I have to say that I love the story of Joseph, and have read it many times before. I love all the villanry, and the lust and depths and heights of human emotion contained in this story. It is a pre-modern civilization soap opera, one of the best kind, the kind that has a happy ending. In this week's message, our story focused on chapter 40, or the first of Joseph's interpretation of dreams. This is a very familiar chapter, where Joseph is in prison for his righteous act against Mrs. Potipher (and not choosing to dishonor his master by sleeping with his wife). You may remember this episode, where Joseph interprets the dreams of the chief cupbearer and chief baker. Both men have done something against Pharoah, and are sent down to the prison to be kept with Joseph. The Bible doesn't tell us specifically what they did, but apparently they were sent down there for more than a minor infraction. They are troubled by their dream, and Joseph offers to interpret it for them. Of course, if you are familiar with the story, his interpretion bears out well for one, but not the other.
Before church began, I was troubled in my heart. I have been struggling for some time now with this whole mess of my life. I have taken each part as it came to me, struggled through it, suffered because of it, and then accepted the truth of it. I get it, I understand what is what -- but, I still wondered why my life had to be torn apart like it has, and how everything would eventually be fitted back together again.
This is where the story of Joseph and yesterday's message meshed into my life. It is funny when that happens, and it has happened to me on more than one occassion. God's Word often will touch us that way. We will be reading or studying a specific passage or story, and then "bing" the lights go off, and we clearly gain some understanding, some illumination, that directly confronts or comforts or communicates to us the answer we need and have been seeking.
This is exactly what happened to me yesterday. My Pastor was explaining the deeper significance of this part of the Joseph narrative (as scholars call it), when all of a sudden I heard inside my head, "there is your answer." Those were the exact words. I calmly nodded in agreement, and then a little while later, I heard it again, "you have your answer."
As I went through the service, and into our time of reflection (communion), I was just struck by the awesomness of God, and marvelled at how this message could actually provide an answer to my personal situation. Afterward, I sat there and meditated on the truth of what I discovered, and thought to myself: "I cannot believe this really happened to me, is really happening to me."
It took the better part of the day for me to really accept what had happened, and how Joseph's story related so closely to my own. Truthfully, his story and mine are worlds apart (and 3000 years). I share no relation to him at all. I was never sold into slavery, never kept in a prison, and never raised to such a position of authority as to be the right hand man of a King or ruler. Nope, my little life is pathetic when you think of it in comparison to Joseph's. I mean, after all, he was a son of Jacob -- part of the PROMISE -- part of God's plan for building the Nation of Israel. No, I have nothing in common except this:
- I have been told by the Lord that He has a good plan for my life
- I have suffered betrayal by a loved one
- I have been falsely accused and tried because of my righteous act
- I have lost everything including my home and my family
- I have done the work assigned to me, even when it didn't seem fair or just
- I have remained faithful to God through it all
- I have been confused about my life's outcome
- I have tried to figure it out --without much success
- I have been kept in a figurative prison
- I have been made a slave and now serve the Righteous King
I didn't understand how the message within the story of Joseph would help me understand my own predicament until our Pastor said this (my paraphrase): "God's plans and purposes don't always appear as they seem. Moreover, in Joseph's life, God used these events and circumstances to prepare Joseph for the work He had planned for him later in his life."
Ok, I see some truth there. In my own life, I know the plans the Lord has for me, I have received a calling to ministry (down the road, later in life). I know that I need certain preparation and training to do this work, and that is why I am going back to graduate school, etc. The Lord has clearly told me what I have to do, what type of training, what type of preparation I need. The problem has been that I have seen all these things as simply items on a list, a list to be checked off and put away. I haven't seen them as integral to the whole process, though I recognized that they were that way. I was seeing them as distinct, individual items; rather than as a continuous whole.
When our Pastor said: "God purposed for Joseph to remain in the prison two more years," it all clicked for me. You see, even though Joseph had been imprisoned unfairly, God's favor remained on him despite all that had happened. He was lifted up in prison, just as he had been lifted up when he entered the household of Potiphar. There was no logical reason for Joseph to remain in prison after he had correctly interpreted these dreams -- yet, God did not remove him, God did not set him free. Instead, he kept him in this place until God's timing was ready, until His plans were fulfilled -- and then -- God lifted him up and put him infront of Pharoah.
I see such connection to my own life. I have been in this figurative prison for about a year. I am not bound, I can walk out freely; but, I cannot leave. I have been seeking work so that I could leave for almost 8 months now. No job has come to pass, no word even. I cannot leave this prison, so I must endure it. I cannot make my own way because God has not opened up that provision -- yet. I complain, I lament, I cry -- yet, God keeps me here and sustains me. He tells me to trust Him, to wait, to endure, and then comforts me. I get upset at His slowness, and I think something must be wrong, something must be my fault or doing. He says "Nope. Not your doing -- just trust me." So I wait some more. I get frustrated at waiting, and I try to do my own thing, and nothing happens.
Sometimes He allows some movement in my life, some new direction. He will guide me to this way or that, this thing or that, and His favor will rest on me. The thing or way will prove out -- it will work, it will open, it will come to pass. Then I think, "Hooray, we are moving forward...finally, some forward movement." I am excited, I am elated, and just when I think we are done, we are finished with all this sorrow -- crash -- I find myself standing still again. I am back where I started, back in that figurative prison, waiting for God to finally open the door and let me out.
I know that God is working on me, I feel it, I see it, I experienced it. I can give testimony to how He has changed my heart, my mind, my attitude, my willingness to follow Him. I know Him better than before, I trust Him now, and I follow after Him. All of this is a result of my life turning itself upside down. I am a different person now, and I am so free, so liberated, so confident. God has shown me a way out, a path to follow, a plan for my life. He has promised me a bright future, a future filled with hope. God has done a mighty work in my past too -- cleaning and healing and restoring some very deep hurt and sorrow. All this work, on the past, the present and the future, have come about because of my life situation. I see this, I get it; yet, somehow it still didn't make sense to me. Until chapter 40 of the Joseph story, that is.
When I sat there and heard my Pastor say that Joseph was being prepared for God's work, it dawned on me that God was doing the exact same thing in my life. Sure, our lives are world's apart, and we really share nothing in common -- except for a Lord who loves us and who has chosen to set us apart for His Glory and His Work and His Kingdom. Our common thread, our kindred connection is the King of Glory -- God Himself. Yes, our Lord has said to me, just as I am sure He said to Joseph: "Trust me, I know what I am doing. I have good plans for your life. Just let this be. Rest in me, and know that I am God."
Oh, to be caught in the precious plans of the King of Glory! There is no better place than to be part of His Great Plan for the World's Redemption. I don't know what God intends to do with me, whether or not He will lift me up and place me in such an honorable position as being a right-hand servant of a human King -- but I know that I already have that position now. I am a daughter of the King, I am a child of the Most High. He has plans for my life, work for me to do in His Kingdom and for His Glory. As such, He is preparing me, inside and out, to do what He has determined for me to do. I may not like waiting, and I may think He is slow at times; but, God knows what He is doing, and He knows what is best. I just need to trust Him and know that He is truly God.
I think I can do that now. I have my answer to why I must suffer, why I must wait, why I feel so stuck -- God simply is not ready for me to be set free, to be turned that way -- not yet. I am in training and my training is not complete yet (or to that point where I can do what He is asking). I need to submit to His schedule, to His timing, and then I will find rest, and I will find the end (the literal and figurative end).
Thank you for helping me to understand about your timing. I thought I knew it all, that I had it all figured out. You showed me that though I was confused, I did understand about waiting, and about being patient why you worked in and through my life. I was grumbling and complaining, being impatient with your timing. I needed to see that your timing is perfect, and Joseph's story helped me see that clearly. I know that I cannot rush your process. I have seen and experienced such amazing wonders in my own life (personally, in my heart and in my mind); I know you are doing what needs to be done in me. I will rest now, I will trust you, and I will wait for you to lift me up. To God be all the Glory forever and ever, Amen.