Life!… Life is hard. Living life with the attitudes and ideologies of society is hard. And then there are the day-to-day events that seem to weigh us down and make us wonder if God is truly present in our daily struggles. You know what these weights can be: financial concerns, health issues, family members going astray, the loss of a loved one, and on and on the list grows. Speaking from experience, I want to encourage you; God truly is still in control, and He does care for your struggle. The example that comes to mind is the life of Joseph.
Joseph’s life and struggles are a good example to help us refocus. Read his story again (Gen. 37-50) and take note of the way he handled himself in various circumstances.
From sibling rejection to sexual temptation, he maintained his relationship with God and did not waver from following what he knew God required of him. It appears God was preparing Joseph for the main work of his life which was still years away into the future. Would Joseph cave under pressure or would he turn his back on God? We do not see anything like that in Joseph’s life. In fact, it seems that his faith was growing steadily despite his circumstances. As we put ourselves into Joseph’s situation, we must ask ourselves, what is God preparing us to do? Am I still in the process of life’s experiences in preparation by God for future responsibilities? Is He preparing me for some special ministry or service?
We all have different types of temptations throughout the various stages of our lives. Solomon is another example. As an older man he was carried away by his own superior intelligence and having tried everything that life, money, and power could provide, became disillusioned with life. He began to allow the women in his life to turn his heart away from God. Perhaps this might be one of the greater temptations as people get older. They allow distractions of this life to occupy their time, and soon their interest is in their own comfort and happiness, their business, or activities. Difficult times such as brought on by the loss of a spouse or loved one, financial crisis, or other concerns can cause a person to blame God for not keeping life as it was. James 1:2-4 addresses how we should face trials of many kinds.
As a youthful, handsome man Joseph perhaps faced sexual temptation. Potiphar’s wife certainly tempted him. But he resisted knowing that God had a plan for his life and kept his focus on what was important saying: “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” This clearly shows that he measured everything in life against God’s standards and purposes. In all the circumstances of our lives, both good and bad, we should ask ourselves, “Would God want me to live like this?”
Joseph’s jail experience must have seemed like the last straw! How many times might it have seemed as if God had forgotten him, and yet he never wavered. Instead, he behaved as God would expect him to behave. Even in the worst of circumstances when we have God as our focus, He can, and will, bring good out of it (Col. 1:1-12). If we maintain a right focus on the Lord even though we may be down because of problems, sickness, bereavement, or persecution, God will still use us and make our lives fruitful.
With each time of being forgotten, Joseph could have given up. You see, it wasn’t God’s time and God had a purpose in making this special servant wait. Waiting for God’s time is another area of weakness for most of us. I know that I become very impatient when my prayers are not answered quickly. I begin to wonder why God doesn’t do what I want. After a time, it is easy to just think, “Well, why should I keep praying about it? I’ll just move on to do, or prepare, for something else.” When we do that, we probably miss out on God’s best for us.
I like to think about how the Lord Jesus was able to abide by God’s timing. In Galatians 4:4 we read, “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son…” Then the Lord waited 30 years before He began His ministry. During His life, on many occasions we hear Him saying “My time is not yet come…” (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20). When the time for His betrayal and death was close, He could say, “The hour has come…” (John 12:23); “Jesus knew that the time had come…” (John 13:1); “Father, the time has come…” (John 17:1). The Lord Jesus could summarize His incarnation by telling Pilate, “In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world…” (John 18:37). He was always aware of God’s timing and purposes.
Think about the way Joseph was eventually called on to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and then elevated to the highest position of authority under Pharaoh. Had he been released years earlier he would not have been available, nor would he have been in a place where Pharaoh could easily find him. His years of rejection, ill-treatment, and suffering played an integral part in the formation of his character, and at the same time gave evidence that he was a man whom God could trust and use in a position of power.
Eventually, his brothers came to Egypt to purchase food for their families and when Joseph recognized them, and they showed that there was sorrow for what they had done to him, he frankly forgave them. Joseph could see things from God’s perspective and say to them, “God intended it for good…” (Gen. 50:20-21). God demonstrates His love to us the same way. (Rom. 5:8).
In all our circumstances, including the death of loved ones, we should, “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb. 12:2-3). The void this leaves is tangible and the ache in the heart is so very real. I used to think the term “heart ache” was just a way of feeling sorrow. However, having first of all lost my little two year old son in an accident, then my first wife dying of a sudden heart attack after 26 years of marriage, only to be followed ten years later by the death of my second wife to breast cancer, I know from personal experience, that the ache in the heart is not just a metaphor for sorrow, but a strong, actual heart pain that makes you wonder if you are having a heart attack. Yes, we need to grieve as part of the healing process; however, don’t be overcome by sorrow, but rather see the circumstances as part of life and living, then, press on “toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
I have found that in each situation that seemed like “the end”, it was God’s way of giving my life a new direction and a change of ministries. Perhaps God is leading you in such a journey. We should always keep in mind that God is in control, and He allows us to pass through times of testing to strengthen our faith and help us mature spiritually.