There are times in everyone’s life when God uses adversity to force us to make a defining decision. Adversity is necessary because without it we gravitate to what is comfortable and predictable. And if we never venture beyond that we will never discover God’s progressive will for our lives and experience the fullness for which He has created us.
One of the great studies of how God connects the dots of adversity and uses them to direct a person’s life is in Genesis 26. This chapter chronicles a tumultuous period of time in the life of the patriarch Isaac, following the death of his father Abraham. Isaac, the child of promise, who had been placidly floating down the river of life, suddenly hits a series of rapids.
First a famine strikes, bringing severe economic hardship to this agrarian herdsman. Not unlike the effects of a modern day loss of employment Isaac is forced to pull up stakes, leave his life long home and move to a foreign land to survive. But ironically, he finds God there and the encouragement he needs to stay and decides to make the most of it. (1-6)
As promised, God blesses him in this place of exile. And contrary to conventional wisdom, he experiences greater success there than if he would have remained on the homestead. His crops yield a hundred fold, his livestock multiply and he becomes a “very wealthy” man. Isaac even taps into some of the wells his father Abraham dug years earlier during a similar period of exile in his life. Those wells provide the life giving water needed to sustain his burgeoning operation. (12-13) What a great time for Isaac to write a best selling reversal-of-fortune book entitled “Famine, the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me!”
But wait, don’t get too comfortable Isaac! Just around the bend there are more rapids. This time he hits the churning waters of opposition. His growing economic influence stirs up the envy of his hosts, the Philistines. One after another they stop up all of his wells and then he is nearly capsized when the king issues an edict that he must leave. God’s blessing upon his life seemingly evaporates and once again he is unsettled. (14-16)
Under pressure, he reverts back to the familiar and chooses to live at another place where his father once had some wells. He proceeds to reopen Abraham’s wells and even gives them the same names. (17-18) But through all of this, God is continuing to work in his life. Like a mother eagle de-feathering the nest of her eaglet, God is pressing Isaac to spread his own wings and fly. It is a defining moment in Isaac’s life. He has a choice. He can either continue to rely upon the identity and achievements of his father or he can launch out and begin to establish his own identity by digging his own wells.
Clinging to the predictability of the past and relying on the work of another is never fully satisfying. Living in the shadow of his father is limiting his potential and ultimately compromising his own unique calling. Isaac is in the land between his past and his future, between promise and fulfillment. Through this turmoil of soul, God is producing a battle hardened faith and persistence within Isaac that is necessary to propel him through the waters of adversity into blessing.
He finally steps out in faith and begins digging to find his own well of water. Like an eaglet nudged from its nest into free flight for the first time, it can be both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. And that process is not without its struggles. Sometimes it takes repeated efforts before someone can truly fly on their own. It took Isaac three successive attempts at digging his own wells before he finally found a well that he could call his own. The first two wells he found he named “opposition” and “dispute” because of the major resistance he met from the Philistines. They claimed the wells were theirs and would not let him settle there.
Finally on the third attempt, he finds a well that no one quarrels with him over. It is a defining breakthrough in his life. In fact he names it Rehoboth, which means “room” and declares “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” (22)
Was this where God wanted him to be all along? Probably. Did God use adversity in his life to get him there? Definitely. Did God protect and provide for him along the way? Most certainly.
A number of years ago, God used this passage of Scripture as encouragement for me to step out in faith and make a career change.