Joel Osteen — Separated for the Better
I want to talk to you today about "Separated for the better". In the scripture, there's a place called the "Threshing floor". That's where the wheat was separated from the chaff. Back in those days, they didn't have machinery, so they would lay sheaves of wheat on the ground and have their oxen and cattle walk over them repeatedly. They would break up the husk and straw.
The valuable part of the plant, the grain that was used for bread and meal, would come loose from the chaff. The farmer could have a great harvest, but if he didn't separate the dysfunctional part of the plant from the functional, he would never make a living. Even though he had something very valuable, if it didn't go through this process, it wouldn't do him any good.
In the same way, to reach our highest potential, God will take us through some threshing floors. We start off like that stalk of wheat. The potential is there, we have seeds of greatness, we're valuable, but the problem is, we all have some chaff. Along with the valuable grain, we may have some pride or selfishness or insecurities, and unless God took us through the threshing floor, we'd never become what he created us to be. God has to separate the dysfunctional part of us, the part that's holding us back, from the valuable part.
Now, if the wheat could talk, it would say, "I don't want to go through the threshing floor. I don't want animals walking on me. That's uncomfortable. That's painful. Leave me alone". But the farmer knows, without the separation, the grain would never be useful, and sometimes we think, "Why am I stuck in traffic again"? "Why won't this person give me credit"? "Why did this friend walk away"? We don't realize we're on the threshing floor. What we think is a bad break, a disappointment, we don't like it, we're uncomfortable, but God is the one that ordained it.
Instead of fighting it, if you'll stay in peace, then you're being refined. What's holding you back is coming off. Like that wheat, you're becoming more valuable. That person at work that always gets on your nerves, always tries to make you look bad, as long as you let that frustrate you, ruin your day, you're going to get stuck, but when you recognize, "I'm on the threshing floor," "This is an opportunity to come up higher," "I'm being refined, so I'm going to stay in peace," "I'm going to let God fight my battles," when you have that approach, even if the situation doesn't change, you will change. You're getting better.
The scripture says, "Our faith is tried in the fire of affliction". We can't pray away every difficulty. There will be things that happen that you don't understand: you went through a loss, a friend let you down, you didn't get the promotion. Recognize you're on the threshing floor. Even though it's uncomfortable, if you'll keep the right attitude, you'll come out refined, more valuable, separated from what's holding you back.
I'm a very goal-oriented person, and I never like to wait, but it seemed like the more impatient I was, the more I found myself in situations that I didn't have a choice. I had to wait. I never dreamed it was God putting me there. I was sure it was the enemy trying to slow me down. I tried to pray away every traffic jam, every slow driver, every delay. I prayed that Victoria would get dressed faster and prayed that the kids would be ready on time. No wonder it didn't work.
I was praying against what God had ordained. He loved me too much to answer my prayer. I wanted God to change the situation. God wanted the situation to change me. Maybe you're on the threshing floor today, fighting something you don't like. Why don't you have a new perspective? God wouldn't have you there unless you needed it. It may not be good, but God knows how to use it for your good.
Instead of living frustrated, sour, bitter, have the attitude "I may not like this, but I know I'm on the threshing floor. I'm being refined. I'm getting better. I'm coming up higher".
One Sunday morning when our services were still held at our northeast location, I headed out for church. I like to arrive at least 30 minutes early so I can go over my notes and get ready, but when I came to the main intersection to leave my neighborhood, it was blocked off because of the marathon. That happens here every January. So I turned around to go out the back side of the neighborhood, but it was blocked off as well. I tried another place and another and another. There was no way to get out. I was so frustrated.
I went back to the main intersection. I said to the police officer standing there, "I pastor a church across town. I'm trying to get on the freeway but can't seem to get out of the neighborhood". All he had to do was move one cone and let me cross the road. Early Sunday morning, not another car or person in sight. He was going to help. He said, "All right, let me see what I can do". Then he turned and looked at his supervisor across the intersection. Before he could say anything, his supervisor started shaking his head, "No".
Couldn't believe it. He didn't know what we were going to ask. I wanted to say, "Tell him I was going to buy him a new car, and he just said, 'NO'". I turned around so frustrated, drove through the neighborhood another 10, 15 minutes, finally found this small side street to get out. The funny thing is, when I got to church, Victoria was already there. She left 30 minutes after me. I said, "How'd you get you get here so fast"? She said, "I went the normal way. The intersection was open for me".
Friends, God knows how to put you where you're supposed to be. If he has you there, don't fight it. Embrace it. Stay in peace. See, Victoria is very relaxed, easygoing. She doesn't struggle with being impatient. She has a whole bunch of other things she deals with, but... I'm not the only sinner in the family, now.
What am I saying? If we would work with God and let the situation change us instead of trying to change everything we don't like, we wouldn't have to keep taking the same test. I had to go back to that threshing floor again and again, stuck in traffic. Some things don't come off easily, and God will deliberately put us in situations so we can come up higher. The right approach is "If God has me here, I must need it. I'm going to keep a good attitude, knowing that I'm coming out refined. I'm coming out more valuable".
In the scripture, when the three Hebrew teenagers wouldn't bow down to the king's golden idol, he was very upset. He was going to have them thrown into a fiery furnace. He had their hands and feet bound with cords, and he threw them into the furnace, but the only thing that was burned in the fire were the cords that were holding them back. The fire didn't stop them. The fire separated them from their limitations. It was meant to destroy them, but, in fact, it made them better. They came out with a new confidence, with a greater trust in God, not in the fire, but on fire.
Just like with them, when you find yourself in the fire, you can stay in peace, knowing that God is not going to harm anything that you need. That difficulty is not going to leave you broken, scarred, defeated. All it's going to do is burn off any limitations that are holding you back. It's going to separate anything that's not God's best. You're going to come out prepared, ready for the next level.
In the scripture, we see this principle. All the great heroes of faith went through their threshing floor experiences. Remember Peter? He was hot-tempered. He used bad language. He told Jesus, "I'll never deny you. I'm your main disciple. I'll be with you through thick and thin". But when he was put on the threshing floor in the heat of the moment, he denied that he knew Christ.
When you're under pressure, you find out what's really on the inside. That's when impurities in our character come to light. If you'll work with God and let him refine you, you'll come out better. This is what happened with Peter. He didn't stay there. One day, he ministered, and 3,000 people came to know the Lord, the most in the scripture. He was so powerful that his shadow caused people to get healed.
Moses, as a young man, knew he was supposed to deliver God's people. The dream was in his heart, but he got out of God's timing and tried to do it in his own strength. He ended up killing a man and had to flee for his life. He spent 40 years on the back side of the desert. It looked like that one mistake ruined his destiny, but God never writes us off. He was on the threshing floor, being refined.
When he was 80 years old, the scripture says Moses was the most humble, gentle man alive. God was saying, "Moses, I haven't forgotten about you. That threshing floor experience, you may not have liked it, may have been uncomfortable, but the good news, it's prepared you for the fullness of your destiny". Moses went on to bring the Israelites out of slavery, lead them toward the Promised Land. Would've never happened without the threshing floor.
Judges chapter 6 tells about a time when the Israelites would go out and plant their crops, water them, cultivate them, but when it came time to reap, an enemy would come and take their harvest. God raised up a man by the name of Gideon to do something about it. The problem, Gideon was insecure. He didn't think he could do anything great. As long as he felt inferior, he would never reach his destiny. God didn't say, "Gideon, too bad. I had something amazing in your future, but you have all these things holding you back. I can't use you". No, God never leaves us where we are.
This is what the threshing floor is all аbout: God puts us in situations to separate what's limiting us. God told Gideon, "I want you to lead the people and defeat this army". Gideon said, "God, how can I do that? I'm the least one in my father's house". It's significant where Gideon was when he said this. He was hiding in a threshing floor. He felt weak, inferior, less than. God answered him back and said, "Gideon, you are a mighty man of valor. You are well able to accomplish this assignment".
I could imagine, hiding there, something came all over him. He thought to himself, "You know what? I'm not weak. I'm not defeated. I'm a child of the Most High God". Suddenly, fear left him. Intimidation was gone. The threshing floor will separate what's limiting you. On the threshing floor, God will stir your gifts. You'll hear him speaking faith and victory over your life. Gideon would've been satisfied to stay there hiding, just have enough to survive. God said, "Gideon, this is not your destiny. You are not going to let the enemy steal your harvest the rest of your life. Rise up and go do something about it".
See, the threshing floor was never meant to be permanent. God is saying to us what he said to Gideon, "You've been on that threshing floor long enough. It's time to go get what belongs to you". That means shake off the disappointments, shake off low expectations, shake off what people told you, you can't do. People don't determine your destiny, God does. There is a great harvest in front of you. It has your name on it. Don't let the enemy keep taking what belongs to you. You are a mighty man of valor. You are a mighty woman of valor.
Like Gideon, you've been equipped, empowered, anointed. You are well able to accomplish your assignment. But all of us will go through these threshing floor experiences. It's not because God has forgotten about you, he's punishing you, he's done with you. It's just the opposite: the reason you're facing the difficulty is because God is getting you prepared. He knows what you're capable of so he's separating what's holding you back. You're about to see new growth, new opportunities, new friendships. You're going to come out refined, polished, stronger, matured. You're going to have a greater trust, a greater confidence in God. Now, don't complain about how big the obstacles are, about what somebody did to you. That threshing floor is not defeating you. It's promoting you.
1 Chronicles 13, the Ark of the Covenant, this was a large box where God's presence was back in those days, had been gone for a long time. David had a desire to bring it back to Jerusalem. He had his men build a special cart. Very carefully they placed the Ark of the Covenant on this cart. They headed toward their destiny, very excited. The ark was finally coming back home. Everything was going great until the oxen hit a bump in the road and stumbled. The ark started to fall. A man reached out to steady it. When he touched it, he was instantly killed.
David was so upset, so distraught, he wouldn't go any further. He couldn't understand how he could be doing the right thing, yet God took the life of one of his friends. He gave up on his mission, let the Ark of the Covenant go to a house close by. What David didn't realize is that setback was divinely orchestrated. The scripture says the bump in the road occurred at a threshing floor. David just saw it as a bad break, but God was directing his steps. At the threshing floor, just as wheat is separated from chaff, God was going to use that situation to refine David.
Sometimes we're going along and everything's great, life is good, but we hit a bump in the road, lose a loved one, relationship doesn't work out, the business goes down. We don't understand what happened, but just like with David, those bumps in the road are not random. They happen at a threshing floor. When you come out, you're not going to be the same. You're going to be refined with less chaff, with more wheat.
If you look back over your life, the times you really grew, you came up higher. You developed more confidence. It wasn't the good times when everything was going your way. It was the times you hit a bump in the road. You couldn't see it at the time, but you were at a threshing floor. God used that to refine you. You came out better.
For three months, David was depressed, sitting by the side of the road: "God, it didn't work out," "God, I never dreamed I'd lose somebody along the way," but the threshing floor is a place where things die so something new can be born. That difficulty is not the end: the divorce, the loss, the child that broke your heart, is not how your story concludes. Something may have died in your life, a friendship, a goal, a dream. The only reason it died was to give birth to the new things God wants to do.
Sometimes you have to lose something to gain something better. God has to close a door before he'll open a bigger door. The threshing floor is not only a place of separation, it's a place of preparation. If David would've taken the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem the first time, before the bump in the road, he had no place to put it. A lot of people could've been hurt.
Chapter 15 says, "He went and prepared a place for the ark". When you hit a bump in the road, God is not only separating what's holding you back, but he's preparing you for what's in your future. Some of the things God has in store, if he took you right now, you couldn't handle it. He's growing you up, he's maturing you, he's teaching you to trust, so when it's your time to step up, you'll be ready to go.
David thought it was over. For three months, he had been weeping, upset, never thought he could accomplish his assignment. One day, he looked out and saw the house where the Ark of the Covenant had been staying. Those people were so blessed, so prosperous, so full of God's favor. Something rose up in him, a new fire, a new passion. He said, "God, I've changed my mind. I'm going to get back in the game and do what you've called me to do".
Maybe you've hit a bump in the road and it's knocked the wind out of you. You don't think, like David, that you could accomplish your dreams, accomplish your assignment. That threshing floor is not defeating you. It's preparing you. You may have lost something, but you need to get ready. You're about to gain something a whole lot better. God is getting you prepared for something amazing. Get your fire back. Get your passion back.
"A good man falls seven times, and the Lord raises him up". You may have fallen, but it's time to get back up. You're prepared, you're qualified, you're refined. What God started in your life, he's going to finish.
This is what David did. Scripture talks about he got the Ark of the Covenant, headed toward Jerusalem with great gladness. A few weeks earlier, he didn't think he'd ever smile again. Now he's full of joy, singing, dancing, seeing a dream come to pass.
When we hit bumps in the road, the enemy always whispers, "You've seen your best days. It's all downhill from here. You've just been through too much". Don't believe those lies.
What you lost was to give birth to the new thing God wants to do. Even when you lose a loved one, don't sit around discouraged the rest of your life. That loss is not a surprise to God. The way you honor their memory is to go out and do something great. If your loved one was here, they would tell you, "Get back in the game. Dream a new dream. Move forward with your life".
When my father went to be with the Lord, I didn't see how anything good could come of that. I lost something valuable, my father, whom I love and miss, but in that process, I gained something valuable. I discovered gifts and talents that I didn't know I had. I didn't know I could get up here and minister. There are times that you have to lose something so you can gain something to go to the next level.
Of course, I'd say, "You know, I don't want to lose my dad," or we don't want to go through that disappointment, that setback, but you have to trust that God knows what he's doing. I knew my father fulfilled his purpose. He finished his course, and God will never take something away without giving you something better back in return. At the time, you may not be able to see it, but if you'll stay in faith and not let the disappointment, the loss, sour your life, then, like David, like me, you'll come out prepared, qualified, ready for the next level.
When I was on that threshing floor during the loss of my father, God separated things from me that were holding me back: intimidation, insecurity, fear. I was afraid to get up in front of people, but in that fire, those limitations were burned off. It didn't happen in the good times. It happened during the bumps in the road. Father and I were best friends. For 17 years, I had worked with him behind the scenes at the ministry. We traveled the world together. All of a sudden, he was gone.
I found, sometimes, God will take you through a season of being alone. That's a time you could draw closer to God. When you'd normally give energy and affection to another person, you turn it toward God. Without that aloneness, you would never have the depth, the consecration, the character. Don't fight a season of isolation. If you'll embrace it, you'll discover something otherwise you could never have.
Jesus put it this way: "My father is the Gardener. Every branch that doesn't bear fruit, he will cut away". God will take things out of our lives that are not good for us. We're not moving forward. We understand this. He'll take away a branch of impatience, a branch of insecurity. He'll move a person that's holding us back. That makes sense, but then he said every branch that does bear fruit, he will cut it back so that it can bear much fruit.
This is saying, at times, we're all going to experience being cut back, and sometimes it doesn't make sense: "God, I was doing so good, why did I lose that main client"? "Why did my friend walk away"? "Why did my child break my heart"? We're doing the right thing. The wrong thing happens. We tend to focus on the cutback, the loss, the disappointment, but the only reason God cuts us back is so we can bear much fruit so we can rise higher.
At home, next to our sidewalk, we have these green plants. They're about two feet tall, look like real high grass that line our sideway. Couple of months ago, I walked out, and those plants had been cut back to about three inches tall. They looked terrible, looked like my gardener was having a bad day. He had scalped my plants. Few days ago, Victoria and I were outside. Those plants were taller, fuller, bigger, healthier than I've ever seen. I was so amazed. In just a few weeks, they had sprouted to new heights.
Here's the key: that man was an experienced gardener. He knows when each plant needs to be pruned. He knows how much they need to be cut back. It's not "One size fits all". He carefully studies each plant. I have some crape myrtles, other plants that he prunes at different times. In the same way, God is the master gardener. He will never cut something back, remove it, take it away, unless it's the perfect time. Sometimes we think, "God, you scalped me, you messed me up," "God, why did you take away my dad"? "Why'd you cut back my business"?
God knows what he's doing. The only reason he cut you back is so you can bear much fruit. If he had not cut you back, you would've been satisfied to stay where you were. God doesn't want you to get stuck. He has new levels. On a regular basis, we're going to see this pruning. In the uncomfortable times, in those tough times, you have to remind yourself you're being pruned so you can bloom, so you can blossom, so you can see new growth.
Friends, we're all going to have these bumps in the road, these threshing-floor experiences. The separation may be uncomfortable, but it's making you better. It's getting you prepared. You may have lost something, but you need to get ready: you're about to gain something a whole lot better. I believe and declare you're going to come through every adversity, less chaff, more wheat, refined, purified, stronger, ready for the fullness of your destiny, in Jesus's name.