Max Lucado is a world-renowned pastor, speaker, and best-selling author who has sold over 82 million books in over 41 languages. His latest book, You’ll Get Through This, journeys through the story of Joseph to show readers that no matter their broken situation, God can deliver them from their hurting. We sat down with Max to discuss his new book and how to deal with the “pits” that life brings us.
Q: The premise of your new book comes from the story of Joseph. What was it about Joseph’s story that really resonated with you?
A: It’s such a classic pit to the prison to the palace story, and it’s stunning how much his life sounds like our lives. Even the language. The story of Joseph is a preacher’s dream because it outlines itself so easily. It starts off in the pit, then he does his best to work his way up in Egypt and he ends up in the prison, then he works his way out of that, and by God’s grace he finds himself in the palace. People want to know, “When I’m in the pit or when I’m in prison, is there ever going to be an end to it?” So I love the story of Joseph because of the strong message against that voice that is there. The reason we titled the book You’ll Get Through This is because that’s really what people need to know. They need to know that somehow, some way, even though they’re in the middle of a terrible time, God can get them through it.
Q: Now, there may be some that look at the book and say, “Well, he’s a pastor” or “He’s a writer; he has no idea what I’m going through.” But in the book you actually talked about going through various pits in life and you shared stories about your father, your wife, and your friends. Can you talk about why this topic was so important to you from a personal standpoint?
A: I cannot relate to some of the things people go through. I am a pastor and so I talk to people every week who sit out in our church and are in a wheelchair, are going through poverty, or have been abused, and I don’t begin to say I have felt what many people [have felt]. Not at all. I have felt pain though. You can’t go through life without having gone through some of it in your own life. I’ve seen my wife struggle with depression. In the book I talked about my father who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. I have had health issues myself. I’ve seen my children struggle with some of the normal parts of being a child or a teenager or a young adult. So a lot of this is spoken out of experience. With Joseph, it really is a case study of what initially appeared so evil—so abhorrent that a family would abandon their brother in a pit—yet God took even that and turned it into something that turned out for the very best.
Q: With those personal stories you mentioned, and even Joseph’s story, it seems like there’s an element of transparency there. Do you think that’s necessary for us to get out of that pit and to get through our struggles?
A: I think one of the challenges we face when we’re in the struggle is the lie that says, “Nobody’s ever gone through this before” or “If I tell people, they won’t help me or they won’t like me.” Those are the two most common struggles we have. If I’ve been fired or if I’m having alcohol issues or if I’ve been abused, there’s a sense of embarrassment that comes across, and I feel like I can’t tell anybody. Or there’s a sense of fear that says, “If I do tell them, they’re not going to like me.” You have to speak against both of those. The truth of the matter is somebody has been through what you’re going through and people aren’t going to turn away from you. They’re going to reach out and help you. Honesty and vulnerability endear us to people; they don’t endanger us in our relationship.
Q: One of the things we often hear from people who are in those pits is that God seems distant or He seems disengaged from their problems and trials. How would you respond to that assertion?
A: That’s a real common assertion. I think that comes from the assumption that the presence of pain implies the absence of God. But nowhere in the Bible are we told that if there is pain that means God has left the premises. Just the opposite. The Bible teaches us that God does not cause pain, but that He uses pain and evil to advance His cause and shape His servants. When we’re in the middle of a difficult time, we have to speak against that lie that says, “God is not here.” We have to draw near to God. Those who successfully go through tough times do so because they keep insisting, “God, You’re present. I’m going to hold on to You. I may not like You, I may not agree with You, I may complain about this, but I’m not turning away from You.” Staying engaged with God is absolutely essential for getting through a tough time.
Q: One of the things you talked about in your book is that difficult period of waiting when a person is going through that difficult time. From a biblical standpoint, what does it mean to wait?
A: I talked about waiting because there is that time in Joseph’s life when he was in prison for at least two years, and there’s nothing said about those days. One of the problems in reading the life of Joseph is that you read the whole story in less than an hour. It gives the impression that everything happened one evening after dinner, but it took a long time for all of this to play out. So there are two years of Joseph’s life—at least two years—where he’s sitting in the jail cell. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He has not read the end of his story. And that’s where we are. We’ve got to learn how to wait. In the Bible, “to wait” is more than just biding your time and twiddling your thumbs. Waiting is an expectant patience. It’s a patience that says, “I don’t know what God is going to do, but I know God is going to do something, and I just need to be patient and wait. He’s going to sell this house someday. We’ll have a child in our home somehow, some way. I don’t know exactly how He’s going to find me a new job, but I’m not giving up on it.” It’s that patient expectation that God is good and He is up to something.
Q: There are young adults who will be reading this who are going through some type of pit in their lives, whether it’s physical illness, depression, or maybe overwhelming debt from student loans. What advice would you give to young adults who are in the middle of that battle right now?
A: One of the most practical things is to realize there is nothing outside of God’s range when it comes to using evil for good. The big message of Joseph is that what was intended as evil (Joseph cast into a pit) God re-intended it for good (the rescue of many people). That’s the Genesis 50:20 promise. “What you intended for evil,” Joseph said to his brothers, “God intended for good.” The word intended is used in both of those phrases, and that word intent comes from the Hebrew word that means “to weave.” Joseph acknowledges, “You brothers wove evil against me, you had every intention of serving me up with a tapestry of destruction, but God took your very threads and He re-wove them into something good.” Joseph had this conviction and trust in God’s sovereignty. I think that’s where we start. You have to say, “I’m going to believe; I’m going to trust in God’s sovereignty. I’m going to trust that He can take debt . . . He can take an infertile womb . . . He can take this catastrophe . . . and He can use it for something good. I’m going to believe that. I’m going to trust that He’s going to do it.”
Really, this book is an attack on despair. I’ve noticed that when people are in despair, they do things that make matters even worse. But when they have hope, then they do things that make matters better. If I’m in despair then I’m going to treat my unemployment with drugs or anger or alcoholism. But that only makes it worse. You’re already in a pit; now you’re just digging it deeper. The reason we do that is because we don’t think we’ll get through it. What if Joseph had gotten into bed with Potiphar’s wife? Would we be reading about him today? The recurring message of Scripture is God will get you through this, so hang on to that hope. If I have that hope that means I’m not going to turn to some short-term solution. I’m going to turn to God, I’m going to keep serving Him one day at a time, I’m going to do the next right thing, and I’m going to be obedient. I’m not saying it will be quick or painless, but I believe God will use this mess for good, so I’m going to hang in there, and the outcome is always better.
Q: In one of your chapters, you talk about having an attitude of entitlement versus having an attitude of gratefulness. We don’t often think about gratefulness when we’re in the middle of that pit. Can you talk about why that entitled attitude is misguided, and why embracing gratefulness is the better option?
A: That’s a great question. I believe ingratitude is the original sin. I believe if Adam and Eve had been grateful for the garden of Eden they had, they would not have been so focused on the one tree they didn’t have. What if they would have said, “Get out of here, snake. We have all the fruit we can eat. God has given us fruit from every tree on earth.” But they didn’t. And so I think you can argue that ingratitude is the root of all of our issues.
Joseph modeled gratitude. It’s such a funny story that he named his two sons according to God’s blessings, even though he had been through so much in his life. He wasn’t bitter; he wasn’t angry. I’m not saying Joseph was perfect. There were times he struggled with trying to reconcile with his brothers. But he seemed to maintain the spirit of gratitude. Gratitude is like dialysis for the body. It flushes all the self-pity out of the system. In the middle of tough times, quit focusing on the one tree you can’t touch and focus on the garden of Eden that you have. You’ll be much better in dealing with the problems you are facing.
Q: One of the most powerful sections in the book is the story about your daughter having to be rescued from a pool. You mentioned that you wrestled with the question of “Is God only good when the outcome is?” As you worked through that question in your head and as you wrote the book, what conclusions were you able to draw?
A: We’re quick to say, “God is so good because I got the pay raise.” “I got a promotion. He’s so good.” You’ve seen it and I’ve seen it; you’ve done it and I’ve done it. The cynical part of me wants to say to the person, “Would He be good if you hadn’t gotten the pay raise?” Is God’s goodness and our appreciation dependent upon Him doing what we want? If it is, then we’ve missed the boat. He’s not [always] going to do what we want. We’re going to end up in the hospital. We’re going to have car wrecks. We’re going to have to work long hours. We’re going to hurt. As long as you’re thinking God is only good when He does what you want, or God is only good when life is good, you’re not going to have any faith. That’s not faith. Faith says, “God is God. He can do whatever He wants. He’s good to me. When He allows bad to come into my life, I’m still going to trust Him.” I admire the person who says, “I’m in the hospital. They don’t know what to do to help me or to heal me, but God is still good. God is still on the throne. I’m going to trust Him no matter what.” I think that’s what faith is. Faith is Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, before they’re thrown into the fiery furnace, saying, “Our God can save us. But even if He doesn’t, we’re still going to trust Him.”
Q: What would you tell people that say they cannot make it one more day through their tough situation?
A: I would say two things. Number one, cry out to God. Don’t hold anything back. Pound the desk. Shed the tears. Tell Him. Let your despair be seen and heard. There’s a book in the Bible called Lamentations. To lament is to complain. When you say, “I can’t make it one more day,” go straight to God and get on your knees and tell Him that. Scream it. You’ll be surprised how God responds. He will respond. Number two, before you give up, find somebody who’s been through what you’re going through and ask for help. When we’re going through tough times we want to become hermits. We don’t want to talk to anybody else. We think nobody can help [us], nobody’s been through this before, or no one will understand, but they will. Somebody’s been through it. Go find two or three people in God’s community who’ve been through this and talk to them and you’ll be amazed. Sometimes all we need is somebody else’s testimony. You will be able to say, “They got through it. So can I.”