I wasn’t really into sports as a kid. Probably because of my lack of competitiveness and coordination and skill, to name a few 🙂 and my fear of letting anyone down (due to the lack of the above). One sophomore day, I considered trying out for volleyball. But since the team seemed to have come out of the womb playing volleyball with spandex and knee pads, I assumed my options were to spend my fall sitting on the bench or not try out. So, I played it safe and found something else to do with my time.
I successfully eluded the bench that sophomore year.
But sometimes in life, the bench is unavoidable. There may be times when you feel “benched.” Sidelined. Like the game of life just got good, and you were asked to sit out this quarter. Maybe it is part of suffering consequences for a poor decision, or maybe you feel like it’s just bad luck.
You may be feeling the disappointment of this world – job losses, adoptions failed, vows broken, miscarriages, “no” votes, singleness that overstayed its welcome, talents overlooked, friendship abandoned, callings unfulfilled, health deteriorating, promotions that won’t happen, questions unanswered, dreams that haven’t come true…
You are not alone. And when we experienced our share of moments on the bench, God showed me we were in good company.
I think of Moses.
Escaped death as a baby, floated into the arms of royalty, adopted by a princess (Exodus 2.5-6). Next thing you know, there’s orders out for his life (Exodus 2.15), and he flees his castle-home. He spends the next 40 years in the outback. How quickly his life changed in a sentence! He went from royalty to wanderer in a few verses. One strike, and he is out. I can’t imagine how many times he played that inning differently in his mind. How often he looked back with regret. And we’d be tempted to think there was an error in his story until we recall it is God’s story. He never left. The Great I AM shows up big in a burning bush (Exodus 3.3-6). All these years He has used to prepare Moses to be the deliverer. Seemingly “out of the blue,” he hears NOW GO (Exodus 3.10). We know the rest. You can read it or watch the movie. God unveils His big plans for this man, that He no doubtedly had all along. But those nights when he laid his head down, far from the lights of the castle, I bet he had to wonder why.
Then, there’s David.
The most unlikely in the land to be anointed the next king (1 Samuel 16.7). But, He is God’s chosen. Talk about the promotion of a lifetime. So then, this featherweight David enters the ring with giant-heavyweight Goliath. One blow and Goliath is knocked out. (1 Samuel 17.32ff). David is champion of the land! Shepherd boy to Superstar overnight. Except the king heard one too many rounds of Saul has killed his thousands, but David has killed his ten thousands (1 Samuel 18.7). And Saul’s jealousy burns into hatred for David that cannot be quenched until he is taken out of the game. From that time on, Saul kept a jealous eye on David (1 Samuel 18.9). David now stayed in the strongholds of the wilderness…Saul hunted him day after day (1 Samuel 23.14). He must run for his life. It was one thing for Moses to run from something he did. But at this point in time, David did nothing other than be a man after God’s own heart. And this is the reward he gets? How many times David must have looked to the sky, asking “What gives?!” What is stored in our hearts comes out in those times on the bench. And yet, we see in David’s prayers that in the midst of unfair, unjust, evil treatment; God is faithful. David can say with confidence: The Lord always keeps his promises; He is gracious in all He does. The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads (Psalm 145.13-14). As if David’s response to this isn’t already out of this world, his reaction to hearing of Saul’s death is nothing short of extraordinary! You would think he would breathe a sigh of relief. But, he grieves for Saul as if he hadn’t hunted his life day after day after blasted day…for 20 years. It’s shocking, really (2 Samuel 1.11-12). All those years of hot jealous pursuit, yet David mourns his death like that of a loved one.
And, who can forget Joseph?
(Well, besides the baker and the cupbearer.) Kind of a bizarre story of favoritism, given this coat of many colors from his dad. Again, jealousy breeds evil. And his brothers are sick and tired of staring at that colorful cloak, and will do whatever to rid themselves of the pain of not measuring up (Genesis 37.18-28). The favorite son becomes a slave. But God was not caught off-guard, up in heaven thinking uh-oh. You see, The Lord was with Joseph and blessed him greatly (Genesis 39.2). Potipher bought Joseph, recognized this and eventually put him in charge of his entire household (Genesis 39.3-6). Joseph was an upright man, which landed him in prison (Genesis 39.7-20). We’d be tempted to think he was unfairly benched. That after all that, he was gonna sit out for the rest of game for a mistake he did not make. Au contraire. But the Lord was with Joseph there too, and He granted Joseph favor with the chief jailor (Genesis 39.21). He serves faithfully, using the gifts God gives and is still forgotten (Genesis 40.23). BUT. Not by God. Two years later, the Pharoah sends for Joseph. And this time, he is promoted to the most prestigious job in the land: Who could do it better than Joseph? For he is a man who is obviously filled with the Spirit of God (Genesis 41.38). Just like that, Ruler of Egypt! He didn’t work his way to the top. This was not coincidence. This was a plan orchestrated by the Grand Conductor to save His people. And Joseph got it. Enough to forgive the brothers we would consider responsible for this. Don’t be angry with yourselves that you did this to me, for God did it. He sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives (Genesis 45.5). Even the names of his kids reveal that Joseph was not alone in that prison cell. (Manasseh: God has made me forget all my troubles, Ephraim: God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.) God had never left. But, I wonder how many nights in prison a homesick, betrayed, lonely, confused, forgotten brother felt like He had.
These men got it right. Their minds were not fixed on themselves, thinking this life was all about them. Their eyes were not set on the temporal, needing this world to treat them right. Their hearts were yielded to their Creator. They realized a much grander tapestry was being woven. With threads of conflict strengthening character. Injustice breeding the desire for integrity. Loneliness deepening dependence on the One who will never forsake. These are everlasting threads that withstand the perils of this world and are weaving crowns of gold for the world to come.
When we find ourselves on the bench, when we just can’t make sense of this season…
we can either sit the rest of the game out.
Or we can realize we are in the company of the greats. We are part of a team.
We can trust our Coach must be up to something. He’s done this before.
But get ready.
Cuz when He calls your name, it’s gonna blow your mind!