Setbacks or Setups?

Most of us are no strangers to setbacks, including me. They happen more often than we would like. Often our expectations are disappointed because of them. They can catch us by surprise and they have been known to stop what seems to be good progress. Nevertheless, for all their forced intrusions into our lives, they have the potential to serve a higher purpose when we learn how to process them in a life honoring way.

The dictionary defines setbacks as stoppage or sudden pauses of forward motion or progress that sets limits or restraints that can lead to defeat or reversal of advancement; to slow the progress (hinder or delay). No one I know likes their plans and intents confronted in this manner, but this checking of our progress can be very helpful if we learn how to respond in faith to it.

Setbacks are common in the Bible. In fact the Bible is full of setbacks. Joseph, Moses and Israel, Caleb and Joshua, David, Ruth, Ester, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Paul, Peter, all experienced setbacks that became setups for God to do great things.

What exactly is a set up? One way of looking at it is what a builder does when he gets ready to work. He sets up all the equipment and supplies that are needed to do the job.

It is this preparation that insures that the building can be built. We set up tables with the dishes and food that are needed in preparation for a great meal. We set up our cameras to record the right pictures for what we want to communicate. In sports we set up a plan that will be executed to help win the game. And finally, a set up is done on purpose to establish or promote a specific vision. For example the phrase, “I was set up” which is what happens when someone else sets up a series of events which we have been made to serve that lead to their desired end in. This is exactly what God does. He sets up events and circumstances that lead to His desired end.

Abraham was no stranger to setbacks and set ups. He was set up by the many setbacks he endured before the birth of the promised son, Isaac. Sarah was barren, they both were past child conceiving age, they had endured famines, and family disputes (Lot, Hagar), fought battles, made mistakes, and faced down impossibilities in faith. By the time Isaac is born, there is no doubt that Abraham and Sarah received a promise from the Lord that only the Lord could give. Through all the setbacks, God was setting up a powerful revelation that speaks volumes to us today. Abraham’s willingness to walk through all the setbacks in faith has resulted in him becoming the father of Israel, the father of faith, and a friend of God in right standing with Him.

… Abraham, who is the father of us all 17(as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. (Romans 4:16-21)

And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. (James 2:23)

Further reflections on great setbacks in the Bible will quickly reveal that they are also the source of the greatest advancement of God’s plans. Having this scriptural life view is one of the primary keys to understanding that our setbacks lead to set ups. Just knowing that setbacks are often designed by God as setups can keep us stable and able when they happen.

Many of our setbacks are beyond our control. They can originate from the direct opposition of demon powers, from the system of this world, or from the failure of others to do their part. And yet God allows them for His greater purpose. How great is our God, who is able to make all grace abound towards us in all these. When the setbacks are revealed as set ups and complete their purposes in our lives, we see that God has done more than we can possibly think of or imagine. God uses them to set us up for the fulfilling of promises, not the failure of them. It’s all about God’s ability to make all things work together for the good of those that love Him and are called according to His purposes.

I have had my share of setbacks, and still do. One that sticks out had to do with a promise that the Lord had given us when we lived in Oregon several years ago. The promise was that we were going to buy a home for the first time. We had been running house ministry with lots of people living with us as part of their training for ministry for several years, so naturally we thought that we were to continue and that the home would reflect our needs. So we began to look throughout the region for the home I thought we needed, and never did find it. Six months later the Lord finally got through to me that this was not the vision for the home. The home was primarily for our family, with extra facilities for church. The setbacks in the process led to a more perfect understanding of what the Lord was saying, and when it came to pass it was with power and amazing provision from the Lord. Delays are some of the most common types of setbacks that lead to set ups. I am so glad that I didn't press past the borders of the setbacks to try to make something happen in my own understanding. God's plans were so much better than mine. Our setbacks were set ups to come to the end of our own understanding so that we could understand the more perfect plans of God.

Some of our setbacks may well be the results of our own actions. Even so, the Lord, the great Redeemer, the Restorer of the paths of life, the Rescuer of our soul, is able to turn them around for our good when we confess our mistakes and set ourselves to learn to do it God’s way.

If we can see and believe that setbacks are being used by God as set ups, we will be greatly encouraged to expect God’s best will always be worked out when we “suffer” a setback.

Jack Hayford says, “our wisdom is to embrace the Cross as our salvation and our source of overcoming victory. Then we can enter the conflict in confidence, knowing we shall triumph even though circumstances temporarily set us back”

If you are confronted with setbacks and want the set ups that they can bring, here is a prayer pattern that can help.

Father, thank you for establishing my life in your wisdom. Thank you for helping me understand the setbacks I am experiencing are a part of your great plan to set me up for your upward call in my life. I surrender afresh and new to your marvelous love and grace that is working together for my good in all things. I surrender my understanding, my emotional reactions, and my fears of failure to your workmanship in my life. I believe that my disappointments are your appointments with me, so that I may receive all that you have promised me. I believe you have my best interests in your heart, and the best interests of all those my life will influence. Thank you for turning my setbacks into set ups in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.

Further thoughts concerning setbacks and set ups:

  • The greatest setback provides the greatest set up for God to work through.
  • There are always lessons to learn in setbacks that set us up for a better life.
  • Setbacks are opportunities to see God in action.
  • Some successes can only come through the set up of setbacks.
  • Setbacks often keep us from greater problems later on when we are exercised by them.
  • When you are setback, choose to look for the setup, not at the setback.
  • Don’t accept setbacks as a definition of what you can do and can’t do.
  • Setbacks take many forms. Delays are one of them.
  • The process of walking out setbacks by faith enlarges our capacity to bring receive the promises of God.
  • The greater the setbacks, the greater the set ups are that bring us to fulfill our God given dreams.