What is the Purpose of Setbacks?

What is the purpose of setbacks? - wtlw.com

Setbacks – or at least the things we would view as “setbacks” in our life – are unavoidable. An illness, a layoff, a big bill we didn’t expect all throw a wrench in the plans that we have set for ourselves.

But perhaps the purpose of the “setback” was to keep us from those very goals. Perhaps, God’s intention by allowing us to face those things was to redirect us to even better things he has planned in our future. And, if we are willing to view these “wrenches” as divine intervention, then perhaps there is something great in store when we reach the other side.

Let’s dive into what the Bible says about this.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

God, in all his goodness, wisdom, and mercy, operates on a level that is beyond our comprehension. His decisions are based on the knowledge of when time began and when it will end. Things that are happening in our lives today were in their infancy not weeks or months in the past, but centuries before us.

God meticulously orders and allows the circumstances surrounding our lives. He invites our prayers and requests, but gives no guarantee of incorporating what we view as the “next best thing” into our life story. Instead, he thrusts us into what he knows is the next best circumstance and commands us to trust his divine understanding as we venture onward.

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:7-11

When we think or speak of Jeremiah 29:11, it is often in the context of God’s good plans, not necessarily the good plans that God is planning for us, but our perception of what those good plans may look like. While God is interested in cultivating circumstances for our good, that doesn’t ensure that our upcoming circumstances are pleasant, enjoyable, or even remotely resembling what we hope for.

Rewind to Jeremiah 29:7 and we quickly discover that the passage is not speaking about enjoyable experiences God orchestrates in our lives. In fact, the verse is quite the opposite. It serves as a reminder that God is still faithful, despite the present struggle. It stands as a promise, that God has not finished.

The intention is to provide hope in the midst of a crushing time, something much more powerful than the prosperity gospel that is often attached to the latter portion of this passage. This is a message of grit; indisputable proof that God finishes what he begins and stands by those he has chosen.

Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand.

The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.

Hosea 14:9

Wise, according to our standards, bears little weight in comparison to God. As we’ve already established, God’s ways are beyond ours. Hosea takes this a step further. He tells us that God’s plans run in parallel to his wisdom and his ways are right.

All throughout Scripture, we see a symbiotic relationship between God and the Israelites. At times, the people are faithful. God blesses them and strategically positions them to walk in all he has for them. Other times, things are not so good. The people stray, rebel against God’s plan, and turn to idols. In those moments, God punishes the people. He forces them to face their sins head on and steps back until they are ready for his rescue.

No doubt, he does the same in our lives with unexpected setbacks acting as a refining tool. Through them, we are brought to a place of deeper alignment with his will. Is it possible that we would have avoided a storm had we not strayed? That’s hard to answer this side of Heaven. Someday, when we arrive in Glory, we will receive the understanding to know why God allowed these setbacks in our lives. Today, our call is to trust God and press in whenever life goes differently than we would plan.

The way of the Lord is a refuge for the blameless, but it is the ruin of those who do evil.

Proverbs 10:29

All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.

Psalm 25:10

Ultimately, the Lord’s plans are set in love. Because of his love, he orchestrates our path. He is true to his word that his ways are for our good and, when we align ourselves with his will, we can walk in those good things.

Often, that “good” IS a refuge; protection from otherwise disastrous choices we may make for ourselves and rest for our weary souls. While we may think the challenges are at random, God is giving permission for each of them to fall into our path. They do not surprise him. In fact, he preordained them long before they were a thought in our minds.

So, what if we started viewing setbacks in this light?

Instead of becoming upset or frustrated, what if we chose to praise the Lord for steering us away from devastating circumstances?

What if we chose to look for opportunities to worship and praise him instead of allowing our flesh to dictate our reactions?

This radical thought process is exactly the type of lifestyle God calls us to. He calls us to embrace the unpredictable nature of life as an ongoing reminder to trust his will. It’s a beautiful reminder that he is in control and nothing happens without his consent.

Next time you struggle with an unexpected change in your plans, I challenge you to resist the urge to emotionally react. Take your cares to the Lord. Ask him to realign your vision of the day (or your life) to his will and commit to praising him throughout whatever you are facing. God is faithful to walk alongside his children. He will not leave you in the midst of a trial. Trust that he has the next step planned out and take the leap.


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