Who doesn’t love a good rags-to-riches story? It’s the premise for books, movies, multi-level marketing schemes, and seminars on success. Recent Cinderella stories, like every-girl Kate Middleton marrying Prince William, give us a chance to see that the beginning isn’t like the middle, and definitely not anything like the ending.
What makes these types of stories universally appealing is that they demonstrate the “Instead Factor.” Cinderella could have kept on scrubbing floors, instead she was chosen to dance on them in glass slippers. Kate could have married an ordinary sort of young man and settled into a cozy British middle class life, instead she met William whose life plays out on the world’s stage.
The Instead Factor is nothing new. It’s a predominant theme in scripture.
Isaiah 61 cropped up in my reading this week. I saw the words in a new way because I stand in a different place. In the pocket Bible that I carry with me, the heading for the chapter is “The Year of the Lord’s Favor.” Right away that snagged my attention. This is my 50th year, my jubilee year. Although the ancient concept of jubilee isn’t one strictly tied to the Lord’s favor, it is an expression of it. The chapter title alone shifted my thinking about my present journey. What if current circumstances are evidence of the Lord’s favor? It’s a crazy notion, one that seems upside down. I wonder.
Could I be living on one side of an instead, or perhaps a whole lot of insteads? Has God brought me to a place of nothingness so that he might, instead, give me something better? The story isn’t over, although at times it feels that way.
Look at the words that appear in Isaiah 61:
“… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (61:3)
“Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; (61:7)
I think God loves to apply the Instead Factor with us. Either by his or our own initiatives, we get to places that seem dead, where we are covered in cinders, crying and without hope. Then, at a specified time, God tilts the fulcrum and thus changes everything by giving us something else instead.
The Instead Factor makes the words in Isaiah 61:1-2 something other than a pipe dream. Without God’s Instead, how can there be good news for the poor, healing for the brokenhearted, freedom for the captives, and freedom to live in light for prisoners?Comfort comes when we experience the instead. Relief from grief comes when we are in a new life, instead of the old.
If there are situations in your life that look bleak, that break your heart, that fill your heart with sadness and your eyes with tears, know that we are always in the year of the Lord’s favor and he is creating for you your very own Cinderella story.