A couple of months ago I was invited to speak at this luncheon on the topic,
“When Life Gives You Lemons, ….”
As I began to think about what I might share with you today, the first question that came to mind was this: What do people think of when they hear the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”? What does we mean by it?
If you ask them, most people will tell you something like this: “It is about having a positive attitude.” Or “It is about making the best of a bad situation.”
A positive attitude is a good thing, right? What did the Apostle Paul say?
Phil. 4:8 Finally, [brothers and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, [let your thoughts] dwell on these things.
But when we say “make lemonade”, we are talking about more than just thinking good, positive thoughts. Right thinking needs to be put into action. When we say “make lemonade” we mean to find a way to bring something positive out of a not-so-positive situation.
That’s not always easy, is it?
As I continued to think about the saying, I wondered if there was something more we could learn… something deeper… Surely we can find something more meaningful than just a determination to make the most of a bad situation.
After all, we call ourselves Christians, right? Shouldn’t there be something more, something different in our response?
So as I pondered that, I realized that the first question I needed to answer was this:
What do I even mean when I say that life gave me a lemon? What kind of circumstance or situation would I be talking about? What would make me call it “a lemon”?
I think for most people, a “lemon” would refer to everyday occurrences that they find annoying, irritating, stressful, or problematic. Something has gone wrong. Something is broken. Or maybe a relationship has turned sour.
Some of the things that happen in our lives can be directly linked to the fact that we live in a broken world in which sin abounds. Today, we don’t have time to address the bigger picture. Questions like “Why do bad things happen?” do have a Biblical answer, but it could take us a whole series to answer them!
So, today, I want to focus on the ordinary, everyday “lemons” we encounter in our lives.
I want you to think about three words and I want to talk to you about some of the Biblical truths that surround them. The three words I want you to think about are: circumstances, attitude, and expectations.
When it comes to everyday circumstances, people have a wide variety of ideas about how and why things happen the way they do.
- On one end of the spectrum, some people think God (or Fate) has determined everything ahead of time and there is nothing we can do about it. Every moment of every day is a fixed part of some Grand Plan.
- At the opposite extreme, some people think everything is random and we just have to take what we get.
- Most people fall somewhere in between.
Biblically, we know that God is Sovereign; He has final authority over all things. Because of that, we often say that God is in control. And it is true that He is ultimately in control, He does ultimately have the final word — but it does NOT mean that He micromanages. God does NOT control every circumstance.
When it comes to our everyday circumstances, here are a few things I believe we can know based on what the Bible tells us:
- First, God has set natural laws and boundaries in place that govern how things work, and most of the time, He allows those laws and boundaries to work as He designed them to.
- Second, God has given mankind free will. That means people make choices that have real consequences. And those consequences nearly always directly or indirectly affect other people and play a part in shaping circumstances. If God were to intervene every time we choose badly, free will would no longer be free will. And so, He allows our choices, and their consequences, to stand.
- Third, we know that creation itself was affected by Original Sin, so things like disease, decay, and corruption play a part in our everyday circumstances.
If God does not control every circumstance, how does He work? Even in the Church we find that people’s understanding of how God works in the midst of our circumstances is not always Biblical.
- Some people in the Church believe that every “bad thing” that happens in their lives is the work of the Enemy (i.e. the devil).
- Some see “bad things” happening and conclude it must be the direct result of personal sin, (especially when they see it happening in someone else’s life.)
The truth is, both of those things are possible. Sometimes the Enemy is at work. Sometimes circumstances are the consequences of sin, ours or someone else’s. But not always. That’s not the whole story.
People can become confused, especially when the circumstances they are dealing with are dire. They think, “If God is good, if God is love, He would never allow this to happen!” What they are really saying is, “If God is good, why is there evil in the world?”
That is another one of those big questions we don’t have time to fully explore today, except to say: God is not the author of evil. By definition, something that is evil is morally wrong. God is righteous and holy at all times and therefore God is never the source of evil.
One reason we become confused is that we don’t make a clear distinction between what we call “bad” and what God calls “evil.” We have a tendency to label anything that is inconvenient, unpleasant or that causes us hardship as “bad.” It is sour. It is a lemon.
Attitude and Expectations
And that brings us to attitude.
We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can control our attitude, right? We can choose to make lemonade out of lemons.
I mentioned earlier that I wanted you to think about three words. Do you remember what they are? (circumstances, attitude, and expectations)
Because I believe our expectations often determine our attitude about our circumstances.
To be honest, expectations can be like a hidden agenda. We may not even be aware of them. But they often define our knee-jerk response to our circumstances – especially when our circumstances involve people and relationships.
Think of it this way… as you were growing up, you developed expectations of how life would be…
- You would have a nice house, a great job you love, a perfect family…
- You would travel to exotic places, wear beautiful clothes, have beautiful things…
Whether or not we put them into words, we all have expectations.
Then life happens, and things don’t turn out the way we expected.
“Something” happens. “Something” goes wrong. Life hands us a lemon.
God at work in our Expectations, Circumstances, and Attitude
Expectations. Circumstances. Attitude. God wants you to let Him work in them.
In Philippians 4:6, Paul writes,
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything [in every circumstance] by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
We may not be particularly happy about our circumstances, but no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we can bring it to God in prayer. And not only that, but Paul reminds us to come to God with thanksgiving. If we find it difficult to thank Him for the circumstances we find ourselves in, we can always be thankful because He is there with us in our circumstances.
I believe Paul wants us to understand that when we learn to pray with thankfulness in our hearts, no matter what our circumstances are, we will also learn to let go of our anxiety so that we can truly become “anxious for nothing.” For most of us, this is something that doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen as we grow and mature in faith.
Another applicable verse we often quote is Romans 8:28:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
If we look at the context of this verse, starting with verse 18, Paul is not talking about a life that is comfortable and easy and filled only with good things. On the contrary, he is talking about difficult times and difficult circumstances, and about how the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we are so devastated we don’t even know how to pray.
Paul is reminding us that if we lean into God, if we place our expectations and our circumstances into His hands, He will use them to bring about something good, something positive. I can have hope, and a right attitude, because God will make lemonade from my lemons… in His timing. I may not understand how He does it, I might not even see the results in my lifetime, but I can know that, as a Master Weaver, God will take up what I offer to Him — the threads of my life, some brightly colored, some dark and dull — and He will weave them into His beautiful tapestry.
I believe that, as a Christian, making lemonade when life gives me lemons is not about what I can do to manipulate a bad situation in order to bring about something that I want, something that I think is good, but rather about inviting God into my circumstances to do what truly is good as only He can do it.
When our expectations are aligned with God’s Word, they can help us to spur one another on to love and good deeds. But when we have not aligned our expectations with God’s Word, they can, and often do, lead us into trouble.
Let me give you an example.
As a young wife, I entered into my marriage with the expectation that my husband would always make me feel loved and accepted and fulfilled. But it didn’t always happen that way. There were times that he failed to do that, and I was devastated.
My expectations were not tempered with truth from God’s Word, and so, my attitude followed suit, prompting me to feel deeply hurt and angry.
But God is faithful, and over time He gently showed me that I was expecting my husband to fill the place in my heart that God alone could fill. He taught me that I needed to let go of the expectations for what I had imagined so that I could embrace the reality of what I had been given.
God’s Word tells us that we are frail and broken people in need of grace and forgiveness. As we learn to factor such truths into our expectations, we will be better prepared to respond to failure with an attitude that is likewise based on grace and forgiveness.
I am not saying that we should not have expectations or that we should expect failure, but I am saying we should keep in mind that failure is not the end of the story. God is a God of redemption – He takes lemons and makes lemonade.
As I close, I want to leave with you one more word: Opportunity.
When life gives you lemons, consider it an opportunity.
Consider it an opportunity to uncover hidden expectations that are mis-placed or that need to be re-aligned to God’s Word.
Consider it an opportunity to invite God into your circumstances to do something new that only He can do.
We may long for circumstances that are comfortable and make us feel good, but God prefers to use circumstances as a tool to mold character and nurture faith. We want comfort, God wants Christlike character.
So if life hands you a lemon, chances are God is handing you an opportunity to join Him in making some lemonade.