If we were to take a blank piece of paper and write how we want the rest of our life to unroll, we would most probably not include suffering, heartaches, health troubles, failures or any kind of negative experiences. With certainty, nobody would ever include the kind of experiences Joseph had, as described in the book of Genesis. Favored by his parents among his siblings, attracting the hate of his brothers, he was sold to a group of merchants, continually tempted to commit sin, put in prison, asked, under threat, to interpret dreams, not to mention having to live alone, away from his family, in a foreign country. However, all these trials turned out for the good, since he soon became the second in command over the Kingdom of Egypt and was able to save the lives of many.
There are a few lessons we can learn from Joseph’s story and the response to his circumstances.
- Everything that happens to us passes through the permissive hand of God.
God knows everything, God sees everything, God is never surprised or overwhelmed by anything happening in the world and happening to us. God allowed the hardships Joseph went through, because He had a greater purpose for Joseph, and He knew what kind of man Joseph was. A faithful, committed and believing young Jew, who had a deep relationship with God, which helped him face all the temptations and pitfalls which laid in front of him. How did Joseph make it like this, all through his life? Joseph didn’t let himself become a victim. He chose to break the cycle. He took responsibility for his way of life, his attitude, fully aware that God was there and in control.
- Circumstances of life do not determine your future. How you respond to the circumstances of life determines your future.
Victor Frankl, who was humiliated, tortured, and dehumanized in Nazi prison camps, made this discovery: “The last of all great human freedoms is to choose one’s response to any given set of circumstances.” Our response to the circumstances of life will influence and eventually determine how our life turns out.
The Apostle Paul was put in a jail for preaching the gospel. He writes to the Philippians “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear”.
Paul’s response to his circumstances provided an example to everyone who knew him about how strong his faith in Jesus was and how worthy he considered our Lord to be by accepting imprisonment for proclaiming His message. Paul’s response to his hardships lead to the largest mission ministry of the time, with Paul travelling and sharing the Gospel in Europe and Asia, spreading Christianity across the continents, leading many people to Christ.
- When you can’t trace God’s hand, trust His heart.
You might be familiar with the story of Corrie Ten Boom, a former prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, who, after the war ended, met one of the cruelest guards of that camp. He had become a Christian and upon seeing and recognizing Corrie on an occasion, he asked for her forgiveness. Corrie recalls her thoughts: “I wrestled with the most difficult thing that I’d ever had to do. For I had to do it. I knew that. I knew it not only as a commandment of God but also as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were also able to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives no matter what their physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids”. She found the strength to shake the guard’s stretched hand remembering that “I have never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
When we don’t understand the works of our Lord, don’t see His helping hand at work, we are to trust His heart – His unending love and care for us, the Grace which never dries out, and His plan for us, which is greater and more beautiful than we could ever imagine.
What about YOUR story? Joseph, apostle Paul, Victor Frankl, Corrie – all had a choice to make. Jesus had a choice to make. He could have called ten thousand angels and ‘rescue’ Him from the cross. His choice was to go through with the crucifixion and death, so that anyone who believes can have eternal life.
The easier, more popular route is to use your circumstances as an excuse for personal sin, dysfunctional patterns, and foolish behavior. However, the path which leads to peace, joy and closeness to the Lord is the one where you accept your condition and respond to it with love, patience, and action according to God’s Will.
Jesus loves us, He knows what’s going on in our lives, He’s already been to our future. And He wants to do something in and through us that we cannot do for ourselves.