When God Gives You Lemons…

There is a saying–“If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” In other words, if your life circumstances are “sour,” you should look for ways to make your circumstances into something sweeter.

Often, it seems like God gives us lemons–even when we pray and do what we know is “right,” it seems like our circumstances get no better. In fact, sometimes, they get annoyingly, frustratingly worse. But God does not abandon us; He doesn’t sit back and laugh at our frustration, or leave us to flounder in chaos with no hope. Sometimes, our circumstances are opportunities for God to make lemonade.

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When God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, He did not lead them directly to the Promised Land. Instead, He led them through the wilderness and to the shores of the Red Sea. There, they were trapped by the Egyptian army, complete with horses and chariots and trained warriors. But God’s plans were bigger than the armies of Egypt, and bigger than the sea. God made a path of escape through the sea, and used the very same sea to drown the enemy!

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What a miracle! But it wasn’t long before the people began complaining about “lemons” from God–the complained about the food, the journey, the scenery, and their leader, Moses. Even when God did many more miracles– bread from Heaven, meat from the sky, water from the rock, divine intervention in battles– the Israelites were still complaining about all the “lemons” in their life, and longing to go back to Egypt and slavery!

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There are seasons in life when it seems like God is giving us lemons–a job loss, an unexpected illness, a wayward daughter, a house fire, civil unrest… Struggles and pain will come into our lives; we should not pretend otherwise, or seek to deny them when they come. And God does not expect us to “make lemonade” all on our own. But He may allow us to be squeezed a bit; He may send the lemons today, and sugar next Monday. He may not give us a fancy carafe and cute little teacups. But He will give us all we need to make lemonade if we are prepared for the task. And usually, He will give us more than enough to set up a lemonade stand and serve others!

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Several years ago (2005), I had the opportunity to visit a settlement of Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic. Multiple mission groups had banded together to provide basic needs– shelter, basic medical services, toilets and showers, etc. Service teams from Canada and the U.S. had come in to build two-room houses and set up a small clinic and school. Donations had come in– clothing, bedding, toothbrushes… Thousands of Haitians had been displaced after a bad hurricane season and massive flooding, and this refugee camp was home to nearly 150 families. Even with the donations, there were shortages– there was running water, but it wasn’t potable. There was rice, but few vegetables and very little meat. Aspirin and antibiotics were rationed, and most of the children were thin, and sad, half-clothed in rags and bare-foot.

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In the midst of all this, there was a miraculous donation– of flip-flops! Literally thousands of pairs of flip-flops–brand new overruns: different sizes, but all the same colors and style–more than enough for every person to have a pair. God had given the people of this settlement a LOT of lemons. Shoes were well and good, but the people needed water… The shoes were distributed– there were even a few left over. But about a week later, it was observed that most of the people were still walking around bare-footed. What had happened to the donated flip-flops? Were the people ungrateful? Were they too proud to use the new shoes? Too fearful?

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Not at all! These amazing people trusted that God could help them turn lemons into lemonade. They loaded the flip-flops into large bags, carried them (bare-footed) on their backs into town (the nearest town was nearly 10 miles away, but it was on the coast and attracted many tourists), pooled what little money they had to rent a booth at the beach, and SOLD the flip-flops. The money they made from the sale of the flip-flops purchased five-gallon jugs of drinking water. The jugs were carried back from town and shared among the members of this growing community. As they continued to sell the donated flip-flops, they purchased other small items– packets of laundry detergent, fly swatters, plastic dishes and cups–and established a small colmado (local store) within their own community. When I was able to visit again a couple of years later, the refugee camp was a thriving community– many of the houses had been painted, and had gardens and picket fences, on which clothes were drying in the sun. And while some children were still running in bare feet, many others had shoes. Some of the shoes were ragged and some were mismatched, but the children were happy and healthy. In the middle of the community, there was a beautiful church. Inside, there was a woman sweeping and singing songs of praise.

I share this story because it both encourages me and shames me. In this season of “lemons”– COVID-19 and violent unrest in my country– I have a choice. I can complain like the children of Israel. I can pray for God to take away the lemons; I can beg for Him to send me lemonade. Or I can look around for opportunities to use what He has provided– graciously provided– and sing His praises as I make lemonade.

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God, grant me the eyes to see your provision amid whatever challenges I face today. THANK YOU for the lemons you have given me today, and, when I am squeezed, help me to become a sweet and refreshing reminder to others of YOUR Grace and Joy.

Praying for Peace

A few years ago, I was introduced to a man from South Sudan, who had come to the U.S. for a missions conference.  Earlier in the evening, he had shared a report on conditions in his region– all the horrible details you dread hearing–displaced families, homeless refugees, orphaned children, shortages of food, clothing, shelter, blankets, and medicine, constant fear of being attacked by one side or another in the ongoing conflict.  Throughout his report, he emphasized the sovereignty of God, and his hope that he and his team could continue to help those most in need.  As I got a chance to speak directly to “Robert” *, I told him that I would pray for peace to come to his region.  I was shocked when he stopped me.  “Please don’t pray for peace,” he told me.  “Pray instead that God would give us the resources and the strength to be faithful and to keep helping.”

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Then he explained.  It wasn’t that he didn’t want peace to come, but he wanted me to pray for whatever God willed for his region.  The Kingdom of God, not earthly peace, was his highest priority and his greatest urgency.  Because of the circumstances of war, people were desperate.  Their world had been turned upside-down, and they were in great need.  But war had also opened up opportunities– not only opportunities to help those in need, but opportunities to show the Love of Christ as it had never been known to the people there.  The people who were coming to refugee camps were meeting, sometimes for the very first time, people from other villages, other cultures, and other faiths– people they had considered enemies.  Suddenly, they were seeing these enemies as fellow sufferers, fellow human beings with the same injuries and losses, needs and longings as themselves.  They were also “seeing through” some of the lies they had believed about “the others” in their midst.  Their circumstances were desperate, but their biggest need was for hope and help.  Help was coming from around the world– United Nations’ agencies, The Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and several Christian relief and medical organizations.  These groups had been kept out during peacetime and even in the early stages of fighting.  Not only were they able to help with immediate relief; they were able to provide medical care for victims of AIDS, and childhood diseases, care that had long been denied.  Along with practical help, though, these groups were providing hope– hope to rebuild, hope in the midst of despair and chaos, hope of eternal life and a relationship with God.

“Robert” was not saying that he didn’t long for peace, or that peace would be a bad thing for the people of South Sudan.  Of course not.  But the greatest need was not for an immediate end to fighting– it was for the kind of peace that only God can bring.  As far as I know “Robert” is still working with refugees and displaced families in South Sudan.  The work is difficult and often heartbreaking.  Resources are stretched, and chaos still haunts the land.  But progress is coming– slowly, but surely.  Lives are being changed, reclaimed, and renewed.   And I pray that he and his team are being strengthened and encouraged even as their circumstances continue to be desperate.

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I share this story because I am still learning that Prayer isn’t about what I want or think is best; it isn’t about getting my way, or asking for the easy “fix” or the happy ending.  It’s about seeking God’s will, His way, His answer, His timing, and His grace.  Suffering, whether we are experiencing it or hearing about it, reminds us that we live in a fallen and dying world.  We long for peace.  We long for healing.   We long for rest and comfort and happiness.  But in this world, there will be trouble and injustice, death and disease, pain, suffering, betrayal, and unanswered questions.  We don’t understand God’s timing, his plan in allowing innocent people to suffer the cruelties of war or poverty.  And if we are living in peace and comfort, it makes us feel guilty and even fearful– why them and not us?  When might we face unexpected hardship?  So we ask God to remove all the discomforts, the struggles, the pain.  It is not wrong to want healing and peace and all the other good things– we should seek justice and mercy and peace and joy.  But we also need to recognize that God may choose to bless us in unexpected ways through our hardships and agonies.  And he may be calling some of us to take action– to be His hands and feet– to reach out with the resources he has given us to help others.  He doesn’t love those others less; he doesn’t love us more– he loves to see us love each other in His name!

God’s ways are not my ways; his timing isn’t the same as mine– it is better.  It is perfect. In the end, there will be peace in South Sudan.  There will be Peace on Earth. There will be healing and justice, and peace and joy.  There will be answers for all the questions, and happy endings.   But in the meantime, may God give all of us the strength and resources to help those in need, the faith and discipline to keep going in the midst of chaos, and the wisdom to make peace and spread love wherever and whenever we can.

 

*Because “Robert” is a Christian worker in an area of intense persecution, his true identity is being protected.  Please pray for all those who are risking their lives and livelihoods to live, work, and worship as Christians throughout the world.  And be thankful if you live in an area where you risk little or nothing to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ.

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