RESTORE: to put or bring back into existence or use; to put again in possession of something1
Years ago a teenage boy left his teenage girlfriend and their young son. He never returned or stayed in contact with his son. The son grew attached to a new man, a second father, who married his mother. Then the man divorced his mother and forgot about the boy. A third father divorced his mother and only twice called the boy after the divorce, each time to try to get information about his mother.
The boy’s life was in constant turmoil. Three “fathers” walked away from him as if he had never existed. His last name changed regularly, he moved frequently, and he witnessed constant tumult at home between his mother and each new man. Each experience, each change, seemed to make his life worse than it was before.
As a teenager, the son often wished he could put an end to his life, not wanting it to continue, not seeing any hope of positive change. When he was fourteen, his mother, overwhelmed by her own pain and suffering, attempted suicide and nearly succeeded.
The son felt that fate had given him a bad hand. Insecurities, fears, and doubts filled his life. He was a very distressed young man.
That young man is the author of this book.
I tell you this not to impress you with my difficulties, for many have faced far greater difficulties than I did, but to let you know that this book is not a dry treatise on distress and restoration. I have lived the truth of this book.
Have you lived a distressed life? Is this your story? Chances are good that you are experiencing distress and are desperate to find escape from it, hope within it, and especially restoration after it. Maybe you are in a fractured, stressful relationship or a troubled marriage. You may be in danger of losing everything due to the state of your finances. Maybe you have lost a loved one, your home, your job, or even the ability to work. Your children may be growing apart from you and dismissing everything you hold dear. Perhaps your health is declining. You are in “a painful situation . . . a state of danger or desperate need.” You would like to know that it is all going to go away.
As a person who has recently passed the half-century mark, I can assure you that you have little chance of finding immediate escape from what is distressing you. And if you do escape distress, I can further assure you that it won’t last. Distress is something we find ourselves wearing in this life, like clothes. The specific distress we are “wearing” this week may be different from the distress we were wearing last month, or last year, but distress is to this life what the four seasons are to earth—unchangeable, immutable.
As I said, I do not speak to you as a mere spectator on this subject but as a veteran campaigner. My younger years could best be described as “a painful situation . . . a state of danger or desperate need.”
When I became a pastor I learned quickly that the life of a pastor is much like that of a police officer—the first person called to the scene of an accident. When calamity struck, or when broken relationships or circumstances were so overwhelming that they were no longer worth keeping secret, I was called in.
In short, I live and work in the continual shadow of distress in my own life and the lives of others. Yet, in spite of all the distress that I have endured in my life, I can honestly say with real and genuine conviction that while I would never want to go through what I endured again, I would not undo any of it.
Yes, you read that right.
The distress, as painful as it was, was the work of a Master Artist taking the pieces of a broken life and using them to create a mosaic of such beauty and wonder that it often brings me to tears of gratitude. I echo the heart and words of David in Psalm 16:5–6: “Lord, you have assigned to me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (niv). I have experienced God’s restoration—an amazing experience.
I remember the words of Joseph, so badly treated by his brothers and by circumstances; he was in one bad situation after another. After God delivered Joseph from his terrible circumstances, Joseph married and had two children. He named one son Manasseh, meaning “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household,” and the other Ephraim, because “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:50–52 niv). The Bible is littered with the accounts of His people in distress experiencing His restoration.
I do not expect you to be able to accept the idea of value in your distress—yet. I know that at this point you probably can’t see any relief, restoration, or purpose for it all. Pain has a way of blurring perspective. But as we examine the restoration found in the pages of the tiny Old Testament book of Ruth, you will begin to see not only the hope of your restoration, but the need of it. When God restores us, He doesn’t just take us back to where we were. He improves us, matures us, deepens us, and enables us to see the value the distress had in our lives.
This book is not another “trouble makes us stronger” bromide, because frankly, distress can also make us bitter, angry, resentful, fearful, and unable to enjoy our lives. I have experienced these emotions in response to my distress. Perhaps you are now struggling with some of these emotions. Your distress makes no sense to you and seems utterly bereft of any value. The truth is that those who respond favorably to the distress and those who respond tragically both endure the same emotions. Their experiences are similar, but their reactions differ. Why is this? Because we choose how we react to our distress. How we respond to our distress has much to do with the nature of our restoration.
When tyrants and dictators desire to punish their enemies, they work them to the point of physical exhaustion, driving them to endure more physically than they can stand. The punishment has but one purpose—to break down the individuals, to destroy their will to oppose the tyrant or fight back. The tyrant is frequently successful. The process leaves people weak and emaciated, skeletal ghosts.
When a football coach prepares his young athletes for the rigors of the season, he strengthens their bodies to be able to endure the physical abuse of the game. He exercises these young men to the point of physical exhaustion, pushing them almost more than they can stand. When he is done, these young men have been “distressed” into athletes whose bodies and minds and wills are stronger than they’ve ever been.
Both the tyrant and the coach “distress” their charges, but for dramatically different reasons. The victims of the tyrant chafe under the ill treatment but are forced to endure it. The young athletes also chafe under the treatment but accept it voluntarily and even gladly. The athletes see value in their distress. Athletes endure the physical pain and agony because they know conditioning makes them stronger, more agile, quicker, and better able to handle the physical beating of the game of football. The coach, though he has to pain and distress his young athletes, has only their best interests at heart. He would be a poor coach and a worse person if he neglected this aspect of their training and allowed them to be seriously hurt during a game.
In a world where people have abandoned belief in a sovereign and loving God who works His will mysteriously upon the earth, distress is seen as something to be avoided and escaped at all costs. Yet, distress is the necessary prelude to restoration. In the midst of our distress, God is at work to change the things we value, to help us see life from a different perspective. He is restoring us into His image and revealing himself to us in a deeper and clearer way.
In the pages of the Bible, we find a manual on restoration penned by the Holy Spirit. It is called Ruth, and it tells the story of two women who faced one distress after another with no hope for their situation to improve. It is a true story, so it contains what we would expect—initial despair and hopelessness about their situation. It also contains faith and courage, all from the same women. It is not the story of perfect women, but of human women responding to a level of distress that threatened to overwhelm them.
The main character in this powerful little book is never seen. He is the invisible God who works providentially behind the scenes, ever present and attentive, choreographing the movements in this gripping drama.
The story has one other essential character—and that is the person willing to take the amazing principles found in this story and apply them to his or her own distress. This is why God left us this precious book. That person is you. For in the book, we learn that restoration is real, life altering, and attainable by anyone who would submit himself or herself to the necessary process of restoration.
There is inestimable value in your current distress. It is far from random. It has a purpose and a goal and an objective far beyond anything you could imagine. It is no more designed to destroy you than is the surgery that removes the cancer, the shot that prevents the disease, the tourniquet that stops the hemorrhaging, or the first painful steps of therapy after reconstructive surgery.
A brilliant, divine picture, a portrait of you so beautiful you could never recognize it on this side of eternity, exists in the mind of our Lord, and each distress He allows in our lives is His divine brushstroke, adding color, maturity, depth of character, and a deep and eternal beauty that will be with you forever.
So journey with me as we view a divine snapshot in history, a moment that God etched forever on the pages of His eternal Word to remind us that distress, your distress, has great value, and that distress is but a prelude to the restoration God has planned.
This excerpt was taken from Restored! God’s Salvage Plan for Broken Lives
©2011 by Dan Schaeffer
All rights reserved.
Discovery House Publishers
Grand Rapids, Michigan
pp. 7 – 12
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