Triumph Out Of Tragedy



There are few of us who have not felt the blows of tragedy at some point in our lives. When we face the devastation that accompanies tragedy, when everything around us seems to be crumbling, we ask: “Why?” “Have I failed?” “Is God punishing me?” “Doesn’t God love me anymore?” “Is it all over for me?” But, ironically, our greatest success may be just around the corner. Ultimate success often comes through some great crisis.

The accompanying illustration portrays the only monument in the world built in honor of a pest. We have included it here because it symbolizes a real tragedy to triumph story. Unveiled in 1919, these words are inscribed on the monument: “In profound appreciation of the Boll Weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity this monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.”

The “tragedy” side of the story is told in the words of a comical folk song. I can recall as a boy hearing Tex Ritter sing the song on the radio, but only recently did I realize how much this song was actually rooted in the problems farmers faced in the American south.

The Boll Weevil Song

De boll weevil am a little black bug, Come from Mexico dey say, Come all the way to Texas, Looking for a place to stay. He’s lookin’ for’ for a home — Lookin for’ for a home.

First time I see dee boll weevil He was sittin’ on the square; Next time I see dee boll weevil All of his family there. He’s lookin’ for’ for a home — Lookin for’ for a home.

Now the farmer taken the weevil, Put him in the red hot sand. Weevil say, “This is mighty hot, But 171 stand it like a man. It’ll be my home–It’ll be my home.”

Well the farmer take the weevil And put him in a lump of ice. Weevil say to the farmer, “Mighty cool and nice. This’ll be my home — This’ll be my home.

Aye the farmer take the weevil And put him in dee red hot fire. Weevil say to the farmer, “Here I are, Here I are. This 71 be my home — Gotta have a home.

Well the captain say to the missiz, “What do you think of cat? The boll weevil done made a nest In my best Sunday hat!” Gotta have a home — Gotta have a home.

Well the merchant got half dee cotton The boll weevil got dee rest. Didn’t leave the farmer’s wife But one ole cotton dress. It’s full of holes — Plum full of holes!

The farmer say to the merchant, We’s in an awful fix. Weevil got all the cotton, Left us only the sticks, We’s got no home — No sign of a home.”

There are other verses to the song, and other versions, but the underlying theme is that no matter what the farmers did, the boll weevil was here to stay. Having invaded southern Texas from Mexico in 1892, it soon spread to other areas. By the late summer of 1915, in Coffee County and southeast Alabama, the cotton crops had been devastated. Though a boll weevil measures only a quarter-inch in size, a single female lays 100 to 300 eggs in her three-week life-cycle. Making its “home” in the cotton bolls protected the weevil from pesticides and ruined the cotton.

So why would this notorious weevil be honored by the people of Enterprise? Because it forced them to turn tragedy into triumph!

Confronted with the loss of their harvest and facing bankruptcy, the farmers knew something had to be done. It was learned that peanuts could be grown, unaffected by the boll weevil. Whereas every condition
had to be ideal to make a living raising cotton–a cotton crop is poor seven out of ten years, being forced to raise peanuts brought a consistent prosperity to the entire area. Enterprise now boasts a host of wealthy peanut farmers–thanking God for boll weevils all the way to the bank! Even a president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, came from those ranks of prosperous peanut farmers.

It has been said that when the Lord wishes to give us something special, he does not wrap it up in a glamorous package and hand it to us on a silver platter. Instead, he may bury it in a great big tough
problem while he watches with anticipation to see whether we have what it takes to break the problem apart and find the pearl of great price. Realizing this, when confronted with a problem, instead of it getting
to us, we can ask rather what opportunity is here. This simple change in attitude can throw open the floodgates of victory as we turn tragedy to triumph!

We might call this the boomerang technique. You can turn it around. You can find ways to turn a problem to your advantage. Even that which is “evil” can be turned around for “good” (Genesis 50:20). Instead of becoming bitter, you can become better. You can make lemonade out of those sour lemons of life. You can turn stumbling stones into stepping stones. You can turn “NO” around so it becomes “ON.” You can do it? Yes you can. Remember the last four letters in “American” are: I CAN. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil 4:13). “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

So you have problems to deal with. Good. This proves you are still alive! Those without any problems are at the cemetery.

It has been said, “No pain–no gain!” That’s something to consider. You see, bitter things are part of the recipe of life. Taken alone they are distasteful and intolerable–but mixed in with other ingredients, they add zest and flavor. Have you ever tasted vinegar, cream of tartar, cinnamon, or pepper alone? Not too tasty! For that matter, most of us would shudder at the thoughts of eating the raw ingredients of cakes or cookies: sugar, shortening, eggs, flour, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, etc. Yet these seemingly undesirable ingredients become a mouth-watering delicacy when mixed and baked in an oven.

So is it when all of the ingredients of the Christian life–the bitter and the bland–are mixed together and put in a hot, uncomfortable place for a period of time. They ultimately emerge as grand and good. Each thing individually may not be good. BUT “all things” DO “work together for GOOD to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). All of these things are ingredients in the divine recipe. Once we realize this, once we believe this, once it becomes a part of us, our whole outlook
changes for the better!

“Every end is a new beginning,” are the words on a little plaque hanging in our home. Instead of mourning about “what could have been if only ….” we need to allow God to do a “new thing” in us (Isaiah 43:19). We need to “let go” of thoughts and things which are no longer productive and which erode the positive flow of God’s blessings. Past hurts, losses, disappointments, and trials must be left behind as we pass through new doors and develop new relationships. Instead of looking back in regret, we must look forward with anticipation! Paul said it best: “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13, 14).

“Under the circumstances I can’t expect success,” some may say. Others declare, “I’ll rise above my circumstances–I’m going to win!” Most great people have suffered overwhelming difficulties and have
overcome tremendous obstacles, their own mistakes, slander, bankruptcy, break-up of a home, loss of family or health. Conversely, most people who have never suffered some great loss, usually have not
attained beyond mediocrity. There is a saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Their secret of success lies in what they do when they are BROKEN = not in how many BREAKS get.

The one time the word “success” appears in the Bible is within a promise to Joshua while facing all kinds of circumstances. Moses had died. The time had come to go in and possess the land. They must now face the Amorites, Hittites, Canaanites, and Perizzites. But the divine word was that God would grant “good success” (Joshua 1:8), in spite of the circumstances.

Circumstances? Roosevelt could have hidden behind his lifeless legs; Truman could have used “no college education”; and Eisenhower could have ducked behind his heart attack. One person faces circumstances and has PEACE; another goes to PIECES. One man builds CASTLES; another digs CAVES. One man’s WEED is another man’s FLOWER. One man’s TRASH is another man’s TREASURE.

Even a pile of manure is not without value. People actually pay money for it because they know it brings lush, beautiful growth. In the adverse circumstances of life, sometimes it feels and smells like we’ve
been put out to pasture–on a pile of manure. I do not hesitate to use this analogy, for in the Bible even Hannah used the same. She, too, had sat on the proverbial pile of manure and found that God was there to
lift her up. “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the DUNGHILL to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory” (1 Samuel 2:111).

Let’s face it. We’ve all lived through some smelly things. Whether we get through it victoriously often depends upon our attitude. If we have a positive faith that God does work all things together for good in the lives of his people, we set our sights on the ultimate good. But if we wallow in negative doubts and self-pity we become incapable of seeing the blessings that God wants to give.

Recently we were in Death Valley, California, the lowest spot in the United States, 282 feet below sea level. Interestingly, not too far distant is the highest elevation in the continental United States, Mount Whitney, reaching a dizzying height of 14,495 feet. When we stop to think about it, if there were no valleys, there could be no mountain tops! Even so in life, we are able to savor the thrill of mountaintop experiences because of the valleys–low times, times of discouragement, times of failure, times of hardship and atrocities too delicate to share with anyone. Though “many are the afflictions of the righteous,” we can rejoice in the grand truth: “but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalms 34:19). He takes us to the mountaintop and we gain a whole new outlook on life!

Visualize with me a wooden crate. Let’s call it “circumstances.” This crate can either confine or lift up, depending on what you do with it. It will confine you if you get under it–causing you to be blinded,
burdened down, and unable to function. You’re under the circumstances! But, you can take that same crate called “circumstances” and set it on the ground with the solid side up. Presto!–as you step up you are
taller, can reach higher, and have better perspective. Now you’re on top of your circumstances! Victory is yours.

When Jesus passed through Jericho, Zacchaeus, because he was a short man, was unable to see Jesus. There were too many people in the way. He could have talked of the circumstances and been defeated. But
instead of accepting failure in the matter, he did something about it. Running ahead, he climbed up into a tree. He rose above the circumstances. He not only saw Jesus, but Jesus saw him and salvation came to his house. I well recall a little song we were taught as children about Zacchaeus. “. . . he climbed up into a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the savior passed that way, he looked up in the tree and said: Zacchaeus, come down! I’m going to your house today.”

Perhaps we have failed to see Jesus because there are too many things between us and Him. Instead of “looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1, 2), it is easy to get our eyes on the tragedy, the problem, the circumstances, or people. Some say there are hypocrites in the church. Well, if a hypocrite is standing between you and God, he’s closer to God than you are!

A boulder will block the path of some, but will serve as a step to higher ground for others. It is up to us. You may not like your present job. You have bogged down. But this job may be the very thing that can launch you on to better things. It is like a man climbing a ladder. He may not like the level he is presently on, but it takes this step to go higher. Don’t despise the present position. If you despise it, you cannot do your best work. Though you don’t like it, begin to do the very best you can where you are. Do it with your might (Ecc. 9:10). By making the best of it, the very thing that presently seems frustrating can be that which helps you go higher!

One man had a job answering letters in the complaint department of a large company. He became bored with his job, stumbled through it, always a week or so behind. But realizing this job was a valid step in
the ladder, he took on a different attitude. (Attitude is often more important than education.) He got caught up on his work. He composed new and better letters. Mail was answered the day it came in and
answered well. His changed attitude turned him overnight from a weakling into a dynamic realist. He became a new man moving in a new world. Soon he moved up in the company to a more fulfilling position
and salary. He used the old job to get into something better.

If you were to make a list of your problems, how many would be on the list? Let me tell you about a man in the Bible, Shamgar by name, who was confronted with 300 problems! That is probably more than you
would have on your list! Facing 300 Philistines he could have easily given up in defeat. All he had in his hand was an insignificant ox goad. Such was no divine relic. It had never performed any miracles. It
had only driven oxen along a dusty road. But Shamgar took what he had. This is the secret. He took what he had and began to use it in faith, with the result that all his enemies were defeated (Judges 3:31).

What is in your hand? I firmly believe the answer is not far off or impossible to reach (cf. Romans 10:8). There is something right now–something in your hand or within reach–that can deal a blow for  deliverance. We may not change the world or solve all of the world’s problems, but our attitude, our believing, is within our power. Take what is in your hand and begin to use it for God. Use the step you are
now on to go higher.

Often frictions between individuals or hardships in life actually smooth us out and make us beautiful before the Lord. Think! – rough rocks tumbling in a rock tumbler week after week make beautiful jewels.
They are constantly hitting against each other–knocking off the rough edges. WE are jewels in the making (Malachi 3:17) — being polished by the Lord in the rock tumbler of life! Perhaps you feel the pangs of
going through the rock tumbler right now! Praise God for those trials (1 Thess. 5:18).

When we think of times of testing and trial, we remember the story of Job. Job had been a prosperous Full Gospel Business Man! But he suffered the loss of his cattle, children, health, and wealth. He suffered with boils and the distress of a nagging wife. When Job could no longer lean on riches, family, or friends, he had to trust fully in the Lord. In times like this–when there is no other way to turn–our approach to God becomes positive and determined. Answers come that would otherwise be unknown.

It was during the time of Job’s trial he received a determination he had not known before. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” he affirmed (Job 13:15). It was during this time he received revelations about the resurrection: “For I KNOW that my redeemer liveth,” he said, “and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-27). A greater faith, a greater determination, a greater knowledge of God resulted from what seemed to be tragedy.

God brought Job forth “as gold” and “blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning.” His property was restored and children were born to him. His daughters were the most beautiful women in all the land. One he named Jemima. If her sister had a child, she would have become “aunt Jemima”!

There was a purpose for the trial in Job’s life. What at first appeared as failure was not failure at all.

What is a failure: It’s only a spur
To the one who receives it right.
It makes the spirit within him stir
To go in once more and fight.
If you have never failed, it’s an easy guess
You have never won any high success!
–Edmond VanCooke

Joseph may have thought his life was a failure when he was treated unfairly by his jealous brothers, was sold into slavery and ended up in an Egyptian prison. But there was a purpose for being in Egypt. Ultimately tragedy was turned to triumph and Joseph became a ruler of Egypt. Through being in this position, he was later able to save his whole family from being destroyed by famine.

It seemed like tragedy when Paul and Silas were into jail at Philippi. But there they converted a jailer who became a key man for the establishment of the gospel in that city. Later, one of the great books of our New Testament–Philippians – was written to the church that was established there as a result.

The tragedy of persecution actually resulted in the spread of the gospel in the early days of the church. “At that time there was a great persecution against the church … they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4).

Certainly one would not seek to justify the adultery of David with Bathsheba. It was sinful and tragic. Yet, even in this extreme case, was not God able to turn it around? It was from this union, later, that Solomon was born who was “beloved of his God” and chosen to sit on “the throne of the Lord” over Israel! (Neh. 13:26; 1 Chron. 29:23).

Finally, the greatest example of tragedy turned to triumph is at the very heart of the gospel: the death of Christ. Public opinion had turned against Him. He was rejected as an outcast from his family, a traitor to his country, and a heretic by his religion. He who came to bring LIFE was now condemned to DEATH. He was crucified and died. As Jesus hung lifeless upon the cross, Satan could have said: “At last I have won a great victory. The gospel is a failure. Jesus is dead!” But what seemed to be Satan’s greatest victory was actually the very thing which forever defeated Satan and sin.

Out of tragedy came triumph for it did not end at the cross. Jesus rose again in victory over sin and death. Because he lives, we can face tomorrow. Because he lives, we have life and that more abundantly. Because he lives “death is swallowed up in victory … O death, where is thy sting? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Through his death and resurrection our sins are forgiven–tragedy is turned to triumph–and we stand before God with the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are complete in Him who is the head of all principality and power, “having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:10, 15).

It has been said, when God is going to do something wonderful–He begins with a difficulty! If he is going to do something very wonderful — He begins with an impossibility!

“God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform; he plants his footprints on the sea and rides upon the storm,” said a poet. A prophet said that God’s ways are higher than our ways–as high as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:9). An apostle put it this way: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans
11:33). But regardless of how we phrase it, there is abundant evidence that it is God’s plan for man to turn TRAGEDY to TRIUMPH! Amen.