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A Shelf Life for Our Troubles

We’ve all done it…or something akin to it! Passing through the produce aisles of the local grocery store, we notice a sale on the most beautiful strawberries—two packages for some ridiculously low price. In knee-jerk fashion, we promptly load them in our cart, and place them in the refrigerator at home. By the time the first package is eaten, we discover that the strawberries in that second package are starting to rot…requiring us to pare away the bad spots in an effort to salvage what is still edible. Like all perishable items, strawberries have a shelf life. The shelf-life clock begins to tick the moment they are picked in the field. If they are not consumed within an abbreviated window of time, they cease to be consumable.

In virtually every situation where a shelf life is in play, it tends to work against us. But in the crucible of real life beyond strawberry trivia, there is a certain shelf life that tends to work in our favor! I am referring to the trials and troubles that we incur in the course of our lives.

Now, you may not be in the midst of trouble at this hour, but you have no doubt experienced trouble in your past and unavoidable trouble awaits you in your future. As you reflect upon the past and anticipate your future, be mindful of this truth: troubles have a shelf life! That is, they are seldom if ever permanent in nature. Like a squall that pops up over open water and tosses the small craft to and fro for a season, it will eventually blow itself out, and return the sea to its former calm. Let us cite a few examples.

The scriptures tell us that the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness immediately after his baptism (Mark 1:12). The next forty days brought three sinister temptations fomented by Satan and accompanied by a severe case of hunger. In the strength of the Spirit, Jesus weathered those forty days of trouble with sinless perfection still in tact, and afterward enjoyed the succor of angels for His trouble (Matthew 4:11). The wilderness temptations were no picnic, but they had a shelf life. They also provided a showcase for the Messianic character that would offer a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins some three years down the road. Moreover, they demonstrate that troubles incurred by the righteous can be enemy-related without being sin-related.

Paul and Silas were incarcerated in Philippi and beaten for preaching the gospel (Acts 16:19-34). By any measure, doing time in a Roman-run jail constituted trouble of the first order. But it was jail time with a shelf life. The Lord intervened during a midnight praise session, set the prisoners free, and saved a Roman jailor…and his household. How many times in scripture do we find a sovereign God taking that which was intended for evil and transforming it into good?

The prophet Elijah ran into a bit of trouble at the hands of wicked Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-18). Some might argue that in his case it was more a matter of perceived potential trouble than an actual crisis. But when you’re on the run from the threatenings of a devilish queen with ultimate political power, perceptions can weigh heavy on the mind. The cave-dwelling Elijah was deep in depression and ready to write his own obituary when a still small voice brought him out of his spiritual funk to anoint two kings and his prophetic successor, and later take a chariot ride into glory! Elijah teaches us that even the depths of despondency have a shelf life when one is attentive to God’s voice and follows through with obedience to it!

What about self-inflicted trouble? All of us have been guilty at one time or another of shooting ourselves in the spiritual or moral foot. Let’s consult with David on this one (2 Samuel 11-12). Having lusted after and committed adultery with a rank-and-file soldier’s wife, he plotted the murder of that honorable man, and sought to cover it up for the better part of a year. He was finally confronted and exposed by the prophet Nathan, resulting in the death of an illegitimate yet innocent child. David was broken (read Psalm 51 to get a sense of that brokenness). But his trouble had a shelf life. In a display of mercy virtually unparalleled in scripture, David and Bathsheba give birth to another son—Solomon—who became the next king of Israel and whose God-given wisdom was reputed to be incomparable. In addition to those accolades, it is said, “and the Lord loved him” (12:24). 

We could cite many other examples, and probably a few exceptions. But you and I must remember that when we encounter troubles along life’s way, whether self-inflicted or from external sources, they almost certainly have a shelf life that will ultimately run its course 


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