How would your outlook on life change if you believed—I mean, really believed—that God has a plan and is with you, in every single situation?
I heard pastor Andy Stanley summarize Joseph’s entire life with that one question. It’s the question that Joseph presents to all of us: What if you actually believed that God was with you? In that divorce you just went through, in that bad grade you received, in the prejudices you’ve experienced, in the addiction you’re battling…how would that look different if you knew that God had a plan even in the midst of all that pain?
Joseph’s life has to qualify as one of the most painful and unfair in the Old Testament: He was sold into slavery by his own family, and then imprisoned for years for a crime he didn’t commit. Yet his life looked different, precisely because he knew that God was in complete control. That’s why he’s able, at the end of his life, to look his brothers in the face and say, “You meant this for evil, but God meant it for good.”
“God meant it for good.” The slavery, the false accusation, the years in prison. Joseph looked at that and saw the hand of God. Why? Because he knew that God was with him just as much in the pit and the prison as he was in the palace. What if you believed that?
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the evil wasn’t actually evil. No, Joseph doesn’t downplay the pain of his life, like we often try to. Part of experiencing God’s healing for our past involves facing up to the fact that people have sinned against us. It’s just that the discussion doesn’t stop there. God overwrites that evil for his plan and for our good.
Now, we don’t always get to see what that whole plan is. Joseph did, but only at the end. In the middle, all he had to hold on to was the promise of God’s presence. Apparently, that was enough.
I recently read about Corrie Ten Boom’s story (in Eric Metaxas’ Seven Women). She was a Dutch Christian who helped Jews escape Nazi Germany, until she was caught and sent to a concentration camp. It was a humiliating experience, filled with suffering. Because of the filth she lived in, she and most of the other women in the camp had fleas. Corrie’s sister tried to encourage her to “thank God even for the fleas,” to which Corrie replied: “There’s no way God can make me grateful for a flea.” But then a few days later, while they were meeting in secret for a worship service, it dawned on her that the guards would never inspect their barracks. If they had, they would certainly have confiscated their Bibles, beat them or worse. And suddenly she realized why: The guards were afraid of getting fleas. Even in the fleas, she said later, God was at work!
Can you thank God for the “fleas” in your life? Even if you don’t get to see why he put them there? He may have put them there to grow you in some area. Or to enable you to minister to others in a similar situation. Or you may have to wait until heaven, when God flips the tapestry of your life over, and the seemingly scattered threads are revealed to be a beautifully woven picture.
The Apostle Paul would put it this way: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). But what is God’s purpose? We often quote that verse as a way of hoping that everything will “turn out alright.” But that’s not God’s purpose. His purpose is in the next verse: that those who are in him would be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). God’s biggest purpose in your life isn’t to trade out every bad event for a better one; it’s to conform you to look more like him.
You might say, But I want to know why. And I understand. I want that, too. But 10 seconds into eternity, we’ll see things for how they are, and none of our current struggles will carry the same weight. Paul calls our current affliction “light and momentary” when compared to what awaits us in glory. Paul’s suffering wasn’t JV, either. He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, abandoned by his closest friends. But compared to heaven, the worst earthly experience will only ever be, in the words of Mother Teresa, “like a bad night in a cheap hotel.”
Looking at Joseph’s life, we see that God didn’t waste a single event. He was with Joseph in the pit. He was with Joseph in the prison. He was orchestrating everything in Joseph’s life, and he was doing it by Joseph’s side. If you are in Christ, you have the same confidence: God is with you in your pit and your prison. And he’s creating something beautiful, even if you can’t see it.
For more, be sure to listen to the entire message here.