“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Most of us know that verse. It usually pops up when something bad has just happened. It’s kind of a Christian, “keep your chin up!” But there’s another time the verse pops up. It’s when you look back at something in your life that seemed not-so-good at the time, which you realize now was for the best.
Have you ever regretted something that’s happened to you or something you’ve done? We all have. How about a certain part of your life when you wish you could take a do-over? Think you’ve lost a couple of months or years on the road to your real purpose in life? Days of your life you’ll never get back? Like I said, we all have.
How about right now? Wondering if your life is kind of stuck in rut mode? You’re hung in the hum-drum. Your day is a repeat of yesterday. Wake up, climb on the hamster wheel, run like the dickens until it’s time to fall back in bed again. Tomorrow? Same stuff – different day.
How do you think God feels about your present existence? Do you ever wonder if He still sees you, loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life? And if He does have a wonderful plan for your life, is this it? Is this the plan? From down here the plan doesn’t look so hot most days.
Do you feel like what you’re doing doesn’t really count for much in light of eternity? Kind of hoping for something more? A little higher purpose than the hamster wheel? Wish you could do something important with your life?
Most of us have been there. A lot of us are still there. We had high hopes early on that there was something really special waiting for us in life. The idealism of youth kind of fades away as the realities of adulthood take over.
There are certain guys in the Bible I really like. Whose lives I can look at and see a parallel and hope for my own situation when I’m feeling a little adrift. That’s where Joseph comes in.
You already know the story of Joseph. If you don’t, pick up a Bible and read Genesis chapters thirty-seven and thirty-nine through forty-seven. Here’s Joseph’s life in bullets.
Second from the youngest of twelve boys. Dad’s favorite.
Good looking, well built and smart; but clueless on sibling politics.
Has dreams about his brothers and parents bowing down him. Family not thrilled.
Dodges assassination attempt by the brothers and is sold as a slave to Midianite traders.
Traders sell him to Egyptian bureaucrat and he gets promoted to head of household staff.
Bureaucrat’s wife gets the hots, gets rebuffed and gets even. Joseph goes to jail.
Gets another promotion and becomes the de-facto jail administrator.
Interprets dreams and seals the fate of Pharaoh’s baker and cup bearer. Cup bearer immediately forgets his emancipator nd Joseph’s stuck in jail another two years.
Pharaoh has a dream, cupbearer remembers an overdue debt, Joseph meets Pharaoh.
Joseph interprets dream, becomes prime-minister, rescues family from the famine, and becomes the catalyst by which the family of Jacob becomes the nation of Israel.
Looking at the big picture, it’s obvious to us that Joseph lived a life of eternal destiny. If God hadn’t brought him to Egypt and then brought him to power, if there hadn’t been a severe famine in the land, his family would have never moved to Goshen; a piece of prime real estate where they would survive and thrive and eventually grow from a family into a nation. You can see God’s hand in Joseph’s life with every twist of fate.
But I wonder if Joseph felt that way at the time? At seventeen, he was ripped from his home and family and sold as a slave. He spent thirteen years in a foreign country, either as a slave or in prison. God was watching over him and he enjoyed a certain level of success, but he was still a slave and a prisoner in a foreign land.
I’ll bet there were times in those thirteen years that Joseph wondered what had gone wrong with his life. What great divine plan had separated him from his home and family and had put him in servitude and in prison? He remembered the promise God had made to his father Jacob. He remembered his dreams that one day his family would bow before him. Where were the promise and the dreams now? The way his life was shaping up, he was sure that he would never see his family or homeland again.
At thirty years old Joseph’s life had a dramatic turn-around. Through a whirlwind series of events he found himself as prime-minister of Egypt , second only to Pharaoh. He experienced about as much success and fortune as a man could imagine in this foreign country; still his heart ached for his home and family.
Another eight or nine years transpired. Joseph was pushing forty and it looked like God’s promise and his dreams were part of another life; long ago and far away from his present situation.
Joseph made the best of his circumstance, whatever the circumstance happened to be at the moment. He had no idea how God would keep His promise to Jacob or how his own dreams would be fulfilled. From where he was all he could see was the situation at hand. He had to trust God for the big picture.
Almost four thousand years later we can see the big picture pretty clearly. If Joseph hadn’t been sold by his brothers into slavery he would have never traveled to Egypt . If he hadn’t resisted the amorous advances of Potipher’s wife he would have never landed in prison. If he hadn’t gone out on a limb to interpret the dreams of the cupbearer and baker he wouldn’t have found his way to Pharaoh’s court. And if he hadn’t stepped up and interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams he wouldn’t have been put in a position of power.If there hadn’t been a great famine, Joseph’s brothers would never have seen him again. And if Joseph’s family hadn’t moved to Egypt there would have been no nation of Israel four hundred years later … or today.
All the seemingly bad stuff that happened to Joseph in those twenty odd years wasn’t outside of God’s plan and it wasn’t in spite of God’s plan. It was God’s plan. Looking at the big picture, over the span of Joseph’s life and beyond, it’s easy to see God working his plan and Joseph’s eternal purpose unfolding.
But Joseph didn’t have the advantage of perspective. When you’re working as a slave in a foreigner’s house, dodging his wife’s little love traps or when you’re sitting in a prison, falsely accused, it’s a little difficult to see God’s plan unfolding in your life.
But the plan is there anyway. Seeing it at work is only a matter of perspective. The great thing about Joseph is that he just kept on trucking, whether he could see the plan working or not. He found himself in a lot of different situations; some of them pretty good, some of them pretty bad. A lot of different situations, but only one Plan. There were probably times when Joseph felt God’s plan for his life had gone terribly awry. But whatever the circumstance, he honored God in his actions. And God worked His plan.
In my own eyes, a lot of the years behind me have been wasted or at least, off target. How could those years be counted as part of God’s plan for my life? In my own eyes, in my own strength, in my own plan, they couldn’t. It would be a miracle if my mixed bag of past and present ever added up to something worthwhile in God’s eternal plan for my life.
A miracle, that’s what it would be. Looking at the big picture that’s just what it is. Just ask Joseph and his brothers, the children of Israel .
“But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives'” (Genesis 50: 19, 20).