Have you ever felt like you’re a victim of your circumstances? Like things around you seem to be happening to you and God seems to be so distant from your experience?
Around the time Sally and I started dating she got hit with a lifelong fatigue illness called narcolepsy and everything was stripped away from her. She had to quit uni, she had to quit her job, she couldn’t serve at Church, she could hardly spend time with friends, or even her boyfriend. Narcolepsy affects your protein breakdown so your body doesn’t produce energy like a normal person and they describe it as irresistible sleepiness!
Her body would just go into shut down mode! Heavy eyes and lead body, at the time we didn’t know what it was and it was 3 years until she got a diagnosis.
In just a few months, everything was taken away! everything became a struggle! While she laid in bed most of the day for months on end the both of us were constantly wondering what life would look like and questioning God asking: Why? What are you doing? Why has this happened to Sal? To us?
God do you know what you’re doing? We want to serve you with our whole lives... “How is this going to help”?
I imagine you’ve asked those question before too… God why… Why is this happening? What are you doing? Do you know what you’re doing? Those are the questions hovering over the next 10 chapters of Genesis as we follow the life story and struggles of Joseph.
Joseph’s story is so different to his Father, Jacob’s. Jacob was a scum bag, deceiving people and paying the price for his dodgy actions, Joseph on the other hand doesn’t seem to do anything to deserve what he gets!
What Joseph’s story helps us see is that when life is turned upside down God is still in control and he’s still good. So, let’s meet Joseph. In Chapter 37 we meet a 17-year-old Joseph, he’s 1 of 12 brothers. He’s the great grandson of Abraham. He’s his Father’s favourite, born to his father’s favourite wife Rachel.
His brothers are jealous of him for being daddy’s favourite and they hate him! And even more so after he tells them he’s had a couple of dreams about them bowing down to him some time in the future. So the brothers sell him off to foreigners and he finds himself sold as a slave in Egypt to a guy named Potiphar who was the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Then in Chapter 39 we see that even though Joseph’s far from his family, God’s not far from him. In verse 2 we read that the Lord was with Joseph and He blesses everything he does!
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…with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. ~Genesis 37:3-4 & 5b (NIV)
Now having that kind of power and status usually results in people making bad moral decisions, right. Abusing their role and stomping all over others. Power messes with people’s morals, but not Joseph…
In verse 6b -12 His boss’ wife notices that Joseph is quite the handsome man and day after day she’s calling him to come to bed with her! Temptation is not only knocking at his door it’s tugging at his robe. But Joseph won’t do it! He stays faithful to God.
But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” ~Genesis 39:8-9 (NIV)
Someone else may have used that same argument to justify doing it, but he refuses! And this is such a great example of not letting our circumstances become excuses for us to justify sin or excuse it as if it was OK because of our situation! If anyone had an excuse it was poor Joseph! But no way! He recognises that sin is always sin no matter how rough the situation! and he cops the consequences for being faithful!
In verses13-20 she falsely accuses him of assaulting her and he gets thrown in prison by Potiphar. Not Fair!! Faithfulness has consequences and it can leave us feeling very alone & rejected. But Joseph’s not alone
…But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. ~Genesis 39:20-22 (NIV)
Then, in Chapter 40, while he’s in jail, God helps him interpret 2 other prisoners dreams and things happen just as he said, one rises back up into his former position as Pharaoh’s cupbearer, but sadly, the other one got impaled… yowch!
Joseph asks the cupbearer ‘when you get back out there, remember me and get me out of here! because I’m in here unfairly!’ And you start to think that things might look up for Joseph… wrong!!
The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. ~Genesis 40:23 (NIV)
Then the next verse tells us how long for…
When two full years had passed ~Genesis 41:1a (NIV)
2 whole years - 2 years later!!!! he finally remembers Joseph!!
What happens is, in Chapter 41, Pharaoh has a dream and can’t find anyone to interpret it, the cupbearer, feeling very guilty, finally remembers Joseph. So Pharaoh calls Joseph out and asks him about his dream and Joseph says to Pharaoh the same thing he said to the others.
“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” ~Genesis 41:16 (NIV)
Such a great recognition of God’s power to witness isn’t it! We declare the praises of God and the gospel but to God be the glory!
The interpretation is that there’s going to be 7 years of plenty and then 7 years of severe famine! In verse 31 He says the famine will be so bad that no one will even remember the years of plenty!!
Then Joseph gives Pharaoh some advice about it… Find a wise person to put in charge of the land, set leaders over the people to collect food while we’re in the time of plenty so that you can store it away for the years of famine. Pharaoh loves the idea! Turns to his guys and says where can we find someone like Joseph, who is wise and has the spirit of the living God? Oh, hang on - Joseph! You’re the guy!
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” ~Genesis 41:39-40 (NIV)
He sets him up as ruler over the whole land of Egypt! Talk about going from the bottom to the top!
I once represented NSW at a national athletics carnival! I felt quite important! My picture made the papers, I came dead last! There was no one else in the picture because they were so far in front of me! I let NSW down - sorry!
Becoming Pharaoh’s top man was massive!! Rameses II is known in the history books as the greatest Pharaoh, the wealthiest and the most powerful. Nine other Pharaoh’s after him named themselves Rameses. He had over 100 children of his own. For Joseph to become the ruler of all the land under him was to have more power than any king, queen, president or prime-minister you or I have ever known! It was ridiculous! And if you want to know you’ve made it in life - this is how you know.
He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” ~Genesis 41:43 (NIV)
So during the time of plenty, Joseph stored food, so much so it was uncountable! And when it all ran out in the famine, people came crying to Pharaoh who said: “Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you…"
It’s been a journey of rejection, injustice, betrayal, suffering, now risen to the top. Then in Chapter 42 Joseph’s dreams come true! The famine is so bad, that it’s spread to where Joseph’s family are, and Jacob tells his sons, Joseph’s brothers, to go to Egypt for food. When they arrive there, Joseph’s dreams literally come true! They all bow down to Joseph! As The Lord of the land, but they don’t know it’s him…
Joseph recognises them, but they don’t recognise him! This is now 22 years later! After they sold him…
So, while He has them right in his hands… Oh the temptation for revenge… I mean - What would you want to do with them…
Of all the things he could do to them… with his power… he takes the opportunity to test them to see if they’ve repented for how they treated him. What he really wants to know is have they learned to value their family, more than their ego or their money. And so he puts them through a number of tests over the next few chapters… And through those tests, he gets to see that they actually have changed…
You see through all this seemingly random stuff, God has been working in all of them…The brothers changed from wanting to kill Joseph out of envy , to now being willing to offer their own life in place of one of their brothers’.
And Joseph has also grown - Here’s this little dibber dobber, younger sibling, father’s favourite being given responsibility time and time again, over masses of people to learn what it is to be responsible for the good of others! God has been actively working in all of their lives! Through all that evil and hardship.
All this brings Joseph to tears and he finally reveals himself to them! And after Joseph tells them who he is, of all the things he could have said to them. Look what he does say! As he reflects on the bigger picture of what God has been doing in all their lives.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. ~Genesis 45:4-5 (NIV)
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. ~ Genesis 45:8 (NIV)
Later on after his father Jacob dies, his brothers think Joseph might take the opportunity to repay them… he says to his brothers:
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 (NIV)
Joseph recognised the hand of God in all that happened… that he was never far away… never out of control… it was all according to plan.
Get this, Joseph’s whole journey happened to ensure God’s people were preserved so that His promise would continue.
And Especially the life of Judah, who as we see in chapter 50, is the one through whom the promised saviour would come - the Lord Jesus…
Jesus would himself leave his father’s home in heaven to go through his own journey of suffering. He too would be rejected and plotted against by his fellow Israelites, them wanting to kill him out of jealousy. He too would be given over by them into the hands of foreigners to be unjustly trialed, falsely accused and horrifically crucified. And all the way through, in any moment, he could have stopped, he could have rejected God’s plan for him, he could have turned away. But just as Joseph remained faithful under trial - he too kept his heart set on God - as he prayed in the garden - father, not my will but yours be done!
And just like when our lives are turned upside-down we can feel like God doesn’t know what he’s doing… when Jesus was put up on that cross - the son of God - the one they called Lord and Messiah - as he hung there - it looked like God had failed! The disciples would have been crying out in their hearts - God why have you let this happen… what are you doing?? Do you know what you’re doing…?
But through that great event - At the hands of evil men - God was bringing about the ultimate good! The salvation of the world! Praise be to our God!!
What seemed like an absolute catastrophe, was God’s great wisdom and power displayed, that you and I would have the opportunity to be forgiven and come to God for eternal life, eternal blessing! Forgiveness and hope for a future. Jesus fulfilled God’s unbreakable promise by breaking the power of death. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for Good, to bring about what is now being accomplished, the saving of many lives!
And friends it’s that great event we continually look back to, to make sense of things when our lives are in turmoil. When life’s upside-down and we feel like we’re hitting rock-bottom, it’s the cross that enables us to see that God knows exactly what he’s doing! And he hasn’t forgotten us.
In Romans 8:28 God tells us!
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. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. ~Romans 8:28-29 (NIV)
He’s working all things so that we would become more and more like the Lord Jesus. More like God himself! And only God knows exactly what that takes! Is there any better thing to happen to us? Now WE may not have chosen the same path he chooses, but would you want to miss out on that outcome? No way!
God knows what it takes and he doesn’t make mistakes!
The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once put it this way.
“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you, than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.”
In every single moment God is working on and in your life! Right now!!!! And in every other moment! He’s not waiting until you get that promotion or until your kids grow up or until you’re “ready” he’s not waiting for your marriage to get better, or your struggle or suffering to disappear! He is working on you at every moment through your journey of life! How comforting is that!
The tricky thing is that in the moment when we don’t know exactly what he’s doing in a particular situation it can be very hard to trust him and stay faithful… Am I right?
What’s your usual response in suffering? In the midst of it I think for most of us our first response is - God is punishing me!
He doesn’t care… He’s left me… He’s against me… does He know what he’s doing..? How could he do this to me / Let this happen to me…?
We think God’s against us so we turn against him because we fail to see the bigger picture…that God is working behind the scenes to bring about good, to preserve our lives, to grow us in some way, to cause us to be a blessing to someone else in his good timing…
In the darkest moments of Joseph’s life Genesis tells us that God was with him! And friends in our darkest moments God is never far away, but very present!
In the moment though, it can feel the opposite and part of that is because we don’t know exactly what he IS doing! That’s because He doesn’t explicitly tell us! So, in the moment, it’s almost impossible to know or understand what God might be doing through any particular circumstance…
It’s impossible… you can guess, you can ask others.. but we often just can’t know.. Until later! That’s where the blessing of hindsight comes in. It’s only in hindsight… where we can look back on a situation and reflect on what God was doing that we can say with any clarity - that’s what God was doing… This is what God has done…
He was working something up I could never have imagined!
I may never have done it that way or asked him to do it that way, but the way He did it was the best way it could have happened to get me to where I am today! God knows best!! Even when it doesn’t feel that way… Amen?
So the question is - in the moment - how do we stay faithful!
Remember The Cross. Remember that God works through wickedness, darkness and suffering to bring about ultimate Good! Remember Joseph’s story. Remember Romans 8:28.
Remember who God is and how he works.
God hasn’t turned away from us, but is actively present with us
1 Peter 5:7 - cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (NIV)
God has given you a big family here, utilise them.
Think of the most beautiful painting, or sculpture or scenery you’ve ever seen… God, the master crafter is working to make you more beautiful than that!
Sally and I celebrated our 9 year anniversary this week. 9 years ago we had no idea what God was working on in us when narcolepsy came knocking on her door. There were times we were crying out to God why’s and what for’s… and ways we didn’t respond very well to what God was doing. But now as we look back we can see some of the beauty of what he was creating in us. Stripping away our pride. Forcing us to empathise with weakness. Showing us who’s God. Reminding us in such a real and ongoing way - You are not Jesus - you need Jesus! And we thank God each day for that reminder.
Narcolepsy doesn’t go away, it’s with Sally for life. But she’s come to the profound point of saying - I praise God for giving me narcolepsy.
Now I’m sure each and every one of you have your own struggles you’re working through, but friends let me encourage you not to make conclusions too early about what God is doing in you in the moment and let the master crafter do his work - he’s creating in you something far greater than you could ever make by fighting against His work!
Trust him! He’s never left you and he knows exactly what He’s doing.