God Is Up To Something Great: When It’s Not Fair
by Jurgen Rausch
“We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5: 3, 4
Until The Pieces Fall Into Place
Joseph, my hero! He’s the come-back kid extraordinaire!
I marvel at Joseph’s tenacity. I admire his ability to pick up the pieces time and time again, pick himself up and keep on going.
Seldom do you find someone with as much determination not to let his circumstances crush him as Joseph.
Last week we looked at the incredible twists and turns of this crazy roller coaster that was Joseph’s life, where behind it all stood a God who often times invisibly guided his steps in some of the most bizarre circumstances.
This morning, we want to take a closer look at Joseph’s reactions with the twists and turns of his life.
How did Joseph fare when his life was taken apart again and again, especially when he had no idea that God was in the roller coaster ride.
For most of the time Joseph was flying blind. As bright as he was, he could not have seen the invisible hand of God behind the crazy scenes of his life.
As far as he was concerned, these were random acts of incredibly bad luck.
None of his life made sense until much later, when he stares into the gaunt faces of his emaciated brothers who drop out of the blue to show up at his door, that the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
Not until that moment did it dawn on him that God had been in these incredible twists and turns.
No wonder it says that: “He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.” Gen. 45:2
This reaction makes perfect sense when you realize that everything he had ever gone through, including a haunting childhood dream of his family bowing down to him, came down to this moment when his brothers were literally at his feet.
No wonder he wept. You would weep as well if you were to realize how everything that’s ever happened to you had a higher purpose than what could be seen with the naked eye.
It’s astounding to think that even the most unfair things in life are being shaped into an eternal purpose.
As Joseph said near the end of his life: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Gen. 50:19
Wow, the saving of many lives; how true that is on so many levels.
There is no way that Joseph could have known what the saving of many lives actually meant.
That it wasn’t just the saving of his people nor the saving of the many lives who were spared in the epic famine, but that the saving of many lives had to do with enshrining the survival of a people out of whom some day would come the Messiah.
Put it together for a moment: If those children of Abraham would have perished in the famine, then not only would there have been no children of Israel as the light of the world and as the cradle of the Messiah, but there would have been no Messiah who would have saved even you from your sin.
Of course, many other moons also had to line up to bring about the coming of the Messiah, but Joseph was definitely one of them.
This means that the misfortunes of his life had far greater implications that he could ever have imagined.
In fact, the full impact of his life on earth would only be felt long after he slipped into eternity. It’s safe to say that he died without knowing the total significance of the twists and turns of his life.
If the full significance of these events was never completely revealed to him until he got to eternity, then it’s safe to say the same for you and me.
Making the Best of the Bad
None of this was known to him when he was struggling through life.
He could not have known God’s higher purpose in any of the events – both positive and negative - as they were unfolding in front of him.
While it was thrill to ride the crest of the wave, what do you think it must have been like when his life crashed in – when he was thrown into the bottom of the well, sold into slavery, accused and framed, tossed into a rotting prison and forgotten there?
The amazing thing is that Joseph determined to serve the Lord, maintain his integrity, and do his very best no matter where he was in life.
He didn’t prance around showing off his new robe in front of his brothers, but simply carried out his father’s instructions to the best of his ability.
He didn’t mope around at Potiphar’s household, but instead applied himself to the tasks at hand to the best of his ability.
He didn’t fall into despair when he was innocently jailed, but instead applied himself to the tasks at hand.
He didn’t become an angry man when he was forgotten in that jail, but continued on to do the best he could.
He didn’t rub it into the noses of his brothers nor did he seek revenge when he brothers at long last showed up.
Turning Lemons into Lemon Juice
Joseph displayed an amazing attitude of always turning lemons into lemonade, with just a dash of sugar.
The author Robin Carr wrote:
“Everyone faces adversity; it is an integral part of the life experience. Who you are on the other side of the trial depends on how you face it. In the Bible, Joseph, the son of Jacob, provides an excellent example of how to face adversity. Despised by his own brothers, sold into slavery by them and then wrongfully cast into prison by one who originally trusted him explicitly, Joseph could have grown angry, resentful and sought for revenge. Instead, he developed character traits that enabled him to come out of his trials a better person.”
He kept his nose down, did the best he could making lemonade with his lemons and, in the process, developed some amazing character traits.
That’s how you make lemonade. You use your circumstances to shape your character.
One of the first things we notice about Joseph is this uncanny ability to accept whatever situation in life he is in and do the best he can.
An example of that is when he is taken away form his family and sold into slavery: “Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.” Gen. 39:1
This now becomes his new normal. The very next thing you read is how he seemingly accepts his circumstance, which allows him to be put to good use.
He doesn’t whine nor complain, but accepts his new reality as a slave and goes to work for Potiphar. It is now the new normal for him and it allows him to settle down and simply do his best with what he’s been dealt.
He does the same thing again in prison. Acceptance of his circumstance becomes the pattern that allows him to develop the second character trait that we notice about him and that is his incredible work ethic.
2. Hard work
The guy had an amazing work ethic. He always worked hard no matter what or where.
Not that his circumstances created his work ethic, since he was always a hard worker, but that his acceptance of his new realities allowed him to focus on working hard no matter where he was.
He worked hard for his dad as an errand boy, gopher and junior shepherd. He worked hard for old Potiphar and made him look good. Joseph even had the warden smell like a flower and once he got to Pharaoh, the man was in his element.
What was said of Potiphar, could have been said of the warden or even Pharaoh:
“When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” Gen. 39:3-6
“Joseph didn’t seek to undermine those who enslaved him. He actually helped them to prosper. This happened in the house of Potiphar as well as in prison. They, in turn, recognized his talents and blessings. If you don’t work hard through your adversity, others may never see your true abilities.” Robin Carr
Not only could he always embrace the new normal and had an incredibly work ethic, but Joseph also had the patience of Job, before Job was ever a twinkle in his daddy’s eye!
He kept his nose to the ground. He did the best that he could. He kept the dreams alive and had incredible patience with his circumstances.
He never preempted God, never took matters into his own hands and never tried to short circuit the life that was dealt him.
Sitting in the bottom of a well, not a problem, I’ll wait! Sold into slavery? Not a problem, I’ll serve. Forgotten in prison? No worries, I’ll just keep working for the warden!
He says to the butler in prison:
“Joseph knew the Lord would bless him because of his dreams. So he endured these trials with patience, knowing the blessings would come. After interpreting the dreams of the baker and the butler he asked the butler to tell the Pharaoh of his predicament. After that, he continued to work hard in prison, trusting in the Lord’s timetable. Remembering the blessings the Lord promises will help you to patiently endure.” Robin Carr
For two more years Joseph languishes in prison. Instead of grumbling and complaining he showed the same patience and trust in the Lord that had served him so well in so many circumstances.
So we see acceptance, hard work and patience.
We also see integrity. In fact, integrity is what Joseph is remembered most for. He not only kept his head down but also kept his nose clean.
“Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.” Gen. 39:6, 10
This is a man who does the right thing, even when no one is watching.
Say what you may about Joseph, no one can touch his integrity. He didn’t cheat his dad, never lied to his brothers and gave Potiphar, the warden and Pharaoh every reason to trust him.
No wonder he was promoted again and again and again. Somebody that trustworthy will have the confidence of those around him.
“Be true to who you are, even in adversity. That is the true test of your integrity.” Robin Carr
What else do you notice? How about humility? Trials have a way of humbling you and certainly Joseph comes across as a very humble guy.
It wasn’t arrogance but youthful exuberance that had him eagerly share his dreams with his brothers when he was young.
In fact, when he sees them again years later there is no arrogance at all but only tears of joy and a determination to test their sincerity. He also showed a great willingness to serve his family by keeping them alive.
Every indication we have is that his head never swelled up or that he believed the lie that he really was a ‘somebody’.
He could have pranced into Pharaoh’s court as the big dream interpreter but he didn’t; instead his response was classic Joseph:
“It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” Gen. 41:16
This phrase, “It is not in me”, in many ways was his signature. He learned in the bottom of wells, in the darkest of dungeons and at the end of his ropes that it was not in his own merits at all. If there was going to be success in any venture, it was going to be God doing it.
“Joseph had learned through all his adversities it was the Lord who was blessing him and helping him. He didn’t take the credit for himself. After coming through a trial, you need to recognize whose hand got you through. It is the Lord’s.” Robin Carr
What about generosity? He could have withheld his gifts, his talents and his abilities to bless others just for spite. He does none of that.
He helps Potiphar and the keeper of the prison to prosper. He interprets the dreams of the butler and the baker. He interprets Pharaoh’s dream and then uses his organizational skills to save the Egyptian kingdom. By doing so, Joseph also saves his own family.
Generosity marked his life, as did his incredibly ability to forgive. Where do you start?
Joseph forgave his dad for setting him up by playing favorites. He forgave his brothers who did so much damage to such a young innocent. He forgave Potiphar and his wife for falsely imprisoning him. He forgave the butler for promptly forgetting about him. His life embodied forgiveness.
I want to end with forgiveness, this morning, since forgiveness unlocks the key to everything else.
None of the other character traits would have been possible had Joseph not carried with him a spirit of forgiveness at every turn of his tumultuous life.
With his incredible ability to forgive, Joseph becomes for us a type of Christ. Above all else, Jesus is known for his ability to forgive the sins of all of us.
How significant that we would end at the Table of the Lord today. Your ability to forgive your adversaries and those who have meant to bring you harm, lies in your ability to accept God’s forgiveness in your life.
How much of that was known to Joseph in those years I don’t know. But I do know that his ability to forgive his brothers and everyone who ever meant to harm him was placed in him by the same God who would later say to us:
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13
Receiving God’s forgiveness in your life enables you not only to forgive all those who have sinned against you, but also to develop all these other characteristics we see in the life of Joseph such as acceptance, hard work, patience, humility, integrity, generosity.
Forgiveness unlocks it all.
Scott Street MB Church invites you to write your reflections and thoughts about the weekly messages shared by lead Pastor Jurgen Rausch.