price of a pair of sandals, and we’ll buy him as a slave.  The Lord, the God of Israel, has sworn, ‘I will never forget their evil deeds’” (Amos 8: 4-7, Good News Translation).

In saying that with every difficulty there is an opportunity, Einstein was echoing what Jesus had said two thousand years before—that we should not despair when we are in a tight spot, but should look for creative ways to overcome the setbacks we encounter.  We face many kinds of setbacks in life—setbacks in our education, relationships, careers, self-esteem, health, financial situation, and motivation, to name a few.  We may lose a job, a competition, a court case, an employee, a spouse, a child, our health, a home, our freedom. We drop out or flunk out of school, get fired or laid off from a job.  

Someone said that a setback is a setup for a comeback.  Joseph is a prime example.  After overcoming many obstacles, including being thrown in a cistern and being left for dead by his brothers, Joseph told them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).  We should expect difficulties in life, but they can give us reasons to hope—reasons to look to God to help us through the difficulty, and to turn it around.  

Jesus’ point in the parable of the dishonest manager is that we should look at our adverse circumstances as opportunities to do good.  Corrie ten Boom was a person who used adversity to minister to others.  When her entire family was arrested and sent to concentration camps after the Nazis found out that they were hiding Jews and helping them escape, Corrie and her sister were able to hide a small Bible.  Checkpoint after checkpoint, the Bible went undetected, which was a miracle in itself. They used the Bible to conduct worship services to praise God during their imprisonment.  Many women were comforted, converted, and bolstered in their faith through the use of the small smuggled Bible. 

How do we turn a setback into a comeback?  We turn to God and ask him to help us make lemonade from the lemons that were left on our doorstep. He demands total dependence on him—total trust in and reliance on him.  When we rely completely on God to help us through our troubles, we will turn to him frequently throughout the day seeking guidance, comfort, and assistance.  

Praising him even in the midst of difficulties demonstrates our reliance on him: “Praise the Lord! You servants of the Lord, praise his name!  May his name be praised, now and forever. From the east to the west, praise the name of the Lord! The Lord rules over all nations; his glory is above the heavens There is no one like the Lord our God. . . He raises the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from their misery and makes them companions of princes . . . He honors the childless wife in her home; he makes her happy by giving her children.  Praise the Lord!”  (Psalm 113: 1-9)

God wants us to see our problems as opportunities to foil evil.  He wants to help us put the adversities we face in life to good use.  Nothing is wasted in God’s economy—nothing.  If you lean on him, and trust him, he will help you turn your setbacks into comebacks.  Don’t despair that you can’t see the fruit of your labor immediately.  God will honor your commitment to act with integrity and honor and love for others.  It took years for Joseph to make a comeback.   We want our problems solved in our time, not in God’s time.  But his timing is perfect.  Put your trust in God and in his timing, and keep the faith.

Prayer: “Lord, I rejoice that nothing can come between me and your love, even when I feel alone or in difficulty, when in sickness or am troubled.  Even if attacked or afraid, no abyss of mine is so deep that your love is not deeper still.  Lord, you have experienced many hells of this world but descended so that you could lift us up.  Be always near.”  –Corrie ten Boom

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost are Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-15; Luke 16:1-15.

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