As I was listening to Chip Ingram this week, I was reminded that one of the most important things we can do, if not THE most important, as Christians, is to never be in a hurry. We have been studying the book of Genesis this year in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), and I have been struck time and time again by the actions of God's children who want to "help" God's plan along, by "hurrying", only to cause much greater harm than good, in the end.
Oh, to be like Joseph!
Oh, to be like Joseph!
There is no record of Joseph questioning God about anything that unjustly or unfairly happened to him. As a young boy, God gave Joseph dreams where his brothers and family bowed to him, but the fulfillment of his dreams would not be experienced until he was in his 30's. And it was not until Joseph experienced a life of humility and obedience that this came to pass. I wonder, what if, Joseph had demanded that his brothers and family bow to him before God's perfect time was accomplished? Suppose Joseph had "hurried" God's plan instead of waiting patiently for it to come to pass? We will never know, since Joseph did neither and allowed God's perfect plan to unfold in His perfect timing.
Joseph's brothers were planning to kill "the dreamer", but brother Reuben intervenes and, instead, they sell Joseph to a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt. Sold into slavery, by his brothers, at the age of 17, Joseph became a slave in Potiphar's house and then a prisoner, falsely accused, when "the LORD was with him and gave him success in whatever he did." We would say Joseph had every right to demand justice, but obviously God had other plans.
Could it be that God's greatest plans for our lives are IN the suffering or what is produced in and through us by the suffering?
I doubt many of us will experience slavery and imprisonment, in our lifetime, but slavery and prison could be equated with financial hardships, chronic health issues, dysfunctional families, 24/7 pain, job-related injustices, prodigal children, the "untimely" death of a child, mental illness, and the list goes on.
Obviously, Joseph never took anything that happened to him, personally, and was an incredible witness for God in these places of disdain. His goal was to benefit others, no matter their status in life. Self was not his focus, but rather the lives of...others.
Let's just suppose a few things. Let's suppose, Joseph was filled with "righteous indignation" for his brothers' hatred and unjust treatment of him. Certainly, God had already revealed through his dreams they would bow to him, why not now? Let's suppose, Joseph began to doubt God's plan and he chose to embrace a "victim" mentality and became a complainer. Let's suppose, Joseph, rightly, defended himself when Potiphar's wife accused him of trying to rape her. Let's just suppose, Joseph was a whiner, while in prison, instead of one who tended the needs of the other prisoners. Let's just suppose, Joseph took credit for his ability to interpret dreams. What do you suppose would have been the outcome of all of the above...in relation to Joseph and in relation to those Joseph's life touched?
Allow me to point out that the "success in whatever he did" was directly related to causing pagans, those who did not know/follow Joseph's God, to recognize the One True God! The Pharaoh proclaimed, "Can we find anyone like this man, one in who is the spirit of God?" Joseph was careful to give God alone the glory for the things he accomplished, including his interpretation of the Pharaoh's dreams. Joseph appears to have no pride. Some label Joseph a "tattler" and a "boaster", when he was young, but his actions in Egypt, as a slave and prisoner, were those of a wise and humble man and God blessed him for it. Joseph not only surrendered to the WHATEVER God planned, but he embraced it fully.
As the story of Joseph unfolds, God orchestrates events, unjust as they may seem to us, so the Pharaoh ultimately puts Joseph in charge, second-in-command, over all of Egypt, "lord of his entire household and ruler of all of Egypt". Joseph's resume' stated he had just been released from prison and he was a foreigner in the land. But...God! Only Pharaoh was to be considered above Joseph. This is in the land of Egypt, not the land of Israel. God continued to be with Joseph in this new position of Egyptian authority, as I am sure Joseph continued to point others to Him, in a way that was attractive and appealing with wisdom and discernment.
The climax of Joseph's story comes when his brothers come seeking food from him, during a time of severe famine. The same brothers who plotted for his demise, those who hated Joseph were begging him for food so their family could survive. This was the fulfillment of the dreams Joseph had as a young lad. When they realized Joseph was their brother, whom they had sold into slavery so many years before, they were petrified. Joseph explained, "Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God."
So, Joseph is completely assured that all that has happened to him was directly from God.
Wow! Most of us would be in awe of this high-level of "forgiveness", but let me remind you, the scriptures never mention Joseph "forgave" his brothers. Apparently, Joseph had no reason to forgive them, since he saw their actions as being part of God's divine plan, not actions against him. Interesting, to say the least, huh? Remember, our "battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."
Oh, to have that level of "faith" and the ability to live above our circumstances, like Joseph. Not to take anything that happens to us...personally. But rather, recognizing it, all of it, as being from the hand of God and for a greater purpose than we can comprehend. I know we want God to remain the "God of love" who, of course, would never want us to experience and suffer "bad things". Sarcasm intended. But He IS the "God of love" since He loves us too much not to allow us to experience those "bad things" He knows is necessary for our own good, our own spiritual growth. God teaches us, clearly, through His Word, if we simply will believe and embrace it: "We know ALL things work together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose"(Rom 8:28). By the way, those things we tend to label "bad", in God's perspective are not bad. We are the ones who "label" our circumstances as either good or bad. God simply calls them "all things". God's greatest desire is for each of us to become like His Son, Jesus (Rom 8:29). He knows just what each of us needs to provide the best possible circumstances to promote that kind of spiritual growth in us.
How is it that Christians grow in their faith and become like Christ? "...Though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:67). God desires for us " to rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:3-5). Then James has the audacity to tell us, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." And why should we do such a thing? James continues, "And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4).
Suppose we looked at every situation as being "sent by God" with a greater purpose than our own self preservation? Suppose we saw the world through the eyes of Joseph; all this happened to me "to save lives"? How would we be different if we had this perspective? What could lower our stress-levels more? How would our world look different, IF we had the same attitude as Joseph and never tried to manipulate something to happen sooner than God's perfect timing for it?
So often, I have asked God to remove my circumstances when I should be praising Him for them. He, alone, knows what is best for me and for my spiritual growth. He, alone, knows the full scope of what my circumstances mean for others...possibly "to save lives."
The ultimate Joseph attitude?
"What you meant for evil, God meant for good, to accomplish what is now being done the saving of many lives."