Here is an all too familiar illustration that’s been told in many sermons over the years. It’s one of those preacher-stories that gets used again and again—but it’s a good one, so I’ll tell it here one more time.

One day a farmer’s old mule fell into an empty well. The farmer was disappointed because it was a good mule, but he concluded that the mule couldn’t be rescued, since the well was too narrow and too deep to retrieve the animal. He decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth saving, and his only option was to fill the well with dirt.

The farmer grabbed a shovel and began to fill the well with dirt, one shovel full at a time. It turns out that the animal wasn’t as close to dead as the farmer had guessed. When he felt that first pile of dirt hit his back, he instinctively shook it off and trampled on it. Another pile landed on him and he shook it off and trampled it. This went on all afternoon: shake the dirt off, trample it, and step a little higher. Finally, after a few hours of this, that mule had risen to a new height; he was able to step triumphantly out of the well.

What is interesting about this story is that the dirt that was meant to bury him actually saved his life. The story also reminds me of the biblical story of Joseph, how his brothers had the idea of throwing him in a well. They were tempted to kill him, though they ultimately decided to sell him into slavery, settling on destroying his life rather than ending it.

God, however, had a different plan for Joseph — a plan that would make him the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. Instead of dying in a well or living as a slave, God destined him for wealth and power and prestige. And God gave him the opportunity to save his brothers from starvation.  Years later, long after Joseph had reconciled with his brothers, they were still afraid he would seek revenge, but Joseph had a different perspective on his life. He said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20)

When you’re down, you can be sure that there will always be someone willing to throw a little dirt on you. Remember that mule: shake it off and trample it; it will help you step up. This difficult situation you’re in right now may appear to have the power to destroy you, but by God’s grace, it will actually serve the purpose of taking you to the next level.


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